When former Remy Zero vocalist August Cinjun Tate got his cancer diagnosis, it took him a moment to understand the severity of the situation. His cancer was borderline stage four – meaning it had spread to different organs in his body. He says his first thought was about the bills he’d have to pay. But as the news set in, he determined that he wasn’t going to follow through with treatment. He’d seen the brutality of the disease when it took his father earlier in life.
“If I'm going to go, I'm going to go on my own trajectory,” Tate recalls at that moment.
But that same day he’d get another bit of shocking news. His wife was pregnant.
It threw a wrench in his plans. He says he was overcome by a desire to meet this person, to play with his future child. For the next three years, he’d undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and a series of painful surgeries that would eventually lead to his recovery, but he says he’d never be the same.
Tate – who is most often referred to by his middle name, Cinjun – has been making music for decades now, but Remy Zero remains his most identifiable project. The band formed in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. Tate says it was his brother Shelby Tate who “invented” the band.
Shelby would record himself playing all the instruments, recruiting his brother to sing, and would make up names for the “other musicians” playing on the cassettes. When they were 16 or 17 years old, Shelby began sending the tapes out to record labels, gaining attention from major labels like Warner Brothers and Geffen. Suddenly they had to find real musicians to play with them and become a legitimate band – they had never played live.
The Tate brothers teamed up with bassist Cedric Lemoyne, guitarist Jeffrey Cain, and drummer Louis Scheffano (who would later be replaced by Gregory Slay). Remy Zero became a real band, but they still stood out in a city more attuned to Southern Rock than the spacious, distorted experimentations the band was crafting. Still, they found camaraderie with other bands who also worshipped acts like My Bloody Valentine and Jeff Buckley.
After releasing their self-titled debut album in 1996, Remy Zero quickly found themselves immersed in the music industry. They’d go on tour with bands like Counting Crows and Radiohead – the latter of whom also noted the band as an influence on their landmark album OK Computer.
“I look back on that world so great,” Tate says. “I had the greatest time playing with them because that was a period in our lives where we grew as musicians, our lives grew, we grew as people.”
The band would find some chart success in 1998 with their excellent sophomore record Villa Elaine, propelled by singles like the fiery rocker “Prophecy” and the gothic synthesizer raucous of “Gramarye.” The song “Fair” would later be included on the RIAA Platinum-certified Garden State soundtrack.
In 2001, they would release what would become their final album The Golden Hum. The album produced maybe their most identifiable song “Save Me,” which received fair radio play but also gained massive exposure as the theme song to the Superman teen drama Smallville.
After Remy Zero disbanded in 2003, each member went on to form other side projects. The Tate brothers released one album under the moniker Spartan Fidelity in 2004. Aside from one-off songs appearing on YouTube sporadically over the years, Cinjun’s musical output has been relatively quiet. After drummer Slay passed away in 2010 from cystic fibrosis, Remy Zero reunited for a short tour in 2010 in his honor before disappearing again.
Since 2010, appearances from Cinjun have continued to be sparse. It wasn’t until an interview last year with Consequence of Sound on the 20th anniversary of Villa Elaine that he publically acknowledged his cancer. And by this time, he’d already beaten it.
“Ever since I got the cancer diagnosis, I left,” Tate says.
For three years he closed himself off from the world. No computer, no television, and stepping away from a life in the music industry.
“Given that time, I didn't think of it as this insanely depressing [thing],” he says. “I mean, it was heavy. But I thought of it more as a chance to hit the restart button. I got to have time unbothered where I could read the books I wanted, practice the things I've always wanted to do, I got to learn how to meditate, I got to learn how to find aspects of myself that are true and how I relate with the world.”
His perspective of the world around him began to rapidly change. Not just from his own hurt, but seeing other patients – especially children. Quickly he found his priorities in his life shifting. Where he can remember spending his youth trying to prove people wrong – to prove that he could write a single or play a big venue – he suddenly found himself thinking about the things he’s taken for granted. All the times he didn’t appreciate the support from his wife, friends, and family. He says he encourages people to “realize you’re living the coolest life.” It also meant giving up old vices (“God bless AA,” he says), giving himself further clarity.
“I don't know how to say it without using the same cliche words, but you definitely go into a spiritual place when faced with these things,” Cinjun says. “A lot of things that you maybe even build your life around or maybe you really held in important esteem just shatter and become like ash and you're like, ‘Why did I even waste time on that?’ Things you wouldn't expect to become the most important things. It's surreal.”
While Cinjun describes these feelings of enlightenment, he’s also open about the brutality of cancer. Parts of him were literally lost – his lymph nodes, rectum – and broken vertebrae would cut into his spinal cord. He describes how chemo and radiation have burned his internal organs and skin. Some surgeries gave him mental breaks and his body would swell with toxicity. Even after beating cancer, he’s left with chronic pain. He describes the agony he still feels doing simple tasks like a trip to the store – gritting his teeth, telling himself it’s going to be okay and forcing himself to smile.
“I'm going to be honest – you are never going to be like you used to be,” he says. “I've gotten to where I don't try to complain about it because nobody wants to hear that, but I hurt 24 hours a day.”
Cancer, he says, has changed him forever. He's even begun to go by August instead of Cinjun, symbolizing the metamorphosis in his life. While some of the changes like the constant pain are bad, there has been some good from it. He says that when he first got the diagnosis, he felt that he had done everything and “had no desire to stick around on this planet.”
After surviving cancer and closing himself off from the noise, he’s found himself less influenced by the external and is focusing on becoming a better version of himself. He’s also visibly excited about new creative pursuits – he’s currently working on film scores and hopes to release music and start playing out live again in the near future. A Remy Zero reunion, he says, is unlikely.
Numerous times throughout the conversation, he gleefully expresses his gratitude for his wife who’s been by his side throughout it all. Whenever his son comes up in conversation, Cinjun beams with joy.
“Thank God I had my little beautiful boy. His name is Atticus Arrow Lucian Tate. He is sunshine and flippin' peppermint,” he says, smiling.
Still reeling from the impact cancer has had on him both mentally and physically, Cinjun is already looking forward and seizing the opportunity of this new life.
“I think that people need to realize there's magic and there's alchemy happening every minute in this world,” he says. “I'm just happy to be here and let it unfold.”
Members of the KEXP community share their stories for Music Heals: Beyond Cancer. Read just a few of their experiences and hear more on the air 6AM-6PM PST.
The gorgeous new track comes for Jamison Isaak's new album 'BIOLUMINESCENCE', out April 26 via FLORA