When Americans want a dose of mainstream rock that favors sentimentality, melodic and tuneful songs, it seems as though there's little choice but to look to across the Atlantic to such lamb-like U.K.
When Americans want a dose of mainstream rock that favors sentimentality, melodic and tuneful songs, and a frontman that can actually sing -- and does so rather often -- it seems as though there's little choice but to look to across the Atlantic to such lamb-like U.K. acts as Coldplay and Travis for satisfaction.
But that was before Birmingham, Ala.'s Remy Zero dropped onto the pop landscape with its soaring, impressively catchy single "Save Me," a song that has been in steady rotation on triple-A radio and MTV2 and also appears on its July 2001 release, "The Golden Hum" (Elektra). The song also serves as the theme music for the hit WB-TV series "Smallville."
Uncharacteristic of today's most mainstream stateside rock acts, Remy Zero's sound owes nothing to the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. Rather, its songs recall the hopeful and anthemic qualities of U2, the intricate and often gnashing melodies of early, "Pablo Honey"-era Radiohead, and the sonic dreamscapes of My Bloody Valentine. The drowsy blues tendencies of guitarists Shelby Tate and Jeffrey Cain give the music a Southern personality and charm last heard in the mainstream on such albums as R.E.M's "Murmur" or "Document." Even when rocking at the loudest decibels, which the band does frequently, singer Cinjun Tate's cart-wheeling croon offers passionate brushstrokes to its inspired and introspective songs.
Shelby Tate credits growing up in Alabama with giving him the desire to seek out the more obscure, lesser-known music to which he was actively drawn.
"You had to look harder to find the music you wanted to hear," he says. "You're not fed a lot of the cool, new, interesting things, which is a plus and a minus. At the time, that was really frustrating. There you get pretty much a mainstream series of music or films or nothing."
But drummer Gregory Slay extols the benefits of coming up in a cloistered, less populated musical community: "You don't have the eyes of the world watching you, and you don't have a huge level of outside competition, so it almost breeds an inside competition with yourself to see how far you're gonna go," he says.
Remy Zero's recent brush with success hasn't altered the band's relationship with its fans -- nor has it affected the way its members view themselves as musicians.
"You know, everybody wants to have more people listen to their music," Tate says. "This, now, is definitely icing in the sense that I get to tour around with my best friends, and I get to make music. If I focused on the outside things as much, I'd think, 'OK, we've really got to get on MTV.' But I love it when things are going great. Once you get in a situation where your record is out there and a fan tells you a story about your lyrics, everything else just fades away."
But music-making hasn't always been as promising for Remy Zero. Weathering the release of two records that garnered minimal album sales, despite 1998's "Villa Elaine" drawing critical praise, the band endured without a label at one point and contemplated its future.
Persistence and what Tate refers to as a strong band "insularity" worked in the group's favor, and it is now enjoying the commercial attention generated by The Golden Hum, a set that balances a layered and raucous jubilance with a devout attention to harmony and simplicity.
Strict adherents to purely aggressive music may be at a loss to find "The Golden Hum" a compelling piece of work. But Remy Zero's balance of loud and quiet dynamics won't be lost on those who appreciate guitar- and bass-driven tunes.
With its cinematic, Brian Eno-inspired opener -- where organs, strings, and piano weave through gentle bass and guitar lines -- "The Golden Hum" establishes that it has more on its mind than just gratuitously rocking out. While the instrumental beginning collapses into the visceral charger "Glorious #1," songs like the pastoral "Out/In," "Perfect Memory," and "Belong" incorporate brief synthesizer tinkerings, which are used for textural and atmospheric enhancement.
On "Over the Rails & Holiday," bassist Cedric LeMoyne and Slay work the song's chorus into a fevered game of cat-and-mouse. Tate's dynamic vocal presence is at the forefront of each song, staking claim as its own instrument while never pulling the listener's attention away from each component.
Elektra marketing/artist development VP Dana Brandwein says, "They write passionate songs that have great big hooks and great instrumentation around them, and that makes them unique. The music is familiar, and it's not so out there that a person can't take it all in."
Included on "The Golden Hum" is a video clip for the unreleased song "The Searchers," which Elektra will E-mail to disc buyers once they submit an address to the label. Elektra will then use that address in the future to notify fans about Remy Zero news and tour dates. As of yet, the label has not decided on a follow-up single to "Save Me."
MTV Music Programming VP Amy Doyle says, "Many times we're introduced to a band for the first time via video or a CD. Then comes the live show, which in many cases, rarely is as sonically compelling. In the case of Remy Zero, their live show is clearly where they shine. If a band's live show is any indication of longevity, Remy Zero has a long, successful road ahead."