When Letters to Cleo burst into mainstream consciousness in 1995, it was on the back of the single “Here and Now,” a song famous for its instantly memorable, infinitely silly, lightning-quick, 28-word chorus. The “Here and Now” template—one consisting of power-pop arrangements, playful hooks, and sugary sweet vocals from Kay Hanley, a flaxen-haired, former Catholic school girl—was used throughout Letter to Cleo’s career to great effect, propelling the band to national popularity.
Founded in Boston in 1990 by guitarist Greg McKenna and Hanley (they were later joined by guitarist Michael Eisenstien, drummer Stacy Jones, and bassist Scott Reibling), Letters to Cleo cut its teeth at area clubs such as T.T. the Bear’s Place and the Rathskeller. “There was never any ambition to do anything but play,” Hanley said regarding the group’s early aspirations. “Opening for O Positive on Thursday at T.T.’s—to us that was the pinnacle.” In 1991, Hanley and company scored a local hit with “I See.” A year later, the band competed in WBCN’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble.
Letters to Cleo’s debut album, 1993’s Aurora Gory Alice, was issued on CherryDisc Records and later re-released when the group signed with major label Giant Records. Aurora is an album packed with bouncy guitars and infectious tempos. The follow-up, 1995’s Wholesale Meats and Fish, is more prickly and frenetic, but no less melodic and high-spirited. Each showcased the band’s power to always find joy in the music-making process. A 2000 Boston Phoenix profile characterized them as a band that “seemed to be friends with everyone who came to the shows.” This taste for being genuine and approachable was on display during Letters to Cleo’s cameo in the 1999 teen comedy Ten Things I Hate About You: Hanley hopped off the stage to sing to the flick’s co-stars.
“Here and Now” shot to prominence after playing during the credits of the popular nighttime soap “Melrose Place.” It later featured on the show’s hit soundtrack. Letters to Cleo’s other foray into television was providing 13 original songs for the Kids WB cartoon “Generation O!,” which aired from 2000 to 2001. The band also released Go! in 1997, followed one year later by Sister, which packaged the group’s seven-song, cassette-only EP from 1991 with four B-sides.
One month after headlining a May of 2000 benefit show for Mikey Dee at the Axis, the group unexpectedly broke up. Since then, Letters to Cleo has reunited on two occasions (though Reibling was absent; he was replaced by longtime friend of the band Joe Klompus): 2008-09’s brief tour, which included a pair of sold-out shows at the Paradise; and a 2010 one-off gig atop theWit Hotel in Chicago.
(by Ryan Foley)