pale boy interview
(February 2001)

Getting on for thirty years ago, Seth Geltman and Thomas Blomster met and started playing in school bands together in their home town of Boulder, Colorado. Both were classically trained but got their kicks playing jazz-rock and listening to Zappa and Beefheart (Blomster) and Nick Drake and Felix Mendelssohn (Geltman). After school Geltman studied literature, violin and film at a series of universities, winding up in Chicago where he produced videos and played with a trad Irish band. In the meantime, Blomster had moved to Denver and set up a chamber orchestra, The Mercury Ensemble.

After ten years in Chi-Town, Geltman upped sticks and relocated in, you guessed it, Denver, where he, yes of course, met up again with his old buddy. Discovering that they still had music in common, Geltman played Blomster some of the songs he'd written over the intervening years and recorded at home on a 4-track. Blomster loved them and they decided to collaborate - Geltman would provide the songs, Blomster would arrange them.

It's never as easy as that, of course. Studio time costs money and Geltman had to set up a record company, Kale Music, to put the record out. So it took a while, but with the help of a couple of grants (one from Jim Beam), the insurance money resulting from a truck wrecking Geltman's car, a revolving cast of classical, rock and jazz musicians and endless patience, they produced an album, Pale Boy.

It is not your average debut release. Pop and classical music have never been easy bedfellows (think Yes, or ELP) but Pale Boy dismiss the fretwank tendencies and focus instead on the instrumentation, winding minimal classical and jazz arrangements around a fragile core. Talking Heads could've sounded like this any time they wanted to, if David Byrne's muse had dictated it, and Geltman's songs have a Brynian edge: tiny stories compacted into 3 minutes with real melodies. Blomster brings his love of Beefheart to the party too, though, often setting Geltman's growling vocal against tender, beautiful backing as on Promise Me where he gargles "Promise me, obscurity" sounding for all the world like Morrissey with flu.

Talking of pasty boys, which of you is the pale one?

Thomas: Seth is the Pale Boy. I liked the song title as the album name because the lyrics for the song Pale Boy are so Seth - the cold, cruel, honesty, the hopelessness of getting across his message.

Seth: More mess than message really. Or anti-message, the Pale Boy song is about a boy who lectures people and ends up getting wrapped up in a fence.

When you set out to record the album, did you have a sound in your heads for each song, or did the sound come from the musicians you used?

Thomas: A couple of our ideas failed and we had to go back to the drawing board. Many of the musicians did add something extra once they were in the studio.

Seth: Like on Shy Beast. This guitarist Bill Kopper came in and changed the feel of the tune with his Brazilian sound, and it worked.

Thomas: The use of classical musicians was mostly dictated by ability on the given instruments. I mean, how many jazz/rock tubists, French hornists you know? Also, I prefer the sound of a well trained musician in general, and they have an easier time understanding Seth's harmonic language.

Seth: Although there was a stiffness that some of them had to work through. Some musicians, like Jeana, who sings some lead vocals, had very slight traces of stiffness that make the performance more appealing to me.

Thomas: She had the chops and intellect to bend and understand Seth's music.

Thomas, you arranged the record - what did that involve?

Thomas: Seth did have 4 track versions of all his songs that he recorded at home on guitar, bass, keyboard, violin, percussion, and vocals. He is very prolific, so first we had to decide what was making the grade and what to reject.

From the beginning, I told Seth that I would produce and arrange the album if we could do something different than guitar, bass, drums. My concept was to have a true 'group' of musicians, although we did expand somewhat beyond our original boundaries. We would go song by song and decide what the style/feel of a song should be and then what the instrumentation/orchestration should be (this involved two or three sessions - it was quite tiring, especially with all the beer involved!).

On some songs I wrote new material for the winds, on others Seth already had all kinds of lines, so I simply orchestrated them. Sometimes Seth had very specific ideas for the winds and percussion, so I tried to follow his creations. Part of my job as producer was to kill bad ideas (both his and mine). In general, Seth is a very introverted and mellow person, although he can be quite intense when he is focused. I'm surprised he never told me off during this project - he would've had every right...There was a lot of give and take in this process, it took a lot of patience, and huge amounts of time. Luckily, I really love Seth as my compatriot and friend, so I suppose that made it easier.

Seth, how did you feel about Thomas arranging your songs?

Seth: Delighted. We come from different places musically, and this could have been a problem. But we can talk about music in a very free and detailed way. I think the music on the album has a kind of push-pull of different influences, and this comes from Thomas and my ideas tugging at each other in a strangely comfortable way.

How different were the songs recorded at home on the 4-track?

Seth: They're recorded with bass, guitar, violin, and some keys, so the range of sound is more limited. Sometimes the vocals are less reserved, the playing looser and chancier. So there are more spontaneous bursts of inspiration and imbecility. Also, after they're recorded on 4-track, we do some arranging, and this usually brings other layers of activity to them.

Many of the song structures seem (broadly) pop-based.

Seth: I was actually unaware of song structure ideas (AABA, etc.) while writing a lot of these tunes. I just went on what sounded right for something like Just a Thought or All Were Left With. As I continued writing tunes, I learned more about structure, but didn't want to be too obedient to it. So some of the structures you're hearing were planned, some were arrived at without much calculation. Commercial-types I've played it for say the structures are too off-kilter.

Did you ever consider producing the record at home rather than in a studio?

Thomas: I just don't think for all the time and effort that the quality level is worth it on a 4 track. Studios don't really cost that much to rent, and they have fantastic equipment that we could never dream of owning, much less learning how to operate.

Seth: Yeah, the 4-track wouldn't have been able to handle the French horn, tuba, etc. But the problem with studio is that some people there feel like they're at another day at the office. So its a trade-off. Better machines, but a more cramped, on-the-clock ambience.

Did you ever consider giving up?

Thomas: No, I rarely leave a project unfinished. If Seth hadn't come up with the money to finish it, I would have. (I think I wrote a few checks myself).

Seth: The only giving up question I ask myself now is on the promotion end. There's a line on one of the Pale Boy tunes "Promise me obscurity." It's been an extremely easy promise to keep.

The record sounds very contemporary. Was than an aim?

Thomas: Absolutely!

Seth: For me, this wasn't a major objective. I was going for timelessness, for music that wouldn't sound dated in a decade or two. Hopefully, the real instruments (the flugelhorn, bass clarinet, etc.) will help this happen.

Thomas: We were just hearing a unique sound, combining different instruments together to create something unique - combinations that one doesn't hear often.

How much relation does Pale Boy bear to your school bands?

Seth: We improvised a lot in those bands, and I think that helped us come to a sense of ease with each other and an interest in experimenting with music.

Thomas: I was much more into jazz/rock in high school - still am. I wanted to play Herbie Hancock, Crusaders, Weather Report, some Zappa. Seth was already writing songs in a singer/songwriter mode - I remember he was a huge Springsteen fan, which I wasn't at the time. If Pale Boy has influence from our former youth, it would be that we grew up in an eclectic environment in the beautiful Republic of Boulder (six square miles of city surrounded by mountains of reality!).

Seth, do you have any song-writing heroes?

Seth: Many: Robert Wyatt, Astor Piazolla, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Burt Bacharach, Nick Drake, Byrds, Beatles, Serge Prokofiev, Dylan, Jobim, Samuel Barber, Bill Evans, Cardinal. I'm pretty impressionable and adopt new heroes all the time.

Have you tried playing live?

Seth: At this point, I'm more interested in writing tunes than in playing live. I know that's going to keep Pale Boy in the shadows for a while. I just find performing less compelling than sitting alone patching together a tune. Maybe we'll get out and perform after the next album.

So there's going to be more from Pale Boy?

Thomas: We have already started work on a new project. Also, Seth and I are trying out a band with two other writer/players - a sort of composers group, to see if we can find a common ground and create together, somewhat as a unit or collective.

Pale Boy is available to buy direct from You can contact seth at

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