Concord America’s story is a classic, archetypal rock & roll story. A story of restless youth, rebellion and the deep bond that forms between bandmates when they surrender themselves completely to the music.
Brothers John and Vinny Restivo had been playing in bands together since they were revved-up teens, ages 16 and 14, respectively. From the jump, they were a natural rhythm section. “John was already drumming and put the idea in my head to play bass,” says Vinny. “I was more into sports at the time, but baseball gave me really bad tendonitis in my throwing arm. After a while, I was like, ‘Fuck sports.’”
For several years, the Restivo brothers cut their teeth playing in the kind of ramshackle yet valiant bands you might find in any suburban garage across America. But then something happened. Something that changed their lives. They met future Concord America singer/guitarist Ben Presley. How? He and John started working at the same shitty, debauched pizza place. “The singer in our old band was the first to get a job there,” Vinny says. “He was like, ‘You have to work here. We can smoke weed and drink all we want and nobody gives a shit.’ I was like, ‘Hell yeah, sign me up.’”
At the time, though, 17-year-old Vinny wasn’t old enough to make the cut, so he talked his big brother into applying instead. John got the job, and before long, in a strange twist of fate, he and Vinny’s old singer was fired and replaced by Presley.
“What really made us want to start a band with Ben,” John says, “is that we saw him get past security at a Cage the Elephant show—he jumped on stage during ‘Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked’ in short shorts, suspenders, combat boots and a sailor hat and did a stage dive. It was the most badass thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
When Ben started working at the pizza place, he and the Restivos were frustrated with their respective musical projects. “Finally,” Ben says, “it was just like, ‘What the fuck are we doing? Let’s start a real rock & roll band. Let’s lose our minds.’”
So they did. Unfortunately for their original lead guitarist—whom they’d met at a house party near the pizza joint—that last phrase turned out to be literal. “At first, we were a four-piece,” Ben explains. “Our old guitarist was living in Athens, and he was taking a lot of acid on top of his ADD medicine. Over six months, he just lost it. We couldn’t get shit done. At practice, he’d play the same three chords over and over again for an hour. He was a talented player, he’d had a music scholarship to University of Georgia, but he just couldn’t cut it anymore.”
They never officially kicked him out of the band; they didn’t have to. As if pulled from the pages of Pink Floyd’s sordid history, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed. They didn’t see again him for months. “He’s doing a lot better, though” Vinny reports. “He’s on the proper medication now. He’s still a good friend, and he’s really supportive of us.”
After their lead guitarist became a temporary acid casualty, the band soldiered on as a power trio. With new space in the music, simpatico tastes and almost telepathic communication between Presley and the Restivo brothers, Concord America began to take flight. “Our chemistry was just amazing,” John says. “We fired off instantly, writing songs together that were better than anything any of us had done before.”
Which brings us to the band’s debut LP, Shag Nasty—a charming, lo-fi rock record that will leave you feeling like you’ve been shot from a cannon. From classic garage and late-’50s doo-wop ballads to proto grunge, power-pop and the modern surf revival, Concord America wears its influences on its sleeve.
“When the band started,” Ben says, “we were really into Cage the Elephant—just good-old weird-ass Pixies-style rock with some cool psychedelic tinges. That’s still there, but with Shag Nasty, we went in more of a beach-punk direction, trying to write more fun, upbeat songs we could rock out to. We were listening to a lot of Wavves, Sleeper Agent and this really cool record John has with The Hentchmen and Jack White. John got me into so much of what I’m into now—the Black Lips, Wavves. Totally changed my taste in music.”
Earlier this year, Concord America took a week off from its service-industry jobs to record Shag Nasty in the basement of its brokedown communal crash pad on the seedy outskirts of northeast Atlanta. “There’s not much to do out here most nights but play songs,” Ben says. “The rent is cheap, but the house is priceless because we can play late and the neighbors are shady enough to where they never call the cops. So we were able to make this record for free at home with our engineer buddy Trey Rosenkamppf.”
The band tracked everything live in one room, their amps separated from the drums by nothing more than a moldy secondhand mattress and a few tattered blankets, letting it bleed like the best, most raw rock & roll records. It’s an approach that suits Concord America’s aesthetic.
“Recording in our basement just gave us more creative options,” Ben says. “We weren’t on the clock—we were having fun, drinking, trying different shit. The record is a little loose, but that’s how it’s supposed to be heard.”