letters to cleo

Back to Nebraska, back to jamming to Kay Hanley

Random fact: the most popular blog post on this site is my love letter to the alt-rock women of the 1990s: https://jason-sizemore.com/2014/05/30/letters-to-cleo-kay-hanley-and-ben-wyatt/

The highlight of that post was the confession that I harbored an innocent crush on the lead singer of Letter’s to Cleo. I mean, I still do, but I’m happy to jam to Kay Hanley’s music and follow her antics on Twitter.

For example, she’s still as cool and fierce now as she was back then.


Also, she still personifies the rocker grrrl aesthetic these days as much as she did back in the 90s.

Here and Now

Here and Now

A few months back Kay Hanley’s band, Letters to Cleo, released their first new music since 2008 in an EP titled Back to Nebraska.

How is it? Fun. Jaunty. Quite good. Kay’s powerhouse vocals are still intact. The band sounds as great as ever.

I’m reminded of how I felt when another 90s rocker grrl band, Garbage, released new material a few years back. Shirley Manson’s incredible voice remained in tack. The outstanding guitar and drum work was still there. But the music lacked the edge that drew me to it. It felt like going through the paces. Shirley Manson has mellowed with age. And I understand that, it happens as you mature.

(Granted, I keep waiting for my mellow, but it has yet to happen.)

Letters to Cleo is still delivering the goods that drew me to them 20 years ago (good lord, 20 years).

The EP opens with the fast, peppy pop-rock in “Can’t Say.” Jumps next into “4 Leaf Clover”, then a squeal and a twangy rock chord introduce the title track. “Hitch a Ride” is a pulsating punk-lite that recalls the best of 90s fast rockers.

Kay Hanley has described her music as “Gloomy lyrics” and “Happy-as-fuck melodies.” That’s exactly what you get in the new EP, and I love it.

Letters to Cleo, Kay Hanley, and Ben Wyatt

During my youth, I had an incredible amount of…innocent…crushes on alternative female musicians. My college years spanned 1992-1996, a fantastic time to be following the nascent alternative scene. And I probably had a crush on every single one of them. Except for PJ Harvey…she frightened me (though I love her music).

For example…

There was Juliana Hatfield:

And Tanya Donelly of Belly:

And Shirley Manson of Garbage:

And Heather Nova:

But none of these alterna-chicks had my heart like Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo.

The pig tails, the blue eyes, the pop candy flowing from her lips…I am still smitten. “Here and Now” is a prime-cut relic of the mid-90s rock grrls era. My adoration of Kay Hanley and Letters to Cleo was cemented when a group of friends and I went to see the band at EKU in Richmond, KY at a cramped, small venue. Letters to Cleo rocked it for two hours. Kay Hanley was the real deal, she could sing like a champ. She sported a black T-shirt and black leather pants. That night remains one of the most fun evenings of my life.

I bought a signed CD (that I still have). And I bought this shirt (or one similar to it…that I don’t still have, sadly):


That’s Ben Wyatt (played by Adam Scott) from the NBC show Parks & Rec. In the season finale of Parks & Rec, Kay Hanley and the band make several appearances. Kay even gets a few lines. She gets to sing a few bars from “Here and Now.” My nostalgia meter shot through the roof. I’m still buzzing from the experience.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Sometimes it can break your heart. Other times, it can create elation.

Kay Hanley. She creates elation.