Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Auto Club more at home at Bible study than cruise night

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Slim Cessna doesn't suffer from religious guilt -- it's more like religious confusion.

"I was raised religious and I may or may not still be. Some days I am and some days I'm not," Cessna says over the phone from Fairplay, Colo.

The issue of religion comes up because for the past 20 years Cessna and his band -- Slim Cessna's Auto Club -- have offered their take on biblical tales and other stories of sin and salvation, fire and brimstone, heaven and hell, Jesus saving and times when Jesus missed the mark.

"It (the Bible) offers such good material for stories and in a way, it's a part of a tribute to the history of folk stories," Cessna says. "That's kind of what we do: they're stories and the characters in the stories are going through a wide range of things in our songs. There's something about the history of American music and the history of folk music in there. It can get pretty weird and superstitious. It's an interesting way to look and think about things.

"I'm also interested in the power of gospel music. Whether you believe in it or not, there's a power to it that's incredible and very real. Without it, rock music wouldn't be here, or not that way it is now."

The musical story of Cessna and his six-piece band is a bit all-over-the-place. Over the years the Auto Club has delved into alt-country, rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, blues and gospel.

Their latest album, Unentitled, is the band's attempt to incorporate more pop into their sound with a stronger emphasis on crafting melodies.

"It'll give it an A for effort. The most important part of that, whether we achieved it or not, was to do something different outside of our world, our understanding of what that is; whether we even understand what pop music is," says Cessna, who shares frontman duties with Jay Munly, better known as Munly Munly.

Regardless of the band's understanding of the genre, Unentitled is filled with melodic hooks that are woven seamlessly into the aural concoction the band has been perfecting for the past two decades.

Winnipeggers will get to hear what the band is preaching when Slim Cessna's Auto Club brings its famous live show to the city for the first time ever on Sunday at the West End Cultural Centre (local garage-rock/soul faves the Vibrating Beds open the show). Tickets are $18.25 at Ticketmaster and the WECC.

To celebrate the band's 20-year anniversary, the group -- which has featured more than a dozen different members over the years -- held a three-night residency at the Lion's Lair in Denver, where it formed and where it is still based, although Cessna himself calls Pittsburgh home these days.

"It is a tiny little rock club with a 110-person capacity. We had a blast -- it was the first place that ever let us play on a weekend. That was one of our early goals as a band: to play the Lion's Lair on a weekend," Cessna, 46, says with a laugh.

Despite the band's name, they were never car enthusiasts or belonged to any auto clubs popular in the Denver area.

"We used to see awesome posters for these car clubs and auto shows; before we were even playing shows we had that name. We didn't have cool cars, it was just kind of funny to use.

"My friend San Juan John had tons of cars, like Toyota pickups and Datsuns. It was all nerd cars. We weren't driving low-riders, it was more like junk and you drive whatever runs," Cessna says.

They might not have had cool vehicles, but their sound was interesting enough to catch the attention of Jello Biafra, who has released six of the band's albums on his Alternative Tentacles label.

Cessna met the former Dead Kennedys frontman through producer/Auto Club member Bob Ferbrache. Biafra and Cessna both grew up in Boulder, Colo., and during one of Biafra's trips to visit his parents he became a fan of the group after seeing a live show.

"It's an honour to be on that label. It means the world to me, still," Cessna says. "The Dead Kennedys was an important part of my life and still is. He's a guy I looked up to for years and he's a music lover. He's got discriminating tastes.

"He puts things on his label he knows will never sell because he wants to listen to it on vinyl; he doesn't listen to CDs. I think that's why he puts out our records."

rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2012 E7

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