Last Thursday night, the unclassifiable instrumental band Malt Swagger, who were active around the Triangle in the late ’90s and early ’00s before quietly fading away, played at The Pinhook. But that blast from the past had nothing on a mysterious opening act, a dance-y indie punk band called Psychoacoustics Research & Development. Their web presence amounts to a single live performance video, edited for a video production course at Appalachian State during the 1991–92 school year and uploaded to YouTube in 2008.
Scenting the trail of a forgotten band from the glory days of local indie rock, we reached out to Malt Swagger vibraphone player Steve Carter for the backstory.
Carter, it turns out, was and is a member of Psychoacoustics R&D. To the best of his recollection, the band formed in Boone in 1987 before relocating to the Triangle around 1992, playing in the area for a few years before singer Karsten Schroeer moved away. “We used to tell people that our music was like a cross between Black Sabbath and Janet Jackson,” Carter says. “Well, more like Black Sabbath picks up Janet Jackson at some dive bar in Atlanta, and then they head back to Sabbath’s place for some wild, uninhibited sex. No, wait, this is it: Black Sabbath running over Janet Jackson in a custom van.”
The other members of the band—Carter, Lawrence Winn and Jeff Umbarger—remained in the Triangle and would occasionally reunite to play a show when Schroeer returned to visit his family. The musicians have connections to tribute projects such as Heart of Glass, which covers Blondie, and Garmonbozia, which covers the Twin Peaks soundtrack, as well as bands such as Marsha, Dirty Feather Boas and Aftertax. Carter says that Thursday night’s reunion happened simply because Schroeer was here for a month-long visit before returning to his “beachside palace in Bali.”
But what about that lone video, so redolent of the Archers of Loaf-era? “Memories,” Carter says. “You know, the excessive use of strobe lights have kind of scrambled those.” The video was edited at ASU by Charles Bowes, Carter’s best friend, who now lives in Toronto.
“I think some of the footage came from a house party we played in Boone,” Carter says, “and some from a show at Infinity’s in Greensboro. Hallucinogens were pretty big in Boone, and we really tried to play to that audience. Lights, fog, strobes, sometimes films from the ASU library: High-energy, danceable and loud. I’m getting a headache remembering all the fog. You’d get these boogers…but hey, maybe that’s too much information.”