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Letters To Cleo's Kay Hanley Talks Unlikely Reunions Ahead Of Rare Chicago Dates

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 2, 2016 4:54PM

Photo courtesy Letters To Cleo

Last month Letters To Cleo released their first collection of new music in 17 years, the Back to Nebraska EP. The band came up through the Boston indie music scene and were catapulted into the mainstream with their 1993 single "Here & Now," a song that would become a staple of commercials, movie soundtracks and many a house party.

The group disbanded in 2000, but band members stayed active in music. Singer Kay Hanley released some solo work, provided the vocals for the Josie & the Pussycats movie soundtrack (an overlooked power-pop masterpiece, seriously) and most recently wrote the music for the Disney Junior series Doc McStuffins. Guitarists Michael Eisenstein and Greg McKenna migrated to session and production work, while drummer Stacy Jones formed American Hi-Fi, then went on to play drums for a number of touring acts.

So it was rather unexpected when the group announced earlier this year that not only were they working on new music, but a few tour dates might be in the works. The songs on Back To Nebraska crackle with power-pop energy and benefit from years of songwriting experience racked up on other projects since the last Letters To Cleo album in 1997. The band is only playing a tiny number of shows to celebrate the EP's release, and luckily Chicago is getting two of them: one this Friday at Double Door and another on Saturday at an undisclosed location.

Hanley took some time earlier this week to talk with us about the new EP and plans for the future.

CHICAGOIST: Sorry to have such a cliché opener but we have to ask—what led to getting the band back together?

KAY HANLEY: Getting together and playing shows is something that comes up whenever we run into each other, but those conversations rarely lead to doing anything. In this case, a run-in between Stacy and Michael at a show in L.A. early this year happened at a perfect time for us to pick up the thread and actually write a song. Once we opened up that can of worms, we were doomed.

C: You could have just toured on your previous work, but instead you recorded a new EP—that we would argue is some of the band's best work—so how did that songwriting process work?

KAY HANLEY: Thank you! The traditional Cleo approach to writing songs is very collaborative, so even though Greg still lives in Boston—Michael, Stacy and I are in LA—we had no problem maintaining that dynamic thanks to pro-tools, voice memo and email.

With the exception of the title track, which was written by me and Michael, all four of us contributed to the writing on every song. In terms of what we wanted to accomplish with the new music, we were all vehemently against “challenging ourselves” to create a “mature work.” So that was a good place to start, and I believe we succeeded.

C: You've got a few of the "reunion shows" under your belt now; how have they been?

Really fun. Which is truly the ONLY reason to do this.

C: So is the band an ongoing concern now? Are there future Letters To Cleo plans in the works?

KAY HANLEY: After we finish our East Coast swing in November, we’re officially done. I suppose we'll have a band meeting at that point and see where everyone’s at.

Personally, I’m open to a number of possibilities, but life has shown me repeatedly that I’m shitty at predicting the future. So I guess we’ll all wait and see!

Letters To Cleo plays Double Door on Friday, Nov. 4 and tickets are $25. The band is also playing a last-minute show at an undisclosed Chicago location on Nov. 5 and tickets are $75 for that.