“I’ve got a pretty good Lion’s Lair hangover this morning,” texts Slim Cessna, pushing our December 7 interview back. When we finally do meet later that day, Cessna look unfazed, wearing his usual coat and cowboy hat and flashing his trademark gold-toothed grin.
He tells me he opened for Mike Watt the night before at the bar and that “things got wild.” Watt, known for co-founding the mythic Minutemen and now playing with the Stooges, is as close to punk-rock royalty as it gets, but in Denver, Cessna’s shadow looms even larger.
Google “the Denver Sound,” and a long list of articles pop up. Nearly every one mentions Cessna as a pioneer of the genre and his string of groundbreaking bands, including Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and his earlier project, the Denver Gentlemen, which he formed in 1988 with Jeffrey-Paul Norlander and David Eugene Edwards.
“I think everybody was so different, and everyone came from such different backgrounds, and everyone had complete and total freedom to just do whatever the hell they wanted to do,” Cessna says about how he and his fellow musicians created the genre.
From December 28 to 31, Slim Cessna’s Auto Club will headline a run of shows at Globe Hall to celebrate New Year’s. Acts with a connection to Cessna will open, including his son George Cessna and DBUK, a project formed seven years ago with Auto Club members that’s about to release its second album.
Despite pioneering the Denver Sound for thirty years, Cessna and company still keep pace with bands half their age, and the Auto Club is still known for energetic live performances in which Cessna and co-frontman Jay Munly hop around on stage and fall into the audience, while fellow bandmates — guitarist Lord Dwight Pentacost, drummer Andrew Warner and multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Vera — keep feverish pace behind them.
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Cessna insists that that type of performing has taken its toll and says that DBUK is essentially the answer to future longevity.
“As we grow older, our knees hurt from playing Auto Club shows,” he says. “Trying to maintain that energy, it becomes more and more difficult the older we get — and this was seven years ago, mind you, when we were already thinking about this. We don’t consider this a side project, because we are as excited, if not more, about DBUK, than we are about the Auto Club.”
DBUK’s sound and aesthetic nod to the Auto Club, but despite sharing Cessna, Vera, Pentacost and Munly as members, the mood and energy of the projects are different. While the Auto Club has always dipped its toes into the dark underbelly of music, DBUK dives in face first and wallows in the muck, evoking images of Nick Cave and Scott Kelly.
In January, DBUK will release its second album, Songs Nine Through Sixteen, a followup to 2015’s Songs One Through Eight.
“We’re really excited about the record coming out, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, the Auto Club included,” Cessna says.
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The tales and back-alley settings conjured on this record are some of the most vivid the group has created. The first single, “San Francisco Bay,” speaks of paranormal illicit activity told by a four-part spectral chant over a melodica-driven skeletal waltz.
While Cessna continues to be the “face” of these projects, the mad genius behind their musical tales is Munly, who wrote all of the songs for this album and has been the primary songwriter for the Auto Club since 2008’s Cypher.
“I had hit a writer’s block long before that,” Cessna remembers. “I had these little kids running around the house and was just trying to figure out how to pay the bills, so I just didn’t have the head space for writing. One thing I realized is that I needed to find space for everyone to use their gifts. When you have someone like Munly, who is such an amazing songwriter and storyteller, I just started to use that, and continue to use him for that. We all have other roles, and we all find out just what it is that each of us do to benefit our bands and just to keep it rolling. I think that that’s part of why we’re still together — we’ve just figured out where we belong.”
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club
December 28 to 30, Globe Hall, 4483 Logan Street.