“We are the perfect band example of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’” declares Denitra Isler, lead vocalist of hard-hitting rock band Conkrete God. She is right because a photograph and simple description does not capture the punk and heavy rock inspired wall of energy and sound the band propels from the stage when live. This band is an interesting book. You should definitely crack it.
Conkrete God is a relatively new band, having formed in 2017, but it was a long, slow burn before the five-some caught fire together. Guitarists Terry Webb and Corey Stayton and bassist Norm Smith were all members of Atlanta band Nutbush, playing originals that took cues from bands like Rage Against The Machine and Nirvana. An inability to secure a permanent drummer and lead singer Soul’s need to attend to personal affairs on the West Coast fueled the band’s eventual demise.
Feeling discouraged as their band fell apart, the three guys wanted to keep playing but were not sure they could find others equally committed to their favorite music. Norm was about to sell his basses and equipment; Corey considered going back to playing in a blues outfit; it was Terry who urged them to stick it out. The three regularly jammed together while seeking a singer. Writing new songs was a struggle while they were still searching for a singer, and for a year and a half they looked until they found the one.
Terry had been in contact with Denitra through an online musicians’ forum; he thought that she might be a good fit with their vision of the band. “I didn’t really hear her performance clips. I just saw her in this stunning turquoise dress and I thought she had incredible presence in that photo,” says Terry.
Denitra went to a practice to meet the others. “Of course, Terry, the one guy I knew, was late and wasn’t there,” she recalls. She started playing with Corey and Norm and another Nutbush alumnus on drums. By the time Terry arrived, Denitra and the other three were writing a new song together.
Denitra tells “The instant chemistry we had was ridiculous, and I knew this was the project I needed to be part of. We literally wrote a song the first time we met. The chemistry is still that way today. I love, at the end of practice, when we just jam. Everybody contributes. Some things don’t stick but many do. We could have an entire album of B-sides!”
Denitra was a needed shot in the arm for the three musicians. Norm explains, “Not only did we now have a front person and a voice for the band, but she also brought a different texture and attitude. In previous bands together we were probably full of bravado and too testosterone-fueled. Denitra helped change our tone and our dynamics. Suddenly we had a song that had “love” in the lyrics. I can tell you that in our years before that we never had any songs that smacked of a love song!”
They needed a full-time committed drummer to complete the band and began posting ads and inquiries around social media seeking a permanent member behind the drum kit.
Enter Lindsey LeCoda Mitchell. He says he is from Washington D.C. and a product of world travel, although has been here in Atlanta for twenty years. He is a ball of energy and his passion is immediately apparent as soon as he takes over the band story at the point he joins.
Lindsey responded to Corey’s Facebook post looking for a drummer. Lindsey, a Percussive Arts major in college, had been drumming, singing, writing, and producing in gospel, R&B, and hip-hop groups and projects around Atlanta. Yet he really longed to expand his drumming horizons. Corey sent Lindsey a video of Conkrete God’s first show at a Punk Black event. Lindsey says “I immediately said ‘Hell yeah! I can get down with this. Let’s do it.’” Corey told him Denitra would contact him to set up a meeting. “Literally five minutes later she calls me. I had seen the video and was already pretty impressed, even just by her earrings.”
Lindsey continues. “She said ‘Let’s set up a meet and greet. Do you have a drum set?’ I told her ‘I have my kit in my car, we can do this today!’ So that day, after work, I met the band at their practice space. Corey told me they were going to play some of their originals and just to play what I felt. I am able to improvise but also have trained not to overplay, which is easy for drummers to do. So we get done playing and I swear it looked like Corey had a tear in his eye. I asked him if he was alright and he said, ‘It is like you were here when we wrote all these songs. We have not had someone just walk in and fall right in with the music. Do you want to stay?’
From that day, the five of them knew they finally had a band of committed people whose musical tastes and personalities perfectly melded together, even though they have widely different influences. Corey claims Prince as an original inspiration. Norm says Earth Wind & Fire made him want to get into music. Denitra cites Grace Jones and Aretha Franklin as influences. Lindsey had a strong gospel background but, just as equally, loves Mars Volta. Terry loves guitar and has many guitar heroes and favorite bands like Michael Schenker, Pat Travers, UFO, and says his two favorite bands are “70s Van Halen and 80s Van Halen” (and his phone screen saver backs up this fact.)
So how does this mix get to the dynamic Conkrete God sound heard today? Corey explains, “We did not necessarily start out explicitly saying there is any one style of music we are going to do. Instead it was more ‘Do what you do. Be yourself and just play.’ This is the result. In doing that it just worked. We fed off each other. We never have had to belabor how something should be played or sung. The musical chemistry is amazing.” Terry has another explanation, “The story is that I am the real rocker in this band. I am just trying to bring them up to where I’ve come from!”
Like a tight knit family, Terry anointed each with a band nickname. Corey is “The Professor,” considering he has a PhD in literature. Norm Is “Kewl,” given how he is always so cool and unrattled on stage. Terry himself is “Auslander” which means “outsider” as he has always been a bit of a rebel, doing things his way, sometimes against norms. Denitra is “GodMamma” given her often matriarchal leadership role over the unruly boys. Lindsey is named “The Conkreeter” as he reminded Terry of Hendrix’ drummer, Buddy Miles, who had been called a “bit of a cement mixer.” To Lindsey it is more than just a nickname, he explains. “I am a big wresting fan and so I came up with this character of “The Conkreeter”, who is a drummer, but also an avid wrestler, one who is up to do anything and after doing it will say ‘Lets do it again!’ People will tell you that when I turn into The Conkreeter, it is a whole different thing! It is like my eyes get different, my whole attitude is different, and when I go onto a stage, heads will roll! That is my go get’em attitude, but it of course this is character I play on stage. It is not like I interact with people that way offstage…..although sometimes people try me…and I have to tell them I will whoop their asses.”
In order to get to know each other personally and musically, they began an intense period of gigging. The time together playing live has resulted in a tight musical meshing that shines through on their new eponymous EP, released this past November.
“Drive” kicks off the record in a classic rock style, with Denitra checking off a list of the items needed to take off out of town where people can’t mess with her. The chorus sounds like it could be the background for a commercial for a turbo charged muscle car spinning out in the dirt. The harmonized dual guitar solo and outro harkens back to Judas Priest in its heyday.
“Free” shows some of their love of punk with a a hook where the drums, bass, and guitars lock together in a machine gun staccato flurry of beats and notes that is over too soon after it starts.
“Find Me” begins with pretty, lush guitar lines like Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” before expanding into creamy distorted licks that recall the best of Slash. Listen intently to the catchy chorus and one hears lyrics positing that God, a higher power, transcendent energy, etc., can be found reflected in all that is around us from the ocean waves, laughter of children, or a lover’s kiss.
The final song is “Black Phoenix” and begins with an audio montage of TV news reports that tell the story of the killing of African-American youth, often at the hands of law enforcement. The song is an appeal to not forget these lives and to change this trend. There is a measured introductory set of verses with Denitra singing sweetly in contrast to the bitter story matter before the tune increases in energy, tempo, and urgency to sing “rise up, fists up in the air, speak the names of those lost” and then actually saying those names.
Terry explains, “We could have chosen from many more songs we have, but these four were the most ready and had the greatest fan responses.” Corey adds, “It is only a four-song EP but I am proud of it because it documents our sound and is something we can share.”
Indeed, these four tunes capture many of the hallmarks of Conkrete God’s music. Corey describes, “It is modern rock – we don’t recycle tired rock clichés. We take that base of rock and roll from the 70s and 80s and bring it up to date. We have to be relevant musically. We also have to be relevant lyrically. When we have something to say, we are going to say it in our music. That is what makes us who we are.” To which Denitra adds “And, of course, it has to be crushing.”
Corey references “Black Phoenix.” “When it was just the three of us, we had that riff for some time. We knew it could be something and we tried it out with every singer that came through the door, but nothing ever worked. Then Denitra came in with the “Black Phoenix” lyrics and they fit. It was like, this riff can only go this way now as part of this tune. This riff has been waiting for Denitra to write that song.”
Denitra picks up, “We write music that is hard-hitting, yet also has positive messages. As we were starting to write songs it was something that happened naturally and not necessarily deliberately, but it became something that we wanted to continue to create. We want to continue with this direction in that we are not just playing music, but we are also providing messages wrapped in music in a way that people can enjoy. Songs like “Black Phoenix” or “Free” solidified that this is what and who we wanted to be.” She continues, “As far as our music is concerned, some hard rock bands can play hard and fast but they may not be very musical. Being musical is important to us and one thing we always talk about and work on is dynamics because we have all been to concerts and shows where it is too loud for just for the sake of being loud. So even in our songs that are super crushing there are dynamics and you can hear the lyrics or hear the guitar parts. “
Norm concurs, “A lot of what we do musically can sometimes be thought of as a throwback in that growing up you could hear music that was just as moving and just as impactful as a song’s lyrics. You felt something with the music. Certainly, some artists have carried on at that level, but a lot of music today has moved away from well thought out music and melody and it can be more style than substance.”
Corey is more direct in his assessment, “What in the hell happened? So much popular music has become whiny rock. There used to be riffs, layers and textures. We chose the Conkrete God name to evoke a sense of something being solid, being hard. With all the other elements in our music, we keep this top of mind.”
The mashup of music with punk energy, hard rock flourishes, emphasis on dynamics, and thoughtful lyrics seems second nature to the band, yet they have learned that their special mix can baffle those with narrow expectations. Some venues initially may not know what to expect from Conkrete God, certainly not an African American quintet that learned from the fathers of arena rock and who like to cover Motorhead songs. While it is difficult to typecast this band, people sometimes wrongly do.
Lindsey relates one story, “We were booked in a place south of the city. We walk in and there are Confederate flags hanging from the ceiling, like this is the most Caucasian bar that you can think of. We are definitely the only black people in the entire bar. As we load-in, we hear comments like “Oh, we might get some R&B and some soul tonight.” He continues, “However, we start to play. The kitchen stops production. Everyone comes out of the back to see what is going on. By the time we are done with the night, the most hardcore bikers with braided beards were giving us hugs and high-fives telling us “you guys are so awesome.” We have had almost exactly the same reactions happen at venues in the city. People don’t know what hit them. The upside is that it shows that we can go into any venue, rock hard, and make new fans, and still be relevant to everyone there.”
Corey interjects “If we get the opportunity to play… The challenge is there sometimes are issues getting gigs. We have some venues that see our picture and, despite my emailed press kits with descriptions of the band and our music, and respond ‘We don’t do R&B.’ My response to them is ‘Good, neither do we.’”
Denitra continues “But it is not just white people who don’t necessarily put “black” and “rock band” together. We were part of a show bill with a bunch of bands, and the black emcee points to us and says ‘We even have this gospel group with us tonight.’ I was dressed in a corset and a leather skirt, so I was turning around to see who he was talking about. Maybe it was the band name.”
But when they play out live, they win people over.
Denitra shares, “The reception we got at our very first Punk Black show was validation that we had something. You don’t know when just by yourself how you sound. But when we got on that stage and we looked out at the audience, and people started singing the words. I was like ‘Oh s***, we have something special here.’ We are doing what we do to share it with other people. It is rewarding when you see people that are happy and joyful because of one of your songs. We do love seeing people’s faces when they hear us because many still expect us to play R&B no matter how many times we tell them we are a rock band!”
When not belting out rock songs, Dentira is an actress, raised in theater, and like a theater actress, on the bandstand she commands attention with her stage charisma. Terry and Corey trade off licks, often lost in the joy of the moment. Norm holds down the low-end rhythm while Lindsey is in full Conkreeter mode, pounding the drum heads like a man possessed. Denitra expounds, “There are a lot of bands who just play, but we perform. If you are going to come to a Conkrete God show – We don’t care if you paid $2, $20, or $200. You are going to get a show. We are not just going to get up there and go through the motions. Because we love what we do and we are invested in it. We love the music and so we are going to give you a show.”
Denitra elaborates, “What I see from the stage….a way I gauge how we are doing is if nobody is going to get drinks while we are playing. When everyone is just standing there looking up and no one is moving, that is when I know we got them, but then you must hold that attention. It also means a lot to me to know that they are listening to the words. When they sing them back…that is best feeling in the world when your audience sings with you…or if they are dancing and having fun.”
Lindsey and Terry jump in, each completing the other’s sentences when they say, “We will be on a bill with other bands, they get up to play…and nobody dances. We then get up there, and it is like instant mosh pits happen! People are shaking their butts! This is what you get when these five individuals come together. ” Norm confides, “That is when it hit me. After all our time working to make the band happen, when I saw this spontaneous mosh pit open up when we were playing, that is when I thought ‘We might be ok.’”
|Grapevine Profile: Conkrete God|
|5 Desert Island Discs||Norm:
1. Earth, Wind & Fire - September
2. B-52s - Greatest Hits
3. Steele Pulse - Handsworth Revolution
4. Alice In Chains - Dirt
5. Goodie Mob - Still Standing
1. Terrence Trent Darby- The Hardline According To Terrence Trent Darby
2. Grace Jones - Nightclubbing
3. Prince- Sign Of The Times
4. Erykah Badu- Baduizm
5. Skunk Anansie- Stoosh
1. Van Halen – Van Halen
2. Golden Earring - Moontan
3. Scorpions - Tokyo Tapes
4. UFO - Obsession
5. Utopia - Ra
1. Albert King - Blues Power
2. 24-7 Spyz - Harder Than You
3. Stevie Wonder - Musiquarium
4. Metallica - And Justice For All
5. Prince - Dirty Mind
Any 5 of Jamiroquai's albums!
The Jackson 5
Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five in Cleveland
KISS - Love Gun tour
|Favorite concert in Atlanta||Norm:
Prince at Civic Center
Iron Maiden - Powerslave tour
Prince at The Fox
Frankie Beverly & Maze at Chastain
|Favorite area hangouts||Norm:
The Union EAV, MJQ
Hiking in North Georgia
The Union EAV
San Francisco Coffee Roasting Co.
Metro Cafe Diner, Dave & Buster's
|Memorable gigs around town||Afropunk, Smith's Old Bar, The Union EAV, Sweet Auburn Fest|
|Favorite Atlanta music site||Atlanta Music Grapevine!|