The Green Pajamas | Interview | Seattle’s Kings of DIY

Uncategorized September 4, 2023

The Green Pajamas | Interview | Seattle’s Kings of DIY

The Green Pajamas are a musical group from Seattle, Washington with over 30 albums under their belt.

Jeff Kelly and his Green Pajamas are consistently referred to as Seattle’s most underrated and under-heard musical combo. Their new LP, ‘This Floating World Is A Dream’ – band leader, Jeff Kelly’s working title for the 2022 album ‘Forever For A Little While’ – features all new artwork and has been resequenced to fit closer to Kelly’s original vision of melancholy Akira Kurosawa landscapes painted with Persian setars, analogue synthesizers and backwards electric guitars. Featuring the seasoned craft of all four songwriters, Kelly, Eric Lichter, Laura Weller and Joe Ross, across 15 tracks, ‘This Floating World Is A Dream’ rings with the classic Green Pajamas vibe of past glories like ‘Strung Behind The Sun’ and ‘All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed’ while simultaneously adding something refreshingly new to their already considerable discography. With the omission of three uptempo rock songs, the gentler moments on the album, like ‘The Hidden Fortress’ or ‘Princess Misa,’ seem to gain new depth and complexity, while at the same time allowing fan favorites like ‘Six Minutes In Heaven’ and ‘Joy Ride’ to shine even brighter.

The Green Pajamas | Bruce Haedt, Jeff Kelly, Steve Lawrence, Karl Wilhelm (1986) | Photo by Ursula Bolimowski

“There should be a new collection of Green Pajamas rarities”

It’s really wonderful to have you. How have you been lately?

Jeff Kelly: Thank you! It’s been a hard year, to be truthful. For various reasons, a big one being the loss of my mom after a long decline. But things are looking up and summer has finally come!

You were growing up in Seattle. What was life like there? Tell us about your upbringing and what did you do as a young kid?

Seattle was very much more of a small town then. I mean to say — it was a big city but compared to what it is now, life was a bit…quieter, I guess. It was a good town to grow up in.

My dad was a truck driver and, when I got a bit older, my mom went back to work as a secretary. When I was really young we had a boat — an old wooden cruiser — moored down on the Duwamish River. And my mom would take my friends and me down to Alki Beach in West Seattle to swim every day in the summer. To this day I think I would have a very hard time living in a town that wasn’t surrounded by water and two and a half hours from the coast.

I did the usual stuff kids did in the sixties. Watched a lot of TV. Played football with the neighborhood kids. I guess it was the Baby boomer generation because there were a lot of kids around! Played “army” and “Daniel Boone,” built model airplanes, and played with Matchbox cars. Until my sister, Janet, who is six years older than me, turned me onto The Beatles and the AM radio. That changed everything! So by the time I was 9 or 10 years old, all I wanted to do was sit in my room and listen to records. I still have the first records my mom bought me – ‘Yesterday and Today,’ ‘Revolver,’ Paul Revere and the Raiders…

I had a great childhood. Except for school. I hated going to school! Until college: graphic art school for two years and I loved that. Finally kind of grew up there, I guess…

Jeff Kelly’s first guitar (1970)

When did you first get interested in music and instruments? Was there a certain moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician and play in a band?

My friend Ryan and I saw The Beatles performing ‘Hello, Goodbye’ on the Ed Sullivan Show. I must have been 10. As I recall, it was that night we decided to make a band. Somehow we found a toy electric guitar in a neighbor’s garbage can and that’s all we needed to start pretending we were a band. We called ourselves, Ryan Styles and the Electric Garbage Cans. There are no recordings (thank goodness). A short time later, my parents bought me an electric guitar. It was a violin shaped Crown. I had wanted a violin shaped guitar because Paul McCartney played that Hofner bass. I had no idea what the difference between a regular guitar and a bass guitar was at that point. Of course, my dad did, and he made sure it was a six string! I had promised to take guitar lessons. I did but it didn’t last, I hated it and still can’t read music. When I finally got interested in truly learning, my dad taught me some chords. He had an old f hole acoustic and had learned a lot of stuff from some hillbilly guys he met while in the army. I think I owe my sense of rhythm and love of song to him. I still usually play a G chord with my thumb and ring finger like he taught me…

If we would go back in time and visit your teenage room, what kind of records, singles, posters, books would we find there?

Lots of The Rolling Stones as a younger teenager. Neil Young. Paul McCartney and Wings. But David Bowie came along soon enough and that was big. Despite being in the States, where it wasn’t big like in the UK, I loved the Glitter Rock or Glam Rock era. That was my time. I got all of Bowie’s 1970s records, Nico, Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed’s solo records, Suzi Quatro. Stuff like that. Around 9th and 10th grade. Then that rather smoothly morphed right into Punk and New Wave. A great time to be a teenager! That first Blondie album! Elvis Costello. I remember playing ‘God Save the Queen’ for an old friend of mine. He loved Yes and Rush and more complicated shit like that. But that single — which I still think of as the loudest things ever etched into vinyl — blew him away. How could it not?! I might have been the only guy in West Seattle with that single. Sometimes it certainly felt like that! By that time, I could drive, so there were a lot of trips to Tower Records where there was a pretty good selection of imports, and the record stores in the University District had a good selection as well.

My bedroom walls were always full of band posters and magazine photos and pictures of pretty girls: I had a couple of great Farrah Fawcett posters! I didn’t read much except for Trouser Press, Creem and Rolling Stone. I didn’t read a lot of books then, mostly nonfiction about rock music or World War Two…

What was the local scene like for kids interested in music like back in Seattle? What clubs did you attend and what gigs did you see early on?

Real early on, I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. In the early 70s. I saw The Rolling Stones around 1975. I saw Wings with my sister. I think that was McCartney’s first tour of the US without the Beatles. David Bowie just after ’Station to Station’ came out. All of those except Wings were in the Colosseum at the Seattle Center. Wings were the first big rock show in the King Dome, which was a covered football stadium, later demolished. Too bad it wasn’t the last rock show there! I mean, I enjoyed that show for the spectacle of it all but the sound was terrible.

I didn’t go to any clubs until around the time I was in college. That’s when things got fun – The Jam, Bow Wow Wow, Rachel Sweet! Mostly those were at The Showbox down on 1st Ave. There was always a local music scene happening in Seattle but I think I started paying more attention to those bands a little later, in the early 1980s… Someone a little older could probably shed more light on what was happening club-wise in that era.

How did you first meet Joe Ross?

At some party my girlfriend at the time took me to. I don’t remember if it was accidental or if she had planned on introducing us. We hit it off pretty quickly by — what else? — talking about how much we loved The Beatles! But the thing that cemented the friendship was that both he and I agreed, ‘Rain,’ was one of their greatest recordings. Joe is a little younger and got into The Beatles later. I was a little older and had actually experienced them as a kid. It doesn’t matter though, once you’re a Beatles nut, it’s a lifelong affliction…

The Green Pajamas, Joe Ross (1984) | Photo by Jeff Kelly

How did The Green Pajamas initially get together and what kind of vision did you have when starting the band?

That same girlfriend broke up with me and I was lying around crying and depressed all of the time. Joe sort of pulled me up and out of that shit, which was quite an effort. It took a while! By then Joe was aware that I had written and recorded a lot of music at home. At the same time, we were listening to the Rain Parade and The Three O’Clock and stuff like that and Joe had turned his bedroom into a jam room with drums.

The Green Pajamas poster (1985)

He had an amp and a little Japanese SG bass and a bunch of other stuff. He convinced me to bring my guitar over one day and we had a lot of fun. That was the start, I think. Then we just started talking about it all a lot: We could do this! And we could do that! And get go-go dancers! And a sitar player! And launch a new psychedelic thing right here in Seattle!

The Green Pajamas, Karl Wilhelm (1986)

There must be an interesting story behind the band’s name.

I wanted to be called, The Flying Nuns, after a 1960s TV show here. But I had written a song that Joe really liked called, ‘Green Pajamas,’ and he thought it would be great and we would immediately have a theme song. And of course we wanted something a little silly sounding as a tribute to bands like The Electric Prunes. And that would also fit with the new bands like The Three O’Clock and Jellyfish. So, I guess we thought, The Green Pajamas, more or less fit that bill. I still like The Flying Nuns better.

It’s funny because I don’t think Joe or I would have ever imagined we would be putting out music in 2023 as The Green Pajamas…

The Green Pajamas, Michael Dailey and Jeff Kelly in Paris (1988) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

Would love it if you could talk a bit about your debut album, ‘Summer of Lust’. Where was it recorded and how do you remember writing those songs?

One of those jam sessions up in Joe’s room got recorded onto a cassette. It was him and me with Karl Wilhelm playing drums. I used to like to ad-lib vocal stuff as we jammed and that’s where songs like ‘Katie Lied’ and ‘With a Flower in Her Hair’ came from. Kind of made up on the spot. I would listen to the tapes in the car on my way to work and I heard some stuff I liked. So I wrote down some words and we went and recorded those and a lot of the others with my 4-track reel-to-reel. Joe mostly played bass and me, guitar. Karl Wilhelm played some of the drums but another friend of Joe’s played drums as well and I did too, on a couple of tracks. We then took the 4-track tape and bounced it to a stereo mix on my cassette deck. Then we would put that 2-track mix back onto the reel to reel and recorded a couple more tracks of vocals and percussion or whatever. Joe and I recorded some songs, like ‘Anna Maria,’ in my bedroom without drums. Then we just threw it all together!

There used to be those photo booths at some of the big markets and we went into one of those and snapped the picture for the cover. I think Joe did all of the art on the original cassette release.

The Green Pajamas, Joe Ross, Jeff Kelly, Karl Wilhelm (1993) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

Did ‘Happy Halloween’ tape pre-date it?

No, we released ’Summer of Lust’ on a cassette in the summer of ’84 then put out ‘Happy Halloween,’ that following October.

Before releasing the fantastic 1987 album ‘Book of Hours,’ you released two solo albums, ‘Baroquen Hearts’ and ‘Coffee in Nepal’. Would you like to share about your solo ventures and the circumstances around ‘Book of Hours’?

Tom Dyer at Green Monkey Records really dug ‘Summer of Lust’ and put it out on his label. He had heard some of my home recordings and liked them and that was what ‘Baroquen Hearts’ was — a collection of some of those songs. I was always recording at home, mostly more acoustic stuff as opposed to the music the band was playing. ‘Coffee in Nepal’ was a more current collection of home recordings, made after I met my wife Susanne, who helped me out a lot with that one. We were having lots of fun, having recently met, and I think it comes through on ‘Coffee in Nepal’. There’s a gentle sincerity, even if a song is a little silly, like ’Sleepy People’. A lot of people really liked that album, including my kids! I guess maybe it was fun hearing their parents being so young and carefree!

By the time we recorded the single, ‘Kim the Waitress,’ Steven Lawrence had joined the band. But before it was released, I parted ways with Joe because he started dating the woman that I thought I was still in love with. It all seems a little dramatic now but at the time I felt pretty betrayed by my good friend. With Joe gone, Steven and I traded off on the bass and guitar bits but we felt we needed a keyboard player as well and Bruce Haedt answered an ad in The Rocket and we liked him immediately. So, along with Karl, that was the lineup for the ‘Book of Hours’ sessions.

We had 3 songwriters now, so there were a lot of songs to record! Tom and I had a bitch of a time mixing it and the final mix certainly has its share of critics. But overall, I was happy to see the positive response so many people had to that record and how many people still love it today! The four of us really worked as a “band” on that record and that comes through. And I think Tom enjoyed working on it as well. We had a lot of ideas about running things backwards and using sound effects and sitars and bagpipes — things like that. It was recorded on an 8-track reel-to-reel in his basement studio at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill in Seattle. This was the time before computers when to edit a tape, Tom used a razor blade. Long before Pro Tools!

The Green Pajamas, Jeff Kelly, Eric Lichter, Karl Wilhelm, Joe Ross (1997) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

I remember, Susanne and I were walking on the Seattle waterfront one sunny morning and there was this guy playing bagpipes out in the open air. I just decided to go up and introduce myself and ask him if he wanted to come and play on our record. That was Doug Maxwell. We had recorded ‘Time of Year’ in the key of A. When Doug arrived, we found out that the Highland bagpipes only play in one key, which of course makes sense as it has the drone. Luckily the key is B flat so Tom only had to speed the tape up a tiny bit to change it to Doug’s key. He came back and played on ‘The Death of Molly Bernard’ from the ‘Ghosts of Love’ LP as well.

Another good memory I have: I had recorded a demo cello part for the song ‘Under the Observatory’. I was not much of a cello player but I was able to ad-lib some lines to try to capture the feel I wanted. We gave the rough recording to Carla Torgerson of The Walkabouts who had kindly agreed to come and play on the song. Tom was gone somewhere and I had to engineer the night she showed up, so I was a little nervous. To my amazement, Carla had written down the bits I’d played, note for note, and played it all perfectly.

There are in fact a lot of good memories from that time. It was a very creative environment. We had high hopes for that record and, to a large degree, our hopes were realized. Tom licensed that record to Australia, Greece and Germany as well. It’s funny, an edition came out in Germany with a plain white cover and raised letters saying, “Green Pajamas,” like the ‘White Album’. When you opened it up, the original cover was inside as well.

The Green Pajamas, Joe Ross, Karl Wilhelm, Tom Dyer, Jeff Kelly, Eric Lichter (1999) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

What would be the craziest gig you ever play?

There have been a few odd ones! We played some college dances where I think the kids came wanting to hear disco or a cover band but instead got blasted with ‘Summer of Lust’ or ‘Book of Hours’ songs. Maybe the “craziest” was an art gallery basement in downtown Seattle. I remember it was all black lights, so it very hard to see where the fuck you were and I remember there being just a dirt floor. I think for a while there, our plan of being the hippest psychedelic band around was working! We did actually have go-go dancers and a light show in 1985 at The Vogue, which was a happening little club that had a lot of underground music and punk bands. A legendary place in this town.

The Green Pajamas at Terrastock Seattle (2000)

I guess this will be a bit tiresome, but still I would love it if you could share a few words about each of the following releases. What are some of the first thoughts that run through your mind when hearing it again?

Ok, first thoughts!


Not the best idea I ever had. Though probably not my worst! As I mentioned, having 3 very active songwriters, there were always a lot of songs to play. I thought, maybe capturing some of the new ones in a quick, live session might be fun. It was, but I don’t think that stuff holds up as well as some others. The band played well. I don’t like most of my performances though…

‘Ghosts of Love’

Big changes! Steven left soon and Bruce was on his way to new things as well. I was enthralled with Leonard Cohen and wanted the music to be quieter, more poetic. Steven didn’t like that direction.

‘Strung Behind the Sun’

A new beginning! Things had mostly dried up for the Pajamas in the mid 90’s. Tony Dale and his Camera Obscura record label gave us a chance to start over. Even though a lot of that album was actually just me, recording at home, Joe and I worked hard as a team putting it all together, a lot like we did with ‘Summer of Lust.’ And I think that shows. We had a blast making that and thanks to Tony and Phil McMullen and his Ptolemaic Terrascope magazine, we gained a lot of new fans with that album. I asked Eric Lichter to join us after we recorded his wonderful, ’Scarlet Song’.

‘All Clues Lead to Meagan’s Bed’

I think I felt a little bit on fire by this point, all cylinders firing creatively. And we were having a blast! Recorded on an 8 track cassette deck, like the songs on ’Strung,’ but there was a new urgency and a lot of inspiration.

‘Seven Fathoms Down and Falling’

A continuation of ‘Meagan’s Bed’ really. Just slightly more gothic and gloomy as proved by my influences at the time. Another milestone though, coming out on Woronzow Records, UK. I remember being in London when The London Sunday Times published a great review. And later it was one of their “Records of the Year”.

‘This Is Where We Disappear’

I think of this as sort of the end of that initial flight of new creativity after Tony released ’Strung’. We were headed into darker territory…

‘Northern Gothic’ (Trilogy)

As good as ‘Strung,’ ‘Meagan’s Bed,’ and the other ones just after were, as an artist, you don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over. I had an idea about writing some songs inspired by the places and landscapes in the Northwest that I had grown around. And I think I just got it into my head to start writing some of those darker, “story,” type songs. I loved that stuff as a kid — ‘Ode to Billy Joe’ and ‘The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia’. I was doing a lot of recording with Laura Weller, not just for Pajamas records, but as The Goblin Market, again, heading in a more “gothic” direction. So I think the Pajamas music took a turn down that road as well. I wouldn’t say it was overly planned out, it just sort of happened naturally.

‘Ten White Stones’

I like this one. It is unique in that it is the first record where the Green Pajamas live band were all playing live in the studio at the same time, since ‘November’. And of course this was a completely different band. For me, this one works way better. We were pretty relaxed and feeling good: the studio owner broke his own rule and let us drink beer on the premises. That’s the secret sauce! Everybody played well and, unlike ‘November,’ I’m happy with my own performance. No plan was in place but to capture how the band was sounding live at that time on tape. It was a lot of fun! The LP issue has a great sleeve, a painting by my late father-in-law, Michael Dailey.

’21st Century Séance’

Pretty dark album but it has its moments and it has its fans. Joe never liked it. He thought I should have put it out under my own name, or The Goblin Market, not The Green Pajamas.

‘If You Knew What I Dreamed…’

That was a lot of fun. Just me, pretending to be the live band, playing a bunch of my old songs with new arrangements for a “5-piece”.

‘Hidden Minutes’

A compilation of odds and ends, notable for being the last Pajamas thing Camera Obscura released. It was never released on CD, just vinyl.

‘Poison in the Russian Room’

This one got a great response. Probably the best since ‘Seven Fathoms Down’ or one of those. It sounds like a fresh start. I had a new recording system to fool around with and a new Gretsch guitar which lended a new sound and headed things in a different direction.

‘Green Pajama Country!’

Joe and I had talked about doing this for years and we finally did it. I’m not sure how well it holds up for me personally but it was fun at the time. There are some good songs!

‘Death by Misadventure’

This had some different ideas happening! I remember a guy I work with fantasizing — in a humorous way! — about killing his boss. That’s what inspired ‘The Queen Bee is Dead’. We made some pretty fun videos for this album!

‘To the End of the Sea’

I had an idea to make a kind of album-length medley. A story about a lighthouse keeper that falls in love with a strange woman, probably from outer space, that has washed up on his beach. Corny, I know, but it was just an outline to base a bunch of catchy melodies on.

This one is interesting in that it’s not 95% me playing and singing everything, which since ‘Strung Behind the Sun’ and on, has very often been the case. Instead of me recording all of the drum parts, Scott Vanderpool – who took over playing drums in the live band in the 90’s when Karl left — came and set up his drums in my living room and we tracked all of the songs over a couple of days. His wife, Laura Weller, sings quite a bit on the album as well. My son-in-law, Vito played a bit of trumpet, Natalie Gray did some violin and Phil Hirschi (a former member of The Mahavishnu Orchestra) played a bunch of cello stuff. There is no Eric or Joe presence at all, so this also has a different sound and feel from the other records.

The Green Pajamas at Pajama Party (2000) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas, Jeff Kelly and Tony Dale (2000) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas, Joe Ross, Jeff Kelly, Carol Dale, Tony Dale (2000) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas during the ‘This Is Where We Disappear’ session (2001) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas during the ‘In a Glass Darkly’ session (2001) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas, Laura Weller, Jeff Kelly, Joe Ross (2004) | Photo by James Johnson
The Green Pajamas, Eric Lichter (2004) | Photo by James Johnson
The Green Pajamas, Jeff Kelly (2007) | Photo by James Johnson
The Green Pajamas at The Goblin Market (2005) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
Susanne Kelly, Hanging Rock, Australia (2010) Photo by Jeff Kelly
The Green Pajamas during the ‘Green Pajama Country!’ session (2011) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas, Scott Vanderpool (2016) | Photo by James Johnson
Jeff Kelly in Spain (2017) | Photo by Susanne Kelly
The Green Pajamas with Phil Hirschi on cello (2017) | Photo by James Johnson
The Green Pajamas, Jeff Kelly, Joe Ross, Scott Vanderpool, Laura Weller (2017) | Photo by Tom Cook Photo
The Green Pajamas, Laura Weller (2017) | Photo by Tom Cook Photo

And this brings us to the year when everything stopped. Have you found the isolation creatively challenging or freeing?

I was pretty froze up at first, just at the sheer horror of it all. All I could do was sit and watch old Film Noir movies and worry. Thankfully, at some point, I realized the best thing to do was just to dive back into working. Just before the pandemic, I released a record under my own name called, ‘Beneath the Stars, Above the River’. We were going to go out and play some shows and promote that and then, suddenly, everything went to shit. But I had a head start on a second solo thing and I slowly got enough tracks together for that one. After that CD, I did what a lot of people were doing: performing from home. I made a bunch of videos of myself singing to new arrangements of some older songs I’d written. Eventually that came out on Bandcamp as, ‘This Haunted Hill’. So, ultimately, I think the whole pandemic and isolation helped me keep creating. My wife, Susanne, and I are not inherently social extroverts so in that sense, the isolation wasn’t that hard for us personally. Especially when we got to the point where we could start seeing our family members again. Susanne is a painter and is happy being out in her studio for many hours at a time, just as I am, recording alone for hours. So we would meet up at the end of the day, as we’ve always done, have an extended cocktail hour and talk about art and music. Just like always. So in the end, we adapted pretty well over time. I do have to say though, we are enjoying seeing our friends again now as things are getting back to normal…

Jeff Kelly filming ‘Of Missingness’ video (2020) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

Would you consider ‘Sunlight Might Weigh Even More’ a Covid album? Where did you record it?

Well, it certainly was recorded during the pandemic, so one could call it that. And, the others – Eric, Joe and Laura – all did contribute strictly remotely. So, yes, I guess it would be a “Covid” album. For instance, the standard way we record backing vocals is when Laura comes over to my house, some evening after getting off work, and we track here. This time I sent her a rough mix via file sharing and she did the vocal part for ‘Hello, Hello’ from her house, with her husband, Scott, recording. Then they sent me those files for me to mix here.

I recorded it all here at home like almost everything since, ‘Ghosts of Love’.

Joe Ross and Jeff Kelly discussing LP art (2021) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

‘Forever for a Little While’ is a true stunner and I’m very happy that Sound Effect will issue a vinyl version of it. How long did you work on it and how much preparation went into it?

Thank you! And, yes, it’s great working with the guys at Sound Effect! I’m very happy with the LP.

I would imagine it took about six months to finish, more or less. After I finish a record, I usually spend some time making a few videos and that sort of thing. Then I take a short break and start writing and recording again. With ‘Forever for a Little While’ or ‘This Floating World is a Dream’ — the vinyl version – I did want to follow up ‘Sunlight’ as soon as possible. So, I guess, the preparation was mostly mental. I just sort of thought about what the people that enjoyed ’Sunlight’ might want to hear next and went on from there. It was recorded in the same fashion. Joe, Eric and Laura sent me files from home and I finished the songs here.

Who did the cover artwork?

My wife Susanne did the cover painting illustration. We have been featuring her art on Pajamas albums since Tony Dale suggested the idea for the ’Strung Behind the Sun’ CD. Joe and I had sent him a band picture for the front of the album and he said, “Jeff, you’re married to an artist! Why don’t you put one of her paintings on the front??” So that became a tradition. I think around 20 + albums feature her paintings or photographs. And several CD covers and Bandcamp releases feature a photograph of her! She was ‘Sister Anne’ on the 7” single cover…

Tell us about your gear, effects, pedals, amps …

On stage I’ve mostly played a Fender Telecaster. I have 3. Joe has one as well that I often used at gigs. The only effect pedal I ever used on stage was distortion or fuzz tone. In the early days, I would just go turn the gain up on my amp to play a solo as I didn’t even use a pedal. So, I wasn’t ever a big gear guy. The only amp I’ve ever used on stage is a Peavey Classic tube amp. I sold mine years ago but Joe bought an identical one way back, which he would always let me use on stage. ‘All Clues Lead to Meagan’s Bed’ introduced a new guitar sound and that was a tiny $100 Marshal amp, but these days I use plug-in effects from Apple’s Logic Pro. I do love a warm electric guitar sound and getting that digitally can be a challenge. Some of the best guitar sounds I ever got were with that old Peavey amp and a $15 mic plugged directly into my tape recorder — ‘Katie Lied’ and things like that. ‘Summer of Lust’ is rough but there are some nice guitar sounds.

Laura has used her Gibson Les Paul and Martin acoustic on some recordings of her songs. I usually record with an old Epiphone acoustic. Joe plays a Fender bass on stage but I always use my Rickenbacker to record with. A good deal of the recordings over the last 15 years or so also have a Yamaha Motif 6 keyboard in there somewhere as well.

On various albums I’ve played, clavichord, cello, accordion, my old church harmonium or ‘pump organ,’ pipa, Greek bouzouki and Laura’s Irish bouzouki. Joe has a sitar we used on ‘Kim the Waitress’ and ‘A Murder of Crows’. I think Steven Lawrence played that. Joe used his Zube Tube(!) on ‘Meagan’s Bed.’ The latest thing I got was a Persian 4 string setar. $200 on Amazon. I used that a lot on, ‘This Floating World is a Dream’.

“I used to drive an old Volkswagen with a broken radio. So I would often just sing to myself to pass the time while driving”

What’s the usual songwriting process like for you? Was it any different this time around?

It varies a lot. But often it starts with something I’m excited about. With ‘Princess Misa’ and ‘The Hidden Fortress’ it was an old film, ‘The Hidden Fortress,’ by Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. I wrote ‘Menthol Woman,’ which was based on a song I did when I was a teenager, after I saw Meiko Kaji in the ‘Female Prisoner Scorpion’ movies. So usually a song starts from something like that. It could be anything I see or hear and keep thinking about: a book I read, a photograph, a waitress, maybe just wanting to run away somewhere or maybe something my wife says… Then I usually just pick up a guitar and see if an idea comes: sometimes a melody comes first, sometimes a guitar riff or some piano chords. Then I start making up words. Sometimes a song idea might come to me in the shower or in the car. I used to drive an old Volkswagen with a broken radio. So I would often just sing to myself to pass the time while driving. ‘Deadly Nightshade’ came to me that way and the riff for ‘I Have Touched Madness.’

And we have to mention your latest solo albums. Would love it if you could talk about them as well.

Sure, thank you. There are a lot of albums, aren’t there?!!

I talked a little earlier about ‘Beneath the Stars, Above the River.’ I wrote that after Susanne and I visited Spain and Portugal. Again, we had a lot of fun and made a lot of memories. And, thankfully, we took tons of photos and videos. Even while we were there, I would occasionally write down a song idea, based on something we’d seen that day.

‘The Lisbon Vampire,’ ‘Juliana of the One Man Scanner Station,’ things like that. Almost everything on that album was based upon something we experienced in Europe. With, ‘When the World was Younger,’ there was the same inspiration but with the added weariness resulting from the pandemic thrown into the mix. The album has one of the best songs I ever wrote, ‘Of Missingness,’ that was partially inspired by the Portuguese word, “saudade,” which means something to the effect of, a remembering or longing for something you never actually experienced; that along with the Italian actress, Valentina Cortese! I was listening to a lot of Portuguese Fado music at the time so that was a big influence on those two albums. Also, the only two albums released under my own name that came out on vinyl, thanks to Sugarbush Records, UK.

How did the project with Laura Weller come about?

Ah, The Goblin Market! I was very much steeped in the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the Gothic Revival in literature of the 19th century at the time — the early 2000s. Some of that was showing up on Green Pajama records, but I had this dream of doing something else, a bit more ‘folky’ and darker and different. I was listening to a lot of what is called the Etherial Underground – a very dark and dreamy, melancholy kind of music and I felt the project would benefit from a strong female presence. Laura had started playing guitar in the live band but I didn’t know her well. So I worked up some courage and told her about my idea of using the art and literature of the 19th century as inspiration to make a record. I wanted it to be gothic (as opposed to Goth) and mostly acoustic. I asked her if she was interested and she said yes! and wrote some great songs. And good old Tony Dale loved the idea. We went all out on the packaging of that ‘Ghostland’ CD. I loved Tony for that. With him it was always, art comes first, we’ll worry about the details later…

We did a second record based on the work of Joyce Carol Oates called, ‘Haunted,’ which the author herself loved, so we were very happy about that! And then went back to the 19th C for, ‘Beneath Far Gondal’s Foreign Sky,’ an album all about the Brontë sisters released by Green Monkey. I hope to do another one of these with Laura at some point…

There’s also a fantastic record you did with Susanne Kelly.

I’m glad you like that one! Susanne is always helping me out. She is sort of like the ‘Sixth Green Pajama’ as she has spent more time listening to my song ideas, rough mixes, album running orders, et cetera, than anybody but me. She gives me a lot of support!

I think you’re referring to the CD, ‘Reckless Moonlight’. Susanne and I had this idea of doing a follow-—up to ‘Coffee in Nepal’ — the cassette release from the 90’s. It does have some good songs, the best being Susanne’s kiss-off to her former employer called, ‘I’d Rather Be Filming In Vanda’s Room.’ We made a great video to go along with that one too! (We both love Pedro Costa’s film, ‘In Vanda’s Room,’ and the reference was about the joy of being creative and making art verses working at a soulless day job…)

We also had a blast working together again, a little while after that, recording an album called ‘Fur For Fairies’.

What are some future plans for you now?

I just released a new 10 song album, ‘Blue is the Color of My Heart,’ under my own name. It has a bit of the vibe of the latest Green Pajamas record and a bit of the vibe of a JK solo thing. I wanted to do a lower key release after the last two PJs albums and decided to release it digitally via Bandcamp and skip the CD this time. But it has some of the same influences of ‘Forever for a Little While’ — notably Asian film and the like.

Beyond that, there should be a new collection of Green Pajamas rarities — the first three came out last year on Bandcamp as the ‘Under the Radar’ series. I would like to start working on a new Green Pajamas album proper and I have some ideas running around my head about how we might go about celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘Summer Of Lust’ next year. So maybe those things. Or maybe I’ll have some completely new ideas tomorrow!

Do you have any active side-projects going on at this point?

Nothing at the moment, no. But like I said, that could change.

Is there any unreleased material from the early days?

There is but a good deal of the best of it has come out on the aforementioned ‘Under the Radar’ series and various other releases on my Bandcamp page. I imagine I will keep releasing the stuff from the archives in that fashion. I would love to do a deluxe CD or vinyl “history” of the band with live and rare stuff but that hasn’t been feasible up to this point.

Looking back, what was the highlight of your time in the band? Which songs are you most proud of? Where and when was your most memorable gig?

Wow, there have been a lot of highlights for me! As a kid, my biggest dream was to release an LP. So ‘Book of Hours’ was very exciting! I’m ever grateful Tom Dyer believed in the music enough to make that happen. And for everything he’s done since then as well! Connecting with writer, Phil McMullen, and his family and later traveling to England with the band for his Terrastock London festival. That was quite a trip! Going to see Tony Dale before he died in Australia was a life highlight. I have met so many great people and had so many wonderful experiences. I am fortunate to have lived a whole lifetime of writing songs that I’ve been able to share with the world because others believed in me: all of the record labels, music press, musicians and friends, and fans, some of whom have been supporting me since the 80’s and still do. I’m not rich but I feel I have had and still have a rich life. Artistically and personally.

As far as songs, I’m proud of many of them actually! But the success of ‘Kim the Waitress’ stands out; I’m very happy so many people like that song. Of course a lot of them only know the Material Issue version which, I wouldn’t necessarily say is bad except for the fact that they fucked up the chords and Jim made some very bad choices in changing the lyric in a couple of places!

As far as gigs go, I think of something like the Terrastock festival in Seattle, which was so great on a number of levels, maybe especially, in a social sense. Tony and his wife, Carol, were here from Australia, The McMullens, Nick and Ade from The Bevis Frond. Everybody came over and Susanne made breakfast one morning. The whole thing was very celebratory!

There is another one I always remember in the back of my mind: It was some tiny tavern up on Capitol Hill here in Seattle, a little while after ‘Meagan’s Bed’ had come out. There was some real excitement in the air and the place was literally packed. There wasn’t much of a stage, per se – I think we just set up on the floor near the back of the bar — and I remember singing and the audience members were standing like, a foot and a half from my face. All you could see was heads all the way to the front door and we sounded great! It was a rush.

BUT the most important and the one I’ve talked the most about was at the Soho Cafe in Seattle in the autumn of 1985. That was the night I met Susanne. She knew Bruce and he had asked her to come see his band. The bar was packed and I kept looking at this girl, who looked a bit like a younger Chrissie Hynde, wearing a black beret, just sitting there, cooly taking it all in. She had snuck in, underage, with some friends. I saw Bruce talking to her during our break — we were playing sets — and asked him, “Who is that??” He said it was a friend and asked if I would like to meet her. I said something to the effect of, are you fucking kidding? Of course! I called her on the phone and we made a date and she moved in a couple of weeks later, in December 1985….

Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?

I’ve had so many favourite albums throughout my life! But, beyond the obvious things, like The Beatles…

‘After Bathing at Baxters’ Jefferson Airplane
‘Electric Ladyland’ Jimi Hendrix
‘Songs of Love and Hate’ Leonard Cohen
‘The Dreaming’ Kate Bush
‘Closer’ Joy Division
‘Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy’ Eno
‘Hunky Dory’ Bowie
‘Rocking Horse’ Kelli Ali
‘Doppleganger’ Curve
‘White Chalk’ PJ Harvey
‘The Good Son’ Nick Cave
‘Way to Blue (An Introduction)’ Nick Drake
‘Aion’ Dead Can Dance
‘Kite’ Kirsty MacColl
‘This Year’s Model’ Elvis Costello
‘Treasure’ Cocteau Twins
‘He(R)Art’ For Tracy Hyde
‘Phoenix: Flames Are Dew Upon My Skin’ Eartheater

I don’t know, it’s endless, really!! I mean, there are favourite Flamenco records, Irish folk music, Baroque and Early Music, jazz, Mahler, Fairuz, Dylan, ‘Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely’…

A couple of real recent favorites are reissues-

‘Hajiki Uta’ by Meiko Kaji has just been released by We Want Sounds, who’ve done a superb job with her 1973 Japanese album. Certainly my most played record at the moment.

When we went to San Francisco for Terrastock in 1998, I found a different Japanese record at the small Aquarius Records store: ‘Heavenly Persona’ by Shizuka. In truth, I picked up the CD because I loved the cover art so much – I had never heard it — and since all the writing was in Japanese, I didn’t even know what it was called at the time! Suffice to say, Susanne and I fell in love with it. It went well with manhattans and cigarettes on dreary winter Monday afternoons — our “days off,” without the kids. I didn’t know it but Shizuka were already legends of the 1990s Tokyo Underground. This year, Black Editions released this gothic psychedelic masterpiece on vinyl for the first time and it’s a stunning issue — tri-fold cover with a book inside and lots of pictures of the eerie little dolls Miura Shizuka created and photographed. Her singing might not be everyone’s cup of tea but I would venture to bet that it’s a record that might interest at least some of your readers. A must-own for fans of Japanese psychedelia anyway!

Jeff Kelly (2022) | Photo by Susanne Kelly

Thank you. Last word is yours.

Thank you so much for the in-depth interview and thoughtful questions. I appreciate it very much! And I want to say thanks, from the bottom of my heart, to all that have supported The Green Pajamas over all of these years and very best wishes to all!

Klemen Breznikar

Headline photo: The Green Pajamas (1985) | Steve Lawrence, Joe Ross, Karl Wilhelm, Jeff Kelly | Photo by Kirsten Wilhelm

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