Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – Pleased to Be Country, Thank You
“I grew up with country and gospel music,” says Slim Cessna, who was first inspired by Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” at age 6, “horrified and amazed at the same time” by the sweat pouring off Cash’s forehead on the album photo. “Even when I was in punk rock bands, there were elements of country music in what I did.”
For the past seven years he has been making music with Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, but their approach to country isn’t easy to pin down. “No matter what, we can’t fit into people’s categories,” Cessna says. “If we were playing for a country audience, people didn’t like us because we don’t sound like George Strait. And as far as alternative country, we’ve been chastised because we don’t sound like Hank Williams. But we never wanted to be labeled as alternative country.”
On Always Say Please And Thank You — the band’s third CD, released in September on Alternative Tentacles — Cessna hits high notes that reach lonesome emotions, yodels with pure soul, and testifies to life’s mysteries. The Auto Club’s songs range from great country numbers (“Viceroy Filter King”, “Goddamn Blue Yodel #7”) to dark western tales (“Cheyenne”) to love songs (“My Only Friend”).
“Last Song About Satan”, a refreshing twist on the traditional I-had-a-dream-I-went-to-hell parable, finds Cessna in a local watering hole shouting at the devil — “Lucifer, you piece of shit/I should kick your ass right where you sit” — with all the fervor of a street preacher.
“I’m just trying to find words that rhyme,” Cessna says. “But what I’m thinking about comes out in those words, like whether I’m going to heaven or hell. And during the past two years, when most of these songs were written, that’s what I was thinking about. A lot of the characters can’t seem to make it to heaven or hell. Having been raised as the son of a Baptist preacher, that is a very intense concept, middle ground.”
The Auto Club lineup that recorded Always Say Please And Thank You has been together two years. Pedal steel/banjo/keyboard player Rumley (just Rumley) builds and repairs instruments at the Denver Folklore Center and for the band. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Munly (just Munly, though he has released records of his own under the name Munly De Har He) occasionally smashes an autoharp or other instrument that Rumley ends up repairing. Rumley built the sparkling red Jesus & Mary double-neck guitar played by Dwight Pentacost, who also plays banjo. The guitar features a double image that switches from Jesus to Mary and back, depending on the angle of the viewer. Drummer Ordy (just Ordy) and bassist/keyboard player Danny Pants complete the club.
Cessna feels fortunate to have gathered musicians who create sounds that “bring the songs to life. I just put the words down to match. That’s the greatest thing about the band.” Although Cessna now lives in Rhode Island and Pentacost lives in Chicago, the band is still Denver-based, playing Colorado shows about every two months.
Cessna, a lanky fellow with a large white hat, dances and sways behind his guitar, smiling and singing, revealing a shining gold tooth. But this is serious music to him. “I sincerely love country music and I love gospel music and no one should think we’re making fun of it, just because we’re having a blast.”