By Brian F. Johnson
“West Colfax is the new East Colfax,” laughed Slim Cessna about his new-ish Lakewood mailing address. The Slim Cessna’s Auto Club leader, who moved back to Denver a few years ago, after an extended amount of time in Rhode Island and Pittsburgh, was adamant however that he’s not part of the rush of newbies moving to Colorado. “I’m fourth generation Colorado. I’m not going to be part of any influx of knuckleheads. And anyhow, I can’t afford to live in Denver. I live in Lakewood — which is awesome by the way. I would have never thought of living here, and here I am. If you miss certain things of Denver, I don’t know, West Colfax is still pretty cool.”
Cessna is heralded as the Godfather of the iconic Denver sound, a title he held even while he was away, due to the deep impact that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club has had on the Mile High. It was 24 years ago that the Auto Club formed here, going back to when the city was simply scoffed at by many as a cowtown, a stopover on the way to either coast, and after years away it was inevitable for Cessna to return.
“My kids grew up and moved out of the house and it was just time for me to come home,” Cessna said, during a recent interview with The Marquee. “Dwight [guitarist Lord Dwight Pentecost]is back now too. He moved back [from Boston]a couple of years ago, so we’re all back. Really it was just time. It was probably long overdue.”
With the members re-congregated in Denver, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club found itself in a situation that was unique to them after more than two decades as a band. With all of the players in the same town, and on the same page, it meant that they could focus on their business like they never had before, and take on projects that they could have never done while spread out across the country. The result is SCACUnincorporated, the band’s own label, which they birthed last year. “You know a lot of it just came down to the fact that we’re back in town and have more time together where we can really focus on things. With the internet we’ve always been able to accomplish what we wanted but there’s really something to be said about being able to easily get together and throw things on the table and try to figure out what we’re doing. It’s a lot easier to do that when we all live in the same place.”
SCACUnincorporated wasted no time getting to work and in 2015 released the mostly retrospective reissue of their European record SCAC102: An Introduction for Young And Old Europe. They followed that with a release of the Auto Club spin-off DBUK (also known as Denver Broncos UK), which features Cessna, Pentecost, Rebecca Vera and head writer for SCAC, Munly Munly. Now however, the label is ready to unveil it first full length of new original material, SCAC’s latest 10 song LP The Commandments According to SCAC.
With a title like that it’s not a surprise that the album sees the band still back behind its patented psychedelic Baptist revival pulpit, mixing rock, country, bluegrass, folk and gospel with over-whelming theatrics and charisma, even in the studio. “This is so much from the mind of Munly,” said Cessna. “He wrote every song on the album. I’m not even sure if I understand a lot of the songs, which is kind of the fun for me to try to decipher these things because he certainly doesn’t give away anything to me either,” Cessna said.
While The Commandments tread over tested territory for the group, it also shows a melodic delicacy that Slim Cessna’s Auto Club has only hinted at until now. The album starts with “Commandment 1” (every song on the obviously 10-track album has it’s own number) as Cessna’s echoey voice — accompanied by a softly strummed acoustic guitar and spacey reverby pedal steel and electric guitar tremolo — sings the gentlest of intros that swells into a stomping frolic. “Commandment 9” starts like a lullaby by Auto Club standards and again crescendos to a larger-than-life revival show, but when the band hits the bridge about two thirds of the way through the song, and harmonizes a rich cascading melody, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club sounds beautiful in a way they’ve never sounded before.
“It’s quite a departure,” Cessna said. “We’ve gone somewhere we haven’t been before and that’s interesting and fun. I still haven’t come back to it yet to be able to listen to it properly. I’m still kind of — processing. I think that’s fun for us to have a little mystery. Actually I don’t think it’s fun. That is fun for us to have some kind of screen that some people may or may not be able to open. You know that could have hurt us in the past with some of the religious content that has been taken as tongue-in-cheek that were certainly never intended that way. Whether or not I’m speaking for everyone in the band I don’t know, but I was raised a certain way where those issues are not to be taken lightly,” he said.
Cessna, the son of a Baptist preacher, explained that despite his upbringing, the oftentimes non-secular themes of his music as well as the Pentecostal tent revival spirit of his performances aren’t necessarily traceable back to his roots. “My father is a retired Baptist preacher, but he wasn’t the stereotype of a Baptist preacher. He was very conservative and certainly I didn’t learn any [of my stage theatrics]from him. I’m not really sure where it came from. I think that over the years it just became Munly and I trying to outdo each other on stage and it just developed into what we do now. You know, honestly music is my religion and I think there’s a power to it. Music is the way for people to express their faith. If it gives you goosebumps, whether you’re at church, or at a rock concert or the synagogue or whatever it is, there’s power to it and we certainly use that or at least try to tap into that.”
And tap into it they most certainly have. Next year Slim Cessna’s Auto Club will turn a quarter of a century, an astounding feat for any group, let alone one that lives on the fringe. Cessna laughed it off as a “fake” milestone, since the early days of the group had different lineups, but he said too that he’s proud of the “slow build” of the band. “I’m very stubborn,” said the 50-year-old singer. “I just refuse to stop. And, honestly, I don’t have anything else to fall back on in any way. Thankfully, Munly and Dwight have been with me for so many years. We just keep going. I definitely understand that it’s a cult status kind of thing, and it would be wonderful to make some more money than we do and to be able to pay the bills easier, but at the same time, we’re proud of our accomplishments and that they’ve always been done on our terms.”
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