Letters To Cleo interview

Originally published in ‘zine issue #15, 1996

Here’s an interview with Letters to Cleo from Boston, an alterno-rock band that, if I can say this, is an alternative to the slew of corporate rock bands saturating the airwaves. Greg, the rhythm guitarist, answered a few questions at a gig of theirs in D.C., starting with getting acquainted.

Photo of Greg McKenna

D.U.: Just to give you an idea of where I’m coming from, as with most people, the first time I heard the band was from the—

Greg: Melrose Place [soundtrack].

You knew what I was gonna say. Then I actually saw the video for “Here and Now” [the song featured on the soundtrack] a couple times on TV and picked up the album. So did you get most of your fans from that angle, or are you picking up people from the radio and shit like that?

When we went on tour last spring, which was when this whole thing was happening, we got a lot of fans. Most of the fans there were from that angle of being on Melrose Place, and we had a lot of the curiosity factor. They’d come out to see you once, and they’d either like you and bought the album and liked the whole thing, or, y’know … the past couple tours, we didn’t really get too many people who only knew us from “Here and Now.”

The way I reviewed the Aurora Gory Alice LP in my magazine was, you know the Veruca Salt record, American Thighs? You know how the single, “Seether,” is an old song of theirs that they re-recorded for the album, and so if you buy the album based on the single, the album doesn’t sound like that at all? I felt the “Here and Now” single had more energy and stood out more and wasn’t consistent with the rest of the record.

That would probably’ve fit in better with Wholesale Meats and Fish [the new album], ‘cause Aurora Gory Alice tended to be a sort of a depressing pop album. We thought it was a very down album; it’s sort of subdued, as opposed to the new album. We weren’t exactly the happiest of campers when we did Aurora Gory Alice. There was problems in the band, and now we’ve fixed them. Now we’re just having a blast.

“Here and Now,” I don’t know how that made it [pause] actually, um, it was out of our mood that we chose those songs that we wanted to be on Aurora Gory Alice. We had ones that were more in the vein of “Here and Now,” but we didn’t want to put them on the album. Like I said, we were in a little more mellower mood and a little more depressed, and that showed on the album.

So when you did the next LP, did you want to do something different than the last LP? Or maybe, when you did the first album, you looked back on it and said, “That’s something I want to change on the next album”?

Yeah, we paid for Aurora Gory Alice. We had to record it and mix it in seven days, which is, like, unbelievably fast. We spent a month and a half, two months on this new album. We took our time. We tried to grow in the studio. [Before] we were unable to record a song the way we thought it should be recorded, because we didn’t have the time, we didn’t have the money. Now we had the time and money, and we tried to finish each song as its own entity: y’know, different drums, different bass, different sounds, all sorts of things.

Have you heard those kinds of comments we discussed earlier from people when they talk about the album?

Yeah, we’ve heard many different comments. One of them, y’know, you have people who, when we were an independent band, were very supportive, saying it was a brilliant album and stuff. Now that we’re on a major label, even though I think the new album is stronger than the old one, they’re slamming it all over the place, because they don’t want to see that, yes, each song is a little different style of its own. They just take it as a whole collective and just trash it. And then we’ve had many more positive reviewers who were able to understand what we were trying to do.

I guess you get tired of people coming at you with these things all the time, and you’re like, “Look, you don’t know what we’re trying to do here.”

Well, we try to leave everything open to interpretation. We just want people to get out of the songs what they want to get. People are gonna do what they wanna do. You’re never gonna make everybody happy. We don’t; we just try to make everybody in the band happy.

When you’re doing an interview, can you tell when they’ve just read the bio and written the interview from that?

It’s really pretty blatant. You can tell when people haven’t given it a listen. You can also tell that people were assigned this so they do the bare minimum, and you sort of try to help them get through it. Hopefully at the end of the interview, they’ll become interested enough that they’ll try to listen to it.

Was doing that 7” before the debut album the first time you went in the studio, or did you have any demos?

Yeah, we’ve done demos before. We did one song for a local compilation album, and then we did a six-song demo at Fort Apache in Boston, and that was it. When we did the 7”, that was the first time we worked with a [professional] producer.

Photo of Letters To Cleo performing

Tell me where you’d be without MTV playing your videos.

I think very well, because the radio is playing it a lot, so that, more than anything, forced MTV to put it in rotation. Now, if radio didn’t play it, we’d be in the exact same spot we were in a year ago. If you get a lot of radio or a lot of MTV, either one can really push your band, to where you can eat regularly on tour.

Closing comments?

It’s pretty much a vacant spot up in my brain right now. Um, if you like what you hear, buy it, please, ‘cause we need the money. Come out and see us, ‘cause we’re very lonely people. It’s like, you can only talk to eight people for so long before you’ve talked about everything. Y’know, hopefully they’ll like what we’re doing. ■

The first page of the interview with Letters To Cleo, from Disposable Underground ‘zine

Images: top: Greg McKenna (backstage after our interview); center: the band playing that night; bottom: the first page of the interview from issue #15 (D.U.)


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