Letters To Cleo is sending Christmas cards this holiday season in the form of a new EP, “Okay Christmas.” The release, said Kay Hanley, the lead singer of the ’90s alt rock band, came about as a companion to the group’s annual holiday concerts in and around its Boston home.
“We started doing these holiday shows on an annual basis, and when you do that, and you’re asking people to pay the fee for two nights in a row once a year, you kind of got to do something that’s interesting and not just play the same old stuff,” she said in a recent phone interview. “Someone said ‘Christmas EP,’ and we were like, ‘awesome idea.’ So that’s how it happened.”
The record features covers of The Kinks’ “Father Christmas,” Elvis Presley’s “If I Get Home on Christmas Day” and the Dogmatics’ “Xmas Time — Sure Don’t Feel Like It,” as well as a Letters to Cleo original, “Miss You This Christmas.”
“My son Henry was born on Christmas Eve, and his father was born on Dec. 27, as was my boyfriend, so my ex and my boyfriend share a birthday,” Hanley said. “So the holidays are a very busy time of year, celebrating everybody’s birthdays and Christmas and getting ready for New Year’s. Even though I don’t observe any religion at this point in my life, I really think having kids gave me a spark of wanting to get excited about the holidays and putting up a tree and decorating.”
Hanley, guitarists Michael Eisenstein and Greg McKenna, bassist Scott Riebling and drummer Stacy Jones, recently played a string of holiday dates in Pawtucket, R.I., and Boston.
Letters to Cleo’s power pop guitar rocker “Here and Now,” from 1993 debut album, “Aurora Gory Alice,” was an MTV staple. The band received some very ’90s exposure — like having its music featured on TV shows “Melrose Place” and “Daria” and the movie “10 Things I Hate About You.”
The band split up in 2000, did some shows together in 2008 and has been fully reunited since 2016.
Over the years, Hanley said she continued to work with Eisenstein (her ex-husband) and bump into the other members.
“We’d say we should definitely get together and write some songs, just kind of doing that thing, ‘we should do that, it’ll be fun,’ and never following up. I don’t know,” she said. “In 2016, we just kind of had that thing where someone said to someone we should get together and write songs, and we actually did it.” She called the process “effortless” and “pretty organic.” She said Letters to Cleo is also working on a new album.
Those good feelings are a contrast from the latter days of the band’s first go-around, which she said “wasn’t fun.”
“The last album cycle that we had, I always felt I love that record [1997’s ‘Go!’], but the wheels were kind of coming off for a lot of different reasons, and then I got pregnant and had a child,” she said.
The band breakup opened the door for Hanley’s second career writing for animated TV shows, her full-time job today. And the drummer, Jones, has worked as a musical director for massive acts like Miley Cyrus and The Chainsmokers.
Hanley is also a co-founder of Songwriters of North America and played a major role in the passage of the Music Modernization Act.
“We just really want to make sure that songwriters have a seat at the table as the music business enters this new phase,” she said, noting that songwriters, as independent contractors, haven’t been allowed to unionize, making it harder to get health care, and were not getting paid for mechanicals — royalties “generated by the reproduction of your music whenever CDs are manufactured, downloads are purchased, or your songs are streamed,” according to CD Baby.
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