Members of local band Low Cut Connie function, and occasionally dysfunction, like a long-distance relationship. With the principal songwriters sometimes separated by the Atlantic Ocean - Adam Weiner's a Cherry Hill native, while Dan Finnemore's from Birmingham, England - the band's found itself facing the same existential crisis time and time again: Are we really doing this?
The most recent teeter toward extinction came after its widely praised 2012 sophomore album, "Call Me Sylvia," with its ode to South Philly, "Boozophilia," that landed at No. 31 on Rolling Stone's Top 50 Songs of 2012. Finnemore's visa had run out, band members were running low on funds, and there was that ever-looming notion of throwing in the towel, getting a 9-to-5, and making music a weekend hobby.
The three-year gap between "Sylvia" and their latest LP, "Hi Honey," out this week, was loaded with discussions of money, distance, and maintaining some sort of life normalcy.
"And as they say in 'The Sopranos' [quoting from 'The Godfather Part III'], 'Every time I get out, they pull me back in,' " Adam Weiner, the band's electric singer and pianist, said recently. "We did it kind of 50 percent until a year and a half ago - [and then the band decided] OK, this is full time now."
The reference to the HBO drama isn't out of character for Weiner. Everything about Low Cut Connie has a story arc. Whether it's their origins, the cinematically bizarre situations they've found themselves in, or the colorful characters they sketch through song, Low Cut Connie is a band rooted in oddity and history.
There are the stories they want you to know, like how the band was born when Weiner and Finnemore were stuck for four hours in a freight elevator in England, and the ones that maybe aren't as exciting - by the time the elevator incident occurred, the two had already been playing music in each other's bands.
Through its tour-de-force performances (thanks, in part, to Weiner's experience as a piano player in New York City gay bars), its soulful, danceable melodies and its rambunctious song themes, Low Cut Connie - formed in 2010 - quickly became a bar-band favorite. That's a term that doesn't have as harsh a connotation for Weiner as it may for other musicians: "If you can't entertain a bunch of people in a little bar, if you can't get them to dance, if you can't get them to laugh, then you don't have the chops to play on a bigger stage."
Small is beautiful
Though they've grown beyond the scopes of South Philly dives - they opened for the Shins at Jack White's Third Man Records - Low Cut Connie still frequents smaller venues. It's a part of what makes them so appealing: They're bridging the gap between bar bands and festival headliners.
At that intersection comes a party, especially on "Hi Honey." The small Daptone Records studio space used to record the album created an in-the-bar-with-you feeling that brings the charm of a Low Cut Connie performance to your speakers.
With every good party comes good party guests, too. "Hi Honey" has not just character, but characters. Some are fictional - like the relationship gone wrong in "Diane (Don't Point That Thing At Me)." Some are an amalgamation of people - Tina in "Shake it Little Tina" is based on straitlaced guys who become "Tina" on Saturdays. And some are just what they seem - "Danny's Outta Money" is exactly that.
The tune is a direct, tongue-in-cheek dig at Finnemore's financial state and the band's constant state of flux. "In the middle in the song, because I'm talking about how Dan owes everybody money, I said, 'I really want to get somebody to call us and say they're going to break our kneecaps if we don't pay them,' " Weiner recalled.
It turns out a friend of Weiner's had actor Vincent Pastore, who played Big Pussy on "The Sopranos," on speed dial. He liked the song and agreed to perform a spoken-word bit in it, but not without a price. After a little haggling, they agreed on the cheapest option: Pastore left a voicemail that went on the record.
Pastore isn't the only big name on "Honey," either. Weiner roped in friends Dean Ween of Ween and Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards for guitars and vocals on "Dickie's Bringin' Me Down" and "Little Queen of New Orleans," respectively. The album's artwork is an image shot by famed photographer Anders Petersen - another artist who agreed to share his work with the band that had no budget.
Gettin' it on
Whether it's a stroke of luck or a penchant for strangeness, the Pastore and Petersen (or Ween and Garbus, for that matter) situations don't even begin to scratch the surface of the band's too-good-to-be-true memories.
Take Shondra - Weiner's prized piano, heard on "Hi Honey" and lovingly wheeled into every performance. She's named, according to the band, for a beyond-middle-aged dancer from Atlanta's Clermont Lounge who offered Finnemore her special birthday routine, set to Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On."
About halfway through, Shondra revealed a Budweiser can and urged Finnemore to drink it. He did. "She takes the [empty] can, she turns around," Weiner remembered. "She put it in her ass and she crushed the can to the beat of the song. Crushed it. Crushed."
These stranger-than-fiction experiences litter Low Cut Connie songs, giving them their street-smart edge.
"I just feel like we're trying to bring a little sense of humor and also shine a light on an audience and a part of society that most people aren't writing about," Weiner said.
Hi Honey release party, with the Silks, Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St., 8 tonight, 21-plus, $12, undergroundarts.org.