The Green Pajamas project sweet enthusiastic forms of melody and structure that are hard to resist. Psychedelia as an invitation to actively participate in life and the expansion of one mind is at the heart of their work and we were luck enough to take up their time to interview them.
Their history is somewhat erratic but here's how they tell it to us. Jeff Kelly and Joe Ross started the Green Pajamas as a duo to record full-length cassette "Summer of Lust" in 1984. Karl Willhelm was drafted to play drums for the release and has faithfully sat on the throne ever since. Steven Lawrence soon after added his guitar and songwriting talents. The band released two LPs ("Book of Hours" 1987 and "Ghosts of Love" 1990) and seemed to have died and early death soon after the latter was released.
The core of Jeff, Joe and Karl remained active in Jeff's Victorian inspired band The Goblin Market. This project gave rose and fell and in it's ashes the Green Pajamas was resurrected with 'Song For Christina' single. By 1997 The Green Pajamas entered a period of unprecedented productivity and with the addition of multi-instrumentalist and songsmith Eric Lichter the band released their first album in over seven years "Strung Behind The Sun", followed by "Indian Winter", "Strung Out", "All Clues Lead To Meagan's Bed". Their current release "Seven Fathoms Down and Falling", their fifth CD in less than three years, comes the addition of longtime friend of the band, guitarist Laura Weller to the line up.
WG: How do you feel about people who dismiss you as just another Beatles wanna-be?
The Green Pjs studying up on the
What we ARE influenced by is the Beatles' creative spirit and spontaneity. It is that whole swinging sixties creative attitude that we tuned in on. For instance, The Stones also were a very big influence on our pre-Pajamas musical development. People don't see the Stones in us because we don't have that trademark rock'n'roll swagger that the Glimmer Twins emanate, but songs such as Ruby Tuesday, Paint It Black or Gimme Shelter certainly inspired us to create as youngsters.
WG: What influences your music?
Joe: Anything that interests us. We can't write about something we don't feel passion for. We don't write songs about baseball players. But there's a sort of high, wild sweetness in life that is always just barely out of reach. We are always trying to touch it or speak of it, and that's the seed the lyrics stem from.
For instance, when one has a crush on somebody, most will make themselves content with the act of seeing and watching the person they desire. But it's that secret wish to go further- to actually touch the person- that causes the excitement, that causes the electricity in one's stomach. The charge. Life is full of these small thrills, you just have to know where to find them, how to acknowledge them, and want to. We not only want to find and acknowledge them; we want to write them down and sing about them. That's where it gets tricky; how does one write down that elusive sweet taste, that electrical charge? So, if we can convey a bit of that we're happy.
Apéritifs, Apéritifs, Apéritifs !
Joe: We try to convey a sense of enthusiasm for a given subject; to turn others on to this passion.
Joe: Jeff has always been prolific. In my mind, the function of the Green Pajamas has always been 'my presentation of Jeff'. When Jeff presents his work, it's his solo stuff. When I present what he does it is the Pajamas. When I met him he had already recorded hundreds of songs that he had written (and we were teenagers). I was inspired by him, and I tried to write a song a day too, but as the years wore on I kind of gave up. These days Eric writes a lot of songs of a very high caliber but the Green Pajamas course has been set. Most of his will have to wait for another act.
WG: How do the lyrics function within the songs?
Joe: It's harder to make something up out of the blue than to write about something from our lives. It's hard to sing about something that isn't real to you. Luckily life is populated with intensely lyric-inspiring people and events. Sometimes the names are changed to protect the innocent, or the guilty, whatever.
In our songs phrasing of the words sometimes presides over the actual story we are trying to build upon. They (the songs) do have a story, but sometimes a seemingly senseless catch of a lyric fits into the mood/melody and becomes part of the story. We work the lyric in like an addition to a good dream.
WG: So your songs have a concrete meaning for you?
Joe: Yes, they all do in one way or another, but it is interesting to hear what other people think our songs are about. It is always something other than what we intended it to be. For instance, some people think 'Scarlet Song' is about menstruation. It's actually about Greek funeral rituals.
WG: So, what's the core of what you try to get through to people?
Jeff: A song like 3-Way Conversation is a good example. You can hear in my voice that it's about sex not my mom. You can also hear it in the beat and by what chords are played, how they're played and so on. That sort of driving thing with an organ, just vamping along in E7 sounds like sexuality. It just doesn't sound like boating or bike riding. So what I'm trying to do I think, is share certain ideas that excite me. I'm trying to convey my interest in life's mystery and beauty. And how much I love my wife.
WG: How do you feel being a psychedelic band in Seattle?
Joe: Great. No one ever accused the PJs of jumping on the grunge bandwagon, or any other bandwagon, for that matter. We've always done what we do because of what we happen to like, not because the sounds we make or the image we project was calculated to be popular. For a while we were at odds with the music scene in general, not just Seattle. We haven't exactly been the sound the world was waiting for. Seattle has always had its share of bands doing their own thing. Sky Cries Mary and The Posies hailed from Seattle at the height of the grunge years. The Young Fresh Fellows and The Walkabouts have always done it their way. The "Hype" years were a fun time to be in Seattle. We never felt resentful that is was not happening to us. We've never schemed, or even believed that we were going to be the next big thing.
WG: What do you love or hate the most of playing with an ensemble?
Laura successfully mooches yet another ciggie!
Joe: The kick of power when a rock band is playing well can be thrilling. It's a different kind of rush than recording. When we're all playing well and the groove is just right, a sort of high can be attained that isn't like any other.
The jamming that we do sometimes is just wonderful noise. What I hate is discovering that the tape ran out or that we weren't recording at all. Certainly some of our best moments happen when we least expect it. None of us are very fond of rehearsing songs which is why we break off and jam away our practice time so often.
Jeff: I like the camaraderie of the band. The laughs, the beer, everybody smokes, it's a rare social situation for me because I tend to not want to socialize. The band are my closest friends I think, the only friendships I've sustained over a long period of time. I guess that's what I like best. Seeing my friends.
Laura: I hate having to split the money. I love bumming everyone else's cigarettes. No, wait. I love the atmosphere that's created by having so many artistic minds in the room at the same time, as long as no one farts.
Eric: I love and hate the farting depending on who's doing it. I love the drinking and merrymaking that takes place. I love the food Joe makes me. I hate it when we talk too much and play too little. I love watching Jeff go into a zone when his playing is on. I love the expression on his face when he sings some melancholy lyric about Susanne or his kids. I love it when Joe starts having a conversation on stage with Jeff as if no one else is around watching.
Jeff: The worst part? Sometimes it's hard for me to compromise what I hear in my head with how the others might want to present it. Or how, out of necessity, it has to be presented in a live situation. Joe and Eric live with that too I think, in regards to their songs.
WG: What is your favorite Green Pajamas song and more importantly why?
Jeff: I can't say I have a favorite. There are a few I like more than the others....
Eric: I think that continually changes for me. Hard to pin down any one favorite. I think right now I'm pretty smitten with 'The Laughing Horseman'. I think it reveals to me a time and a person who I never knew, and who was a big part of Green Pajama history before I joined the band. It gives me the flavor (not poppy kind, thank you) of the olden days and the youthfulness and wide open innocence that the original line up must have had. Or at least how I imagine it. It also portrays a melancholy and tragic edge to the friendship that once was, and is now gone because an original member died recently. It is very personal and touching to me the way Jeff pays tribute to his old friend and a lost time.
Joe: 'High Waving Heather' is probably my current favorite. I think 'Rattlesnake Kiss' was my favorite during the "Meagan's Bed" era. Before that... In an attempt to remain timeless, I'll say that my overall favorite is 'With A Flower In Her Hair' from the "Summer Of Lust" album. Though it is not much of a song (more of a riff really) I still remember the feeling I used to get when we would play it. It was so loud and liberating and magical - and so unlike the rest of the new wave of the day...it was the driving force and the original inspiration of the band. And how proud I was, knowing that the flowery strains of this song were blaring from my parent's house as we jammed in my room, wafting across the neighborhood on the summer air.
WG: What do you feel are the shortcoming of music and what are its strengths?
Joe: We don't see any shortcomings of music. Not as a thing itself. If you're talking genres of music, then you start getting into limitations. But not with music in general- it's boundless. Strengths are obvious. One of the greatest strengths, perhaps, is the unexplainable fact that a chord progression or a melody all by itself can evoke strong emotions, that a sound can break your heart or make it swell with hope or joy; that the emotion can come minus the lyrics to explain it. That's part of what makes music so magical.