In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
|June 5-11, 2008
After 15 years, Denver’s Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is still cruising
by Erica Grossman
Fifteen years can be a long lifespan for a musical group, not just in terms of surviving the threat of disbanding, but also because it can be hard to satisfy your fans for a decade and a half. Local supporters can become fickle or jaded as they age, and new fans are often difficult to obtain. But for Denver-based Americana outfit Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, 15 years is just another scratch on the wall, as fans continue to line up for their shows at every opportunity.
“It seems to me like they would be getting tired of us by now,” says SCAC frontman Slim Cessna with a laugh during a recent phone interview.
But they’re not. In fact, their popularity is growing, as a younger generation of scenesters discover the roots of this local legend.
“It keeps turning over,” says Cessna. “You know, people get older and stop going to shows as often… but it’s not difficult at all to please our audience in Denver, and it’s what we love about playing there.”
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club is a conglomeration of individuals whose overlapping bands and side projects have helped define what is being nationally referred to as the “Denver Sound” — a sort of rootsy down-home noise that bares its teeth in the face of the more overarching category known as alt-country. Some find it best described as “American Gothic,” a dark reproach into the underbelly of Americana that could be interpreted as the soundtrack to Grant Wood’s eerie pitchfork-wielding farm couple.
Local representatives of this sound have included The Denver Gentlemen, 16 Horsepower, Kalamath Brothers, and Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots — all of which have included members of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club.
With accolades from the likes of No Depression, indie-enamored Pitchfork and Spin, whose online coverage of Austin’s yearly South by Southwest Festival once praised SCAC as the “best band at SXSW,” the Denver Sound is reaching the nation’s ears and putting the Front Range on the musical map.
So what do we sound like to the rest of the country?
SCAC’s latest release under Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, Cipher, is a good indication. An equal mixture of Middle American imagery and gritty religious commentary — unwound with a series of intricate harmonies, dark guitar, banjo, drums, upright bass and pedal steel — puts Cipher firmly in the lap of modern Americana, though the band has a tendency to drop that final “a,” claiming their sound as simply American.
And that’s an appropriate adjustment. Cipher’s dedication to exploring this country’s landscape and culture doesn’t leave room for the vague, nondescript distinction garnered by Americana. The song “This Is Our Land (Redux),” with its laundry list of American locales, à la Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” cries out in chorus, “Our voices will make this our land.” Compare that with another of Cipher’s provocative tracks, “Americadio,” a cryptic commentary on the American way of life, and you’ll see that this band is definitely a New World creation.
“‘Americadio’ is essentially about Mexico and Canada taking over the continent,” says Cessna, though not without hesitation. The fact that the messages aren’t always clear is part of the plot. “That’s part of what we like about the mystery of it and, in a certain way, why the album is called Cipher.”
This type of intelligent, enigmatic approach to songwriting also finds its way into the band’s exploration of religious themes on tracks like “Children of the Lord” and “Jesus Is In My Body — My Body Has Let Me Down,” which examine America’s gospel roots through a contemporary lens, often filtered with images of alcohol and destruction.
“A few of us for the most part come from religion,” says Cessna. “And that is important to us culturally and spiritually, and just trying to define that and say exactly what it is or why we have to deal with that kind of subject matter is difficult to figure out. There are just layers to a lot of our songs that weave a lot of different things, and even musically, we try to do the same thing by the nature of how we approach playing music and arranging our songs.”
But what’s obvious is that those arrangements stem from a cultural background based on a lifetime steeped in the Western landscape.
“It just kind of becomes part of what we do,” says Cessna. “We get asked what our influences are, and it goes beyond the music and beyond what your favorite bands were when you grew up. It also includes how you grew up and who your people are and where you came from. I’m Protestant from Colorado, so that tends to be how we present ourselves.”
And, in turn, how Slim Cessna’s Auto Club portrays the signature sound of the Front Range to the nation, backed by a hometown and a new generation of fans.
“Denver is just what it is for us,” says Cessna, “a wonderful place.”
On the Bill
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club will perform with Slakjaw, The Legendary River Drifters and American Relay starting at 8 p.m. on Monday, June 9, at the Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer St., Denver, 303-291-1007.
back to top