Originally published on Swizzle-Stick.com (Date Unknown)
What a year it has been for the members of Remy Zero. In August, the band released its second album, Villa Elaine, to critical praise. Reviewers favorably compared the album, and the band’s live show, to the work of Remy Zero’s peers – Radiohead. The first single, “Prophecy,” which sounds remarkably like a Grant Lee Buffalo song, received massive airplay on everything from pop radio stations to alternative stations to hard rock stations. And, as 1998 came to an end, lead singer Cinjun Tate became the envy of millions of twenty-something males around the world when he married actress Alyssa Milano.
As the New Year dawned, Remy Zero’s record label, Geffen Records, was taken over by Interscope Records in the largest music industry conglomeration in recent history. While many bands were given pink slips, Remy Zero, according to sources like MTV, were sitting on the fence. Interscope realized that Remy Zero were a “buzz” band that was starting to make headway into the overpopulated alternative, modern rock world despite the fact that they hadn’t sold millions of records. When the dust cleared, Interscope put it’s stamp of approval on Remy Zero and saved the band from having to start back at the beginning.
While on touring with Semisonic, Swizzlestick had the opportunity to sit down backstage at Mekka in Columbus, Ohio and speak with guitarists Jeffrey Cain and Shelby Tate, and drummer Gregory Slay.
With all the record company stuff going on, Remy Zero is a band that is continuously being mentioned as being on the fence – will the company keep them or drop them?
Gregory: You mean you saw that little piece on MTV?
Jeffrey: That scared us. We learned it the same time you learned it. We were sitting in a hotel room trying to make it up to Seattle and we just kind of off-handedly caught it on TV.
G: It’s an interesting thing being on the fence. It’s not something you predict or try to do. I guess in a way we were kind of sitting on the fence a few years ago too, because we’ve always been in this position where we get a lot of critical acclaim. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but we do. Sometimes that translates into popular culture but it hasn’t as much for us. We’re a slow-burning band. We’re like a stick of incense that’s the size of a football field.
The way things are going with Remy Zero, it reminds me of the Wallflowers. Both bands put out a debut on a major label but didn’t get a whole lot of attention. But when the second album came out, people starting listening and turning both into “buzz” bands.
Shelby: I think having Bob Dylan as a dad worked against them. I think it always works against them. People might have not wanted them to succeed.
G: They tried really, really hard for a long time. I don’t know if they had exactly the same ideas in mind as we did, but as far as you’re saying about how they have acquired what’s happening now, yes, it took them a while and it’s still taking us a while. Our record came out in August, we’re working hard. Like I said, it’s a slow-moving thing. We’re good with osmosis. We slowly permeate people’s minds. That’s what we like about music. I like to go out and find music that slowly seeps into my subconscious. It becomes part of my being, as opposed to something like a disposable razor. It’s like I can take it or leave it which is what a lot of music is to a lot of people.
When you weren’t sure if Geffen was going to let you put out a second album, was there ever thoughts about breaking up the band?
J: We always knew we would make another record. Before the first record we had been making records and recording a lot of songs. It was never a question and it’s not a question. I know we’ll continue to make records and create something.
G: Somehow we’ll be driven to do it, because we’ll look at the alternatives. We’ll find a way. With anyone, especially in the record industry now because it’s more of a multi-level corporate kind of thing more and more each day. The build up has been happening over the past 30 years but it’s now gotten to the stage where it’s like AT&T. That can work for you on some levels but it can cut you right down on others. But, what was the question again? I was just asleep a little while ago.
S: With our first advance from Geffen, we bought 16-track studio stuff and enough equipment . . .
J: That was our little insurance policy. If they get rid of us, we have the means to make records for the rest of our lives and have them sound the way we want them to sound.
G: We don’t always want to be at the mercy of the record business. We like it in some ways. That’s what the shakiness was about. We knew we’d make another record, we didn’t know if we’d make it with so-and-so company or by ourselves or if it would be in a basement or a big studio.
J: With the first record, the thing about being on the label was that it would be distributed in the stores and people would find it. That wasn’t even the case our first record. We put it out and nobody could find it. We were like, “I think we’re on Geffen, but I’m not sure.” We really weren’t sure what was going to happen. I think that’s really the only reason we moved to Los Angeles is just to see for ourselves what was going on. We felt like we had no clue as to what was going on. Everything was secondhand information and we didn’t know what was really happening.
G: We were like existing in the shadows of our own creation. We had created this album for this conglomerate and they had it stored away in Los Angeles and we were down here doing our thing in the southeastern region and a little bit further out and trying to tour behind it. We weren’t really in touch.
J: One day they sent a box of 15 CDs to our house, and they said Geffen Records on them. After that, they could have been some crazy man who printed those up and sent them to us and been like “You’re on Geffen.” Then we were out touring and couldn’t find them in the stores. So we really weren’t sure. So basically we went to see the wizard behind the curtain.
G: We went to try to get a perspective and decide if we wanted to continue with the way things were going.
J: We found that things were a lot cheaper in Alabama then they were in L.A. Instead of having a band house, you could have a band studio/apartment.
G: Squat. Walls and a floor. The ceiling costs you extra! We finally got a ceiling.
J: The first place we went to to go rent something, we were like “Okay, we got the deal.” You didn’t look close enough and you realize there is no refrigerator, no stove.
G: It was kind of like we proved something to ourselves. We proved that we could hold together in the face of complete adversity.
J: It didn’t work for us in that the first record, because it wasn’t really accepted by the company, when it came time to do the second record, I don’t think they had any expectations out of us so they really left us alone to make it. So we had more freedom in a way. Instead of them being on our case, or looking over it hoping it turns out to be something great, they just figured, “Let the guys make this record and maybe we won’t see them again.” So we had a lot of freedom. Nobody was batting down the hatches to get a listen of the mixes. By the end, everybody was surprised. Then we got all these people trying to give us compliments. “Man, you don’t even sound like the same band. I can’t believe it. This is incredible.” We were insulted because it didn’t seem like the right thing to say to us because we still liked that first record and they made it sound like we made the worst thing.
G: “We didn’t know if you could bounce back. Christ almighty, you did it. We’re just happy to see it happen.” I’m not speaking of anyone in particularly, that’s the record company in general.
Is the wizard still there, or do you have any idea who your boss is now that Geffen has been taken over by Interscope?
G: There are so many wizards now. Every room we go into there are thirteen of them staring at you with multi-colored eyes . . .
J: I guess we’re on Interscope Records now since Geffen is no longer.
G: We were kept out of the slaughter.
You said that you saw what was happening on MTV. Did you have an idea that this all was going to happen?
G: Yeah, of course, just like anybody there was concern. But at the same time we were happy with what was going on with the record so we tried to exist in that world and not focus on the negative.
J: I don’t think we ever did focus on it, to tell you the truth. That’s why I think we were caught off guard by it. We always seem to slip through the cracks and keep going on. I think we were lucky that the record had already come out and that it was getting played on the radio. At that point, it was kind of out of their hands and so even if they were to drop us, we felt like we had our wings.
G: We had got on the train and it was starting to take off, as opposed to before anything gets released.
J: That would have been a nightmare if we were just about to mix our record or it hadn’t come out and this happened.
G: Or we were trying to negotiate a budget for it. “What about the salary increase?” “I see in your future an indie deal.”
It’s surprising how much radio airplay you’ve gotten recently. The stations around here are all playing it, ranging from the pop station to the alternative station to the hard rock station.
G: We were one of the three new bands that got airplay in the fall. It was us, Placebo, and one other band. We were the only three bands that got airplay out of everything that got significant amounts of airplay. We were surprised too that we were one of the three – happily surprised. That just shows you how radio is just in a gridlock and it’s hard to sneak in.
How does that translate into the spectrum of fans you’ve seen coming out to the shows?
G: You see parents and their kids.
J: We have some parents bring their kids and they are both fans.
G: We have some people that are parents age that have no kids and they are like, “We flew in from New York to catch you because we heard your album on the radio.”
That’s the kind of thing I was reading on the imusic bulletin board – people were flying from all over to see your shows.
G: It wouldn’t seem that that would be happening at this stage. It’s not like we walk into the grocery store and people are like, “Will you sign my stick of gum?” It’s not like we’re at that stage of anything, even if we want to be. There are people that are like, “I just needed to see you because I heard your album.”
J: The younger kids that couldn’t get into the clubs are coming out and listening from outside.
G: In the rain sometimes.
J: They’ll just kind of see us at soundcheck or hang out with us after the show.
G: Which we feel good about because people that enjoy our music, or at least enjoy our creativity, they enjoy it fully one-hundred percent. It’s not like a halfway venture which makes us the most proud of it.
J: That makes it so enjoyable for us to tour. This last tour has been so nice to see it happen.
G: We’ve seen an excitement that we knew could exist but that hadn’t yet because of circumstance. We’re seeing the existence of true fan base. We knew they were out there, but it’s just like they are all starting to come together. I think it was more like a satellite at first but now we’re seeing the grid system. We’re seeing how it’s filling in and it’s pretty exciting.
J: When we would tour before, the energy exchange, we would put it out but then it would bounce someone else, off the wall . . . When there is people who are giving you something too, before you even play on stage, it feels so good to walk out right now. It affects us deeply. I think we play together and I think we’re going to write better from it.
S: To meet a lot of people of these people through the internet, a lot of them talk together on the bulletin boards, it’s really, really amazing. It’s so fun to talk to them and meet people and kind of feel like you know them and then actually they show up at a show and you meet them.
The official Remy Zero website is great. I haven’t seen a lot of fan websites for you.
G: There’s a few. There are some unofficial sites and we actually know the people now.
J: There are some links on the imusic bulletin boards as well.
G: Those are titles from the albums. It’s starting to pick up and there are probably more that we don’t know about yet.
(to Shelby) So, are you DJ Shortpants? (on-line username)
S: Yeah. We were working in the studio all day and I was just wearing shorts and sandals and they decided they wanted to go to the Whiskey Bar where all the celebs hang out. And they wouldn’t let me in.
J: There was a lot of alcohol involved that night.
G: Alcohol and pants.
S: So I was like, “I’ll just go sit in the car.”
J: He didn’t want to go in because it was too nice of a bar. We said, “No, no, you’re going in. Just tell them you are DJ Shortpants.”
S: All of a sudden I’m like this is hip DJ Shortpants. “Got a table for me?”
J: All night long he was telling people he is DJ Shortpants and having the best time. It worked like a charm.
How much does all the tabloid coverage of Cinjun’s marriage to Alyssa Milano effect the band?
S: It doesn’t help or hurt.
J: It’s funny for about a second.
G: I think the best band comment on it would be probably that people take advantage of a personal situation, of something that happens to be a very family-like thing and make it into a disaster in the press. And making it seem like it’s somehow related to us musically. The origin of this band has nothing to do with someone getting married. The origin of this band happened way before these two people even met. I wish we could go to the biggest publication ever and once and for all say that and have people actually print it and have it stick. Instead, they go, “Well, how did they meet?”
S: The thing is, it’s strictly a press phenomenon. Everybody that hears the music thinks that way. It only exists that way for people writing it.
G: We just kind of feel the sharp pain of denial. We don’t want to admit that it exists, not that their marriage exists, we love their marriage, but the way it’s being covered. We just wanted it to be, okay that’s what that is, and we’re over here and this is what we do. Of course, everybody had to throw it all together and make it a big pie.
J: A big pie (laughter).
G: And the pie tastes terrible. It’s the worst pie I’ve ever had. “I hate that pie.”
You’ve been compared to a lot of bands, ranging from Radiohead to Queen. How much do those bands influence your songwriting?
G: I think a lot of times it’s all subconscious. You may hear a noise you like. It may be from Radiohead. It may be from Lou Reed. Or maybe you hear some bulldozer across the street making a noise. That goes into your next creation. It’s not anything that we directly plan to do.
S: Good bands make good music. And then there are bands that copy good music. It’s very easy to tell them apart.
G: It’s like dreaming. You are in a state of dreaming hopefully when you are creating music. You are allowing yourself to have this non-judging flow of ideas, just let them all come out from wherever they are coming from.
J: I know we are like that and I know Radiohead is like that. We are very similar people in certain ways in some areas so I think that maybe we are influenced by some of the same people.
The Radiohead sound changed a bit between Pablo Honey and The Bends. Do you think your sound changed as well between your two albums?
G: I think people would recognize it as the same band. I think they would realize it as a band that had gone through new experiences.
S: They would recognize probably which one was which too.
J: They would – sonically, the intention of both records is completely different.
G: It’s really letters to yourself. You write a letter, put it in a time capsule, and you open it twenty years later. And you go, “Okay this is what I was thinking then and this is what I’m thinking now. What happened in between those years that made me start thinking this way?” Each album we do is going to be like that because each thing we do in our daily life is like that anyway, hopefully. Everybody is like that. That’s how you learn.
J: When we were done with the first record, we never wanted to make that record again. We were happy to go on and do something totally different.
G: I think all people that truly want to explore themselves are like that, because you know the rest of the world is going to fade away. You know that the record industry and the press is eventually going to move onto something else. You have stick with yourself. You have to go, “What’s my journey about?” You can’t go, “What’s their journey about? What can I create that will stay with this outside environment?”
Okay. I’ve got a couple of stupid questions, things that I’ve always wanted to ask a band. When you start a tour, does the tour bus pick you up in front of your house, or at your rehearsal space or does somebody drop you off somewhere?
G: That is a good question.
S: This is my first time to be on a bus, so it was all new to me.
G: The typical way we’ve been doing it is when we pick up a tour, we’ll fly to the first date and that’s where we meet the bus. The bus will pick us up at the airport.
J: We’ve only had a bus twice and it’s been on these past two tours. Other than that, it’s been in a van, and yes, we pick come by and pick each other up at our apartments.
G: You just honk the horn, and everyone jumps in the van. But then the whole time that you’re in the van, you’re going, “Man, this is the bus.” You have to convince yourself that it is.
J: But it’s not.
G: It’s not.
J: The first time we got a bus, we played the show and it was supposed to show up right after the show and take us to the next show. It was running late. So we ended up waiting for the bus until about 3 in the morning. I ended up listening to the Iggy Pop record on the jukebox and I was really drunk. This pink bus pulls up and this guy named Rocky hops out and says, “I’m your driver” and he threw me in there. There was one surreal thing for me. When we played in Alabama, we all went to my parent’s house for a late night after show in cars and the bus was going to pick us up on the way out of town. So the bus drove through my parent’s neighborhood, pulled up right in front of the house and was honking the horn down there. We took a car down the driveway to meet the bus.
G: We had a big plate full of chocolate cake and cookies and some iced tea and we were ready to go.
J: My mom was waving to me.
G: It was like a southern homecoming, futuristic style. So, what’s the next question.
When you had a van, what did you do to keep yourself awake when you had to drive long distances over night?
G: Well there’s some stuff that would be wrong to say, cuz it’s stuff you can probably imagine. Coffee. Really strong coffee. Like about this size (holds his arms in a big circle). “Can I have free refill for my coffee?” “Uh, $3.95 sir.”
J: We’ve sung songs.
G: Basically, what it is is you get so delirious everybody turns into this really dark comedian. That’s what keeps you awake. It’s like how morbid, how low, and how crazy can you go? That’s what really keeps you awake, it’s that sub-level of comedy, in the trenches.
J: The more we go, the more we laugh and laugh and laugh.
G: And then you get to the destination and there’s no poster advertising the show.
And you have to drive in cities where you don’t know which streets are one-way and stuff like that.
J: We almost killed Radiohead.
G: We drove them through a cemetery . . .
J: It was a park. We were looking around, trying to find the right road and we realized that we weren’t on a road, that we driving through the park, in the snow, going the wrong way.
What kind of stuff have you seen when you’re driving late at night and tired? Like, one time I saw a half-man, half-deer run out in front of me.
J: That’ s great! One time Greg and I were driving home from band practice and we rounded this corner and right when we turned the corner, we this girl spanking this other girl with her pants down. And there was a street light shining down on them. They were two twenty-year-old girls.
G: That really wasn’t on tour.
J: No that wasn’t on tour. I was so tired, I did a double take.