As a little girl, growing up in Dorchester, Kay Hanley wasn’t allowed to watch TV, so she took to singing along with her dad’s record collection – things like Jesus Christ Superstar, Annie, and Man of La Mancha. As a teenager, she started singing in the New Wave band Rebecca Lula, often doing rock covers, until she and the band’s guitarist Greg McKenna formed the power pop group Letters to Cleo in 1990. The name came from Hanley’s childhood friend Cleo, who she would visit every summer in Nova Scotia, and keep in touch with as a pen pal the rest of the year. During the band’s 10-year run, Letters to Cleo consisted of Hanley on vocals, McKenna on rhythm guitar, Michael Eisenstein (now her husband) on lead guitar, Stacy Jones on drums, and Scott Riebling on bass (replaced in 1997 by Tom Polce). They worked whatever clubs would take them around town, but caught a break when T.T. the Bear’s booker/bartender Jeanne Connolly decided they were just right for T.T.’s, which became a sort of home base for them. The single “Here and Now,” from their freshman 1993 indie album, Aurora Gory Alice, got major national attention via a spot on Melrose Place and heavy rotation on MTV, resulting in a contract with Giant Records. After the band broke up in 2000, Hanley did the vocals for the film and soundtrack album of Josie and the Pussycats. By then, Eisenstein had joined Our Lady Peace, and hit the road for a lengthy tour. When he returned, the family –- they already had daughter Zoe, and Hanley was pregnant with son Henry -– moved to Los Angeles, where she started releasing solo albums and writing music for Disney. In 2007, her former drummer, Stacy Jones, by then music director for Miley Cyrus, invited Hanley to join the Cyrus “Best of Both Worlds” tour as a backup singer, which she did for a year and a half. In 2008, Letters to Cleo reunited for a brief cross-country tour, just for the fun of it. In 2010, they got together again for a gig on a hotel rooftop in Chicago, but because no one had cleared noise ordinances, they were shut down after 10 minutes. The multiple-tattooed Hanley’s most recent album was 2008’s Weaponize, and she her business and writing partner Michelle Lewis perform from time to time in the band The Dilettantes.
(by Ed Symkus)
Published on December 28, 2012