The second I heard “LES” from Cleo Handler, I was in love. I fell deeper and deeper in love with her as I dug into her material a bit more. With a heart on her sleeve vocal sensibility and an attitude that, although not as brash as mine can tend to be, comes out loud and clear with every song, I just felt absolutely connected to Cleo and hopped on the opportunity to ask her a few questions about everything and anything.

Everyone says that every crowd is their favorite but, what city has the best audience and why is it Minneapolis?
You know, I’ve never played this music live, and I’ve never been to Minneapolis! It may be time to remedy both of those things! I’ll swing by the mall & get a soft pretzel. Then I’ll be yours forever.

How would you describe your music to your grandparents?
Hahaha. Well, luckily, my grandma on one side is a writer and my grandma on the other side was always singing as she cooked. And neither was particularly proper. So I guess I’d say… “It’s sweet and a smidge salty, but all the best things are. It does not sound like the albums you played around the house, but those albums made a big impact on me too.”

If you could have dinner with any musician, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Oh, for me it would have to be Liz Phair. I’ve always been obsessed with her. Her raw emotion and honest storytelling have always blown me away… plus, she was the only artist everyone in my family could agree to listen to on road trips, so I’d love to thank her for getting us through some stressful and windy highways in rental cars on the wrong side of the road.

If you could compare yourself to a bird, what bird would it be and why?
Hmmm… I’d love to say some kind of regal, wise creature like an owl, but I think I’ve gotta go with a mockingbird. I flit around and sing to myself a lot, often incorporating car alarms and random melodies I hear in the grocery store.

What’s an old-school fad that you wish would come back?
You know what I really miss? Dunkaroos. Is that a fad? Or, I don’t know, maybe the Limited Too shirts with the cats on them.

Favorite lyrics of all time?
“The Book of Love is long and boring. No one can lift the damn thing. It’s full of charts and facts and figures. And instructions for dancing.” (The Book of Love, The Magnetic Fields)
Or maybe, “You’re not ill and I’m not dead. Doesn’t that make us the perfect pair?” (The Modern Leper, Frightened Rabbit)

If you were to rob a bank, what would be the song playing in the getaway car as you escape?
Oooooh. “Violet” by Hole! That’s the kind of energy I’d need to propel me out of the parking lot and across state lines with a trunk full of cash! Go on, take everything!

What’s the worst concert you’ve ever been to and why?
When I was in high school, I went to a Jack’s Mannequin show at a local college (I was in love with them. They were great! It’s not their fault!). I somehow convinced my mom to go with me because it was 21+ and I thought people would ask fewer questions if I showed up with an adult. And it worked! But then I couldn’t help myself and pushed my way to the front, then desperately reached out to grab Andrew McMahon’s leg, in the process flagrantly exposing my bare, bracelet-free arm, and catching the attention of a security guard. He checked my ID, pulled me out of the pit, and kicked both me and my mom out of the show. Not only was it humiliating to have this happen right in front of Andrew, my love, but to top it off, the guard wouldn’t even let me buy a t-shirt on the way out.

What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?
Ooooooh. So tough. I’ve seen a few shows at Jones Beach Theater on Long Island, and it has such a vibe. One was the B-52’s & the Pretenders when I was little; one was a Blink182 reunion tour when Travis’s drum set lifted and flipped upside down! Both were very memorable. But the amphitheater is just the coolest. It’s an open-air venue on the water and you can go to the beach all day then stroll over – and people pull up in their boats to listen!

What’s one thing I should know before listening to “LES”?
Hmm… well, you might be able to guess, but for a little context, “LES” is about reflecting back on the many years spent supporting a partner’s band, and now trying to channel that energy back into yourself after a breakup. It’s about finding yourself and your own voice when you feel silenced. I recorded it with engineer Claire Morison at Wild Horizon Sound in Hollywood, when I left Brooklyn and arrived back in LA, where I grew up. I remember asking our bassist Sarsten Noice to riff off the idea of recreating the sounds of a group of dudes sound checking at a grungy venue – and we had a lot of fun building out that world we were all too familiar with, but making it our own: more playful, more female, and more empowered.

I feel like you might be my spirit animal with the lyrics in this song. That being said, what line is your favorite and why?
Aww yay! That’s awesome to hear from a fellow rock show-lover. I think the line, “I’m gonna scream or I’d have go whisper that I would’ve stayed to hear more” pretty accurately hits on a kind of tangled idea I was trying to express. I like that it captures this dual sense of pain of feeling left out of something and unseen, while still acknowledging that being a part of it meant a lot – and hit on something deep inside you.

You mention the wristbands that you get at shows– do you save yours?
Oh my god, yes! I squirrel them away in purses and toiletry cases and sock drawers so I can stumble across them later and know they’ll always make me smile.

What was the last show you went to?
I saw Wet Leg at Webster Hall with two of my best friends recently, and it was just one of the greatest nights ever. They wore tutus and fake tattoo-sleeve shirts – and at one point graduation sashes – and were just having so much fun out there it was ridiculous. The energy was hilarious and infectious, and we were completely giddy all night.

Any concert plans coming up?
I would LOVE to see Boygenius this spring! I can’t stop belting “it’s an all night driiiive from your house to Renoooo” in the car.

I really love your singer-songwriter vibe. There’s something perfectly imperfect about the style that leaves you with a true “heart-on-your-sleeve” vibe. What was the main reason for sticking with this genre?
Oh, thanks so much! I’m so glad it landed that way for you. I think I’ve always felt most immediately connected to music – or any kind of art really – that’s a bit messy and unpolished. I like something that feels raw and lo-fi and packs an emotional punch. I think especially for an album like this, which is pretty personal, it wouldn’t make sense to me to do anything neater or more restrained. I mean, I’m a Warped Tour kid at heart.

You have a lot of great songs on your album ‘Gold’ but they are all so short! Is there a reason you lean toward shorter songs?
I think it actually goes along with the genre question! I love when people play with song length and form because it inspires me to let go of any preconceived notions of what a song “should” be, and instead, just write whatever I want. But this album specifically came out of an extremely difficult, disorienting time in my life – a period of pain, loss, confusion, and upheaval. There was a lot that didn’t make sense to me, and the only way I found I could process any of what I was feeling was through writing. So, the intentionally short, abrupt tracks are all little slivers of that extremely layered, messy pie. Each song that made it on the album (there were many that didn’t) came from an impulse that felt somehow unignorable, impossible to quiet – but again, was only one ingredient in a big, sloppy soup. Lots of food metaphors, sorry. Maybe I need a snack.

Is there anything you want to offer up by way of advice for younger singer-songwriters who feel like they don’t have “it”?
Oh man, I don’t know. I guess, I’ve always been really drawn to lyrics and making up songs on my own, but, my whole life, there was something that felt really scary & off-limits about daring to write my own music. Like, words were one thing, but come on, who did I think I was? But god, once I started, it was so fun and I learned so much. So I think I’d just say screw it and stop making artificial limits for yourself. There are enough voices of doubt all around you, so tell the ones in your brain to shh. If you want to write, write. If you have something to say, by all means, say it. Do it in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to you… and someone will listen.

Much like her music, Cleo came off as so sweet and genuine throughout all of these questions which made it so so fun. I feel like the personality I got from her music really matched the personality I got with all of her answers which just goes to prove that Cleo Handler is the real deal. So, if you need a smile or just a quick break for your normal playlists that you have going on in the background all day and every day, I truly suggest checking out Cleo’s music. Don’t worry– I have her music and all of her socials conveniently linked right below here!

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