The deep, dark loam of American folk music from which the gothic country gospel of Slim Cessna's Auto Club slithers and thrives is captivating enough. But their fervor – which obscures the line between devotion and something perhaps more off – is what distinguishes them. Like the less cartoonish, more earnest country kin of the Legendary Shack Shakers, the Colorado band renders music with a tremble that feels eerily like true belief, with all the chill and thrill that implies.
"[Co-frontman Jay] Munly has been writing the majority of the lyrics for the last few albums," says ringleader Slim Cessna. "It's kind of like having Flannery O'Connor in your band. He's just very gifted, and he has a very dark sense of humor. ... He can write something that can destroy you and make you laugh at the same time."
But their singularity didn't come immediately. Initially, Cessna's concept was to start a traditionalist country band in the mold of touchstones like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. And though he likes their first album, he concedes, "I think we just weren't very good at trying to do something that was like what anybody else has ever done."
"Except for when we first started, that was the only time we ever tried to sound like anything else," Cessna says. "And we failed miserably. And I'm happy about that because it showed us that wasn't the right path for us."
As for how the band ultimately found their signature aesthetic, he admits, "I don't know how we came into it except that we're just different than other bands. We were all picked last in gym class, and we found each other. I wouldn't know how to play music in someone else's band.
I don't even know how to play the guitar the right way."
But one thing Slim Cessna is absolutely certain about despite his band's self-aware theatricality is that they're not campy. "I think that we take it much more seriously than that," he says unequivocally.
"I'm very interested – we all are – in the history of American music and folk music and storytelling," Cessna says. "The American stories, at least what we're trying to do is to tell those and retell them in their own way. And sometimes it can go into superstition and religion because that's America, you know? And it's in our politics and it's in how we were raised and it's part of who we are whether we want it to be or not."
Live, the fire of their spirit tends to translate into concerts that straddle punk show and rapturous church revival. "I think that people can get the wrong idea from us because we have such a kick-ass time performing," he says. "I experience true joy in putting on a show, we all do. It's just us being who we are, and we're kind of goofy and oddball people so it might come across that way to some people."
Understand them or not, it's nearly impossible to not be gripped by a live performance that rolls in like a fever spell well on its way, if not to glossolalia, then certainly some spirited yodeling.
Part of Will's Pub 17th Anniversary Week
with the Mud Flappers
9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5
1042 N. Mills Ave.
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