Chaos, Unity and Rock n’ Roll: In deep with Low Cut Connie

By
Low Cut Connie | courtesy of the artist
Low Cut Connie | courtesy of the artist

Sitting across from me at an uncomfortable metal table outside of Anthony’s Italian Coffee House in the Italian Market, Low Cut Connie’s flamboyant front man Adam Weiner swipes through cheeky black and white pictures of scantily-clad, partying people on his phone. He holds his phone towards me so I can see the pictures too. Pretty closely. In perfect detail. Maybe too much detail.

As he flips through the pictures, he cracks an impish smile and lets off a nostalgic sigh, as if he’d been describing his first kiss or senior year prom date. In front of him sits a large disposable cup of coffee he bought for $3 and change at Anthony’s, which is surely empty by now. It’s approaching 6 p.m. as Weiner and I near the end of a long two-hour interview, which has had its ups and downs. You could say it’s ending on a high note.

“You look at these pictures and you say, what a fucking great mix of people, you know? It’s all just a few hours with Low Cut Connie,” he emotes as the mid-November wind tussles with his stark black wavy hair.

The pictures Weiner is showing me on his phone were taken the night of Low Cut Connie’s hometown show at the Trocadero in September, when the band had a party and “destroyed two rooms,” after the gig at the Center City Holiday Inn, according to Weiner. They depict band members and friends — including legendary Philly drag queen Needles Jones — in all their glory, drinking together, dancing together, showering together and kissing each other. There were gay people, straight people, young people, old people, black people, white people, men, women and a blow-up sex doll named Derrick.

“I mean, you look at these pictures and tell me these people aren’t happy? You tell me these people haven’t had the absolute fucking times of their lives this evening? Right?” he gloats to me as SEPTA’s 47m bus rumbles past us on South 9th Street.

Only Derrick seems a bit taken aback by the whole ordeal. But you can see these photos for yourself. They make up most of the footage for the “Revolution Rock and Roll” music video, the first single off Low Cut Connie’s latest long-player, Dirty Pictures (part 1), out today.

However, a few hours prior to this gathering at the Holiday Inn, Low Cut Connie was hosting a different party onstage at the Trocadero, gettin’ down with the people and spittin’ the gospel truth with a few hundred Boozophilians under the ceiling of a building formerly utilized for vaudevillian and burlesque shows in the 1950s (which is fitting). The vicious cycle of vitality between the unhinged, demand-you-get-up-and-dance sexual power of Low Cut Connie and the unfazed, beguiled audience created newfound energy like a nuclear fusion reaction, breaking down the fourth wall between the two parties like a bulldozer in late-1980s Berlin. Except this was no party — this was a motherfucking celebration, man.

The first thing you need to know about Low Cut Connie concerts is that it’s all about giving and receiving. It begins when Weiner and the band walk onstage, when he emits a wave and smile towards the audience before sitting down at Shondra, his piano. When the first notes are played, energy jolts from Weiner’s fingertips to the dancefloor like lightning, sending the audience into an uncontrollable frenzy of movement like a dog getting his belly rubbed. In this case at least, the crowd wasn’t densely packed towards the front of the stage like most rock shows, leaving more room for dancing.

From time to time, people would clear a circular spot right in front of the stage for couples to dance. Strangers from all different races and ages danced with each other, sung and smiled to the signature catchy melodies Weiner writes into every Low Cut Connie song – it’s proof that Low Cut Connie is not the voice of a generation; they’re the voice of every generation.

Now is as good a time as any to introduce the guys onstage that night:

Lucas Rinz: Rinz is the newest member of Low Cut Connie. He plays bass and was hired when former Low Cut Connie member Dan Finnemore left the group (more on him later). He also plays in another local band called Satellite Hearts.

Larry Scotton: Drummer. Scotton was the former bassist, but became the full-time drummer when Finnemore left so Rinz could play bass. On album, he’s a multi-instrumentalist, also contributing vibraphones and bass. Picking a best-dressed member of the band is difficult, but if someone put a gun to my head, I’d say it’s Larry.

James Everhart: Everhart is the lead guitar player and longest serving member of Low Cut Connie, not counting Weiner, who’s the lone founder of the band left. He wrote a song for the new album, which he sings lead vocals on. It’s called “Am I Wrong?” and it kicks ass.

Will Donnelly: Donelly holds down the rhythm guitar parts, and joined the band soon after Everhart. He looks like he’s 12.

Adam Weiner: The front man who plays the piano and sings lead vocals. The face of the band, and the guy who writes the overwhelming majority of the songs, especially since Finnemore’s departure.

 

Weiner oozes charisma. He’s chock-filled with great quotes and has all the makings of a rock star front man. He’s good-looking, knows how to party, and like Scotton, is a sharp dresser. On this particular night, he’s donning a stylish leather rock-and-roll jacket with a Sherpa collar and faded jeans, as his red designer sunglasses sit on the table next to his wallet. He had been wearing them until the sun set about an hour ago. He maintains a too-cool-to-care, sedated personality that would make Arthur Fonzarelli weak at the knees, yet not in a pretentious way. He likes people. Throughout our conversation, he made a point to say hi and smile at every child and dog that walked by. Oh, and he’s smart. He has a Bachelor’s degree in ethnomusicology from NYU and also studied for a year at the University of Memphis.

Weiner feels that Low Cut Connie’s ability to bring people together is desperately needed in America, and especially right now. The most obvious thing about Weiner’s music, aside from its catchiness, is that most if not all of his songs are either directly or indirectly about diversity, inclusivity and togetherness. This was a hot topic of our conversation, especially because of the day we met up: November 15, 2016. Exactly one week after the election of you-know-who.

“Just walking around Philly I’ve seen more tension, I’ve seen more what I called side-eye,” Weiner said to me earlier in our talk. “People looking at each other. What side are you on? Who are you? Where are you from? The optics of it are very bad.”

Weiner doesn’t write songs about politics, but the election had just happened and the thought of who the next President was going to be was still raw. The candidate who won doesn’t exactly share Weiner’s affinity for people of all different backgrounds, and the immediate nausea of being kicked to the ground had yet to wear off by this point. Will that influence his songwriting in the future?

“There’s a little antenna in the back of my head and I just pick up feelings and vibrations of what’s going on and what people are feeling. Good, bad, and otherwise,” he explained. “’Boozophilia’ is a song about people and the experience that they have together in a bar, the experiences that I’ve had traveling and meeting all kinds of people. ‘Rio’ is another angle. A different demographic of people. ‘Little Queen of New Orleans’ is another slice of life… I’m not the type of person that says I’m going to wake up today and write a song about Donald Trump.”

Given Weiner’s appreciation for diversity and unity, it may surprise you to learn that Low Cut Connie wasn’t offered a record contract with Chicago-based Bloodshot Records because the label considered the band’s lyrics to be “sexist,” according to Weiner. When asked about the label’s refusal to offer a contract to Low Cut Connie, Nan Warshaw, co-owner of Bloodshot Records, gave the following response in an email: “5+ years ago, we passed on the band because we didn’t feel their lyrics and persona were the right fit for Bloodshot. The band is clearly talented. We’ve remained friendly with them and wish them the very best.”

When pressed further about whether or not Bloodshot thought the band’s lyrics were explicitly “sexist,” Warshaw sent back another email containing the following: “In Low Cut Connie’s early album lyrics and imagery we felt there was a sexist overtone to it, which informed only a part of our decision making on the band, [however] we never referred to the band or its members as ‘sexist.’”

A few months prior to my November meeting with Weiner, I initially interviewed him along with guitarist James Everhart at the Broad Street Diner in South Philly. It was the first time Weiner had seen Everhart since he had gotten a new tattoo on his arm. As we initially sat down at the table, I was greeted by the following conversation between the two band members about Everhart’s new ink.

Weiner: “Is that new?”

Everhart: “Oh, I got that a few days ago.“

Weiner: “It’s a cock and balls?”

Everhart: “Cock and balls? It’s the tower from the beach I grew up near as a kid.”

With locker room banter tossed around like this, does the sexism claim bother Weiner at all? “I definitely am not happy if someone thinks we are [sexist],” he says. But does he see the band’s music that way? “Oh my god no,” Weiner said. “We were playing in Texas [about a week after Bloodshot accused us of having sexist lyrics] and a guy said ‘you’re all pretty good for a gay band,'” Weiner explains. “A lot of people have assumed that I’m gay through the history of our band, and I find all of this really interesting that we are sexist on a Monday and gay on Tuesday.”

But boyish humor, beware: when it comes to getting shit done, Weiner and co. have the prowess of veteran businessmen. Take the story behind the cover art for the band’s previous album, Hi Honey, for example: It’s a black and white picture of a woman smoking a cigarette that’s being held by the toes of another woman’s foot. The picture was taken by a Swedish photographer named Anders Petersen, who, by the way, also shot the cover art for Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs.

Weiner dug up Peterson’s email and messaged him about wanting to use the photo for the cover of Hi Honey. Petersen’s response? He could have it for free as long as he didn’t crop it or alter it in any way. All was well until about a month later when Petersen’s publicist emailed Weiner about how he actually needed to pay €5,000 for the photo because she wasn’t aware of Peterson authorizing Low Cut Connie’s use of the picture. Weiner responded saying that it was too late – the album cover had already been printed. The publicist let the band off the hook. “Alright, well, next time,” Weiner says she told him. And voila! Free cover art!

Low Cut Connie’s Hi Honey album art

If you’re a fan of the band, you might think you know the story of how the project started, but you probably don’t know the truth. Adam Weiner and Dan Finnemore, who held a long tenure as the band’s resident British bloke, got stuck in a freight elevator in London, where they became friends and eventually started a band, right? That’s what all the articles have said, but it’s not completely true. “That is one story that traveled a great distance,” Weiner had told me earlier in the evening while the sun was still up. “It’s not true but it isn’t not true.”

Did Weiner and Finnemore get stuck in a freight elevator together? Yes, that part is true. But they had met about four years prior in New York City circa 2005. Finnemore was in town visiting from England with a few of his fellow countrymen to guest a drum track on the upcoming album by Birmingham rock band Copter, Strangest Tales. This is where he met Weiner by chance at a now-defunct bar called the Lakeside Lounge in the East Village. Weiner was performing that night as Ladyfingers, his pre-Connie solo project. After the performance, the guys met, chatted a bit, and exchanged contact info. That night, one of Finnemore’s English friends invited Weiner to come to England and play a few shows with Finnemore’s band Swampmeat, which he took them up on. After the gig in Birmingham, Weiner got stuck in a freight elevator with Finnemore, where they hit it off and became close friends.

Before we go any further, here’s some pertinent info: Like I mentioned before, Weiner had a solo project called Ladyfingers prior to Low Cut Connie, which wasn’t very successful. His best album as Ladyfingers, he said, was the last one, called Open Your Robe. Weiner’s friend Neil Duncan engineered and produced that record in his Gainesville, Florida studio called The Vertical Bird. When Weiner toured that album, it became clear that Ladyfingers wasn’t going anywhere, and Weiner himself admitted that the whole project was going “fairly poorly.” When he got back from tour, Duncan proposed that he and Weiner collaborate for a new album. Weiner accepted, partly because he couldn’t afford to pay him to produce another Ladyfingers album, but also because it seemed like fun. They made plans to record the next coming summer.

In the meantime, Weiner regularly gigging with Finnemore’s Swampmeat in the US and Europe. Towards the end of the tour, Weiner told Finnemore about his plans to record in Gainesville with Duncan, and he invited Finnemore to join him. He thought sure, yes, why the hell not? He’ll fly to Florida and record an album with Weiner and Duncan. He’ll make a vacation out of it. That record turned out to be Get Out The Lotion, the first album by what eventually became Low Cut Connie.

The success of Get Out the Lotion really put the band on the map upon its release in 2011 — especially when illustrious music critic Robert Christgau sang its praises. But then Connie released an even better second album in September 2012 called Call Me Sylvia, which featured the hit single “Boozophilia,” a track that famously made it onto President Obama’s Spotify summer playlist. By this time, Finnnemore had moved from England to Philadelphia to play in Low Cut Connie full-time. However, Finnemore’s life in Philly was rough. While he was able to find bar work and DJ to make extra cash, it was hard for him to make ends meet financially. At one point he even worked for Mambo Movers, but his international visa simply prevented him from being able to make a comfortable living wage. So he moved back to England in the summer of 2013, opting instead to fly across the Atlantic Ocean whenever the band needed him. This way he could take back his old job in Birmingham as a college film studies professor.

The Dan-living-in-England setup worked for a little while, and well enough for the band to record its third album, Hi Honey, released in 2015. Up until Hi Honey, Weiner and Finnemore were the two main faces of the band, both of whom each wrote and sang about half the songs. Weiner provided the band’s polished pop sound, while Finnemore provided the gritty garage rock. But there was a problem: As it turns out, playing in a Philadelphia-based band while simultaneously residing in Birmingham, England is a hard thing to do. Being a college professor, Finnemore would typically get summers off, which left gaps for Connie to do the bulk of its touring. “[Low Cut Connie] had to say no to literally dozens of shows, opportunities, entire tours we got offered,” Weiner said. “‘We’d love to have Low Cut Connie open for Gogel Bordello on a tour!’ ‘Well, we can’t do it, our guy’s in England.”

There were also issues around airline costs, of visa costs, of visa paperwork. Over the course of several long conversations, it became clear something needed to change. As Weiner put it, Low Cut Connie grew. It didn’t make sense for the band professionally or financially, or for Dan personally, to continue in its current state.

Interestingly enough, the band has a song off of Hi Honey called “Danny’s Outta Money,” which, if you listen to the lyrics, are clearly about Finnemore’s financial struggles while living in Philly. “Danny’s outta money / Danny needs a helping hand / Danny’s outta money / we’re breaking up the band.” Turns out those lyrics weren’t just autobiographical. They were prophetic.

“Obviously, it was a bit of a pill to swallow because it wasn’t my decision to leave the band,” Finnemore told me via Skype from his Birmingham bedroom. “I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be able to do as much as the band wanted me to and there was talk of me not doing some of the tours and them doing it without me. I mean, I can understand the logistics of the situation because it was costing me money to fly me over and visas and stuff, but ultimately it wasn’t my decision to leave.”

Initially, the split didn’t go smoothly. Finnemore and Weiner didn’t talk for months after Finnemore’s departure because they needed to “give each other some space,” according to Weiner. I mentioned in the first paragraph of this article that my interview with Weiner “had its ups and downs.” About that: he doesn’t seem particularly psyched to talk about parting ways over a year ago with his bandmate and friend. And you know what? He’s right. The nitty gritty details of the split aren’t important. In fact, Weiner and Finnemore of the band have largely reconciled their differences and are now on speaking terms.

Both are doing quite well, actually. Finnemore still has Swampmeat, although the name has since changed to Swampmeat Family Band. They recorded a new album in the wake of Finnemore’s exit from Connie, which will come out sometime this year on Third Man Records. Finnemore sent me songs from the upcoming album, and they’re great. They’ve got a killer garage-rock sound, reminiscent of Finnemore’s songs in Low Cut Connie. You should buy the album and listen to it when it comes out.

And Weiner, of course, still has Low Cut Connie, which today debuted Dirty Pictures (part 1), the band’s fourth full-length album. Part 2 will be released either later in the year or sometime in 2018. There’s no denying that Low Cut Connie developed a slightly different sound than it had before Finnemore left. Weiner’s pop tendencies are more prevalent, while the garage rock sensibilities Finnemore had previously brought to the band have been diminished a bit – and I don’t mean that as a pejorative. Weiner’s goal for the album was to capture the energy of a live Low Cut Connie performance, and that he did. It’s a party rock album capable of blowing the afro off of Redfoo’s noggin. Weiner sees the record as a new beginning.

“I mean, you came to our Troc show, you see what it is now,” Weiner told me. “And we didn’t have our head cut off. Me leaving the band would be the band is over. There is no band. Losing Dan was a rallying point for the rest of us. It means now we can really dig in. Now we can go make this band more successful and now we can go reach a shit ton more people with our music.”

But hey, life has its ups and downs, right? Sometimes you find yourself in a struggling long-distance relationship, and sometimes you find yourself sitting in the middle of the Italian Market looking at pictures of naked people at a Low Cut Connie music video party.

Low Cut Connie’s DIrty Pictures (part 1) is out today, and available here. Low Cut Connie headlines Union Transfer on Friday, September 8th. Tickets and more information on the show can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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