Kay Hanley and Michelle Lewis
by Rob Watts
Happy New Year everyone. This is a great interview to start the new year off. What do you get when you combine a talented singer/songwriter from New York and a talented singer/songwriter from Boston? Simple, you put them together in California and you get the power pop/rock stylings of The Dilettantes! The Dilettantes are Solo artist Michelle Lewis and former Letters to Cleo frontwoman Kay Hanley. Together, they are keeping female rock alive and kicking with their newst e.p. “Hearts and Flowers.” Michelle and Kay had some great things to say about their band, the industry and anything else that came by way of conversation.
Rob- So how are things out on the west coast?
Michelle- Awesome thanks..
Kay- I’m great, thanks for asking.
Rob- So, lets begin by talking about how the two of you came to form The Dilettantes.
Kay- It was pretty much the same week I moved to LA. My good friend Nina Gordon was playing music with Michelle and Tracy Bonham in an outfit called the LadyApples. Well, Tracy was about to go out on a year long tour and Nina had a publishing deal with Columbia Records so she has a solo album commitment. Nina said that I should come meet Michelle because she knew we had similar tastes in music etc. So as soon as we met, we hit it off and have been friends and music partners since.
Rob- And when was this?
Michelle- This was two years ago.
Rob- Performing together…….was it easy to read one another’s styles right away, or what it a slow process at first?
Kay- No, we blended well together right away. It felt very natural.
Rob- Where was your first live performance together?
Kay- At the Mint in LA. We did a 3 song improvised showcase. Nina was on stage with us too.
Rob- How was it?
Michelle- ROUGH! ha ha…it was Christmas time, so we has Kay’s sons Fisher Price xylophone on stage with us…it was funny. We struggled through it, but we’ve been together two years now, and it’s just so much fun.
Kay- The crowd was into us though so that was most important.
Rob- Describe the writing process between the two of you.
Kay- Michelle is great at writing melodys. We usually write music first with no lyrics, then I’ll come in and usually start humming a verse..hum hum hum…and we pretty much build a song from there, and it works out great.
Rob- So Michelle…you have written a lot of songs for other artists such as Cher, Jessica Simpson, Kelly Osbourne, Amy Grant..and so on. Would you rather be involved with songwriting with other artists, or are you busy working on a new solo album?
Michelle- If I ever get the itch to do another solo album, I will. Right now I’m enjoying the songwriting process of the business. These acts that go out there and perform as a solo act…….you really have to have thick skin in this business, and I really don’t have the stomach for it. You’re basically just a product in the industry and I don’t want to play that game. I much prefer to write for other artists and develop new singer-songwriters.
Rob- So Kay, are you working on a new solo album?
Kay- Definitely. I’ve been working in the studio with Fred Eltringham ( Gigolo Aunts, Wallflowers ). It’s all good stuff, I’m excited about it.
Rob- When might we see that released?
Kay- Wow, I’m not exactly sure, but sometime this Spring hopefully. That’s not definite though.
Rob- What I would like right now is for each of you to compliment one another. Tell us something about the other that everyone should know.
Michelle- She kicks my ass! Kay is the most kick ass, talented, most loyal, fun, rock n’ roll mom I know. She’s brave. She’s the bravest girl in this business that I know and she has pushed me as a performer and songwriter.
Kay- Michelle is awesome. She is just a great all around friend and knowing her has been life changing. She’s up’d my game and brought me to a new level that I never knew was possible for me. She’s the best.
Rob- So you recently released an e.p. of music together which is awesome by the way…I have my copy here.
Michelle- Thank you
Kay- I’m glad you like it, thanks.
Rob- Will we see a new Full Length album soon?
Michelle- Yes, next year.
Kay- We’re going to be taking it to some indie labels and shop it around soon.
Rob- (to Kay) You have done a lot of soundtrack work for films in recent years with the Josie Soundtrack and most recently the “Just like Heaven” soundtrack where you recorded a cover of Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life….which kicked ass by the way.
Kay- Thanks so much for saying that.
Rob- You’re very welcome. Is soundtrack work something the Dilettantes will be looking at doing?
Kay- We’re always looking. Soundtrack work pays great…better than solo work unfortunately. That’s the sad reality of it. I’ll do a solo album out of love, because it’s my passion, but the bottom line is, we have a family to support and film soundtracks make you the most money.
Rob- What are your thoughts on satlelite radio?
Michelle- I’m loving it. My husband and I have our Sirius satelite radio all up and running. He’s a big Howard Stern fan. I think it’s great that artists will finally have a chance to be heard now. It’s exciting.
Kay- It’s great. Now bands can be heard on this medium, in the world of today where all you hear on commercial radio is Kelly Clarkson and hip hop.
Rob- If a young girl came to you and said that she really admired you and wanted to get into the music business, what would you say to her?
Michelle- Run! (laughs) But after I told her to run, I’d ask her if she really loves music. I meet young women all the time that say just that to me, and I ask them who influences them the most musically. If they say “oh well…umm…bla bla bla” then I tune them out. If they are excited about it and tell me that they are really into these artists and why they love them, and this and that..then I’m in. I’ll have such a great conversation with them about music because I know they love it and are passionate about it. That’s what it takes to survive in this business. Passion. If you don’t have it or are not willing to fight for your artistry when times get tough, then I say it’s not for you.
Kay- I tell them to go to law school. But if they don’t want to go to law school, then I tell them to have a back up plan. Always have a plan B, because in this industry, there are more disappointments than there are success stories. It’s all about luck when you get down to it. If you are easily broken hearted then maybe this isn’t for you. At least have a backup plan for yourself for the future in case it doesn’t workout. I see it all the time. A lot of my peers have fallen into this trap and are now stuck in this world of struggling musicians.
Rob- So Kay, from one fellow Dorchester native to another, what would you like to say to your hometown while you have the chance?
Kay- Hmmm…….Vote for ——–. Dorchester is my home, I love it.
Rob- You gotta love Dorchester.
Kay- What Parish were you in?
Rob- St. Brendan’s…… Cedar Grove
Kay- oh right….That’s where all the “rich people” lived, I was in the Ashmont area where all us “poor folk” lived..ha ha!
Rob- It’s all good either way.
Michelle- Can I just say that I can hear the Boston accent coming out in Kay while talking with you..ha ha!!
Rob- We’re just staying true to our roots..ha ha! So finally, before we wrap up, let me say that it’s a pleasure talking to both of you. Best of luck with the band, your solo work and everything else.
Kay- Thank you, this was great.
Michelle- Thank you. You’re fucking awesome!!!