When you sit with Greg McKenna, the affable guitarist from Letters to Cleo, you immediately get the sense just how humble and gracious he is as his band continues to be successful across multiple generations of listeners.
“We had many friends who had been signed, but never really had a big hit, so we expected that to be our fate too,” McKenna said when describing the band’s rise to fame in the mid-’90s. “It started to get bigger. Shows got better. It was a gradual process for us. Loads of free beer too, so that was cool.”
McKenna took amNY through an outline the band’s road to success — which includes their appearance in the cult teen movie “10 Things I Hate About You” – and a promising future behind their new EP, “Back to Nebraska.”
Take me back to when “Here and Now” debuts. When did it hit you guys that you had a major radio hit?
At that point we’d been on the road for months. It was just the five of us. We were playing clubs that song started to take off. We started off opening for one band, and halfway through we had to flip flop and headline. We get off that tour and the next one was a big band and bigger venues. Everything just started to get bigger.
And after “10 Things I Hate About You,” did you get another push in popularity?
The timing of “10 Things” came right around when we broke up. So we didn’t get much of push from that then. It seems to be affecting us a lot more now. Our popularity seems bigger in several cities now than it was in the mid-’90s.
That’s got to be pretty cool, no?
That’s a fun and weird thing. Probably the funniest story I was talking to the guitarist Michael [Eisenstein] and I was telling him how some kids came up to me and were like “Kelly Clarkson is covering you guys (doing ‘I Want You To Want Me.’),” and he’s like, “I got that beat. I had some kids come up to me and say, ‘You know some old band from Chicago is covering you?’” and they’re talking about Cheap Trick! He definitely won that one (laughs).
You remained friends throughout your hiatus and even did a reunion show in 2008. What made now the right time to start putting out music together as a band again?
A couple times we traded music back and forth, but the timing just didn’t work out. This time, everyone’s schedule just seemed to line up. We were sort of a little shocked: “Are we really doing it this time?” But when we went into the recording studio and pressed record, it was like “Sweeeeet!” (Laughs).