There’s an ocean and a continent between Glasgow and Seattle, but the ties between the Vaselines and Northwest music run so deep, the Scottish duo may as well be from here.
Frances McKee and Eugene Kelly, who appear at Neumos Saturday, wrote “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” “Molly’s Lips” and “Son of a Gun” — all recorded by Nirvana. Kurt Cobain even mused about the couple in his journal.
“I just have this feeling Eugene and Frances had a really cool relationship,” wrote the Nirvana frontman. “It’s an amazing thing when a couple can get on together and write some of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.”
In the same way children make the keenest observations, the best pop songs often come from self-taught musicians creating their own fun. That’s how the Vaselines began, Kelly explained via telephone.
“Frances and I were just having a laugh, making up songs about our mates, songs about cats and whiskey,” he said. “We sincerely didn’t know what we were doing.”
But the tunes were charming and inspired, taking cues from The Buzzcocks, Velvet Underground, Nick Cave and the country-and-western Kelly’s Irish relatives raised him on. Much like Cobain did later, Kelly and McKee used bubble gum hooks and offbeat humor as a thinly-veiled cover for a pessimistic worldview.
In 1989, the couple split up, as bandmates and lovers, and for two decades, the exes played separately — he with Eugenius, her mostly solo — before burying the hatchet and resurrecting The Vaselines — as friends.
It started with a one-off charity show, but in ’08 the duo accepted Sub Pop’s invite to its 20th-anniversary festival at Marymoor Park, where they “really opened back up to each other,” he said.
The surprise reunion has since yielded two new LPs, most recently last year’s “V for Vaselines.”
Only the most critical listeners will hear much difference between their old and new material.
“I still wear the same clothes and have the same mentality I did at 21,” laughed Kelly, now 49. “I think we’ve kept up the spirit of what we did 20 years ago … amateurish, but without being totally terrible.”
Cobain might never have heard of the Vaselines had it not been for another Seattle group, Mudhoney, who met them in Europe and hipped Sub Pop Records to their tiny yet timeless catalog — reissued in ’92 as “The Way of the Vaselines.”
“We owe a lot to Seattle,” said Kelly.
The feeling’s mutual.
Welcome home, Vaselines.
The Vaselines, Loch Lomond
8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $18 (206-709-9442 or neumos.com).