Remy Zero take their bohemian sound big-time
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From Donna Freydkin
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Remy Zero used to be that fine modern rock band you never heard of. Now, as the tabloids will tell you, they're still the fine modern rock you never heard of, with a lead singer who happens to be married to "Charmed" witch Alyssa Milano.
There's nothing wrong with a little peripheral publicity, but anyone who's listened to Remy Zero's sophomore album, "Villa Elaine," knows that the band's meditative lyrics and symphonic melodies easily transcend the renown garnered by Cinjun Tate's very recent nuptials to Milano. Thanks largely to the sudden rise of the album's gorgeous single "Prophecy," Tate's little known band and its overlooked, marvelously sensuous album, released last year, are finally getting some long overdue recognition on their own.
Tate is resigned to having his personal life serve as media fodder, but admits that there's an upside as well.
"Now there is a lot more recognition of the music, which is cool. This is your chance to communicate with people so you have to stand up there and figure out ways to talk to them," says Tate.
Remy Zero's sophomore, bohemian power pop album is a second chance for a skilled band whose slightly faltering, delicate eponymous album slipped through the cracks. This time, the grubby, slightly dazed boys of Remy Zero have turned out an album with surprisingly solid lyrics, dramatic production and dark, dreamy, inspired music.
"We're like soundtracks for movies that haven't been made yet," says guitarist Jeffrey Cain. "My own private movie."
'Oasis in the midst of hell'
The members of Remy Zero -- vocalist Tate, guitarists Cain and Cinjun's brother Shelby Tate, bassist Cedric LeMoyne, and drummer Gregory Slay -- are childhood friends whose synergy is obvious. They have an easy camaraderie, finishing each other's sentences, alluding to inside jokes and joking about Lissie (as Milano is known), who mills about outside somewhere.
Raised in various locales throughout the south, Remy Zero met as boys in Birmingham, Alabama. They began making music as teen-agers, and the nomads later moved from 'Bama to Nashville, New Orleans, Montreal and Atlanta, sending tapes out along the way to radio stations and labels.
After DJ Chris Douridas played Remy Zero on his morning show on Los Angeles public radio station KCRW, the group landed a deal with Geffen Records. The band's self-titled debut was a gentle, ambient aural snapshot of the group's Alabama roots. It was released in 1996 -- and just about nobody noticed.
So the guys regrouped and went to work on a follow-up release. They were homeless, broke, they needed a place fast, so they holed up in the legendary, now decaying apartment house Villa Elaine, where they mixed with the drug dealers, homeless and the like who now call the former abode of Orson Welles' home.
And in this unlikely, seedy habitat, they crafted the sweeping, symphonic rock album that bears the gritty influences of what Slay describes as a "flophouse with a lot of recording equipment."
"The Villa itself was awesome. It was an oasis in the midst of this hell. It was cheap and you can be loud; it was such an artist scene," says Tate.
"In the South, we lived in an environment where it was just us and our friends," adds Slay. "But L.A. is so huge, full of outside influences. So when we lived at the Villa, we couldn't afford to do anything, so we just hung out and build up our small little place away from the world."
Second album, second chance
Remy Zero has a little of the poppiness of Blind Melon, a little of Radiohead's dreaminess, a touch of the Psychedelic Furs' new-wave smoothness. But in a market jammed with faceless bands generating catchy, fleeting hits, their music is uniquely their own.
Part of the band's appeal stems from Tate's husky, slightly gravelly vocals, the other part is due largely to the band's very obvious, very earnest love of making music and willingness to discard formula for true sonic experimentation.
But getting into the studio to even record "Villa Elaine" took some doing. Remy Zero didn't have any songs written before taping the album -- they prefer to do all their work collectively in the studio. And ideas are great, but don't exactly result in solid hit singles.
"We had to go through a huge ordeal just to have the label let us in the studio and write the songs. Once we did it, there's trust, but you had to go through so many fights. It's like, they'll let you in the studio once they hear a single and it almost had to be a hit before you even record it," says Tate.
After their initial recording, Remy Zero reworked the album with David Botrill (Peter Gabriel, Tool) and Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Depeche Mode, U2). The end result is a fanciful, beautiful documentary of their stay at the Villa, with such highlights as the smooth, slightly eerie "Gramarye," the powerful, surging "Problem" the bittersweet "Goodbye Little World," and pensive "Yellow Bird."
So, what's ahead for Remy Zero? They have no idea, but they're taking everything in stride. Currently, they're on tour, opening for Semisonic, and trying to figure out what the next single will be. And they'd like to do an entire movie soundtrack, at some point. For now, they say they're content to finally be able to afford decent dinners (sushi is a favorite) and be touring in a plush bus.
But mainly, they say that making music is what it's all about.
"As long as we like what we do, I'm pretty sure we can always continue to make records because somebody will believe in this because we believe in this so much," says Slay.
"If the things we've been through haven't stopped us from making a record at this point, I don't know what it could be that can stop us," adds Cain.
And if this is where the ride ends, so be it, they insist.
"What would be terrible about being a one-hit wonder? You get one hit, you make money, and you go off and make records," laughs Tate.
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