Green Monkey seem to be marketing the new album as a Coffee In Nepal sequel, but I didn’t really get that vibe. It doesn’t seem to be a concept album and doesn’t really reconnect with any of the themes or songs on that album. Do you consider this “Coffee II” and if so, what is the connection?
Jeff: The only connection really is that it is Susanne and me, but the thing is, it’s a lot later, so no, it doesn’t sound the same. The connection is that it is JUST Susanne and me. And not just me. And I didn’t want to make another Green Pajamas-like record. The beauty of the original Coffee In Nepal is that I could never do that again. It’s one of those things that just exits in time. One can always remember your first few weeks together that were magical but you realize you can’t reenact them again. The concept was the same then as now: there really is none. This is just us 28 years later still doping out things together and putting them down on tape.
‘Cry, Cry, Maria Cry’ is a dark look at the seedy underbelly of Brazilian sex trade and prostitution. Did your mind turn to Brazil based on the recent World Cup games or had you been reading about your subject in the news? And is this an update on the eventual whereabouts of the “Maria” from “Coffee…” or are they unrelated characters?
Nothing to do with soccer. Not the “Coffee” Maria either. I had read about the Brazilian street life and had seen a Brazilian porn clip and it just sorted itself into a song!
Have these songs grown over the intervening decades or were they written more recently specifically for this album?
“David” was written years ago, but the other stuff is new. We thought about singing a bunch of my old songs at first but, as often happens, new things came along.
You return to a favourite character (a witch that appears in several of your songs) in “The Witch of The Lake”. This is as enigmatic as ever, though. Are your lyrics inspired by dreams (which you mention throughout the song) or do you just put words together that work with the melody and feel comfortable to sing?
Which Witch is Which?? (A Halloween song my kids liked.) The song is about that beguiling animal that is always around us, the female. Like God.
I hear a lot of instruments contributing to the overall sound of the album (vibes, keyboards, piano, percussive maracas, et. al.) but once again you (frustratingly) don’t list any instruments in the credits. I assume you played everything (besides Phil’s cello). Do you arrange with the specific instruments in mind for each song or do you improvise based on what’s available?
The truth is, Jeff, Susanne played everything, including Phil’s cello. We were all standing around, fucking amazed because Susanne, up to now, didn’t know how to play an instrument!!
Just kidding. No, I don’t think I put a lot of thought into what was going to drive the song until I recorded it. I think you’re hearing an Irish Bouzouki, which Laura [Vanderpool, Jeff’s partner in Goblin Market and the Green Pajamas’ second guitarist] let me borrow, and Phil brought over some kind of cute tenor guitar. So there are different sounds on this and I did base a couple of the songs on that. I played everything, yes, (as usual!)
Don’t take this the wrong way, but for an album co-billed as Jeff AND Susanne Kelly, I don’t really hear too much of Susanne; certainly not any more than on Coffee In Nepal. What was the thought process behind elevating Susanne to a co-artist credit?
This was Susanne’s and my project. She had a LOT of input into the songs and the vibe. Her singing does a lot for me on this. You can certainly hear it’s not [Pajamas’ bassist] Joe [Ross] or Laura on this, can’t you? Susanne’s voice has always had a sort of texture I like. This record sounds different to me than the PJs.
“The Loneliest Soul” is full of vivid images that paint a cinematic picture in the listener’s mind of a rather romantic interlude. Autobiographical?
Just made that one up. You can’t tell by listening casually, but I think it’s 5/8 time. That was the main thing with that one. But my wife and my daughter, Jane, think it was inspired by my daughter, Tess. It wasn’t but she might just turn up in the video…
It also has a Nick Drake-ish aura to my ear. Were you a fan or consider yourself inspired by any of his work?
It’s funny, in the early days people used to always mention Nick Drake but I had never heard his music. Once I did, of course, I became a huge fan. Who wouldn’t?
When we spoke about Coffee In Nepal (via the Melancholy Sun box) you mentioned that you were a big Leonard Cohen fan after Susanne turned you on to his music. “Oh How I Love You” feels Cohen-inspired, and the opening track here “A Girls Game” seems cut from the same cloth. I love that lilting melody and sing-songy vocal….
That one DID come from a dream. Very simple. I played the guitar and sang with the one mic so sometimes the guitar gets real quiet. I had to mix Phil’s cello low so you could hear my fingers plucking the strings. I wouldn’t have thought of putting it first [on the album] until Joe heard it and said, “You should do a bunch of more songs like THAT!”
“I’d Rather Be Filming In Vanda’s Room” seems like a continuation of the character introduced earlier in “In Vanda’s Room”. Are these songs intended to bring the album full circle thematically? While the songs are musically different (I’ve never heard you so bluesy than on “Filming…”), they share lyrics and a sense of furtiveness and stealth, like two lovers sneaking away for a rendezvous.
Susanne: Jumping in here Jeff. So Jeff and I co-wrote both the “Vanda’s Room” songs. I was biking to work and came up with “I’d rather be filming in Vanda’s Room” because I was so done with my souless day job and Jeff and I had seen Pedro Costa’s incredible movies. I use it for a metaphor for being an artist. I want to be him, making art, rather than doing a soulless job. Jeff recorded the first “Vanda” and I loved it, but it wasn’t MY Vanda, I wanted a grittier, meaner song, so we redid it and between the two, we nailed the feeling.
Jeff, you directed a video for the song. I commented earlier on the cinematic feel of several songs on “Coffee…”, and this obviously picks up on that. We’ve also discussed opportunities to soundtrack a film someday. Is that still on your bucket list?
Do you see the album as a song cycle and are the “Vanda” tracks central to a better (or fuller) understanding of your theme?
There was a bit of a theme to us - getting Susanne out of that job she hated and into Vanda’s room.
Susanne, “Vanda” is surely the most singing you’ve done on any album I am aware of. Did you feel comfortable with Jeff walking you through the process or is it old hat by now?
Jeff always makes me comfortable, but more importantly, he makes me a co-conspirator. We have tons of fun working together and it isn’t about his “walking me through the process” as much as it is his allowing me to stretch and move and to augment his ideas. He has no ego or agenda, we just go!
I understand a possible solo album is in the works. Can you tell us anything about that or is it too early?
It is too early. We will catch you off guard! Prepare to have your mind blown!
Jeff, you follow one of the most gruesome tales in your catalogue (the bloody skies, blackened rivers and madness and beheadings of “Coming To Find You”) with one of your tenderest ballads, “Honey, Please Come Home”, surely another autobiographical love song to Susanne. When I asked you about all the imagery in your songs, you told me long ago, “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 week or year. Most of the time, for me, it's women... To tell you the truth, a great deal of it - probably most of it has been inspired by my wife." This album is no different from most of your previous work in at least one respect, it is populated by an intriguing list of women: Maria, Vanda, the “Fly Girl”, Cynthia. All various guises of Susanne?
No they’re all different people. You’re right, “Honey, Please Come Home” is about a moment in our lives when I was home and Susanne was working. But the other songs have a different inspiration. “Fly Girl” was from a film Susanne and I watched, Aglaja, - hard to track down but worth a look.
Is it fair to say you couldn’t have done any of this without Susanne? She seems central to so much of your writing and reappears in so many of your lyrics?
Would your life and writing be the same without your wife? Of course it would be different. I think it’s fair to say I could have written a different album, yes. Not this one. This was conceived by Susanne and me.
So what’s up next for you both?
Susanne: Jeff and Laura are doping out a new Goblin Market. I can’t wait, love to hear them brainstorming. As for me, I’m retreating into my (painting) studio to work out new ideas. My dear Tom Dyer [Green Monkey Records guru] is pretty good about kicking my ass, so with any luck I’ll continue to “be filming in Vanda’s room”.