Low Cut Connie, High Caliber Rock And Roll
What is the real deal? In a world where your presence on social media means everything, it can be hard to decipher what bands are actually authentic and not just “killing it.” People tend to post before they really let anything sink in. Fortunately, there are still bands that start playing and immediately cause you to shut the fuck up and rock the fuck out. Low Cut Connie is absolutely one of those bands. I had heard murmurs of these guys over the last couple years, but after seeing them play what felt like a ramshackle basement during South By Southwest this March, I knew wholeheartedly that they were indeed the real deal.
Between the boogie woogie showmanship of Adam Weiner and the Clash-meets-Mekons punk rock sensibility of Dan Finnemore, Low Cut Connie hit you straight in the gut with raw rock and roll that is about nothing more than the immediate reaction it triggers. Seeing them live means witnessing Weiner smashing the piano with every limb he has while Finnemore and the rest of the band crowd surf, bang into one another; and then they play and sing their asses off. It’s like those old black and white film clips where the crowd is in a mad frenzy because the rock and roll is so overwhelmingly vicious and pleasing at the same time. Somehow Low Cut Connie manages to bring that livewire energy to their new album, Hi Honey, which drops this week. As the band prepared for the release and a year of heavy touring, frontman and piano extraordinaire Adam Weiner took the time to let us into the awesome world of Low Cut Connie.
Neil Ferguson: After seeing you live a couple times during SXSW, it kind of blew my mind how you got your piano in all these tight places. Are there challenges to touring with a big piano like that and how do you keep it in shape considering how hard you beat it up?
Adam Weiner: No it's very easy, and the fact that we move a 400-pound instrument every day is no problem at all - I'm kidding! It's a fucking nightmare, the bane of all of our existences and we have lost band members over it. But these guys, I trained them up early and said, "look, this is what it's gonna be every night." Now it's like an army, like we have our drill we gotta do, so we've gotten used to moving it in and out every night. SXSW was particularly crazy because of the parking and logistics and all that crap. As far as how I keep it up, I'm sad to say that Shondra - my piano's name is Shondra - I've had her for two and a half years and she's in really rough shape right now. So I have to decide in the next two weeks if I'm going to put a lot of money into her or get a Shondra Two.
What was your musical background like growing up and how did it lead you to the boogie style of piano and performance?
Well, the performance side is just deep-seated insecurity [laughs]. I was in theater and doing kind of performance art stuff in New York before I was touring as a musician. I guess that's probably evident in the shows. The music side of things, I had just been playing piano since I was a little kid, and when I moved to New York in 1998 I got a job playing piano in a bar two nights a week for tips. I did that all through college and then I moved on to gay bars and did that for about five years. I made a good living doing that and saw a lot of crazy things and learned about life. Probably that's where I learned how to perform and work a crowd, because a New York City gay bar, they'll let you know if you suck and if you don't look good, so I think I really learned about audiences doing that. Somewhere in the middle of there I hooked up with Dan Finnemore and we just became friends. It took us another three or four years to start a band together. My background is kind of in boogie, early rock and roll, R&B, blues, rockabilly. I lived in Memphis in 2001 and I learned how to play piano in the Jerry Lee Lewis style. Dan comes from a different background than me; he's played in punk bands and toured all over the world playing in some crazy heavy bands. Somehow when we put his thing with my thing we got this weird thing called Low Cut Connie.
That's what I ask going to ask you next. Dan's style seems more rooted in punk while yours is a little more boogie. How did you know it would work together?
Before we were Low Cut Connie we did two tours. I was called Ladyfingers and he was called Swamp Meat at the time, and I think the gig where it really clicked was across the river from Cincinnati is a town called Newport, Kentucky. We played at this club there and we split the gig, so I did my stuff with him playing drums for me and he did his stuff with me playing piano for him. It was a real blue collar Kentucky crowd and Dan was afraid we were gonna get lynched or something, and somehow between my kind of theatricality and his blue collar punky thing, we just destroyed that room. We realized we had a vibe where we could kind of attack a room from different angles.
Is there a feeling like you're reminding people what a real rock and roll show looks like?
I don't think we have an agenda or think about it too hard in that way, but when I go see other bands it reminds me what we do well. What's amazing to me is how the music business and media and people respond to us - it's very polarizing. When you do what we do, this kind of full course energy rock and roll thing, we've turned on people who've become unbelievably passionate followers of ours, and then there are other people that are really turned off by it. I think that in today, 2015 as opposed to 1955 or 1965, entertainment is really different, and I think that in many decades people have gotten used to being really removed as an audience member from what's happening. I think the one thing we try and do is make a connection with every person in the room, and I do notice culturally that when we go to different places people react very differently.
Especially with cell phones. Everyone's got a separate agenda even when they're at a show.
Yeah. In the beginning we kind of fought that but now I kind of go with it, like get your phone out and capture this.
The new album has some pretty well-known guest appearances. How did those come about?
Running through the whole of the album are various members of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and kind of the Dap Tone affiliates, and that's because of [Thomas Brenneck] our producer, who was the guitar player for the Dap Kings for many years. I think you're probably referring to Merrill Garbus from Tune-yards.
And Dean Ween and Greg Cartwright.
Dan idolizes Greg both in Reigning Sound and the Oblivians, and he was in town in Brooklyn recording his Reigning Sound album that came out last year called Shattered. We just met Greg and hit it off; I knew some people from Memphis in common. We just asked him to come by the studio and it happened in about twenty minutes. Dean Ween, Mickey is a really good friend of mine, and I've known him for about seven years and we're collaborating right now on some songs for him. Merrill from Tune-yards and I have been really good friends for a while and we worked together years ago teaching music at a camp, and she sang at my wedding. My favorite though is Big Pussy from the Sopranos.
I saw that and wasn't sure if it was real or a joke. What did he end up doing?
There's a song on the record called “Danny's Out Of Money”, which is a song I wrote about the ups and downs of being in a band. In the middle of the song Vinny calls in and he's asking to collect the money that Dan owes him, so he provided the voiceover for the gangster phone call. Without going into detail, all I can say is Jersey roots run deep. I'm just excited that all these people I named are happy to be on it.
Your album cover is a little peculiar and was shot by Anders Petersen who did Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs cover. How did that whole thing come about?
People in America don't know his name casually, but he's an older guy from Sweden. He's a Noble Prize photographer, but the Tom Waits cover is probably the thing people know him most for in the U.S. He liked the record and he gave us the photograph for the cover.
Your songs dwell on a lot of individual names (Tina, Diane, Annie, Dickie, Danny etc). Are these real people and how do they end up in songs?
It depends on the song, but I guarantee you Danny is a real guy; that one is just about me and Dan trying to survive in the band. Tina is kind of an alter ego thing. In all those years I was playing in the drag and gay bar scene, I met many Tinas, let me put it that way. I was a closeted straight man in the gay bar circuit.
So you had to wear full drag?
No ... no. I'm not famous enough for people to be interested enough to hear me spill my dirt.
A lot of the songs on the new album seem to have a strange sound like there’s a party going on behind you. Am I tripping or is that intentional?
You've seen our show in that we are trying to raise the energy in the room and get a real party vibe going in the room, and it's the same thing in the studio. By hook or by crook it's just one way or another, and during a the making of this record there were just always a lot of people. We did it in 10 days and there was just kind of always people dropping by and pizza and booze and some shit going on. It came through in the recording.
So there were literally people in the room having a party?
For instance, when we recorded "Shake It Little Tina" we threw a party in the studio and we invited a lot of people. There were about 40 or 50 people crammed into a tiny little space when we recorded the song, and I'm glad about that. Sometimes it feels like a mess trying to get something done in that environment, but I think it comes through in the recording pretty well.
For tour dates and additional info on all things Low Cut Connie check out lowcutconnie.com!
This article originally appeared on Glide Magazine.