If you've ever seen Slim Cessna's Auto Club in concert, then you know that the backwater revival isn't dead- It has just changed. With their legion of banjos, jugs, slide guitars, and harmonickers, SCAC don't so much play to their audience as they pull them from their seat and baptize them in an orchestra of Americana. Masterfully mixing folk, country, blues, gospel, and gothic into a singular shifting pylon of sound, the group pays tribute to the roots of the USA, but for some reason, always seem to have a sinister bent to their twang.
This uneasy marriage of the holy with the horrific is never more apparent than on the groups newest disc, Unentitled. The group touches on the concept of self, religion, and communication with the Divine father in some depth, but never make it clear if they are pro or con. Topped by their thick melange of American bred instrumentation, Unentitled leaves the listener with more questions than answers. In order to pry down into the group's twisting message, staff interviewer John Gentile dandied himself up in a 12 gallon hat and some nice overalls, and then rode to yonder prairie to ask Slim about the new album, his contact with the popular culture, and why he doesn't know what it is that he's talking about.
What is it exactly, to which we are not entitled?
Hopefully, thatâs something people will discover as they study the songs. It is an album that celebrates the spineless and the weak… and not in a good or bad way.
Youâve previously said that this is your take on pop songs. Can you elaborate on that?
Yeah, I don't know. It's hard to say what I meant on that. Sometimes I just say something off the top of my head. Perhaps there is some truth to that. More so in just trying to make something in 3 or 4 minutes songs, instead of epics. I don't know if that means it is pop music, but we even tried to add some hooks.
Along those lines, the new album has a song titled "Do You Know Thee Enemy?" Is that a Green day reference?
No, that's an example of us not knowing whatâs going on. That's just incidental. In retrospect, I suppose I could say that it was intentional, though. It wasn't our goal to have a message for punk rockers. It's our goal to make good music and allow it to come from us. Every album that we make is different. From an audience perspective, the difference can be drastic.
People often refer to you as gospel and country. Do you intentionally write music in that vein, or does it just come out of you that way?
It's just how it comes about. There is kind of a fairly gospel-ly song on the new album. It's about how my family got screwed in Colorado. They are churchgoing people and it concerns how they were treated. The song just became that. It became natural.
We make music to follow the story. The story can have different layers and the music goes along with that path. Everyone in the band has a role to push the story in a sense. Our music is at least at the foundation.
Is Gospel music a dying art?
There is musical inspiration. I don't think our music is anything that is relevant to the genre as a whole though. We obviously like Gospel and old country, but there's new country music that I haven't heard and there's old punk that I still enjoy, and hopefully all of that influences us. The mark of a true artist, not that [a true artist] is what I'm pretending to be, is where we just let it become what it is.
Unentitled has some heavy thermos of religion, and the characters of the songs often meet unfortunate ends. Are you making a statement with regard to religion?
I don't think that we are trying to make any statement. It's more in telling the story. We are trying to be true to the characters in the stories. Sometimes it can about someone superstitious, maybe someone individualistic, or someone spineless.
In the band, you share frontman duties with Jay Munly, who also does a good deal of writing for the band. How does this dynamic affect the group?
I donât know. I don't like how this will soundâ¦ but, I don't even know what I'm talking about in some of the songs. We just make the song and it becomes what it is. Sometimes, it's about relationships or sometimes itâs about something totally unrelated to anything and that turns into a song. I would say Munly writes the majority of the songs, and he comes from a different angle that even I am capable of completely understanding. One of my jobs is to fight for that myself and get my own perspective into the music.
The settings of your songs are often in middle America, as opposed to the coasts, while popular media is dominated by what's happening on the coasts. Are you consciously trying to inform the East and the west about what goes on in the middle?
I don't think anything about music from the east or west coast. I think that our stories are about wherever we are more than anywhere else.
Any last comments for the Punknews readers?
I guess I would like them to know we hope they listen to and enjoy the record. It's for all of us and for them. We are pretty selfish people in that we make music for ourselves first. Hopefully people buy this and tell their friends. I think that something we have accomplished is that it doesn't matter what kind of music you like, we have something for you.