Boston’s own Letters to Cleo broke onto the alternative rock scene in 1993 with their debut album, Aurora Gory Alice, and the hit single “Hear & Now.” To celebrate that moment 30 years ago, the band is coming back together for a two-night run at Paradise Rock Club.
Letters to Cleo is playing the whole album through, including a few fan-favorite covers — much of the movie soundtrack for “10 Things I Hate About You” is performed by the band, and Hanley sang for the movie “Josie and the Pussycats” — and their recently released songs “Bad Man” and “It’s Sunny Outside.” The band split up in 2000 but now often reunites to perform and release new music.
LTC, as some fans call them, will perform at the Paradise on Nov. 17 and 18. Lead singer and Dorchester native Kay Hanley spoke with GBH News to reflect on the band’s legacy, how Boston’s music scene and the industry overall has changed, and why performing in her home town is her “drug of choice.” What follows is a lightly edited transcript.
Haley Lerner: How are you feeling, knowing that you’re going to be back in Boston doing these shows?
Kay Hanley: This is now my favorite time of year. We started doing these November shows in 2016 and I just love our November trips together with the Cleos. It’s always great to get home and see family and play at the Paradise, which we've been playing at for 25 years. I think the first time we played it, the Paradise was in the ’BCN Rumble in… Oh, my God… in ’92. Over 30 years! That’s crazy.
“The Boston music scene that I grew up in, it can never be that again.”Kay Hanley, Letters to Cleo’s vocalist
Lerner: Speaking of that, it’s been 30 years since Aurora Gory Alice was released, which these shows are celebrating. How does that feel?
Hanley: The short answer is that it’s incredible that we have had that kind of a history together. Being in a band... it’s hard, aside from all the fun and making music, and you start to kind of treat each other like family, for better and for worse. The fact that our family unit has survived this long is really gratifying.
I’m 55. I’m a mom and a wife, I have a career and I still have this time capsule of these songs that I wrote when I was like 22, 23. That feels really cool. The songs still have meaning to me, but in a different way. It was a different me that wrote them, but still the same. It’s such a kick in the pants to have a 30-year-old album.
Lerner: How does it feel each time you return to play in Boston?
Hanley: Oh, it’s my drug of choice. Coming out on stage at the Paradise, with people in the audience who have been coming to see the band since we were playing weeknights at T.T. the Bear’s Place in 1988, like before we even started Letters to Cleo.
The die-hards that have been coming to see us since those days, and then we’ve got this whole other contingent that learned about the band after we broke up from “Josie and the Pussycats” or “10 Things I Hate About You” and family and friends. So, when you come out on stage, it’s really different because it feels like we’re walking into our living room and I look out and I can name a hundred people. It’s really special.
Lerner: I feel like some musicians shy away from playing their big hit, but you clearly have no problem with playing “Here & Now.”
Hanley: Oh, hell no!
Lerner: Is it fun every time?
Hanley: No. And, in fact, it's interesting. I never, ever messed up the words to that song, ever. There's a lot of words in that song. I would get on stage in my younger days with a belly full of Jack Daniels and Budweiser and having smoked like half a pack of cigarettes.
These days — it's not that I forget the words, I've been having a problem with, like, saying it all. So, I've actually messed up the song a couple of times, so that's an adventure for me. Other than that, I love playing it. It's a great song!
Lerner: You're performing at the Paradise. You've played there many times over the years and you really grew up as a band in the Boston music scene. How do you think the scene has changed here?
Hanley: I think the Boston music scene that I grew up in, it can never be that again. You know, because of the internet, the state of radio, we had so much support back in the ’80s. I mean, I was such a huge fan of Boston music because I could hear it and I could even see it. We had V66 [WVJV-TV], WBCN, WFNX and all the college radio stations playing all the local bands.
So, I became a fan first and then, when I was in my band, I got played on the radio in these places all the time.
Lerner: Being in a band and breaking up and coming back together, reuniting year after year, what’s it like having that connection with your band mates and being able to work through challenges?
Hanley: Well, we've definitely earned our friendship and our camaraderie. We have been through a lot as a band. Michael Eisenstein, the guitar player and my main collaborator, he and I split up in 2010 — and it was easier for us to figure out how to navigate how to raise our children separately and figure out finances than it was to learn how to write songs together again. Creating art together again was sort of like the last frontier for us. It took us a really long time to get back to that.
Being in different places and all of us having careers now... the fact that Cleo isn't how any of us need to make a living brings a lot more joy to it. We're doing this because we really want to, because we want to see each other, because we want to play these songs.