Munly talks Slim Cessna's Auto Club's new album and seeing Billy Bragg for the first time
Slim Cessna's Auto Club, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last April, had been playing annual New Year's Eve shows at the Bluebird Theater for the past eleven years. This year, the band is playing two nights at the Oriental Theater -- with the Sterling Sisters (which features Slim's son George) opening both nights, the Denver Broncos UK (Munly, Slim Cessna, Lord Dwight Pentacost, Rebecca Verao) opening on Sunday and Munly & the Lupercalians opening on New Year's Eve. Backbeat spoke with Jay Munly about the new Auto Club album, his awkward interview style and seeing Billy Bragg at the Rainbow Music Hall in the '80s.
See also: - Review: Slim Cessna's Auto Club at the Bluebird Theater, 12/30/11 - Photos: The Hush and Slim Cessna's Auto Club @ The Bluebird Theater - Slim Cessna's rare recordings now available to download
Westword: The Denver Broncos UK are playing one of the New Year's shows. Have you guys played as the Denver Broncos UK in a while?
Jay Munly: The last thing we did was in October, I believe. We usually have just played art openings and museum spaces, so we got invited to do that in Kansas City.
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How would you say that the Denver Broncos UK differs from the Auto Club or some of your solo projects?
It's quieter. There's less people.
I saw the trailer for the new Shooter Jennings film. I was curious how you got involved in that.
The phone rang and he asked if I would take part in it, and I did. It was easy. It wasn't a big stretch for me, really.
Is it going to be a short film? I know he's got an album coinciding with it.
You know what, I'm probably the worst person to ask. Not the worst person, but I don't know that much about it. They flew me out there. We went and filmed in Kentucky for a bit, and that's all we did, and then I came home. My perception is that they're doing a vignette of connected videos that could be a shown as a film and they correlate with the album.
Have you done much acting?
Yeah. I went to school for that for a semester, and then I got sick of that and then changed majors and schools.
What did you change your major to?
Modern English literature.
Speaking of writing, I know you've written some books and obviously you're a songwriter too, but I'm curious: What initially drew you to more darker themes?
You know, I'm not quite sure. It's not really something I think about. I don't go into... I mean, obviously I plot things out and have outlines and rewrites. I don't get asked that question all the time. I'm sorry. I'm still a terrible interview. I have no answer, and I just kind of mumble my way through. I don't know. People are just drawn to certain things. A lot of people write about being in love when they're fourteen. They're big and famous and rich. I'm not one of those.
I know Petr & the Wulf was supposed to be part of a multi-album project. Are you working on any new material that's part of that project?
Certainly. Actually, most of it's written. It takes a lot to get the actual process completed as far as getting the right band together and figuring out how to record what I record, if anybody wants to record.
How many albums in total are you looking at?
I would expect to do four, including Petr & the Wulf. I imagine stretching that out a little more, but I don't want to keep beating it to death.
How will they all sort of be tied into one another?
They're all characters from the same land. There are related families who interact with one another. It's kind of hard to flesh out over the phone in a few sentences, I guess.
What do you do when you're not playing or writing music?
What do you mean, like just during the day?
Well, I don't have a traditional job, if that's what you're thinking. I work at home and write and rewrite and erase and delete and delete. Yeah, that's it. We have cats. When the weather's warm, I mow the lawn, and I shovel the sidewalk when it's cold like today.
Since Slim moved out of the state about twelve years ago, I was curious how you collaborate on songwriting long-distance. I know Slim talked about how when he comes to town you guys work on stuff.
I'm not really certain how bands operate that way. I think there are just sort of pre-conceived notions. I'm not going to speak for Slim, but if I have a song I'll send it out and people will do their homework, and that's what you have to depend on. I think we are older than most average bands, so you need to depend on people doing their homework and working on their own and trust them. It is easier with computers and being able to send files these days. That is really how I do it. I'll finish my songs, I'll send them out and we go from there.
How do you write a lot of your songs? On banjo, guitar, keyboards?
For me, it's all different sorts. I just want to make that last point clear, now that I'm thinking about it. We don't collaborate on songwriting. I'm actually really selfish about that. That's what I do. There are certain jobs, and I'm not really good at sharing that one.
So you write a song, you bring it to the band and they play it. Is that what you're saying, essentially?
I don't share my work with other people. I'm not going to have someone rewrite my words, is the best way to put it. Slim changed one of my words once, and I still get upset about it when I hear him say it live, and he knows it. I've told him.
He didn't want to change it back to what it was originally?
It was done in the recording studio, and I was not present. And it's not a big deal. I actually understand his thought process. I just don't agree with it.
Do you write a lot of stuff on banjo, and do you have a favorite instrument to compose on?
No I don't. Definitely on the last album I leaned on the banjo more than usual. On this new one I'm actually making an effort no to. I don't think it has any banjo songs. In fact, there are a couple of dulcimers and mostly acoustic guitars.
Was that a conscious thing to stay away from the banjo?
Yeah, it was this time. It's not like I'm never going to play banjo. That's what I've played the longest in my life. But you definitely need to keep pushing yourself in different directions. At least for myself, I feel like I'm doing something new, which was probably done twenty years ago by someone else.
Do you approach the Auto Club stuff any differently than your own stuff?
There have been a few instances where things have transferred over from other bands, things that didn't work in one band, but I'm usually very conscious of where stuff is going.
I read that you played hockey quite a bit when you were young and you got a pretty bad injury and were laid up for a while. Then your mom got you a guitar and that's how you started playing, right?
Yeah, that is true. My father did have a banjo around the house, but I wasn't allowed to play it -- but I did. When I was recuperating, she bought me a guitar, and she probably regretted it.
What kind of music were you listening to back then when you first started playing?
Kind of anything. That would have been the '80s. I guess that was when lot of new wave came out. Billy Bragg was my first concert that I ever saw at the Rainbow Music Hall. I didn't go to see him. I went to see Echo and the Bunnymen. I don't even remember Echo and the Bunnymen that night. Billy Bragg, he did something for me.
What kind of effect did he have on you?
That was when people went to concerts and stood in line. So we were out at the Rainbow Music Hall all day. And all of a sudden this gentleman comes riding up on a bicycle with powered speakers on his back and he starts playing songs. He's like, "Oh, I'm playing tonight," and no one believed him. I don't think his album had even come out in the States yet. I think his EP had come out, so no one knew who he was, but he was on stage a few hours later. I was young at that time. I don't know what I was -- eleven, twelve. I wasn't even a teenager.
Were there any other shows at the Rainbow that really hit you?
I don't remember going to the Rainbow too much. In fact, I don't think I lived here at that time. I think I was in hockey school here on a hockey trip and my brother took me. I'm not sure about that. I think it was the Bob Johnson hockey school. It was over the weekend, so you have a couple of days off.
You grew up in Canada, right?
I've been to Canada. I'm avoiding that question.
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