Slim Cessna on the Auto Club's annual New Year's Bluebird shows and its 20th anniversary
Together for nearly two decades, Slim Cessna's Auto Club has played the Bluebird Theater on New Year's Eve for almost half the time the band has been together. The New Year's shows have turned into something of a tradition for the band, who usually toss in a little something extra. While Cessna is tight-lipped about what the band will do for its eleventh annual NYE stint on Friday, December 30 and Saturday, December 31, he says they'll still be good shows. In 2000, Cessna has moved to Rhode Island and now lives in Pittsburgh and guitarist Dwight Pentacost lives in Boston while the rest of the band lives in Denver. We spoke with Cessna about the New Year's shows, the challenges of living apart from the rest of the band, the Auto Club's latest effort, Unentitled, and the band's upcoming twentieth anniversary.
Westword: How did your New Year's shows at the Bluebird get to be an annual thing, or did it just sort of happen?
Slim Cessna: I think it just sort of happened. There was a time at the Bluebird where it seemed like were almost like the house band. We could play there almost once a month a get a decent crowd, back in the old days. We just played a New Year's show and then it kept happening. It changed a hands a couple of times and now it's part of AEG, but we still know Scott [Campbell], who books it, and we just keep playing it. I guess we'll just keep doing it until they ask us to stop. It has to happen eventually, I suppose. We always have a good time and people come from all over the world, and it's always a really nice thing.
Do you guys have anything special lined up for the shows?
I'm not really allowed to say. It's going to be a good show, though, because that's what we do.
How long have you been in Pittsburgh?
It's been a long time. I was in Rhode Island before I came here. I know I left Denver right after New Year's in 2000. We played the Gothic Theatre millennium New Year's show. Then my family moved to Rhode Island the next day. I don't know, I've been in Pittsburgh maybe seven or eight years.
Is Dwight still in Boston?
How does that work out with you guys in various places around the country?
Oh, I don't know. We're used to having to make things work in spite of ourselves. We just do it. Honestly, whatever works, it works because that's just how we've been doing it, well, since I left in 2000, so however long ago that was. Before then, we were a local Denver band and proud to be. We still are. We still record there. Most of us live there, and so I think that gives us every right to still say we're a local Denver band. But I just happen to commute to work.
Right when I moved away it made us think a little bigger because I wanted to do some shows in Rhode Island. Dwight was in Chicago at first, and we wanted to play in Chicago. That's when our first record on Alternative Tentacles came out so it seemed like the necessity to kind of grow our business or whatever you want to call it. It happened almost because we left town, for whatever that's worth. But we made it work because it just seemed like it had to work, and that's what we did.
Was that around the same time you guys started playing in Europe, or was that later?
We've been going to Europe pretty regular now for three years. We did go once a long time ago, maybe twelve or thirteen years ago. It was '98, I think, but we only went to Paris.
It sounds like you guys do pretty well over there?
It's kind of like it is here. It depends on where we are and what city we're in, or even what country we play in. We have good shows and we have bad shows just like we have in the States. But it's kind of fun to go. It's picking up, and it's picking up faster. We've been touring the States for however long, twelve years.... It's not like we're doing that bad. We have a few clunker shows, but we're having some good shows out there. And I don't want to take anything away from those shows. I don't want to say we're necessarily doing better in Europe, but it did pick up kind of quickly. And we've played a few festivals that have had us in front of a decent amount of people and that certainly was helpful. That's hard for us to do here in the States for some reason. But yeah, it's all going pretty good. Everything seems to be working out.
I was reading about how you guys were trying to make a pop album with Unentitled?
Yeah, that is the pop album. There are some hooks and some catchy songs, right?
Yeah, definitely. Would you agree that it's maybe your most accessible album?
I don't know. It might be our least accessible because it's so weird that we did that. But it's not like anyone's buying albums. How do we know? No one plays us on the radio anyway. So we just have to keep playing shows. We're in the same place as we were before the album came out. We just have to get in the van and work our butts off. That's all we can do. But the people who like the band, the response has been positive. And as far as reviews and things like that go, I don't think I've read any bad reviews. So yeah, I'll take it. I think we did a good job.
When it comes down to it, we're pretty selfish. We're just trying to do something interesting for ourselves and so we challenge ourselves and we make an album into kind of project. And when people end up liking it, it's really nice. So that's the success for us, that people who like the band like the album. And that means we've succeeded.
How does the songwriting work long-distance, or does it happen when you tour or when you're in Denver?
We're going to back to Europe on the forth or fifth of January. After the New Year's shows, I'm just going to be there and hopefully we'll get a chance to work on some things. I think we usually... all of the answers are right. However you think we're doing it, we have probably done one song like that. So hopefully we'll work some things out while I'm in town.
How would say you guys have changed musically since you first started out?
I think if you listen to it by album, I think there've been some drastic changes. There are a lot of reasons for that. Everyone grows and everyone changes like in any relationship. I've been married for 24 years and we have to figure out who each other is all the time in that as well. I don't think we notice as much as maybe other people because when an album comes out - we do these things so slowly; we do them every three or four years or something ridiculous - and so it might have some drastic impact on someone else because they weren't there for those three or four years in our lives. It's kind of like when the grandparents see your kids and they're so much bigger. It's like, "Yeah, I don't know, I just saw them yesterday. They don't seem that much bigger to me." So maybe it's more like that. Like I said earlier, we try to challenge ourselves. We don't want to make the same record over and over. Hopefully we haven't, and actually I don't think we have. I think they're all their own individuals and interesting projects, so I think that's nice. The live show is the most fun for us and hopefully that will continue to be so. We like making albums too. It's interesting for us to do that.
You guys are definitely one of my favorite live acts. Every time I've seen you there's always that energy.
For me, that's all I ever really wanted to do. That's my favorite part of this job. We just want to put on a good show. If people are paying money to come see us play, and some people are driving for hours and others are flying, it's like we have to deliver on our end. And then people write it's the best show they've ever seen and magazines will write it's the best live band ever. So we have to - I don't mean it as a burden - but we have to rise to the occasion every night. We're all in our forties and Bob [Ferbrache] is in his mid-fifties now, so hopefully we'll have a few more years of this. I'm ready for the stool, though. My knees are starting to give out. I'm walking around like an old man. Eventually we'll be sitting up there with acoustic guitars and stools. Hopefully people will like that too (laughs).
I was reading about how the band has its twentieth anniversary coming up next year.
Yeah, I don't know. That gets so confusing because last year I was sure that we were at 19 years. I was talking to Bob and he was remembering that our first show was, I don't know 18 years ago. But I think we did some things before our first show, so I think there are some grey areas. It's going to be twenty pretty soon. It's either 19 starting next year or it's twenty starting next year. I don't know. It makes it hard. I'm going to have to figure it out because we want to have a big show to celebrate, and I'd hopefully like to get some of the past members involved and all those things. I guess I need to talk to some people. That will either happen next year or the following year. Who knows? It was a long time ago either way. I didn't mark it on my calendar the first time I got together with Frank Hauser Jr. to play country music. I should have. I should have put an X, like it was this day that we started doing this.
It was all kind of a funny thing too in a way. There was no documentation for a lot of these things. I can't find the proof. I know we played at the Lions Lair that one time and it was New Year's Eve. What year that was, I have no idea. I have some old fliers, but you never think to put the year on the old fliers.
I know Lions Lair had show recently to celebrate twenty years of live music there with Jux County because they were the first band to play there when it started doing live music.
Yeah, so we're in there behind them somewhere. I don't what year or when. I think as the Denver Gentlemen we played there and that had to have coming up on twenty years ago. So, Auto Club, maybe that's only 19. Whatever. All I know is that we're all getting old and grey. I'm a little more frail today than I was yesterday.