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Low Cut Connie Brings People Together on a Strutting Cover of Prince’s ‘Controversy': Exclusive Video Premiere

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During a June interview, Low Cut Connie frontman Adam Weiner discussed visiting the White House at the request of then-President Barack Obama. While there, he noticed there were three photos on the wall from a time when Prince performed at the White House. Weiner was told by photographer Pete Souza that, after Prince died, Obama specifically asked that these photos – which showed the president in various states of busting a move – be hung on the wall as a cherished reminder of the performance.

Obama wasn’t the only Prince super-fan in the room that day, however: Weiner is also a massive fan of the Purple One, and Low Cut Connie has been covering 1981’s “Controversy” for well over a year now. In fact, the song appears on the band’s latest album, Dirty Pictures, Pt. 1 – a swaggering, bluesy, glammy record full of soulful rock ‘n’ roll recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis.

Diffuser is proud to premiere the official video for Low Cut Connie’s version of “Controversy,” which hit the top of the dance charts in November 1981. Appropriately, the video is an homage to the gloriously lo-fi videos of the early ’80s.

On a recent afternoon, Weiner chatted with Diffuser about the band’s choice of covers, what eras of Prince resonate and how he keeps the Artist’ memory alive via Low Cut Connie.

Why “Controversy”? What drew you guys to that song?
Adam Weiner: There’s something very special about that album [1981’s Controversy], because it’s right before he went into the stratosphere in terms of becoming a mega, mega, mega superstar. And I think that he was going places, sort of expanding his range as a writer and a performer, and had a certain freedom. Later, a lot of artists who become huge, they have an image and reputation that they have to uphold or adhere to. And I feel like Controversy is in a place where he was just speaking right from the heart and being very personal. That record has always been one of my favorites of his.

We were messing around with that song before he passed, and we all agreed that if you’re going to cover a Prince song, you gotta bring your A-game. You can’t do it halfway. You gotta do it 110 percent. We were messing around with it, but we hadn’t recorded it or played it live. And then he passed away, and it became a different feeling when we played the song in rehearsal. It felt important. It felt like I wanted to do something as a tribute to him.

Last year, last summer, it was just before we were going to record our album [Dirty Pictures, Pt. 1], we did a cross-country tour. We do a lot of free events in the summer in smaller towns. We did a few in rural Pennsylvania, like Reading and Bethlehem. And we were in a town called Hamilton, Ohio. We did this free show in Hamilton.

If we were playing in a theater or a venue or we’re headlining, or in a big city, or some big event, it’s a world away from doing a free show on a summer evening in Hamilton, Ohio. But we love doing these shows. And we’re getting ready to go out on stage, and a guy comes out with a clipboard and he’s like, “Okay, here’s the curfew, you got parking over here, we got rides for kids. And here we have a band that’s Barack Obama’s favorite band,” in reference to the fact that we had been on Obama’s playlist.

A bunch of people started booing. I look out from backstage and I’m wearing, like, a skintight polyester onesie. I was flaming pretty hard. All these people are booing us. I look out, I see all these red hats, I see NRA T-shirts. And then I see a group of other people booing them. It was a very mixed crowd. I’m walking on stage to a very tense situation. You know as a performer when the audience is not in a good place. This actually was the weekend of the RNC. I turned to my dude, I was like, “Yo, this is going to be our best shot.”

Long story short, we do the show and pulled off the unthinkable in just bringing the whole crowd together and making people forget about why the hell they were booing in the first place. Just the power of rock ‘n’ roll, trying to lift people up. And then at the end, I said, “Guys, let’s do ‘Controversy.'” Like, “Let’s do this song and acknowledge, in some small way, the pungent times that we’re living in, and what we’ve achieved here today in getting past the divisiveness.”

We start doing “Controversy,” and it was amazing. All of a sudden, everybody’s singing along. [sings the chorus] People got their arms around each other. And at the end of the song, I jumped out into the crowd and started hugging people. I feel like the people at the show had a latent desire to release themselves. These sort of tense and angry and divisive feeling. And when I saw that I could dig into my toolbox and pull out this song by Prince, “Controversy,” and that it achieves that fully, I knew that when we went in the studio we had to record it.

I saw the Revolution in May, and it was a similar vibe. Obviously, everyone there was a Prince fan but there’s just something about his music that just brings people together from all walks of life, all backgrounds. There’s so much diversity. It’s amazing.
It is amazing. It’s rock, it’s R&B, funk, soul. It’s all those things and none of those things. He was just such a light, and he existed and thrived in that other space between male and female, between black and white. He tried to take us into that space. Some of those party songs you could refer to as party songs in a diminutive way, but I don’t. If you’re listening to those songs, what I hear is that he’s actively trying to free us of all the things that keep us from feeling joy and feeling titillated, excited and connected to each other.

I love the approach you guys took with the video. So how did that concept come about and evolve?
I love Prince’s videos. He was such an amazing visual image maker, in probably the greatest era of musical image making, in the ’80s and MTV. I grew up with that, and I wanted to get an aesthetic from his early videos, that are done in a lo-fi, early ’80s, somebody’s basement with a green screen kind of way. That was both because of a desire to get back to that “Controversy” era of Prince, but also because of our budget, which was pretty low. [Laughs.]

What are some of your other Prince catalog and career high points that you really gravitate toward?
Prince is just one of these artists like Dylan or Louis Armstrong or people that I really love where there’s just, like, many decades and so many records. If you get into it, you’ve got a life’s worth of music and stuff to dig into.

Purple Rain came out when I guess I was, like, four years old? Three or four years old. And I remember just being absolutely hypnotized by “When Doves Cry,” which still, to this day, it’s the song, even within his catalog, there’s nothing like it. He just created his own genre with that song.

Digging deeper, Dirty Mind is a really big album for me. It’s just an unbelievable outpouring of creativity and not caring about what anybody has to say or what you’re supposed to be doing. I have a fond affection for his late-’80s, early-’90s singles: “Cream,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Most Beautiful Girl In The World.” Every record has a gem on it, and I think he continued to prove himself as an absolutely amazing singles artist, right up until the end. A couple of years ago, he had “Breakfast Can Wait,” which was an amazing song with a very cool video. And I’m sure there are dozens and dozens of other songs that we haven’t heard that one day will be my favorite Prince songs, when they come out.

In terms of your own musical career, what sort of lessons have you applied that you have taken from Prince? Do you see any direct lineage or even indirect influence?
I guess, first of all, in just committing yourself fully to your art and the performance. It’s a hard thing to do, especially in this day and age, where you have to think extra hard about, “How can I have a career? What can I do that will light a fire that will take me to a place to have some kind of career?”

I feel like Prince created this art bubble for himself, and was I guess what you would call an art brat, because he was signed as a teenager. And so that full commitment, that when you’re making your stuff—whether it’s a video or a song or recording or album cover, whatever—it’s just summoning your full spiritual and physical commitment to it. I try and draw from him on that.

Also, my formative days of performing were playing and singing in gay bars. I played in New York City in gay bars for about five years. I was a closeted straight man in a gay bar, and then I would go out with my band and play in, like, punky clubs on the weekends. And I was always the flamiest frontman, or act, that would be in these sort of like grungy, punky clubs. And I always felt like I was always in this space in the middle, not really fitting in here or there.

It’s funny, because last week I did an interview with Elton John, and we sort of connected over being outrageous, piano-playing guys. And I try and look to Prince for that, for the strength and the bravery to stay in that other zone, where you don’t quite fit in and just follow what’s true to your heart.

On a straight musical level, the other thing is he, in my opinion, was equal parts rock and R&B. And if you go back to early rock ‘n’ roll, which is where I thrive, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll were intertwined. Rock ‘n’ roll was music you could dance to. And we try and do that with our band. [Prince] was always doing that, whether he had his foot more on the Around The World In A Day era, sort of the more like Paisley rock ‘n’ roll side, or if he was in his more straight R&B side. He’s always somewhere else other than where you think he is.

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