There are a couple of times on the record where we have a sort of shorter pieces that are maybe a minute-and-a-half or just under two minutes, whatever. And then I don’t want to call them sketches in a way that is diminishing to them, but they’re like these pieces that are the start of something that then fades. It’s very Modernist in a way: We have to fill in the pieces.
I don’t disagree with you. The process of making this album was, like I said, a mess. I was recording very differently. There have been a lot of changes in my life over the last couple of years, and a lot of times, I just sit at the piano and I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Some of those passages, like “Run To Me Darlin'” and “Quiet Time”, are things that I don’t know how to describe.
It’s just eerie has come into these things take on a deeper resonance today than when I recorded them but just trying to imagine life in a nursing home for people that are kind of at the end of their life and what they’re seeing and thinking about. What does love mean to people who are isolated in their rooms in the nursing home? I don’t provide the answers. And I don’t try to put a cute ending on things in my songs.
There’s no punch line. So, I kind of allowed myself with some of those songs, another one called “Tea Time”, I just allowed myself to let it all hang out. If it were a “finished song” or not, if I felt like I got access to something powerful or new, then I wouldn’t try to turn it into something more conventional.
Was the record finished at the start of the pandemic?
We were close to the finish but not totally finished. I am certainly not one of those people who is gonna sit here and say, “I tried to write the soundtrack for the year we’re in.” The experiences I have go through the antenna on the back of my head. You’re basically talking about consciousness and human conditions. If you do that, people will say, here and there, “This is exactly the song that we need right now.”
It’s funny to me because all the years that I’ve been doing Low Cut Connie, people have talked about how out of time I am. The music has always been described as retro or throwback or anachronistic. I don’t see that in a negative way, though. Tom Waits was anachronistic for his time.
But it’s funny; I’ve never really changed what I’ve been doing. Somehow, I got my hooks into something that feels like now to a lot of people. I don’t disagree. The pandemic was just starting as we were making the last chapter of the album. It was all hovering there in the margins. I don’t think it’s specifically an album about the pandemic or about 2020 or about the election or Black Lives Matter, but it’s certainly all there. All those things have been in the wings of our experience over the last few years.
It’s interesting how records take on a certain significance for us based on when we hear them. I listened to The Replacements Let It Be a ton when I was a teenager. When I hear it now, I think, “Wow, this is adolescence.” The kind of free-range emotions, the juvenile humor. But I wonder if I would have that same take if I’d heard it for the first time as an adult.
Bob Dylan is a writer that I admire greatly, and he has meant a lot to me and so many. I think about the way that he’s done his work. He saw himself as an extension of a lot of my other heroes, who were the blues and rhythm and blues artists of the ’20 and ’30s, many of whom I perform their songs on my Tough Cookies show.
I’m obsessed with what I call songs from 100 years ago. Those were artists, men and women, who were writing and performing songs about their times. It was the time of Jim Crow segregation in the south, the Great Depression, two world wars, before the Civil Rights Act, there was different status for women in society. Those artists, those rhythm and blues artists, were speaking to that 100 years ago.
Bob Dylan just continued to do that and tried to speak to, “What is consciousness and what’s the experience of being a human being? What’s going on in society?” He put that into his songs. People would say, “This song is about the Summer of Love”, or, “This songs is about the protests of the Vietnam War.” He wasn’t necessarily specifically writing about that. He was casting his net more broadly into universal truths in the human experience. That’s what I try to do.
I think it’s wonderful when it resonates with people and it resonates with the times. I have no doubt that two years from now, people will go back and call me retro again, anachronistic. But I just keep my head down and keep doing my thing and talking about what I see in the world.
You brought up Tough Cookies. You started doing that very early on in the whole pandemic, giving people a way to connect with live music right away.
I wish I could tell you there was a master plan, but I’m not a planner. I didn’t plan to do this. I’m happy to be doing it, but I never expected it. This is essentially my job now. It’s very quaint to go back to when we were a week into quarantine. My whole team is in New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans. We started quarantining in early March  and about a week into that, all of our shows were canceled. People were losing their jobs. We didn’t know what the future was going to hold.
But we had a lot of fans who said, “Please send us a message or something online from your house. We could use some rock ‘n’ roll right now.” It’s funny to me because when you back to [those early weeks], people were already saying, “We can take this shit no more.” It had been a week.
After several months you see that some permanent changes are going on in our society. But, getting back to the question, at some point, I said, “Why don’t we do a performance where we go live?” Which I had never done. I thought it was going to be Thursday, Saturday, Monday. I thought that would be it. I thought that would be the whole enchilada. We had no setlist, we had no plan. It was just me and Will [Donnelly] in my bedroom, just playing Low Cut Connie songs.
I didn’t know if there were five people or 500. I can’t hear anyone clapping or laughing. I don’t know. I’m used to hugging people and messing up their hair, all those things. By the end of the hour, I was down to my underwear and covered in sweat. I said, “Were people watching?” and found out that we had about 25,000 views.
There were thousands of comments and we sat there and went through all of them. It was so emotional because people said, “I feel alive for the first time in a long time. I lost my job this week. I lost my friend to COVID this week.”
Honestly, it changed my life. I said, “I have to keep doing this. If this can be of service and I can be of service, if this performance can life people up and we can find a way to use this technology to make people feel uplifted, inspired, connected. catharsis, all those things, we got to try to do it.”
There’s a powerful reminder in there too, that music doesn’t have to happen in an arena or a club for it to move you and for you to connect with other people.
I miss touring as much as anybody, you know. There’s nobody you’ll speak to that loves performing and meeting people and being on stage as I do, but this is the future.
Everybody’s focused on what we’re losing, which I understand, but let’s talk about what we’re gaining. I do these shows, and I have people tuned in from 40 countries regularly, people in Lebanon. I have people tuning in from Ecuador, and South Africa and Australia and Germany, and Japan. Those people in Japan get up at six in the morning and watch on a Saturday. When’s the next time I’m going to tour Ecuador or go to Lebanon? I don’t think that may ever happen.
But I’m reaching these people. What we do with these performances, with the comedy, the soul music, the interviews, the rock ‘n’ roll, all of it, it’s speaking to people all around the world. I can’t wait to get back to touring. I hope I can do them both, but I intend to keep this show going. As an industry, we need to figure out how do we pivot to this and make this artistically really compelling, inspiring.