If there was a band specifically designed to survive the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic, Low Cut Connie might be that band. What many people saw as a good time rock ‘n’ roll band when they issued their debut album (Get Out the Lotion) a decade ago has evolved into a band that has a social conscience and a deep connection with its fanbase.
From the start, founding member Adam Weiner drew on the characters and situations around him in song, delivering portraits that were equal parts Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, and Nelson Algren. Along the way, it became fashionable to label Low Cut Connie a “throwback” band: more in tune with the loose, fun times of rock ‘n’ roll in its earliest iteration. Or, at the very least, they were some well-oiled machine that harkened back to the rhythm ‘n’ sleaze of J. Geils Band and others of the ilk.
But there was always something more to their music and lyrics, something that those outside the ever-widening circle of fans didn’t always catch on to immediately. What has separated Low Cut Connie from the beginning is a beating, thriving, evolving heart that was also about more than reportage. It also wasn’t culture tourism. As with Reed, Weiner proved himself a writer who lived among the people he was writing about, felt the things they felt and wanted us to feel them too. Because, above all, he was writing about the human condition.
For all the cries of retread or retromania in Low Cut Connie’s music, the band continued to evolve. With “Montreal”, from 2017’s Dirty Pictures (Part One), Weiner delivered a song that was as forward-moving and breathtaking as Kurt Cobain’s “Pennyroyal Tea”. It was rock ‘n’ roll but moving into a different chapter in the contemporary songbook, weaving together snapshots of lives too often unexamined in the public sphere and delivered with an uncommon sense of conviction.
That conviction’s evident on Low Cut Connie’s latest effort, 2020’s Private Lives. There are pages that are familiar to anyone who has been tuned in since the start — and surprises as well. “Look What They Did” was heralded by some as an answer to Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City”. Though there is some truth to that, the candor with which Weiner delivers the lyrics and the warmth of his performance moves the craft of American songwriting forward several spaces.
Forget that he considers the double LP something of a mess; it’s an important document of the fragmentary nature of the Trump era, a constant sense of not necessarily moving forward or backward but instead moving into ellipses. What’s next? The answer remains unclear because the future is uncertain.
The year since its completion has been difficult, but Weiner has persevered, creating the beloved Tough Cookies variety show in the process. It was once described as “a concert, a church service, a support group, a strip club, a punk club, but mostly a soul music variety show.” It’s been one of the most consistent broadcasts of its kind and helps shape live music’s future with its singular vision.
Speaking with PopMatters about the album and Tough Cookies itself from his home in Philadelphia, Weiner is, unsurprisingly, hopeful for the future and thankful for his growing audience.
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When did you know it was time to start writing this record?
I don’t know. That’s like scheduling sex, you know? You’ve got a lot of balls asking me that question. [laughs]
But you can’t really schedule that. It just happened.
OK, when did you know it was going to be a double album?
This album was such a mess, and I knew I knew I was making a mess. And there’s a mess on so many levels. But when I sat down late last year and unblurred my eyes and looked at it all and there were like 40 songs. I’ve done so many versions of different things, and it was three to four years worth of stuff.
I focused on it, and I had had some late additions. When I thought I was done, “Look What They Did” came out of the woodwork, and “Private Lives”, the song, came out. There were two or three additions that let me know, “OK, I think it’s going to be these 17 songs.” I could see it all in my eyes. It was like minute mini-movies, these character studies. They all belong together. We had done these short and punchy little LPs that took people on a quick roller coaster ride in the past. This time, I knew I wanted to take you somewhere and keep you there for a while.
Do you remember the specific inspiration for “Look What They Did”?
I’m actually down here now, right by Atlantic City, and grew up here, coming every summer. I’ve watched the city change and not change over my whole lifetime. When I was a little kid, the city was completely transformed by Donald Trump and some of his buddies. It was done on a series of false promises: how these properties could transform Atlantic City for the better. I don’t know if you know that history but, basically, they failed.
They had a couple of referendums where the people in Atlantic City voted these proposals down. Once these casinos [came] to the boardwalk, after a couple failed ones, they had to convince people to pass the referendum to build these casinos by promising that the city would get all this stuff for seniors and healthcare and parks and that it would create a whole bunch of new jobs. It would be great for local vendors, and people got excited like this would be a boon to the city.
But what happened after that was quite the opposite. The properties that they built here, Trump, in particular, had these vacuum-sealed casinos; they’re like mini economies unto themselves. You drive there, you park inside, you eat there, you do your dry cleaning there, you do everything there; you never leave. So it was devastating to the economy of the rest of the city.
Number two, none of that revenue ever went to the city. There was no money, no percentage that went to schools or seniors or healthcare anything.
And number three, eventually, Trump and his buddies bankrupted these casinos on purpose so that they could get out. And they left the mess. They left a lot of unpaid vendors. They left people without jobs. And they left these monstrosities on the boardwalk like Trump Plaza, where we shot that video which is sitting there abandoned. And they’re about to tear it down finally. [Editor’s Note: they did.]
But the people that live in the city are very resilient. They’re still trying new ideas like Snoop Dogg is coming here, and he’s going to be building some things, which I think is good. Still, I was trying to think about the people that live here and try to raise their children here and how difficult it is to get a leg up and also tried to zoom out to the rest of the country because this isn’t just about Atlantic City. It’s about American cities all over America. As you’ve seen in the video, I’ve pointed to Ferguson, which is really like the Black Lives Matter movement’s first major event.
In some ways, things are worse. At least now we’re having these conversations, but a lot of people called “Look What They Did” a political song. I don’t think of it like that; I’m always writing about how people live and the human condition. If you do that, with regularity, sometimes you’ll strike a nerve, and people will interpret it as a strictly political statement.