Interviews

George Cessna's Album Comes From Hundreds of Hours in the Hi-Dive Basement

George Cessna (right) and Brian Buck released Lucky Rider on December 7.
George Cessna (right) and Brian Buck released Lucky Rider on December 7. Erika Ryann
A few weeks after the pandemic shut down music venues around the state in March 2020, George Cessna and Brian Buck, who play together in the band Snakes, went into their practice space in the basement of the hi-dive to write and record songs. Initially, the sessions gave them an excuse to get out of the house, have a few beers and play music nearly every day.

“It was a little weird,” Cessna says. “It was fun, though. But it definitely added to this sort of dystopian landscape. No one was around, and everything was empty.”

Cessna is now the hi-dive's talent buyer, but at the time, he was working the door and bartending at the venue. He says he and Buck figured they could release an EP from their sessions to make a couple bucks for food. That plan turned into spending hundreds of hours over the span of a year to make the eleven-song album Lucky Rider, which drops today.

While the album is under his name, Cessna says it is very much a collaboration with Buck, and that he "couldn’t have done it without him."

He and Buck played most of the instruments on the album, but they also enlisted the help of Andy Wild, saxophonist for Nathaniel Rateliff & the Sweats; guitarist Leon Catfish; organist Cooper Wright; and percussionists Kim Baxter and Matt Vogel. Cessna, who for the last few years has played bass in his father’s band, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, also recruited Auto Club cellist Rebecca Vera.

Because it was undertaken during the pandemic, the record is about distance and the sentimentality that comes from being far away from friends and family, Cessna notes.

“The COVID shutdown absolutely multiplied those feelings since we were all cut off, plus my life essentially was falling apart around then, without getting into specifics,” he says. “So it was all about reflecting on the love we're lucky to have and what we decide to do with that.”

With a lot of time on their hands, Cessna and Buck explored methods they might not normally have tried while recording, like experimenting with guitar effect pedals.

“We had a lot of fun,” Cessna says. “Since we were recording ourselves, we’d just fuck around with the mics. And a lot of the sounds are us smacking things on the wall at the hi-dive and stuff like that.

“We weren’t paying for time, so we had hundreds of hours just to do whatever we wanted, and then we ended up mixing it ourselves," he continues. "We had sent it out for mastering, [but] we didn't like how it sounded, so we ended up just kind of learning to do it ourselves and experimenting on that front, too.”

They wrote most of the songs for Lucky Rider in the hi-dive basement, but Cessna also used a few songs that he had in his back pocket. He penned the slower track, “Santa Fe,” which has a Velvet Underground feel, in Baltimore, where he lived before moving back to Denver about five years ago.

“I’d go back and listen to older recordings, feeling nostalgic and sad and not understanding what the hell's going on in the world. Just feeling like, 'Oh, that was nice back then,'” he recalls.

Cessna, whose love of country and Western music was handed down from his father, says the first song he learned the words to was Roy Orbison’s “You Got It.” He tried to make the song “Keep It Rolling," which includes a baritone sax solo from Wild, reminiscent of an Orbison tune as well as Jeff Lynne’s production style with the Traveling Wilburys.

“I love that guitar style,” he says. "I was definitely trying to get some of that with the acoustic guitar.”

Cessna and Buck picked up inspiration from multiple bands whose production style they hoped to emulate, studying early Rolling Stones records and albums by former Birthday Party member Rowland S. Howard. They also listened to a lot of Lee Hazlewood, which is particularly evident on the instrumental “Echo 66,” and some early Beck, such as 1994’s Stereopathetic Soulmanure.

“I listen to a lot of Timber Timbre and things like that,” Cessna says. “We listened to a lot of things, and we would just pick out things from different albums, even old blues albums, that we liked about the tone. We tried to match that. We kind of had these little puzzles. I've been recording myself my whole life, but I'm still just trying to figure out how to make it sound good."

Cessna, who was born around the time Slim Cessna’s Auto Club formed and is now thirty, started writing songs as a teenager; he currently fronts the Snakes and is formerly of the Sterling Sisters. He's released albums under his own name, but Lucky Rider is particularly special.

“This one's definitely my favorite thing I've ever done,” Cessna says. “And it's the longest I worked on something.”

For more information, visit georgecessna.bandcamp.com.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon