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A Conversation with Slim Cessna 

click to enlarge Ciphers: Slim Cessna's Auto Club (Cessna, second from left) - COURTESY OF GARY ISAACS
  • Courtesy of Gary Isaacs
  • Ciphers: Slim Cessna's Auto Club (Cessna, second from left)

Mixing outlaw country, old-time religion and punk energy, Slim Cessna's Auto Club is perhaps best known for its live show, presided over by two frontmen: the diminutive, ghostly-looking Munly and the band's tall, bearded namesake, Slim Cessna. Founded in Denver in 1993, the band has released five albums on the Alternative Tentacles label; with Cessna now residing in Pittsburgh, it's a long-distance collaboration. City Paper spoke with Cessna as the band prepared for the tour that brings it to the 31st Street Pub on Sat., July 25 (a show produced by frequent CP contributor Manny Theiner). Cessna and Munly's more subdued other band, Denver Broncos UK, performs a week later, July 31 and Aug. 1, at the Mattress Factory.

 

When did you move to Pittsburgh?
It was maybe six years ago, now. We were in Rhode Island at the time, and I don't want to say anything bad about Rhode Island, but things just kind of stopped working out for our kids. We knew people who lived in Pittsburgh and we'd come to visit, and we found out how inexpensive it was to buy a home. And ultimately, we hoped that our kids would be able to go to CAPA High School, and that was a huge part of our move. So many arts-based things were available for free that we and our kids would be able to take advantage of. And it worked, so it's pretty awesome.

How does the Auto Club collaborate, when you're in Pittsburgh and the rest of the band is in Denver?
Well, one guy [Lord Dwight Pentacost] is in Boston. We all get together a few days before every trip we take, and try to spend as much time as possible rehearsing -- that's when we come up with new material. And it seems to work almost better than if we all lived in the same place. Or at least, we've made it work better -- because when we do get together, every moment counts.

You're also in Denver Broncos UK with some of the same guys -- Munly and Dwight?
It's just another project we've been working on in bits and pieces for the past three or four years. Dwight's in Boston, I'm in Pittsburgh, Munly's in Denver, so we've never really played together at the same time. We've been passing around recordings and adding layers, kind of like a collage project of some sort. This will be our first performance, at the Mattress Factory. We're working with the visual artist Owen Smith, doing some staging and some video things, and it'll be an installation piece with music. 

There's a religious-revival sort of tilt to a lot of your music -- did you have a religious upbringing, or is that an interest you came across later in life?
That's kind of a way for me to work things out that I'm constantly thinking about. I was raised in the Baptist church and my father is a Baptist minister in Colorado. It's something that I wrestle with -- my faith, or whether there even is such thing as faith.

They're interesting stories, Biblically speaking. It's interesting content and we sort of took that on ourselves, and whether or not you want to go so far as to say it's our own "religion" or whatever, it certainly is not poking fun at anything. The revivalist show -- most of that is just us having the joy of life and of performing rock music with our friends. So there's kind of a gray area between having a blast and also asking serious questions in our songs. 

Walk me through the Slim Cessna's Auto Club book that's available now.
It kind of goes hand-in-hand with our last album, Cipher; we made our own cipher that most of the text was written in on the album. And in the last four or five years, a friend of ours, Gary Isaacs, has been taking hundreds of photos of us. We'd been asked by people to write out the lyrics [of Cipher]. We really don't want to do too much of that, because we like to keep things open-ended and let people figure things out on their own. So as a compromise, we put some lyrics in the book, but they are in the cipher, so people have to crack the code in order to read them. 

Who came up with the cipher? Do you have a band cryptologist?
A lot of that, I'll have to admit, is Munly, who I guess might be our own personal band cryptologist, yes. 

 

Slim Cessna's Auto Club with The Beagle Brothers and Richards Family Bible. 9 p.m. Sat., July 25. 31st Street Pub, 3101 Penn Ave., Strip District. $10 ($12 at the door). 412-391-8334 or www.31stpub.com

Denver Broncos UK with sets and projections by Owen Smith. 9 p.m. Fri., July 31, and Sat., Aug. 1. Mattress Factory, 500 Sampsonia Way, North Side. $15 ($20 at the door). 412-231-3169 or www.mattress.org

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