The mellow-ish side project of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club shows a softer, seated side to the Denver legends
Story by Sarah Baranauskas
“We are getting older,” Jay Munly, better known as Munly J Munly, said simply, describing the motivation behind Denver’s DBUK. “We are wanting to age gracefully with ourselves as well as our audience. It’s nice to not have to exert yourself every night.”
“It’s a different type of exertion though,” he added, after a pause and with his delightfully dry sense of humor. “I mean, sometimes there isn’t enough padding on the seats.”
Munly and his DBUK bandmates Slim Cessna, Lord Dwight Pentacost, and Rebecca Vera, are perhaps better known as the core members of the legendary Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, whose rousing and rowdy live shows — that are part psychedelic Baptist revival pulpit, part cathartic exorcism — are credited with birthing “the Denver sound.” Like most musical monikers, it’s a somewhat limited description, that was best, or at least most excitingly, executed by its originators, who haven’t enjoyed the success of their later day, watered-down imitators.
Much like the scene they spawned, Denver has become overwhelmed by population growth and rising costs of admission.
“To put it plain and simple. it’s been difficult,” Munly says, reflecting on the city that feels less and less like home. “That applies on so many levels. Take our living situation, now I’ve got people stealing stuff off my lawn. It’s difficult at times to be part of this city I used to be proud of. I want my city back.”
Munly pauses to collect his thoughts and then continues: “But, of course, that is not fair. And that happens in every generation. There’s nothing uniquely magical about my generation.”
A soft-spoken baritone who carefully chooses his words, Munly is never one to proffer easy answers or reductionist takes on anything. The only thing he will say for sure is, whether it is regarding Slim Cessna’s Auto Club or DBUK (which stands for Denver Broncos UK), is that he has found a group of fellow musicians that are more like family — and this family works hard.
“To me, it’s more about work ethic than inspiration,” he reflected. “I don’t want to speak for other people but the key for me is to just keep working. But we wouldn’t be able to work if this were a dictatorship. I am very proud and have worked hard on my songwriting but I don’t want to be in a band with a dictatorship. Honestly, we don’t make enough money to have the gumption to do that.”
“I think a nice part of leadership is to let people use their strengths,” he explained further. “No one would stick around very long if they weren’t allowed to participate and use their strengths. When people find their jobs within the band, that makes it a good environment for everyone involved. We have been together for so long that we don’t really need to speak about what the feel of a song is or who will play what. We just understand. This group of people understands. It’s intuitive. I don’t know how common that is but most of us couldn’t operate in another band, at least to the full effect. Everyone is a really good player but I don’t see other bands operate the way we do. We see everything that happens backstage with other bands, like the fighting, and it doesn’t happen with us.”
Describing DBUK as simply a mellower version of SCAC does not begin to do it justice. There’s a wide-angle lens to Munly’s songwriting that’s panoramic enough to capture the darkness of humanity and the flashes of humor that light up the shadows, all with a layered and hypnotic sound that transcends the typical boundaries of acoustic gothic Americana. Earlier this year, DBUK released Songs Nine Through Sixteen, a follow-up to 2015’s Songs One Through Eight. The band’s history stretches back to nearly a decade before One Through Eight though, when the other core members of SCAC had moved to the east coast and Munly was still in Denver, writing many of the songs that would later fill these two albums.
“With older songs, I feel like they are never finished,” he considered. That perhaps contributes to the existing-out-of-time quality to the lyrics. Take “Coca-Colonialism:” “Wherever there is Coke stains/Consider that your car’s land/I got many more cola and plenty dry clothes/Because I’m American.”
“We’re not a band that talks about politics but I could say that song could be very applicable to some world happenings,” Munly mused. “But I don’t want to be known for that [political songwriting]. I just never grew up writing that way. I grew up more traditionally. Although sometimes it is a lazy way of writing to be completely inventive and only rely on your imagination and not particularly draw on the real world.”
When Munly says he grew up “traditionally,” he isn’t kidding. He began playing the banjo, the finicky instrument with which he has an admittedly fraught relationship, due to the rather old-school interests of his parents.
“My parents were not music people whatsoever, however, my father was really interested in the American Civil War,” he explained, recalling his childhood in Quebec. “So, for some reason, he bought a banjo. I used to sneak the banjo out of its case and play it. I would get yelled at because that was about the worst thing I did. I was a very well behaved child from an affluent, upper-middle-class family. I never got into trouble. I continued to play it though, so they finally gave up and bought me one of my own.”
DBUK will play the Underground Music Showcase in late July. Emphasizing bands that swim outside the mainstream, with over 200 national and local acts on the bill, the festival takes over South Broadway in Denver for its nineteenth year from July 26 through July 28. Munly has played the festival before in various acts, but, no matter the show, he brings the same ethic to making music: escape, with a hefty dose of inspiring mystery.
“It doesn’t matter if we’re playing a festival or small club, we’re going to do our best and work as hard as we can,” he said. “A big part of our jobs is to take people out of their lives for an hour or two and let them somewhat escape. That was important to me when I was young and discovering music and writing. I still love escaping into a book and not talking about it, just letting it be mine. Our medium is different obviously. But I’m selfish enough that I’m not going to share it 100%.”
Go If You Dig:
- Slim Cessna’s Auto Club