Greetings from Schroder’s psychedelic garage

by Jordan Green

Friday night on South Elm Street is a spectacle.

Lee Roy Parnell’s tour bus is parked outside Triad Stage as his well-heeled Americana audience mills in the lobby. Hip-hop high-lifers strut the avenue as a party bus crawls its length. The glitzy dancerati huddle outside Much. The moneyed and those aspiring to their class recline on the air-conditioned sidewalk section of Churchill’s sipping martinis and beers, and watching the passing parade.

Over the past few months the Four Corners bar and café near the intersection of Washington Street has also established itself as a reference point in the ever-shifting constellation of downtown nightlife. The best advertisement for the venue’s excitement is the mob of sweaty youngsters spilling onto the sidewalk. They’re a freshly scrubbed lot brimming with excess energy and enthusiasm, too cool to get herded into Greene Street, but too green to belong to the aging hipster set circulating between College Hill and the Flying Anvil, and far too idealistic to fold into the cover-band and karaoke scene saturating the rest of the city.

The Four Corners offers a distinct advantage for cash-strapped undergrads and dropouts scraping wages, attested to by Evan Kornegay who’s nursing a Stella Artois as he waits to play with his band Devastation Proclamation while the experimental rock quartet Schroder finishes its set.

‘“It’s cool: you get free beer for playing here,’” he says. ‘“Unfortunately, I didn’t know that until after our second show. It’s free so people just wander in. If they charged five dollars a head, people probably would tell themselves they couldn’t afford it.’”

Much of the sound emanating from this well-lit corner could be classified as garage rock ‘— a joyous rite of passage that has been reinventing itself every generation in these parts probably since the Swingin’ Medallions started working the circuit from their home base in Greenwood, SC four decades ago. Schroder is that and more, considering its technical proficiency and attention to originality.

From around the corner at the News & Record building the hum of the presses seems to meld into the churning, melodic architecture of Schroder’s sound. At the corner outside the bar more than one person can be seen plugging one ear as they try to carry on a cell phone conversation with the other. Inside the narrow room chubby girls with page-boy haircuts clutch beers and cigarettes as members of the other sex shower adoration on the musicians, and a bearded dude with sunglasses perched atop his camouflage cap and a magnificent distended belly roars his approval from the bar.

Schroder’s music, all of it instrumental, radiates from the tight interlock of a rhythm team comprising drummer Will Hilliard and bass player Chris Throckmorton, spiraling outward in guitar work by Jonathan Kamoda and Brandon Warren, which alternates between churning undertow and melodic free flight. Schroder’s players shrug off the burden of influence in the main, but they don’t resist the term ‘“psychedelic.’”

They credit ‘“trees and dreams, random situations involving people we don’t know, and Pinot Noir’” as inspirations on their MySpace page and declare, ‘“Schroder will continue to be the fighting force against the pre-fabricated pop/punk/emo that seems to have taken over, leaving the true musicians in the shadows.’”

A typical song will begin with a helix of sound from the rhythm section, then build with the two guitars into a dirty groove reminiscent of early Black Sabbath and imperceptibly shift into a flurry of notes that recalls arty Metallica. Between the band’s garage rock rave-ups and atmospheric reveries, their audience responds accordingly: crashing into each other one moment and standing in place with studious attention the next.

When I meet Kamoda and Warren at New York Pizza a couple days before their show, they’re talking about the death of Pink Floyd cofounder Syd Barrett ‘– a fascinating figure but not someone who seems to have particularly affected them as musicians. Likewise, they tell me they’ve never heard of Roky Erickson, the tragic Texas garage rock icon whose band the 13th Floor Elevators was the first to claim the ‘“psychedelic rock’” label. And yet it’s hard to imagine a forebear whose work encompasses both the raucous fun and mind expanding exploration of Schroder.

Despite their lack of historical awareness, two episodes attest to the band’s adventurousness and ability to defy stylistic boundaries.

‘“We had a guy that was a journalist for a hip-hop magazine mention to us that he wanted to do an article on us,’” Warren says. ‘“We thought it was strange that he would be interested in us, but we agreed. He stopped in the middle of the interview, and said, ‘I have a rap to one of your songs.’ It’s one of our heaviest songs, ‘Candle Opera.’ He had enough confidence that it was hip hop that he just rapped the words over our song in front of a crowd of people at our bass player’s house.’”

Another time the band played in a church for the 14th birthday of a coworker at Builders Supply, where Warren and Kamoda are employed.

‘“We gave him a copy of our CD and he loved it,’” Kamoda says. ‘“He was a big fan of Smashmouth, so we thought that was kind of weird.’”

Warren adds: ‘“There was a bunch of kids running around playing with helium balloons. It seemed like the kids were much more interested in the balloons than the music.’”

To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at