Poverty often breeds enlightenment. For the five guys in Remy Zero, their experience at the sleazy Villa Elaine Hotel in Hollywood provided the necessary stalled-career slingshot.
While the band bio lists Alabama as home, don't be fooled: Remy Zero broke out of Sunset Strip. With gigs at the high-profile Viper Room and Roxy, and friends like Courtney Love, Adam Duritz, and Thomas Yorke championing its sound, Remy Zero's second album, Villa Elaine, is being heralded as one of the young year's best.
Recently though, it was lead singer Cinjun Tate's marriage to actress Alyssa Milano that really put the name Remy Zero in play. Sure, having a critically acclaimed record may be every musician's dream, but marrying a former Melrose Place actress is every guy's dream. At 26, Tate has achieved both.
Cinjun, the lucky bastard, downplays his celebrity couple status. "That was a hesitation at first, but you can't let it govern your life," he says. "If you find something that is important to you, you just have to go with what you feel is right. I knew it would be an issue, [but] it really hasn't been a problem at all, actually. A couple of people are trying to go a little too far with it. It's like, 'Forget the music; who's going out with Alyssa?' That kind of thing. The only thing kind of odd for me is coming into a situation finding myself in the tabloids."
While the paparazzi had a field day with the wedding, the trade papers lauded Villa Elaine for its vivid soundscapes and stories of vanquished dreams and lost careers. Initially, the resemblance to Radiohead is undeniable, but as you sift through the material, the band's individuality becomes more apparent.
Cinjun and brother Shelby, the band's guitarist, were encouraged to explore their individuality by their artist father and bass-playing poet mother. Cinjun dropped out of school after the seventh grade. "It was just a joke for me to go to standardized public school," he says. Didn't the truant officers of Alabama have a problem with that? "Think of the public school system. It's so easy to fall through the cracks. It's just like society in general. A poor, freakazoid loser is going to fall through anything if he wants to. It's so simple to get out of that stuff."
With a common need to experience life on a larger scale, five friends from Alabama began a journey which would eventually lead to the West Coast. Within the past decade, Remy Zero has called New Orleans, Atlanta, San Francisco, Montreal, Nashville, and Los Angeles home. "We would always as a band move to a new city and just experience it," Tate says without a trace of a Southern accent. "We moved to Nashville and all of these different places just to go there. Granted, you had to live on nothing, but it was so fun to try to interpret a new environment."
When they arrived in L.A. two years ago, the guys in the band could barely make ends meet. Finding a place to crash was their first priority, food a close second. They found the Villa Elaine, a cheap apartment/hotel, and lived among hookers, junkies, and dreamers. "The place is this weird sanctuary in the midst of concrete chaos. It was really strange, because you're in an environment with tragic people everywhere. And happy people too, but they're all from somewhere else who have come out here and been destroyed by the system."
Remy Zero had one leg up on the thousands of other aspiring artists who go west: a contact. The band's brief association with Capitol Records put a demo tape in the hands of Radiohead, who tabbed then-unknown Remy Zero to be its opening band. A friendship grew between the two groups. "They had always liked our music and, of course, we had always liked them," says Tate. "I think we traded a lot of inspiration for each other, which was beautiful for me--to think of someone I respect actually coming back and saying, 'You were the inspiration for this' or whatever."
As for their similarity in sound, Cinjun says, "We both grew up loving Brian Eno or Thelonius Monk or whatever we could get our hands on. I think that's what forced our sounds to be relatively similar."
Though the Villa Elaine was a major source of Remy Zero's creativity, Tate says the band is looking for its next adventure in a city yet unknown. Los Angeles has nothing left for him. He's seen it all, recorded a hit album, and found a beautiful wife. "Times have changed already. Going to a new place."
Remy Zero, opening for Semisonic. 8 p.m., Tuesday, February 9, the Odeon, 1295 Old River Rd., the Flats, $13.50 ($15 day of show), Ticketmaster 216-241-5555.