FOREWORD: Since this ’04 interview, the Green Pajamas, at a somewhat furious rate, have released a few more representative albums that continue to slip under the radar. But through it all, their subterranean legacy has grown amongst indie rock cultists. This interview originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Much like the turn-of-the-20th-century subterranean sidewalks and storefronts lining Seattle’s Pioneer Square, the Green Pajamas continue to exist deep beneath pop music’s still-fertile surface. However, there may be a few savvy indie rock fans outside of Magnet’s readership that remember “Kim The Waitress,” a song written by unfamiliar singer-songwriter Jeff Kelly in ’84 and made semi-famous by Chicago trio Material Issue in the mid-‘90s.
“Polygram Records called to ask permission for them to use my song. It caught on with radio, a video was made, but their singer had killed himself while it was becoming a minor Midwest hit,” Green Pajamas’ mainstay Kelly recalls. “It was sad. They’d opened for INXS at the Coliseum, invited us down, got us backstage, and used a real sitar live for the song.”
As an adolescent, after going through a self-admitted “Beatles phase,” Kelly enjoyed the Rolling Stones’ middle period masterpieces Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street in high school, then moved on to glam-rock icons Lou Reed (Transformer) and David Bowie (Diamond Dogs).
“Since I had an older sister, there was always rock radio on at my house. When new wave hit thereafter, it was like the ‘60s again,” he gleefully adds.
Kelly began attempting to compose during the ‘70s, joining band The Larch (a silly Monty Python tree reference), playing local bars, and making a couple records no one ever heard.
“I was in my late teens. That went nowhere,” Kelly chuckles. “In the early ‘80s, I met Joe Ross, who was into Beatles psychedelia. That’s when we did “Kim The Waitress,” our first proper vinyl single. Amazingly, it was covered simultaneously by mildly famous regional band Sister Psychic and Material Issue.”
But the first phase of Green Pajamas would soon come to an informal end, leaving behind some odd singles in its muted wake. Nevertheless, Australian label Camera Obscura was looking to compile those early tunes, but instead, thankfully allowed Kelly to re-assemble GP with bassist Ross, keyboardist Eric Lichter (a friend of his wife), and finally, guitarist Laura Weller (whose husband Scott Vanderpool would later replace drummer Carl Wilhelm). By ’97, the absorbing Strung Behind The Sun appeared, followed in succession by increasingly darker hued fare, including ‘98s All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed, ‘99s Seven Fathoms Down And Falling, and This Is Where We Disappear. ‘02s Narcotic Kisses lightened up the dramatics.
“It’s nice to be in my position where, unlike Britney Spears, there’s always some small label that’ll put out our records. It’s freeing to be a cult artist. But I’d love to have a mainstream audience to entertain and get a $100,000 major label advance,” he ascertains. “Songs should have good melodies and lyrics that appeal to many people. I feel there are a lot of great bands out there that don’t receive enough recognition.”
Divulging his weakness for Goth art, Kelly remains a teenager at heart, intrigued by doomed post-punks Joy Division, sci-fi theatre, horror movies, and mystery writers.
“I’ve even drawn on 1890’s English countryside vampires for inspiration, but a very specific analogy would be the dark folk poetics of Leonard Cohen, whom my wife introduced to me years ago,” he avows. “You can’t keep writing Beach Boys girl-on-the-beach songs.”
Experimenting a bit with newer recording techniques, ‘03s Northern Gothic indirectly dealt with somber machinations in a demure manner but was seldom ‘goth’ per se. As a sidebar, Kelly and Weller began Goblin Market, a ‘pre-Raphaelite progressive folk-rock project’ named after a 19th century Christina Rosetti poem, whose Ghostland album inspired a forthcoming sequel devoted to mystery novelist Joyce Carol Oates.
For those fence sitters searching out a cheap alternative journeying into the past, wonderful overview Through Glass Colored Roses: the best of The Green Pajamas will nicely suffice. Retaining a relatively relaxed restraint, understated satires such as eloquently contradictory serenade “Just Another Perfect Day” and mellow-droned grievance “She Doesn’t Love You” beg for condolence, countering the candid positive sentiments both “These Are The Best Times” and the glistening “Queen Of Sunshine” reveal.
Recorded at Seattle’s famed Vagrant Studios in two spring days with few overdubs, the Green Pajamas seventh long-play, Ten White Stones, refines and redesigns Kelly’s original home studio arrangements, lengthening conceptual complexities while foregoing the habitual thematic considerations of preceding collections. His wily Neil Young-derived fuzz-toned guitar suitably distorts dusky “The Cruel Night,” drone-y organ-doused distention “Mrs. Cafferty,” and Anglo-folk-styled “Holden Caulfield” (Weller’s sole composition, uncannily reminiscent of vintage Fairport Convention). Hexing devotional incantation “If You Love Me (You’ll Do It)” slithers along in creepy “Season Of The Witch” fashion while re-recorded surrealistic ballad “(She’s Still) Bewitching Me” hauntingly beckons Cupid’s shamanist wizardry. Cryptic “For S” leans closer to nocturnal New York moodists Luna’s take on Velvet Underground.
Look for a new Green Pajamas disc mid-’05. Kelly insists, “It’ll be another assortment of pop songs. I’d like to branch out, but I have to figure out what that’ll be. I’d love to do soundtrack work, but I’ve never been approached.”