THE GREEN PAJAMAS PARTY
The following phone interview took place on June 12, 1999. It was originally broadcast on The Night Visitor's "White Noise" program over 91.9 WNTI-FM, located in Hackettstown, NJ (USA). Settled somewhat comfortably numb over at Chateau Ross in Seattle, Washington (USA), Jeff Kelly, Joe Ross and Laura Weller had already made several trips to the "salad bar" and continued casually sipping manhattans and chugging brewskis throughout our nearly two hour chat.
Let's start with the name of the band. I'm curious about where bands get their names. That song on your first cassette, Summer of Lust, called "Green Pajamas." Is that where you got the name from or was the song written before you chose a name for the band?
Jeff - The Song was written first. Somehow we came up with that name for the band. It was a psychedelic thing.
I heard that the Green Pajamas arose out of a conversation at a party about your favorite Beatles song, "Rain." Is that an apochrophyl story or is that pretty much how things started?
Joe - Back in early 80s in West Seattle, there were people who listened to Van Halen and disco and then there were those who listened to New Wave - Elvis Costello and that sort of guitar rock. You could spot another person who was like you 'cause they wore a suit jacket and jeans and sneakers and they wore a button with one of those catchy new wave sayings. And me and Jeff met at a party and we ended up talking about "Rain" and early Beatles Rubber Soul into Revolver-era. There weren't a lot of people into that sort of stuff at the time. We made plans to get together. A bit later, Jeff called me up and said, "I've got this new record. Listen to this." And it was Rain Parade's "Emergency Third Rail Power Trip." That encapsulated what we were talking about with "Rain."
Now the Rain Parade were part of what has been referred to as the "Paisley Underground." Bands like Dream Syndicate, Green on Red, Long Riders, a lot of LA bands. Did that sound influence you via the bands coming up and touring around Seattle or did you just get into it via the records?
Jeff The Three O'Clock and The Rain Parade actually did come up here and I saw both of them.
Joe By the time they came, we were already influenced by them from their records. There really wasn't a "scene" that was developing. We got into that kind of music by listening to the same kind of music that influenced them "Satanic Majesty's-era Stones, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd that early 60s British psychedelia. When the Three O'Clock and Rain Parade came to Seattle, we certainly went out and saw them, but by that time The Green Pajamas were already a going concern.
I was listening recently to your song "Mike Brown" from Summer of Lust and it reminded me of that band that played in To Sir with Love [The Mindbenders] and I was trying to encapsulate that sound that mid 60s British beat sound and was wondering if that was also an influence?
Jeff It's interesting. That song "Mike Brown" it sounds like something you've heard, but I'm not sure that those were the influences. If you listen to that song, the riff is like an Elvis Costello song that slips my mind right now.[Hums melody. I don't recognize it either.] But that stuff was sort of in our blood. We were just listening to that Pretty Things record today, S.F. Sorrow. That sort of stuff is always mentioned when people talk about the Green Pajamas, but I had never heard that record before! So the influence is there maybe we heard it in the air or something. But it's funny. A lot of those bands that people mention in a review of our stuff, that they say was an influence, I've never heard of these bands before!
Yeah. I was just reading some reviews of your releases and different articles out there and some of the bands that people mention when they talk about your music are interesting. Names like Kula Shaker, the Kinks, "Forever Changes"-era Love, Big Star, and Dukes of Stratosphere. I was surprised to see that someone even compared you to King Crimson!
Jeff There are some similarities to King Crimson and I'll tell you what it is. There's a song called "Under the Observatory" which is sort of like the Beatles-meets-King Crimson in the sense that there's a sort of fake mellotron like "In the Court of the Crimson King." I mean you could pick out a lick or riff and say it sounds like someone else. That song "Dear Jane" I just listened to "Schizoid Man" for the first time in about 21 years right before I recorded that. I always loved that. So there's all sorts of obscure influences. Most of the people who've been influential on my music or my life are people you can't always tell [who they are.] It's just that most of the ones they mention are people that I've never listened to.
I've noticed over the course of your 15+ year career from Summer of Lust to "Meagan's Bed" and now "Seven Fathoms Down" that your sound has progressed from a sort of garage-y, rougher, more guitar based sound to now, where you seem to take more time in recording or mixing a release and there's more instrumentation and more variety to the songs. Would you say that's an accurate reflection of how you've changed or how your sound has changed?
Joe Yeah. In the early days we were completely recording at home. We were in our late teens while recording Summer of Lust and it was just something we did after school. Jeff was working, but I was still in school. We would get together at each other's house we were still living with our parents but we would just get together and we recorded. By Book of Hours, Tom Dyer got involved and we recorded it in his studio, which was still sort of crude, but more professional. That's where Book of Hours and Ghosts of Love were recorded.
Was Summer of Lust recorded there too?
Joe - No, it was recorded in our bedroom. It was recorded at my house and at Jeff's house. It was recorded on Jeff's four track on a reel to reel. We had no EQ or effects or anything. It was very much a labor of love that kids have that are in a band.
You can hear that. It sounds young and energetic. It sounds more like you're having fun in the recording of Summer of Lust. Not that you're not having fun now, but you sound a little more focused, more mature a little more business-like in your presentation.
Joe There's really a naiveté and a youthfulness in Summer of Lust. Happy Halloween too, which not too many people have heard. But Book of Hours was our first big production studio effort. After that we played a lot and wrote a bunch of songs and decided not to record them but to play them live in the studio record them live in the studio and it was produced by Jack Endino and that was November.
Joe, there were a couple of releases that you were not involved in Ghosts of Love and November?
Joe Yeah. I was involved in Capping Day with Laura at that time.
There is actually some Capping Day material out there, an EP I believe?
Laura - Yeah.
I believe that was actually your band, right?
This was around the mid-to-late 80s?
Laura Late 80s, early 90s. It was somewhat similar to Green Pajamas, not as psychedelic, but definitely jangly guitar kind of stuff with a lot of attention to vocals and melody. So it was a natural progression to go to the Green Pajamas. After I trained Joe! [Laughter]
You taught him how to play guitar?
Laura No, I taught him how to practice! But I still can't get him to change his guitar strings!
So, Joe, are you one of those gearheads who has to use vintage strings and all.
Joe No, I'm one of those cheapskates who doesn't change his guitar strings unless they break! Both Jeff and I are very lazy. I mean, if we're playing something and it sounds great, we record it. But in Capping Day, Laura and Bonnie were very professional. They were like, "Change your strings before a show." And Laura joining Green Pajamas was a real eye opener. Especially for Jeff. He's never played with someone so professional.
Laura Why, thanks Joe!
Joe The way Capping Day and the way Green Pajamas operated was very different. I was straddling both worlds and sort of brought them together.
Laura, did you write most of the Capping Day material?
So, there's no Joe Ross material that he took from you and recorded for a Green Pajamas release?
Laura No. But Joe was very instrumental in the arrangements and in making choices in recording stuff that added a lot to Capping Day.
Capping Day does have one thing over the Green Pajamas in that you won an award, right?
Laura Oh, yeah. We won a very prestigious award the Snickers candy bar/EMI Best Unsigned Band in America contest. The reason we won in Seattle is because Nirvana had already gotten signed. So the hip local college radio station in Seattle sent in our first single and we won this national contest. It didn't go anywhere because the contract they offered us was pretty awful and we ended up weaseling out of it.
Was that where you met Jack Endino?
Laura We had put out our first single with Jack. He was the guy in town to put out your single.
Joe We knew Jack before the contest. He had produced all the 64 Spiders stuff. That was the band I was in after Summer of Lust and before I came back into the Green Pajamas.
I wanted to talk about how the sound of the Green Pajamas has changed with the change in personnel over the years. It's almost as if there have been two Green Pajamas bands the one with Bruce Haedt and Steve Lawrence [on Book of Hours, Happy Halloween, and November] and the current lineup with Eric Lichter and you and now Laura. [NOTE: Besides Jeff Kelly, drummer Karl Wilhelm is the only member who appears on all the Pajamas' releases.] Is there a different sound depending on the members who were involved at the time?
Joe Yeah. But at the root of everything is always Jeff and his music. He's extremely prolific and always doing something.
I think by the time you release "7 Fathoms Down" you'll have caught up with Jeff's solo output! If I counted correctly, Jeff, your discography mentions six solo releases: later this year Camera Obscura will be releasing a four CD box set, Melancholy Sun and then there's Ash Wednesday Rain and Twenty Five.
Jeff Twenty Five was actually something I did for my wife's twenty-fifth birthday. I made a little tape and gave it out to friends. It's on our discography because Tom Dyer did it and he wanted to list everything.
I see. Any chance this might also be released in the future.
Jeff - No. It's just for friends. Although there's songs off it that are on some of the other releases.
Jeff, when you sit down to write material, is there a different approach you take when you're writing something that you hope will appear on a Green Pajamas album as opposed to something that you'll save for a solo release?
Jeff Actually, there is. Like with "Meagan's Bed" especially. Strung Behind the Sun did so well and now that we're a going concern again, with "Meagan's Bed" I decided to write more short, concise songs with choruses that were catchy and that people would like. With solo stuff, the songs are less formulaic. With the Pajamas, I'm plugging in the guitar and thinking, "This is a Green Pajamas song." So I do self-edit a lot.
Ghosts of Love was a whole different thing. I was definitely more into being creative, thinking that I don't want to be in this psychedelic bag anymore. I want to write songs like "Surfacing."(?) I was in the mindset that whatever I do is gonna be The Green Pajamas. But all that's changed. Now I think it's a good idea to make Green Pajamas' songs and make songs that I like. [Laughs] No! I actually like the Green Pajamas' songs that we've been doing. Especially "She Doesn't Love You Anymore."
Recently, we've seen some live material trickle out: "Any Time of Day" on Indian Winter and "Emma Is Crying" on the current Ptolemaic Terrascope CD as well as the [unofficial] "Sit 'n' Spin" EP from the "Meagan's Bed" CD release party [April 2 in Seattle.] Is there much of a difference in the live presentation of your songs as opposed to what is on the record?
Jeff There's quite a difference. With the new band we're trying to play songs off the album instead of just jamming. We've been playing some of the same songs for years and years. Now it's fun to play in a different way because we're playing songs off of "Meagan's Bed" and new stuff. For example, the interesting thing about "Emma is Crying" on the Terrascope CD is that that's only half the song. It was the last song we played [at Terrastock 2 in San Francisco, April 1998] and we were just getting going but there wasn't room on the CD to fit it. We actually went on ad libbing for about 10 more minutes! That's how the band's been operating for about 15 years. Now we try and play a little more concise. It seems to be working well. There's a cool version of "Any Time of Day" on the "Sit 'n' Spin" EP where I was feeling particularly good that night. There's certainly the opportunity to stretch out and jam, but we've been concentrating on trying to play the songs the way they're supposed to sound which we've never done before.
Joe In the old days we'd just sort of play. We'd alter songs and twist them around and start jamming and one song would lead into something we'd never played before very free jamming. We're trying now to be more of a pop band.
I think you should still keep the jamming.
Joe Well, now we jam on one or two songs a set whereas before we'd jam on 4 or 5 songs a set.
Jeff, has the change in the style of the live presentation been reflected in the way you're writing songs for the studio releases?
Jeff No, I wouldn't say that at all. We only play when we want to anymore. Sometimes that's only a few times a year. We did all that club shit back in the Book of Hours period with Bruce and Steve. I got really bored with it. Why go out and play for 15 people that don't really care. Now we play when we want to and it's a little more fun. But what that means is that the live thing comes second. There are things over the years, however, that we've recorded that have come from the long jamming, but none of that stuff's been released. There's lots of stuff lying around that Joe's been threatening to issue for years. We have this project called "The Dark Album" with a song called "Deep Dark Ocean of A Heart" which is about 11 or 12 or 15 minutes. It's a great song about vampires.
You mention vampires. That brings up a question that I wanted to explore about your lyrics. There are ideas and themes that pop up a lot in your songs like vampires .
Jeff Excuse me, I have to bite somebody's neck!
Yeah - "The bite marks on her neck" from "Secret of her Smile." And the reference to vampires on the single "Vampire Crush" and another mention on the new album [Seven Fathoms Down and Falling] in the song "Still Never Away." You seem to be obsessed with nuns, vampires, and waitresses!
Joe There's only one waitress.
No, aren't there other songs that mention waitresses. There's more than Kim out there. [a reference to "Kim the Waitress"]
Jeff Kim's the only one that matters. But Joe wants to answer that. Is that fair?
I don't know. Can we have Joe answer a question about a song that you wrote?
Jeff Well, he would like to answer that. [Laughs] But what's the question? "Why all the imagery?" I don't know. You just sort of write about stuff that's on your mind at a particular time of day or year or week. Most of the time, for me, it's women.
But there's so many different women mentioned in a lot of songs. Including one of my favorites, Joan of Arc! "Song for the Maid" on Ghosts of Love and another song on your solo album, Private Electrical Storm.
Jeff Oh, yeah. The one about Vaucouleurs. That's pretty cool that we found out we have that in common. But it's actually pretty simple. With the sex, vampires, and women... to a large degree, not so much the vampires, but that's what rock and roll's always been about. To tell you the truth, a great deal of it probably most of it has been inspired by my wife. She kinda keeps me young, I guess.
So when you mention different women they're just made up names?
Jeff No, not necessarily.
For instance, that one song "Secret of Her Smile" that mentions Samantha in the chorus?
Jeff O.K. In actuality I'll confess this one time that that song is about my wife. I've used her name in so many other songs whether released or unreleased that this time I chose Samantha. The thing is that, like "Meagan's Bed" (which I'm not gonna tell you who that's about), but a lot of songs about other women are actual experiences from everyday life.
Joe You should know that Jeff's a happily married man, but a lot of times he'll come up with a song about another girl, which is really Susanne [Jeff's wife] in disguise. He'll ask her "What do you think of the name Samantha" and she'll say, "Oh, that's OK." So he'll write the song about her and then change the name. But other times and this is what really intrigues me is that sometimes he'll write a song about someone he's totally infatuated with.
You mean someone from his past?
Joe No! Someone from his future... or the present. That song "Dr. Dragonfly" [from Strung Behind the Sun] is about someone that Jeff works with. He's like a receptionist at a hospital. And if you listen to "The Elusive Dr. D" [also on Strung Behind the Sun], it's about him fantasizing about one of his coworkers. And I asked Susanne about that. "What do you think of that?" And she said, "Well, if he wasn't passionate about things, he wouldn't be in [a band.]" But that's just Jeff. He's passionate about women. Who knows what he does with those women!
[Jeff grabs phone from Joe] There's a song on the new album, "High Waving Heather" that's about my wife merging with Emily Bronte's ghost.
Have you frequently incorporated your reading into your songs.
Jeff What, my weeding? I don't smoke that stuff, I just...[Laughs]
No, your READING. Like Elizabeth Siddell.
Jeff [excited] Yeah, now you're talking sex crazed!
Joe Yeah, he's into that stuff.
Jeff That's influenced 7 Fathoms a bit more than [other releases.]
Now, to my ear, 7 Fathoms is closer in feel and sound to Strung Behind the Sun. It's not as poppy as Meagan's Bed. It takes a little while to warm up to it.
Joe It's funny that you mention that because I personally think that's true. I don't know if anyone else would. Strung Behind the Sun was put together over a period of time with not many expectations. We were recording the songs and put them in the order that we felt would make the best record we could. That was our first Camera Obscura record and it brought us out of retirement. So we quietly worked on that without anyone watching us. And when we finished we said, "Hey, this is a pretty neat record." And it was received very well. So now, everyone was watching so we knew we had to make a follow up. So with the next one, All Clues Lead To Meagan's Bed, we had to make conscious decisions about which songs were for the new record and which ones were not. We were very aware of the new record as we were recording it; whereas, with Strung we weren't that much aware of the final product until after it was done.
Now with the new record, "7 Fathoms," it was like Strung in that we were a little more easy going about it it was a new label and we were putting it out so close on the heels of the other one we just decided to record some stuff and put together a final product for Woronzow Records and as it was coming together is when it really took shape.
Laura, were you more involved with this new record than on the past releases?
Laura Not exactly. Most of it was already wrapped up before I was considered a full part of the band. I've been a part of the live band, but most of it was already in the can. I think I'm only on one track.
I thought I heard your voice on two of the tracks, "She Doesn't Love You Anymore" and another one.
Laura Oh, yeah. I'm also on Eric's song ["River Full of Reasons"]. Jeff and I were working on a side project, Goblin Market concurrently with Green Pajamas and as I continue to be in the band, I assume I'll show up on subsequent albums.
There have been almost two careers for the Green Pajamas separated by the long gap between Ghosts of Love in 1989 and now three releases within the last 18 months or so. Do you view this flurry of activity as a new chapter in the history of the Green Pajamas or is it simply a continuation of the career you started over 15 years ago?
Jeff It's a new chapter. Although contrary to what you might think, Strung Behind the Sun wasn't years and years of songwriting all thrown together. It was pretty recent material some stuff that was laying around. It was a new getting together for us. It wasn't like we saved up all these songs. I've been writing songs the whole time hundreds of songs that won't ever get issued. But there were a few laying around that sounded good as maybe a Green Pajamas song.
Since you're so prolific, is there material that you'll write, maybe a couple of years ago that you'll come back to and revisit and work into shape for a new release? When you have a new project in front of you, do you ever go back to older songs or is most of it fresh.
Jeff Most of it's fresh. We don't rehash a lot. BUT, with Meagan's Bed, there are a couple of things that are from years ago back in the 70s. Also, in "Shock of Blonde," there's a bridge and a middle eight that's from something else I wrote [a while ago.] But to a large degree, it's all new. As an artist (and I really hate to use that word), but as an artist...
With a small "a".
Jeff - Exactly. You're creating something. I can't sit still. I have to be making something new otherwise I get bored really fast.
Is "Rattlesnake Kiss" a new song? That's one of my favorites on Meagan's Bed.
Jeff Thank you. That's brand new. The weird part about that is that I went down in the basement and said I want to write something catchy and I started strumming and came up with that chord progression and I waited for three days until a good lyric came along and then I went back and did the melody. I'm hoping that we can do more stuff like that. I think that "She Doesn't Love You Anymore" [from 7 Fathoms] has that same sort of feel to it to a degree. You don't want to rerun an idea over and over. But you want to get that kind of FEEL. There's something about "Rattlesnake Kiss" that has nothing to do with Book of Hours... Nothing to do with Summer of Lust. All that stuff's cool and it's good, but it's SO ancient history to me. So it's good that we're talking about Green Pajamas history because there are a great deal of people who have no idea what we did way back then.
You've released a lot of material on different labels. What is the advantage of this?
Jeff Well, if someone asks us for an album, we'll give it to them. If Matador asks us or if Capital asks us (which I would love), we'll give 'em an album. We'll just go down in the basement and we'll just start going at it.
Most of the releases have been on "indie" labels. Have you been approached by any major labels?
Jeff Actually, not really at this point. I keep crossing my fingers.
We spoke a bit about touring. Are you looking forward to your debut in London at the end of August at the Terrastock 3 festival?
Jeff Yes. Very much so.
My wife and I wish we could go.
Jeff You should go.
Yeah, but we have an 11 year old at home.
Jeff Bring her along.
I'm not sure they would let her in.
Jeff Oh, bring her along. We have an "in" with the organizers. Maybe they'll have one of those pits that they used to have at the old drive-ins you know, where you could drop your kids off while you were watching the movie!
How would you describe the "vibe" at the Terrastock festival?
Joe The cool thing about Terrastock is that a lot of the bands that play there would normally play on tour to about 20-25 people in each town.
Yeah, like Jeff was saying one of the reasons you don't like to tour is that you don't want to play before the same 20 or 25 people all the time.
Joe Right. But when you get to Terrastock, there's maybe 20 people from every town all over the world there making up about 1500 people who know who you are. Terrastock is not driven by money or by who's selling records or who's on the big tours like Lollapalooza or Reading Festival. It's totally just about the Terrascope magazine and what records they enjoy. They invite those people. So a lot of people playing only played a few shows in their whole life or a number of little local shows. But here you are playing for something like a thousand people who love their records because they're Terrascope readers and they've bought the records because of the reviews.
Jeff had mentioned before that you're at the point where you like to look forward instead of backward at the Green Pajama catalog. When you go over there, will you be preparing a set list? Do you do that before you go on stage or do you just make it up on the spot once you get up there?
Joe We've done both. Most often we'll just jot down a set list over some beers before we go on.
And then play nothing from it!?
Joe [laughs] Yeah. But for Terrastock this year I have a feeling that about a week in advance we'll make up a set list and it'll mostly be off of Meagan's Bed.
Hopefully, with the timing, 7 Fathoms Down will just have come out. Will you be playing stuff off of that as well?
Joe I don't know. The record is scheduled to come out to coincide with Terrastock. Whether we'll play stuff off it, I don't know.
You've mentioned to me once that you rarely play stuff live that hasn't already come out on record. Did I understand you correctly?
Joe That's often true because a lot of times we'll make up a song and then record it and, unlike most bands, we'll discover whether we like the song based on the recording rather than how we perform it or the audience reaction to it. That's not always the case, but it tends to be typically what happens.
Your recording process is something that's always intrigued me. In the early days, you recorded in your attic or over at Jeff's house. Where do you prefer to record today? Do you like to work the songs out at home or to you prefer to go into a studio and have more options open to you?
Joe I think definitely at home. The last couple of records have primarily been done at Jeff's house he has a nice little set up in his basement. I have one in my basement as well, but Strung Behind the Sun and Meagan's Bed were primarily done in Jeff's basement. After we're done recording, we go over to Hanszak Audio with the master tapes and we do the final assembly and segues and basically put the record together. They have a nice modern high tech studio. So it basically starts out as a lo-fi homegrown beginning and then gets processed at the very end.
The "beginnings" would it be fair to say they're in the demo stage or are they more polished than that?
Joe Oh, they're more finished.
[There follows a bit of commotion as Joe informs us that Laura has just taken a sip of Jeff's beer that had a cigarette butt in it!]
I thought you guys were drinking manhattans?
Joe Yes, that is the official drink of the Green Pajamas. I'm drinking a manhattan and Jeff is drinking a beer and a manhattan and Laura's drinking a beer, but she just took a sip out of Jeff's beer and he had a cigarette in it! Oh, and when we drink we call it a "salad."
Joe Yeah. We get that from Dean Martin. Jeff and I (and maybe Laura too) are big Rat Pack fans and when they performed, they would wheel a bar out on stage and call it the "salad bar" and Dean would mix a little "salad!" We mix a little rocks and bourbon and vermouth and that's called "mixing a salad." In fact, I want to call our next album "Psychedelic Salad."
That's a good title.
Jeff We'll have to put it up for a vote. [Joe agrees.]
Did we get into where you got the name for the band?
Jeff Yeah. [Reminds me of earlier discussion.] Actually, I always regretted naming the band that. I wanted to call the band The Flying Nuns but I was voted down.
Maybe because of the record label [in New Zealand]?
Jeff No, I think they came later.
I won't keep you much longer because I know you're headed out to a [Thee] Headcoats and Headcoatees show.
Jeff Actually, I'm going to see the Head Goatees. There's the Headcoats, which is Billy Childish's band and the Headcoatees which are their girlfriends and then there's the farm animals which is the Head Goatees. [Laughter] That's a little Seattle humor!
I wonder if you could comment on your specific releases, especially for someone just discovering the Green Pajamas. Is there a particular release that you would say best encapsulates "The Green Pajamas Sound?" Is there a record that you would recommend to someone just starting out with your catalog.
Jeff I think Meagan's Bed is my favorite by far. Because it's new, but also because it goes back to a spontaneity that we had with Summer of Lust when we were just starting out and just banging on guitars and not being very precious about how we were playing. Meagan's Bed has a spontaneity about it. It's a little rougher. It's a little more appealing to me at this time. The newest thing's always the coolest I think. Strung Behind the Sun sort of sums up the Green Pajamas as a "thing." There's, like Tony Dale says, the "cocktail music" and there's the psychedelic stuff and there's ballads. It's not my favorite, but I think it represents the Green Pajamas in all phases. But I think Meagan's Bed is the best album. Actually, 7 Fathoms Down which is coming out is the one I'm most excited about now. I think there's some really good songs on there. Maybe you'll play "Bewitching Me."
That's funny you should mention that because in the first half hour of the show before I got you on the line, I played a selection from each of your albums that I own and I did select "She's Still Bewitching Me" from the advanced copy that Joe sent me.
Jeff Good. At the time I did that I was real excited and I think that excitement and spontaneity really comes across. 7 Fathoms Down is different than Meagan's Bed, but it's born out of the same creative process.
Speaking of Strung Behind the Sun, one of my favorites is "Andrew and Paul." It's really different.
Jeff Oh, "The Brain I Realize." Thank you. That was a real oddity. Believe it or not, that song was a lot slower. We recorded it at a very slow speed and then it was sped up. It was also bounced down from an 8 track to a stereo mix and there's more of that drum stuff added on later. In that sense it was a very late 60s or Beatlesesque production technique. That thing was incredibly sped up. That's Joe singing on that one I'm doing the harmonies. If you heard the original you'd think we pretty much sounded like the Chipmunks. [Laughter] The song's great. A lot of people really like that track. It was a fun one. I didn't think we intended that as a Green Pajamas' track. I just asked Joe to come over and sing on something. We didn't think it would come out on anything.
I'm glad it found its way out. I'm also glad that Indian Winter also has come out featuring some of your early tracks, some hard to find things and some rarities. I understand Joe had a lot to do with assembling that? In fact, wasn't that going to come out on Joe's own label, Endgame Records?
Joe Yeah. I was all ready to put it out. I had been working on it for a couple of months. It was right after "Deadly Nightshade" came out on Succour that I put together Indian Winter and then Get Hip showed some interest and I decided to let them run with it.
We talked a bit about Jeff's solo career, but is there any desire on your part to possibly release a solo album?
Joe I've started way more projects than I can finish. Over the years I've started several Joe Ross solo projects . I've also thought about doing a Best of the Joe Ross' Green Pajamas stuff and maybe throwing in some of my unreleased stuff. Like George Harrison that Dark Horse thing with "Taxman" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and some new stuff. But it's such a goofy idea, I don't think I'd ever really do it.
You mean just assemble some of the Green Pajamas' songs that you wrote?
Jeff - You've been forewarned! [Laughter]
I meant releasing solo stuff like what Jeff does where you played all the instruments yourself and all.
Joe I could do that. But I'm really pretty busy with the Green Pajamas. There's so much unreleased Pajamas stuff and I'm very overworked just with the Green Pajamas. It wouldn't make financial sense to put out something like that. As an example, take Jeff's Ash Wednesday Rain. It's a really great record, but when I'm selling Green Pajamas' records to the local record shops, they don't want to touch it because it's not Green Pajamas, it's Jeff Kelly. Even though I put a sticker on it that says "File under Green Pajamas." So that's how difficult it is. And Jeff's got much more of a name for himself than I do as a solo artist. And everyone who knows the Green Pajamas would certainly know Jeff Kelly and want to buy his records, but it's hard to sell solo records.
You mean while the band you're associated with is still a going concern?
Jeff You guys probably don't know this, but there's a Jeff Kelly hoax there's this guy going around imitating me. He was putting his name on records as "Jeff Kelly" and they all came out and they were all terrible. That's why nobody wants to buy my records. That's why my records don't sell. Actually, Joe likes to rub that in. They don't sell because they have my name on them.
Joe [Calling out in the background] I can't give 'em away!
Laura It makes a nice coaster.
Or a Frisbee! That leads me to another question. Do you guys have a big following in Seattle? Because we've never heard of you out here [in New Jersey]. When we first heard you it was like "where have these guys been?"
Jeff It's something we're just starting to work on. In fact, mile for mile or kilometer for kilometer, more people know about us over in Europe. People here have heard the name and the local college station plays us a lot which we're thankful for, but there's nothing like Mudhoney or stuff like that. More people in Hamburg, Germany know about us...
Well, you've had stuff come out on German labels and in Sweden and Greece and Denmark and Australia almost more on European labels than American. Not to denigrate the work that Tom Dyer [owner of Green Monkey, which released the first Green Pajamas cassettes] did, but maybe he just didn't have the distribution to get you out here.
Jeff Exactly. Tom did the best he could at the time. Everyone did. But it didn't work. Although Tom was responsible for getting that foreign connection. All that Australian material before Tony [Dale, owner of Camera Obscura] on Au Go Go and the German and Greece stuff. What's happening now is we're trying to get better distribution. We're trying to get to more radio stations. 'Cause I think the songs are commercial enough.
Oh, definitely. I try and get a Green Pajamas song on almost everyone of my shows and people call in and ask, "who is that band. Where can I find their stuff?" And it's hard if I have to tell them they're on some Australian label or some British label. But now I'm finding there is distribution in America [via Carrot Top Distribution in Chicago, for example.] I think I've even seen some of your releases on Amazon.com and Cdnow.com.
Jeff Yeah, they're on there. It's better than it was on Ghost of Love. I don't know what Greg Shaw's [owner of Bomp!, which released Ghosts of Love] distribution is like. But it's better now than for Summer of Lust and Book of Hours. A lot of that's thanks to the Internet. It's allowed Tony and I to converse everyday without having to wonder what time it is over there.
The same thing with Phil McMullen, the editor of Ptolemaic Terrascope. There's been a few features on the band in his magazine that is helping build an audience.
Jeff Well, Phil has been instrumental since the beginning. He heard Summer of Lust and reviewed it and he's become a great friend. I should say "hi" to him cause I've a feeling he'll get a copy of this interview.
Yes, he definitely will. You wrote "Emily Grace" for his daughter, is that right?
Jeff Yes. And there's a song on Private Electrical Storm called "Heather" [about his wife.] He's just a dear friend.
I've actually become friends with him myself. We've traded e-mails over the last couple of years since I discovered his magazine. But it's a great time. Music's actually become fun again. I don't know if you get that feeling? I think it has to do with Ptolemaic Terrascope and the artists Tony Dale is putting out with Camera Obscura and the Terrastock festivals. It's almost like a growing family where you can have conversations with people who are in to the same kind of music as you are and it's great to go out and get a recommendation and try a new band. It's just FUN again!
Jeff Yeah! What was exciting for us when we went down to San Francisco [to play at Terrastock 2 last April] was watching Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel. This is the true alternative music. This is where it's happening. I thought a lot about Olivia Tremor Control and if this was 1969 or 1968 in some other place, they'd be on the cover of Rolling Stone. I don't know if that's bad or good? I think it would be good if it was the right time and place. These young guys... Rock and Roll has always been about youth coming along and... [hesitates a bit to avoid saying "fucking" over the air]... shaking things up and those guys are doing it. It's very exciting! The whole Terrastock thing is like that. You think it's just this whole psychedelic business, but it's not just psychedelia it's what's happening. It's what isn't on the radio. It's cutting edge to a degree. There's lots of cutting edges out there now and certainly this one has its place and should attract more attention.
I agree. I think these bands just love music and they know a lot about music. They're not just flash in the pans studio concoctions that sell 5 million records and then you never hear from them again. These are people that have studied music. They've brought some of their influences into what they've released and they look at music as fun as opposed to a business.
I think that covers everything I wanted to touch upon. Was there anything you wanted to bring up.
Jeff I just want to thank you for having us on and for asking intelligent questions about the music. Not everybody does that. And although I was kinda vague about the lyrics and what the titles were about they're poetry to me. Even Eric [Lichter]'s songs, who's in the same band with me it's fun interpreting his lyrics. I don't ever ask him what they're about, but they're poetry to me. I may interpret it totally different from what he's writing about. But I do appreciate your interest in the songs and the history and I'm glad you like the records.
You speak of the "poetry" of lyrics, but I've noticed you haven't included the lyrics in the last couple of releases. Is there are reason for that?
Jeff No, not really. We're mixing the vocals up higher now so you can hear the lyrics a little clearer. Also, the budgets we've been working with have left us with being able to do less than we originally thought we could as far as a CD booklet situation. Although I think we're gonna include the lyrics in the new record, 7 Fathoms Down. There's really no reason it's just the way we've laid out the CDs.
Sometimes it's good when they're not included. It leaves more to the imagination.
Laura That's something that's become a lot more popular in the 90s. I did a paper on lyrics in a Linguistics class and I ended up looking at a whole ton of rock records from the 70s to the present and the amount of bands that print their lyrics in their records is exponentially more today. In the late 60s and early 70s people didn't do that and now it's a trend. In some ways it's a nice thing to add, but in some ways it's not poetry that's meant to stand on its own. It's married to the music. Sometimes I think it loses something in standing alone. It's better to have people hear it in the context of the music.
A perfect example is in that song "The Thousand Days." That line about the "book of ours" I thought it was "book of hours" like a reference to the title of the record Book of Hours with that time thing: hours...days. I interpreted it differently until I read the lyrics.
Jeff In actuality, you interpreted it correctly. That title was meant as a pun. That song was meant to appear on Book of Hours but it didn't come out until later. I wanted that connection as a pun. There's the title similarity, but I'm also saying it repeatedly in the song and I'm talking about a book of memories. And Laura makes a good point about reading them on their own. That song "Rattlesnake Kiss" that we were talking about. I've never read the lyrics on their own, but there's a sexual urgency to that song in the way it's sung and the way the music's played that would be lost if you just read the lyrics on their own. Also in the history of Rock and Roll until "Sgt. Pepper," no one had lyric sheets and all those great old songs those Rolling Stones' songs as a kid you had it totally wrong. That's the height of the pop music experience: it's the sound!
One more thing are you aware that Tony Dale is preparing a sort of companion piece to Indian Winter called Narcotic Kisses?
Joe [feigning shock] He's doing what?
Uh oh! That's the sound of Tony having a heart attack!
Joe Yeah. That's some stuff that we've put out. We put out the 45 ["Vampire Crush"] and whenever we've sent him stuff for the new albums, there's usually some extra tracks on there. Another thing he's done is some MP3s. It's gonna be a CD-R. He'll kind of run them off as people want them. It will be a bunch of odds and ends Green Pajamas unreleased stuff and hard to find stuff...
Yeah, alternate versions of stuff from Strung Behind the Sun and Meagan's Bed outtakes he was telling me. Something for all your fans to look out for.
So, in wrapping up, is there anything you'd like me to go out with? I have a lot of things lined up.
Jeff Do you have the one with me singing "I Feel Pretty?" [Laughter]
[Playing along] What album is that from?
Laura Where Jeff Kelly does The Sound of Music.
Joe Yeah, where Jeff covers Rogers and Hammerstein!
That must be from that imposter's solo album!
Joe You think it's funny, but every song that Jeff ever wrote has the word "pretty" in it!
Jeff He's a wit, isn't he? How about "She Doesn't Love You Anymore?" Then you get to hear Laura.
O.K. The new one with Laura on it. That's a good one. How about if I follow it up with "Secret Day?"
Jeff Hey, yeah!
See, we're laying the groundwork for you, Laura. That way people'll be coming to the shows and tell the ugly guys to get off the stage and come up and chat you up and...
Laura All right!
O.K. Good night and thank you very much.
Go Back to the Fancy Table of Contents