Critics mention acts like Jane’s Addiction, Flaming Lips, Brian Eno, Pavement, Guided by Voices, U2, Brian Eno, and Radiohead when describing Remy Zero. The group released its first album, Remy Zero, in 1996 but really began to attract popular and critical attention with 1998’s Villa Elaine and the single “Prophecy.” The group’s third album, The Golden Hum, was released in 2001.
In the late 1980s, brothers Cinjun and Shelby Tate formed Remy Zero with boyhood friends Jeffrey Cain, Cedric LeMoyne, and Gregory Slay. Cinjun and Shelby Tate’s parents were Beatniks; their mother was an artist, their father a poet. They took Cinjun out of school in the fifth grade and encouraged him to explore his music. The members of Remy Zero were just teenagers when they started. “We lived a really secluded life in Alabama,” Cinjun Tate said in an interview with Glenn Gamboa for the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “We’ve been creating together since we were kids.” In an interview with Guitar Player, Tate explained: “We grew up messing around with multi-track recorders.” Cain continued: “Our approach came as a result of growing up bored in Alabama, and not being able to afford a decent keyboard. We had to figure out how to create the effects we wanted with just a guitar, a Rat pedal, a delay, and a four-track deck. The point is, you should experiment until you happen upon something really neat. You have to generate excitement. Otherwise, you might as well be an accountant!” In a 2002 interview with Glasgow’s Evening Times, Cinjun Tate openly admitted that Brian Eno is his “biggest influence.”
The band got its name from a box of four-track tapes that were given to Shelby Tate when he was a boy. The tapes contained nearly 30 hours of quirky songs, conversation, ramblings, and train yard sounds recorded by a late-1960s railroad worker from Alabama who was known as Remy Zero. “We decided to name the band after him in the hope that we might track down his relatives or something,” Cinjun Tate said in the Evening Times. “We haven’t found anyone yet.” Although they started out in Birmingham, Alabama, Remy Zero have also called Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Los Angeles home. All five members lived in a one-room apartment in a decrepit Los Angeles hotel, the Villa Elaine, while writing their second album.
Remy Zero, the band’s debut, was released in 1996 on the Geffen record label. With its second release, Villa Elaine, the group drummed up a “small but loyal following,” according to Billboard writer Doug Reece. The single “Prophecy” crept onto playlists at major-market rock radio stations in Chicago, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Boston. The airplay boosted the record’s sales, Remy Zero’s Manáger told Billboard. “It’s something that’s artistically important,” he said, “but also a little challenging. You have to introduce [the music] slowly into people’s consciousness.”
Members include Jeffrey Cain, guitar; Cedric LeMoyne, bass; Gregory Slay, drums; Cinjun Tate, vocals, guitar; Shelby Tate, guitar.
Group formed, c. 1989; released debut LP, Remy Zero, 1996; released Villa Elaine, 1998; released The Golden Hum, 2001.
Villa Elaine did more than sell copies—it was a critical success as well. Gamboa called the songs “Prophecy” and “Whither Vulcan” “intricately interwoven,” and wrote that “Fair” and “Goodbye Little World” are “effective in their simplicity—enhanced by the gorgeous harmonies of the brothers Tate.” But Remy Zero were hard-pressed to “replicate some of the plush soundscapes” from Villa Elaine in concert, according to critic Marc Weingarten of the Los Angeles Times. In 1999 Cinjun Tate began a short-lived but highly publicized marriage to actress Alyssa Milano of the television series Charmed.
The Remy Zero single “Save Me” was chosen as the theme song for the television show Smallville. Some bands may have balked at the notion of “selling out” to promote a television show and risk their artistic credibility and reputation. The members of Remy Zero, however, jumped at the opportunity. “This can be a new jukebox where you see a new band fronting TV shows,” Slay said in an interview located online at dotmusic. “The Internet, TV, and movies are openings for musicians,” Cain agreed in the same interview. “People in other countries are getting to know us because of a TV show,” Cinjun Tate told the Evening Times. “It’s bizarre.”
By the time Remy Zero’s third album, The Golden Hum, was released in 2001, the group had been together more than a decade. After Manágement and label changes, LeMoyne said in the dotmusic interview, “We’ve earned our stripes as far as making records goes.” Cain continued: “This has been growing for ten years and now it’s being noticed. The success we’re having now is directly following on from what we’ve done in the past.”
“This record was more examining your internal relationship between the things you are going through,” bassist LeMoyne said of The Golden Hum in an interview located online at ChartAttack.com. They credited producer Jack Joseph Puig, who had worked with No Doubt, Tricky, and Green Day, with creating the right environment in the studio during the recording process. RollingStone.com described The Golden Hum as “fragile and transcendent territory, breaking provocative new ground that truly places the fivesome in a category of their own.” One Daily Record critic was challenged to find the right words to describe the album that, he wrote, “breaks boundaries and restores your faith in music.” Cinjun Tate’s “emotional drive is difficult to deny,” wrote a Guardian critic in 2002.
Like any struggling band that has toured relentlessly to promote itself, Remy Zero have their share of road stories, including the incident in Los Angeles when their van was stolen and, with it, all of their equipment. After performing in small clubs for so long, the group was forced to overcome the intimidation of playing bigger venues after the release of The Golden Hum. Cinjun Tate thought it was healthy for the group to get used to playing for larger audiences, he said in the ChartAttack.com interview. “I think it’s a really great thing to force yourself to learn how to communicate with more people,” he said. “It puts the challenge on us to tell a story.” They played sold-out shows opening for the band Travis in large-scale venues like Toronto’s Massey Hall. Travis and Remy Zero are also friends offstage. Travis singer Fran Healy once predicted that Remy Zero would “be huge, the next R.E.M.,” according to a 1999 Birmingham Post report.
The band counts R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, Hole singer Courtney Love, Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, and Radiohead’s Thorn Yorke among its famous fans. Remy Zero found an exceptionally warm reception in Britain and Europe. “We are very American but our sensibility is [more British],” Cain told dotmusic. “We’re inspired by music from [England].” LeMoyne continued: “English audiences are more heavily invested in music emotionally in general. It’s more a part of their daily life.”
Onstage, the members of Remy Zero are comfortable and playful with each other. Cinjun Tate, tall and bald, often puts his arm around LeMoyne while he plays. Slay, shirtless, blue-haired, and tattooed, playfully tweaks Tate when they return to the stage for an encore. Not all observers have enjoyed their antics, however. Critic Dave Simpson found Tate’s onstage habits distracting; he wrote in a 1999 Guardian concert review that Tate’s affectations “detract so much from the emotional sincerity of his songs.” According to writer John Aizlewood of the Guardian, though, Remy Zero simply appear to be “a band who really seem to enjoy each other’s company.”
Remy Zero, Geffen, 1996.
Villa Elaine, Geffen, 1998.
The Golden Hum, Elektra, 2001.
Billboard, November 28, 1998, p. 18.
Birmingham Post (England), October 29, 1999, p. 14.
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 12, 1996, p. 6.
Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), March 22, 2002, p. 49.
Evening Times (Glasgow, Scotland), March 21, 2002, p. 32.
Guardian (London, England), May 11, 1999, p. 10; March 22, 2002, p. 20; March 28, 2002, p. 22.
Guitar Player, January 2002, p. 65.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 4, 1999.
Los Angeles Times, January 16, 1999, p. 6.
Observer (London) May 30, 1999, p. 9; March 24, 2002, p. 14.
Times (London), May 29, 1999, p. 10; July 3, 1999, p. 33.
“Remy Zero,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 25, 2002).
“Remy Zero,” RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/default.asp?oid=6216 (April 25, 2002).
“Remy Zero Interview,” dotmusic, http://www.dotmusic.com/interviews/April2002/interviews24707.asp (April 25, 2002).