Slim of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club talks about new album “Unentitled”
One can insert the band Slim Cessna’s Auto Club into a number of different musical categories — dark roots, rustic blues, apocalyptic gospel, and alt-country, to name a few — and in doing so be partly correct in each case. But what it comes down to in the end is, they are American music in the truest sense of the term. And their 2011 release on Alternative Tentacles Records, Unentitled, is ongoing proof of that.
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club’s originated in Denver, Colorado in 1992. Since then, through extensive touring, writing new material, and the release of five studio albums and one live album, the band has experienced an ever-changing lineup of musicians. And it is somewhat due to that, as well as the fact that several of the members have other musical interests outside of SCAC, that three to four years sometimes pass between the release of new albums.
Unentitled was three years in the making. Lyrically, Slim still offers up his intelligent narratives and strange biblical references. Musically, unlike SCAC’s previous releases, The Bloudy Tenant Truth Piece (2004) and Cipher (2008), Unentitled departs somewhat from the gothic country and gloomy mountain songs to pick, pound, strum and sing nine new holy ghost songs into existence that are akin to revival tent Americana hymnals. There is also a pop element to the new batch of songs, which makes them seem a little less dark. That’s the thing about SCAC, though: they can write a song that is musically uplifting, and yet have lyrical content that can chill one to the bone. It is that kind of skill and diversity that makes SCAC a force to be reckoned with among today’s roots-based artists.
Unentitled, like SCAC’s other albums, is home to songs of equal quality, making it difficult to point out the standout tracks. If I had to pick out my personal favorites, however, I would probably have to name the opener “Three Bloodhounds, Two Shepherds, One Fila Brasileiro,” “The Unballed Ballad of the New Folksinger,” “No Doubt About It,” and “My Last Black Scarf.” Even so, the seven-minute “Hallelujah Anyway” is a brilliant addition to the album and I in good conscience could not fail to mention it, with its many-layered composition, its choir-filled choruses, and its engrossing narrative.
Recently I had both the opportunity and pleasure of interviewing Slim. What follows is that interview in its entirety.
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club’s latest release Unentitled makes for your fifth studio album with the band. How long had it been in the works?
It always takes us a while. This one was three years.
What were the writing and recording processes much the same in comparison to your previous albums, like The Bloudy Tenant Truth Piece and Cipher, or were there any new additions to the lineup or different artistic styles or techniques you experimented with?
We recorded at Bob Ferbraches studio, as usual. Bob has always been involved beyond recording and producing — you can hear him on the organ on all albums but one. This time though, he was also active as a member of the band. Without us thinking about it or talking about, I’m sure that influenced the outcome in a big way. We also had Danny Pants back on bass after being away for several years — I’m positive that influenced the outcome as well. We tried to make a pop album. An Auto Club version of a pop band.
With the laundry list of side projects in which the Auto Club are involved in — Munly’s Lee Lewis Harlots and Lupercalians, Reverend Glasseye’s solo work, Ordy and Shane’s Woven Hand, your Denver Gentlemen, and so on — does it ever prove difficult to balance it all out and give SCAC the whole of your attention and vision?
Yes, it’s always difficult. This is why the Auto Club has had at least twenty members in as many years.
On Unentitled I noticed some slight shifts in musical direction. “The Unballed Balled of the New Folksinger,” for example, has that part in the beginning with the keys, which certainly gives the music a different feel from that which I heard from you in the past. And “No Doubt About It” has an upbeat, groove-heavy quality almost completely foreign to your usually dark material. How have fans and audiences responded to the new material so far?
According to Facebook, our fans like the new album. I think they expect each album to be different than the last. The new songs are meant to be pop songs. I think they’re pretty catchy.
Over the years, SCAC’s music has found equal success in the punk scene as in the roots-based scenes. To my knowledge, that doesn’t happen very often. Why do you think that is?
I think the people who respond to us most are music lovers. I don’t think it belongs to any one group of people.
Since SCAC’s inception in ’92 or thereabouts, you seem to have worked strictly with Alternative Tentacles as a home label, save for a few songs here and there on compilations. How has it been working with Jello and co. these many years?
Jello is like family. He has always been there for us. He allows us to do whatever we want with each album. We have complete artistic freedom. It’s still a big deal for me to be on the label of one of my Rock Heroes…and he’s my friend!
One thing that a regular SCAC listener notices in your song titles and lyrics are biblical references and religious imagery, as well as very well-constructed narratives and storylines. To what do you attribute these characteristics of song?
Religion and the bible always make for good subject matter. I also see it as a tribute to the history of American music — or a tribute to our families. The roots of our music and where we come from is very important to us.
Lastly, is there anything of note coming up in the near future for SCAC? US tour dates? Fests? Etc?
We will be in Europe April and May and June. US tour in the fall!