Low Cut Connie, Ann Schorr and Significant Others
Wednesday, 9 p.m. at the Hi-Tone Café, 1913 Poplar Ave. Admission: $10.
For more information, go to hitonememphis.com or call 901-278-8663.
Adam Weiner and Dan Finnemore, the singer-songwriters behind the raw-boned rock-and-roll combo Low Cut Connie, look at their band as a second chance.
Emerging pretty much out of nowhere in 2011, this union of indie-rock veterans has enjoyed the kind of critical praise and intense fan affection that most groups would kill for. For the two 32-year-olds, Low Cut Connie has afforded them a real opportunity to do something with their music, just when it seemed their professional dreams may have passed them by.
"We both played music for 10 years, and I don't want to say we'd given up, but we were moving into that time of life where we were probably gonna just do it on the weekends," Weiner says. "Then this band hit. We figured we'd worked for a chance like this for so long, we'd be crazy not to give it a real shot now."
Low Cut Connie, which makes its Memphis debut Wednesday at the Hi-Tone Café in support of its recently released sophomore album, has myriad ties to the Bluff City, and its appearance will be a musical and personal homecoming of sorts.
Weiner grew up in South Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, but it was a trip to Memphis as a college sophomore during New Year's Eve 1999 that changed his life. "I'd never been down South before," Weiner says. "I was 19 years old. I spent the weekend in Memphis and Mississippi, and I just really connected with the place and felt like I wanted to come back."
Weiner returned to college at New York University and saw that many of his friends and classmates were going off to study abroad. When he told school officials he wanted to continue his studies in Memphis, their response was, "Memphis, Egypt?"
In 2001, Weiner enrolled in the University of Memphis' musicology program, working closely with roots/blues expert Dr. David Evans. He continued his informal studies by watching late boogie-woogie pianist Mose Vinson every weekend, and doing an internship with the "Beale Street Caravan" radio show. "I got a really amazing Memphis music experience," Weiner says. "That's where I really dug deep into my piano playing and decided I wanted to be a rock-and-roll piano player."
After leaving Memphis, Weiner started a spooked-out rockabilly/doo-wop project called Ladyfingers, which released a series of albums and toured the U.S. frequently. While playing a show in New York, Weiner first crossed paths with Birmingham, England, native Dan Finnemore. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Finnemore was playing drums in a band called The Big Bang. He'd come up as part of Birmingham's Cold Rice scene, a garage-rock record label, club night and collective in the mold of Memphis' Goner Records.
Like Weiner, Finnemore had been similarly shaped by the music of Memphis, both past and present. "It was a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis, Stax, old-school rock and roll," Finnemore says. "But I was exposed to a lot of newer music, too, like Reigning Sound and Greg Cartwright and Jay Reatard."
Sparking a friendship, Weiner's and Finnemore's eventual professional collaboration came as a result of them being stranded together under less-than-ideal circumstances.
In 2006, Weiner had gone to the U.K. to perform as part of a Cold Rice concert event alongside Finnemore's project Swampmeat. "After the show, Dan was trying to take me to a party where there was going to be some girls," Weiner recalls. "We went to this warehouse to drop off the equipment. We got into an elevator with all our gear and a duffel bag full of all the booze from the gig … and then the elevator got stuck."
Eventually, the Birmingham fire brigade had to be summoned to rescue the pair. But during the hours they were trapped together, "the drinks were flowing, and we started messing around on guitars," Weiner says. Over the next few years, Ladyfingers and Swampmeat regularly toured the U.S. and Europe jointly, with Weiner playing piano for Finnemore, and Finnemore playing drums with Weiner.
Then in 2010, Finnemore found himself stranded in the U.S. for two weeks at Weiner's house amid the international travel restrictions caused by the volcanic ash cloud in Iceland. "That's when we really started playing and writing together and where Low Cut Connie came together," Weiner says.
The pair recorded the first Low Cut Connie album, Get Out the Lotion, in a four-day blast at guitarist Neil Duncan's studio in Gainesville, Fla. "It was clear from the get-go that there was something special going on with the band," Weiner says.
The 11 songs on the record vividly defined the Low Cut Connie aesthetic: '50s-flavored melodies, greasy boogie rhythms, salty lyrics, and a sometimes-boozy, but always-lively approach. "Essentially, the spirit behind real rock and roll is what's guiding us," Finnemore says. "We felt we could do something interesting with that."
In 2011, they decided to print a few hundred copies of the album and mail them out to media and labels just to see what might happen. A couple of months later, the first of their many press plaudits came in the form of a rave review by Robert Christgau, "the dean of American rock critics." Then in rapid succession came glowing features on NPR and in Rolling Stone, and spots on scores of year-end "best of" lists. For an album that was self-released almost as a lark, with little or no expectations, the response was more than a little surprising.
That momentum carried the band into the making of its second LP, Call Me Sylvia. Again self-released this past October, the 15-track affair expands the band's range, with Weiner adding some louche ballads and Finnemore furnishing a plethora of sharp scuzz-pop sing-a-longs.
Despite the inroads they've made — the group has secured a manager, lawyer and booking agent — the bigger record labels have been wary, unable to lump the band into a larger trend. Meanwhile, fans and critics have embraced the band wholeheartedly. "Even though what we do is definitely not new," Finnemore says, "it's kind of refreshing for a lot of people."
Finnemore and Weiner are putting big bets on Low Cut Connie. Each has quit his teaching job to focus full time on the group. Finnemore has gotten a year-long work visa and taken up residency in the U.S., where he's currently living, flopping with Weiner and his wife in New York. "He's sleeping on my couch right now," says Weiner, chuckling. "We both essentially ruined our lives for this band."
"Hopefully, we grow and get to a place where I'm not homeless," Finnemore adds. "But it's all worth it at the end of the day. We both believe in what we're doing. We just need to keep plugging away."