It ain't easy making glam rock in Alabama.
So Remy Zero picked up and left.
"There's just not a lot to do in Alabama," 26-year-old singer Cinjun Tate said, speaking from outside Bill's Bar in Boston, where the band was in the middle of its first headlining tour, in support of its sophomore album, Villa Elaine.
"There's no real music scene, unless you're playing Lynyrd Skynyrd covers," he said wryly.
Remy Zero is a five-piece band that borrows generously from such glam-era luminaries as David Bowie, T. Rex and Brian Eno. "We came together because we were all freaks, really," Tate said. "We were the only people around who listened to that music, so making music like it was a natural reaction."
The other natural reaction, he added, was to get out of Dodge -- or, in Remy Zero's case, Birmingham. The group, which also includes guitarists Shelby Tate (Cinjun's brother) and Jeffrey Cain, bassist Cedric LeMoyne and drummer Gregory Slay, has pursued an itinerant lifestyle that Cinjun Tate said has helped shape Remy Zero's music.
"We pull into these new towns, which automatically puts us at an observation point," he said. "That's what we do with every record. We try to go to a different place and location so we can immediately feel that place's energy and write about it."
Villa Elaine, released in August, is named for the dilapidated hotel where the band has been living since moving to Hollywood, Calif. Remy Zero reached Villa Elaine after stays in Nashville, Tenn., New Orleans and Montreal.
References to "sun" and "summer" are sprinkled throughout the record, but it's no Beach Boys pop album. On "Hollow" (RealAudio excerpt), a Queen-styled epic about self-discovery, Tate sings, "It felt like the sun/ We are hollow/ Light to the world/ Film star/ Define all the ways/ I am the ghost/ You are song." On "Fair," he observes, "It's cold as you fade into the sun."
Still, sunny California has been good to Remy Zero. Upon arrival, the band caught the ear of KCRW-FM disc jockey Chris Douridas, who played Remy Zero songs on his "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show; Geffen Records signed the band a few months later and released its debut, Remy Zero, in January 1996.
Remy Zero also got the attention of critically acclaimed Brit-pop band Radiohead, who took them on the road as openers. On the new album's "Motorcycle" (RealAudio excerpt), there's even a touch of Radiohead singer Thom Yorke's style in Tate's voice.
"There's similarities (between us), but I think Radiohead is just inspired by similar things," Tate said. "We're all Eno-heads, and we're all inspired by the pop formula."
Remy Zero are named for a fictional prophet, created by Tate to represent the band's hope and spirituality.
"This record is his birth," Tate said, describing the character as a "prophet who has to go to the desert, who has a breakdown and his identity starts crumbling. He'll eventually have to find out what's real -- which is what we're trying to do."
It will take "two or three albums to kill [him] off," Tate said.
In the meantime, Remy Zero -- who completed their tour Nov. 18 in New York -- are living an active, rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Tate is dating actress Alyssa Milano, and Courtney Love has been spotted at a couple of Remy Zero shows. The band performed on the opening night of the CMJ Festival in New York in November.
Glenn Vistica, a 36-year old fan from New Jersey, said Remy Zero handles its various influences well.
"This is probably one of the deepest records of the year," Vistica, a club DJ, said. "There's so many elements, from the obvious glam influence, to pieces of shoegazing and English goth. And when they perform this stuff live, it's simply amazing."