Susanne and Jeff Kelly’s art-folk daydreams come to life by moonlight
When your mom socked away enough scratch to retire, she may have spent her days crocheting afghans for the troops in Afghanistan or pulling weeds in the tomato patch. When Susanne Kelly finally decided to quit her mind-numbing job at a Seattle medical facility, she cleaned the toxins from her system by making a semi-psychedelic folk album, By Reckless Moonlight (Green Monkey), with her husband Jeff Kelly, the singer, songwriter and guitarist behind the Green Pajamasfor more than 30 years.
Susanne hasn’t really retired, of course. She’s now the full-time hostess of the Kellys’ cottage industry, renting out part of their rambling, two-story U District home as a bed and breakfast for paying guests. And the startling duo album that served as Susanne’s post-job therapy, like all of Jeff’s babies (Pajamas and solo outings or Goblin Market LPs with Laura Weller), maps out another sector of his brave new musical universe.
“Susanne was sort of missing the days, way back in 1987, when we recorded something similar to this: a 10-copy, cassette-only album called Coffee In Nepal,” says Jeff.
“I’ve always said I’m not a musician and I’m not a singer,” says Susanne. “I’m a mimic, an actress and a ham. But Jeff’s always told me he likes the texture of my voice.”
Cutting Reckless on a difficult new iMac home studio wasn’t always smooth sailing. “What we’d done didn’t sound good, so we started over,” says Jeff, who removed many of the electric-guitar parts and replaced them with acoustic.
“That’s what I like about Jeff,” says Susanne. “We agreed the album wasn’t going where we wanted it to, so we re-recorded almost everything.”
One of By Reckless Moonlight’s songs, “Rowboat To The Moon,” details Susanne’s feelings about her poisonous work environment. “I was biking to work and thinking the whole time I’d rather be filming In Vanda’s Room,” she says referring to the Pedro Costa movie they’d just seen about junkies living together in Portugal.
Two songs referencing the Costa film made the final cut. “Jeff wrote ‘In Vanda’s Room,’ and I said to him, ‘That’s a great song, but it’s not my ‘Vanda’s Room,’” says Susanne. “Mine is a little bit meaner and grittier, and a little less poetic.”
Her number, “I’d Rather Be Filming ‘In Vanda’s Room,’” backed by Jeff’s slithering bottleneck guitar, finds Susanne whisper-snarling the lyrics like a vampire with a migraine. (“They say you’re lucky to work in this tomb/But me I’d rather be/Filming In Vanda’s Room.”) For all the customary brilliance of Jeff Kelly, Susanne’s song is the album’s high-water mark.
So, where does the duo go from here? The Kellys agree: not the road. “Just doing this has been a nice connecting point for Jeff and me,” says Susanne. “I’ve always said that Jeff’s more fun when he’s sick than most people are when they’re well. All he does in his spare time is record music, so I had to elbow my way in, just to have that hang-out time with him.”