Letters to Cleo (Contemporary Musicians)
Alternative rock band
With the release of their third album, Go!, under a newly reorganized Revolution Records, in October 1997, Letters to Cleo seem poised to expand beyond their Boston, Massachusetts based roots and become a nationwide phenomenon. After a six month hiatus from the grueling tour schedule of the past few years, the reorganization of former Giant label to its new incarnationevolution Records, and with the infusion of energy by newest band member, drummer, Tom Polce, Letters to Cleo seem to be bursting with new found vitality and zest. The alternative rock quintet with the punk edge, known primarily for its lofty melodies, intense guitar, and emotional vocalizations of lead singer, Kay Hanley, hope to move forward in their musical evolution with their latest release. Hopefully, Go! will allow them to minimize the past connection to the hit television series, Melrose Place, where they first gained national attention for their hit single and video, "Here and Now."
The original five members of LTC got together in Boston, Massachusetts in 1989. The group included Kay Hanley, vocals; Michael Eisenstein, guitar; Stacy Jones, drums; Greg McKenna, guitar; and Scott Riebling, bass. They performed in many clubs in the Boston area. The newest member, Tom Polce, on drums, joined the band in 1997, replacing veteran Stacy Jones who left during the band's 1997 hiatus to join Veruca Salt.
Frontwoman, Hanley, vocalist and main lyricist for the band, has been performing since her teens. She was a member of the new wave band, Rebecca Lula. Although she has since changed her appearance, currently sporting a short-cropped more punk-like do, reviewer Daina Darzin of Rolling Stone noted in a September 1994 review of Letters to Cleo's performance at the Mercury Lounge in July 1997, in New York City, that Hanley's somewhat "Gidget"-like, "wholesome and cute appearance" seemed to clash with her vocal style that was called "quirky and flawless, with a pissed-off edge."
TV Show Gained LTC Recognition
Letters to Cleo's debut album, Aurora Gory Alice, released initially on independent label, Cherry Disc, in 1993, and later re-released jointly by Cherry Disc and Giant, in 1994, was well received. One reviewer from Seventeen said that Aurora Gory Alice was "...one of those rare CD's where every song is good enough to be a single." The band received mainstream recognition after the video of single "Here and Now" was aired during the credits of the hit television series, Melrose Place, in 1994. The video also aired on television's MTV. Another reviewer, from Q Magazine, gave the album four stars an "excellent" rating and said, "...Hanley, with her honey'n'blowtorch vocal, is clearly destined for stardom." The band signed a six-record deal with Giant in 1994 that allowed Cherry Disc to remain involved in the band's marketing efforts.
The band toured extensively from 1995 to early 1997, performing some gigs beyond their Boston based roots, but staying primarily in the area, performing in local clubs. It was during 1995 thatthe band also got heavily involved in doing benefit performances, lead by Hanley, after the December 1994 murders of two local women, Shannon Lowney and Leann Nichols during two separate attacks on abortion clinics in the Boston area. One benefit concert which kicked off Letters to Cleo's summer tour in 1995, drew over 50,000 fans to hear LTC perform, along with other bands, on the banks of the Charles River in Boston. That show was partially to benefit the pro-choice organization that had been formed after the murders and is named after one of the young women, called "Friends of Shannon," after Shannon Lowney. Lowney had been connected to the local music scene.
Performed Benefit Concerts
Letters to Cleo was among many other local bands who performed at benefits. Compilation albums were released including the 1995 release, Spirit of 73-Rock For Choice, by Sony Music, which received good reviews. Rolling Stone gave it three stars, and stated that while the album was clearly meant to be a benefit, "...its ... playful tone prove that... benefit albums do not have to be dry and preachy...." Part of the proceeds from Spirit of '73 were donated to Rock For Choice.
Additionally, Hanley was the strongest force behind a series of winter concerts in 1995 called "Safe and Sound," the proceeds of which benefitted "Friends of Shannon." Along with LTC, many other top bands from the Boston area performed during the series, including Morphine, Gigolo Aunts, Throwing Muses, and The Mighty Bosstones. The pro-choice movement became the inspiration for the concerts as well as the compilation released, Safe and Sound: A Benefit in Response to the Brookline Clinic Violence, under Mercury Records, in 1996.
Also during 1995, their second album, Wholesale Meats and Fish, was released by Giant; it received mixed reviews and unfortunately wasn't considered a very strong commercial success, in spite of the music generally being considered more upbeat than their debut album. One reviewer from Musician, commented that LTC had created "...glorious turbo-charged pop with near perfect accuracy," but continued that "repeated listening ... is like washing down blueberry pie with a whisky chaser...." Another reviewer from New Musical Express stated that although LTC's latest release sounded similar to many other pop bands, the redeeming factor for the effort was their ability to project a sense of fun through the music.
Although Hanley admits that Wholesale Meats and Fish was a "commercial failure," she and the other band members were happy with the album. They felt it was their best effort up to that time. Shortly after its release, the Giant label underwent a name change and the upheaval that goes along with significant changes of staff. Letters to Cleo's main supporter, who originally signed the group to the Giant label, A & R executive, Jeff Aldrich, remained with the newly formed Revolution Records and helped the group members during the transition from the Giant label to the new Revolution.
Band took Hiatus
The group decided to take a break from the grueling tour schedule they had maintained during the approximately two and one-half year period between 1995 and early 1997. They found themselves exhausted and in need of rejuvenation. The decision to take time off cost them the loss of veteran drummer, Stacy Jones, who left the group during their hiatus. In addition to spending lots of time doing nothing and writing songs. During the break, Hanley expanded her own musical dimensions by co-starring in the Boston Rock Opera production of Jesus Christ Superstar playing Mary Magdalene. She told an interviewer for Billboard that the experience "...was just a blast!"
Letters to Cleo's third release, Go!, represents a departure in style for LTC in regard to their recording style. With their earlier two releases, much of the material were cuts they had performed many times before live audiences. The music on Go! was primarily unplayed before audiences. In an interview with Billboard, Hanley explained the making of Go!, " It was just a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of thing...." Because the album was recorded in a relatively short time, only about five weeks including recording and mixing, the result is an album that has a more spontaneous and less rehearsed sound. More like a live production.
Poised to Go! National
The music on their latest release was described by Billboard as including tastes of everything from the pop sound reminiscent of the 1960's in the cut, "Co-Pilot," to "bittersweet acoustic ballads" like "Alouette & Me," to the "candy-coated rock of "Anchor."" "Anchor" is the album's first single release. Go! also features the former-Cars, keyboardist, Greg Hawkes.
Revolution Records' Head of U.S. Marketing, Mindy Espy, said that the label's intention was "to move away from the Melrose Place tie-in," and hoped to re-establish the band's "credibility," as what she termed Letters to Cleo's image as "a real rock band with great songs." As of October or November 1997, the band was scheduled to begin a new tour including spots throughout the United States and some performances in Canada.
Go! has received mixed reviews, and although reviewer Wook Kim of Entertainment Weekly rated it a "C," she also admitted "there were a few retro gems here." Basically, according to Kim, Go! is just more of the same. Marisa Sandora of People gave Go! a "B," and seemed to enjoy the group's ability to produce what she called "pleasing pop melodies."Sandora also noted the "high-energy" delivery, "catchy power-pop tracks" of lead singer, Hanley, that seemed to be "floating above the fuzzy-guitar work...."
It may be premature after only a few months to determine the commercial success or failure of Letters to Cleo's latest effort. Natalie Walaeik, Vice President and Director of Purchasing for Boston based music sellers, Newbury Comics, told Billboard that while she realized LTC has a strong following throughout the local area, in that same interview she talked about the potential impact of Go! saying, "If they get support from radio, this could be the one [Go!] that propels them from local to national stars."
Aurora Gory Alice, (Includes "Here and Now"), Cherry Disc, 1993, reissued, Cherry Disc/Giant, 1994.
Wholesale Meats and Fish, Cherry Disc/Giant Records, 1995.
Go!, (Includes "Co-Pilot," "Alouette & Me," and "Anchor"), Revolution Records, 1997.
Spirit of '73-Rock For Choice, Sony Music, 1995.
(Contributor) The Craft (soundtrack), Sony Music, 1996.
Safe and Sound: A Benefit in Response to the Brookline Clinic Violence, Big Rig/Mercury, 1996.
Billboard, September 24, 1994, p. 10; September 6, 1997, p. 13.
Entertainment Weekly, August 11, 1995, p. 52; October 17, 1997, p. 77.
Mademoiselle, September 1995, p. 162.
Musician, October 1995, p. 81-82, 86; February 1997, p. 127.
New Musical Express, August 26, 1995, p. 47; January 20, 1996, p. 44.
Option, January/February 1996, p. 118-119.
People, December 16, 1996, p. 32; November 24, 1997, p. 28.
Q Magazine, June 1995, p. 124.
Rolling Stone, September 8, 1994, p. 42; June 15, 1995, p. 39; October 5, 1995, p. 73.
Seventeen, June 1995, p. 107.
Additional Information was provided by Revolution Records.