“I shoot from the hip with everything I do,” said Adam Weiner, the frontperson of Low Cut Connie. Whether onstage, or in his living room, livestreaming to 60,000 listeners, the Jersey-born, Philly-based songwriter is not one to hold back. He’s a rock star, the androgynous leaning, cantorial-influenced, Jewish kid from southern New Jersey kind who really wants you to have a good time.
As the band begins working on new music, a follow-up to their outstanding Dirty Pictures (Part 2), Weiner is trying to emphasize the feel of their live show in their studio work. “Pre-coronavirus, I was doing over a hundred shows a year, which means I was traveling close to 200 days a year,” Weiner said. “I would just drag myself and the band into studios all over the country on days off and knock out songs, trying to create as close to a live performance scenario as I could while attempting to nail things on the first take.” It can be immensely frustrating for a band known for live performances to capture that same energy in-studio, but as concerts have been ground to a halt, Weiner has used livestreaming shows to hone his songwriting and workshop new ideas.
“I’m doing two shows a week out of my bedroom and I’m treating these livestreams like I’m performing at Madison Square Garden. I’m giving it my best. I’m trying to make people feel alive,” he said. He has slowly begun performing newer songs, too, introducing his fan base to new Low Cut Connie music, which blends glam theatrics with bar-band rock ’n’ roll. He looks to legendary songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to inform his songwriting style, and how religion can be an additive as opposed to a musical limitation.
“Leonard Cohen, similar to me, was raised in a very conservative, traditional Jewish upbringing and he wandered through all kinds of other religious faiths: Hinduism and Buddhism in particular. He never, ever lost touch with his Judaism, though,” Weiner explained. “He considered himself a Jew above everything. His music and his writing is so Jewish. That’s how I hope people view me, too.”
Weiner was born 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia in southern New Jersey. His grandmother was born in Palestine, and she moved to the United States as a teenager. Weiner’s upbringing was strict, and his experience of Judaism led him to rebel against the traditional structures of the community he grew up in. “You grow up with this ancient tradition and it’s all in a language that you don’t understand, and things are just so antiquated and serious and stately. My synagogue had a serious dress code. Women couldn’t read from the Torah. The service was almost entirely in Hebrew,” he said. “It was not a kumbaya, touchy-feely, American hippie Judaism, it was definitely Old World and very formal. It was kind of scary and not fun.”
Oddly, becoming a rock star meant getting in touch with Judaism again. “When I started to make music and I started getting deep into my voice and singing, all this cantorial wailing started coming out. Just like my Catholic friends who grew up going to Mass, no matter how religious they are, the tradition is in their bloodstream, it’s who they are,” he explained. “I came to realize that I was a proud Jew and very Jewy, no matter how religiously Jewish I was. I started really owning it.”
While Weiner’s inspiration for his live shows comes from Jewish leaders like his own childhood cantor, he also found great joy in attending Al Green’s church in Memphis, Tennessee, while attending college in the city. “There are more churches than bars in Memphis,” he told Tablet. “There are also a lot of synagogues, by the way. I ended up going to church a couple of times because gospel music is just so powerful. I would just sit there at these church services, not only as the only Jew, but usually the only white person there and I would hold hands with people and dance and sing and cry. It certainly wasn’t a religious observance for me,” he added, “but it was very spiritual because for me my religion is music and art.”
Weiner is able to channel the energy and joy many people get out of religious services into his music, and his performances become mini calls to prayer. Instead of praising a divine figure though, Adam Weiner wants you to put your faith in music. “I developed a church of rock ’n’ roll as a way to inspire my performances,” he explained. “It has brought me so much closer to my fans, but it’s a very Jewy church. I’m integrating a lot of Jewish vocal techniques and a lot of the marriage of humor and formality that I grew up with in synagogue.”
His genre-bending provocations have gotten him into trouble, though. On an early Low Cut Connie tour, he’d perform Frank Sinatra’s “It’s a Lonesome Old Town” and deliver his vocals in a cantorial voice. In cities like Philadelphia and New York, the bit went over extremely well. But in Nashville, at Jack White’s Third Man Records, the audience was less than enthused. “I could not get people to laugh at anything or dance. It was a very stoic audience. I’d get to this point and I’d do the Jewish bit, and it was silent,” he said with a chuckle. “One person in the back of the room went, ‘Woo!’ There was one person who recognized what I was doing and I did this old Mel Brooks thing where I pointed at them and I said, ‘Jew!’ It was absolutely dead silent in the room.” The performance led a local paper to call Weiner an anti-Semite, which he found hysterical. “Look at me!” he explained.
Will Schube is a writer and filmmaker based in Austin, Texas.