"Fresh is an overused (and usually exaggerated) description of a lot of new music, but sometimes, once in a while, it actually applies. Well, fresh is definitely one way to describe Remy Shand's Motown debut album, The Way I Feel. Remy, 23, recalls the masters of soul with an uncanny authenticity that sometimes sounds as if he’d actually collaborated with the icons of his childhood: in the lush, jazzy Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye-influenced flow of the title track; in his loving evocation of Memphis R&B in “The Colour of the Day” and “I Met Your Mercy,” and in the literate neo-classic soul vibe of “The Mind’s Eye” and “Looking Back on Vanity.” As a songwriter, singer, multi-instrumentalist and self-producer, his work is at once accomplished and, yes, fresh; deeply rooted, yet original. Here’s an artist who attacks the boundaries of R&B, pop and alternative with his own timeless fusion, undeniable, as it is unconventional.
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“Everyone who’s fusing that old soul back into songwriting -- D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Shelby Lynne, Macy Gray -- that’s who I relate to,” Remy says. But his musical relations, so to speak, go a good deal further back, and to call him “self-taught” is almost the whole truth. He credits his musical education, in his hometown of Winnipeg, Canada, to a crate of classic albums salvaged by his dad from a club his construction crew was remodeling. Here, My Dear, Marvin Gaye’s searingly honest chronicle of his divorce, became Remy’s favorite album and a musical Bible: “I look at it as being taught by the masters -- the geniuses will take you all the way.” Albums like Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand the Rain; the Isley Brothers’ 3+3; Marvin Gaye’s I Want You, Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life and the works of Rufus, Sly Stone and Steely Dan, among others, all became Remy’s sources as a musician, songwriter and producer.
Home-schooled through tenth grade, Remy enrolled at the local high school (mainly to play in the jazz band, whose teacher Remy would later hire for a recording session) but left after just one year. “I wanted to go back to home schooling but rules didn’t permit it. I promised my parents I’d accomplish something in music, and they saw me put my head down and really accelerate. So they supported me through it. My music bills were as much as the mortgage on our house.” He’d started on acoustic guitar and bass around age 12, and his record collection provided his benchmarks. “I listened to Stanley Clarke, and Jaco Pastorius, to learn from the best -- not just learn pop cover tunes and go out and play. Same thing with keyboards: I went to Herbie Hancock, and when my mom brought me some Billy Preston albums, I was all over them.”
Remy started writing the songs that became The Way I Feel at 19. “I was playing in experimental rock bands but no one else in Winnipeg wanted to sing my kind of music.” Album tracks like the Isleys-influenced “Everlasting,” the irresistible first single“ Take a Message” and the loping, coulda-been-an-Al-Green-hit “Rocksteady” were among his first completed songs. “I wanted to get some feedback, so I put some songs on a tape and a friend sent the tape to his brother, a manager in Toronto.” Out of the blue, Steve Warden, now Remy’s manager, called to assure him that he could be signed to an artist deal in a year. “I said, ‘Yeah, right.’” But in just three months, two labels had offered development deals. Remy took a deep breath and declined, choosing to press his luck and insist on a contract to make a full album. Soon there were several labels offering multi-album deals. Universal prevailed, signed Remy as an album artist, and gave him all the time he needed to complete work himself. In total, Remy worked on his album for four years recording and mixing his album entirely at home in Winnipeg.
Remy only learned that Motown was a part of Universal after he got his deal, and when his album was circulated at a company meeting in spring of 2001, he was stunned and delighted to learn that Motown president/CEO Kedar Massenburg was the first on the scene to pick up the album for the U.S. market -- not only because of his deep identification with the classic Motown, but because of the new era of the company, as well. “He’s done such amazing things, totally against the grain, on behalf of his artists right now. I’d been afraid to come out in the current market, because this isn’t a hip-hop album, and I was wondering: Who’s gonna help me do this? Then, it just clicked. This is what Kedar does -- with Erykah Badu, with India.Arie. I’m feeling confident about that now.”
Remy’s studio self-sufficiency -- obsessive to the point of “sickness,” he laughs, had originally been a way to bring off the vintage vibe of his tracks. But, he says, it now assures that “there’s no filter between my ideas and the recorded medium. It took time to ease off (the perfectionism of track-making) and let my own voice come through. I’m taking my feelings and finding some spin, some humor. This record is purely about relationships. I've pretty much covered my ups and downs of the past four or five years, but ‘The Way I Feel’ really represents where I’m at now, which is in a great place. There’s no fiction; it’s all true stuff. One breakup drove a lot of the lyric writing.” “Looking Back on Vanity” in particular, sports a killer line worthy of the smartest indie screenwriter: “She was rich, but I was beautiful.”
Remy hopes that album listeners will “put it on in the bedroom, put it on in the car, and relate to it. I want to make them feel the magical feeling that they do when they listen to Marvin and Stevie, and soul music in general. That’s the reaction I had listening to them, and that’s the reaction I wanted to project. It’s still just one percent of what I can do -- I didn’t really get to the uptempo stuff yet, but for this album, the topic is love. Basically, it’s four years of feelings.”
When Remy says his album expresses The Way I Feel, you can take him at his word. He’s ready to confound the conventional wisdom of the industry, and write his own page, from the heart.
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