The tale of Marcy Playground starts with the memories of a shy, seven-year-old boy who chose to watch his elementary school playground from a classroom window rather than risk the inevitable — a good beating from the mean kids. The school was Marcy Open School in Minneapolis. The boy was singer/songwriter/guitarist John Wozniak.
That experience, as traumatic as it was, opened up a world of introspective creativity and set the foundation for what Wozniak would become — a talented songwriter who brings a fascination of icons from children’s literature to his poppy rock tunes.
Wozniak got the ball rolling on his music career about three years ago when he was going to college in Olympia, Wash. He produced a demo on an 8-track recorder and submitted it to EMI’s executive VP of A&R, Don Rubin. Shortly thereafter, Wozniak was on a plane to New York for a meeting. Rubin was interested in Wozniak’s music, “and I think he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t gonna be so far away,” the singer said. “So I moved to New York to pursue the whole music thing.”
In New York, a friend introduced Wozniak to bass player Dylan Keefe. It was a strange coincidence that Keefe had also grown up in Minneapolis and attended Marcy’s sister school on the other side of town — The Lake Harriet Open Program. Needless to say, the two musicians hit it off. “That was the real beginning of everything,” Wozniak said, “when I met Dylan.”
Keefe’s longtime friend Dan Rieser joined in on drums soon thereafter, completing the band. The trio started gigging heavily in New York and getting attention from some small record companies. Of course, EMI’s Rubin had been observing Marcy Playground’s progress all along, and he liked what he saw. The band signed to EMI, recorded an album and began touring. Everything seemed peachy.
That was until the powers-that-be shuttered EMI. More than just sheer devastation over losing their record contract, “We were unhappy with the parent company for doing it because all these people lost their jobs,” Wozniak said. “It was just part of the big giant consolidation of the corporate scheme…. One hundred and fifty people lost their job and so it was pretty depressing because all those people were friends of ours.”
For themselves, the members of Marcy Playground were confident their music would play on because they had a brilliant manager in Chris Blake and many supporters in former EMI employees. Wozniak said it came as no surprise that ex-EMI staffers were willing to help. “The funny thing is that I expected nothing less from those people,” he said. “The people that we worked with, at least, were all very dedicated to their job and to the music, most importantly. So I don’t think it really mattered to them at that point that EMI had actually closed, that they lost their jobs. They were still working.”
That’s the kind of endorsement that made Capitol Records pick up the band before it was completely cut loose. As it turns out, Marcy Playground fits in quite nicely at Capitol. And the band members respect the work the label is doing. “They’re a little bit pioneering in the alternative sphere,” Wozniak said. “They’re not afraid to [take chances] because they only take stuff that they believe in musically. There’s a lot of really good bands on the label because of that.”
That belief in the music answers one question that people often wonder about bands that have a big hit debut single; is it a one-hit wonder? “It’s not gonna happen to us ’cause we’re gonna be different,” Wozniak said with as much sarcasm as he could muster up on a few hours sleep. “Seriously, I’ve just got too many songs that are better than ‘Sex and Candy.'”
Apparently, fans agree. Crowds have been known to get pretty crazy at Marcy Playground shows. Girls jump on stage, people crowd surf — the typical behavior rock stars would expect. In one instance at an outdoor show that Wozniak thinks was in Wichita, fans used water bottle throwing as an outlet for their enthusiasm. “People just started throwing water bottles at each other and lobbing them over the audience and some were hitting us and some were hitting other people in the audience. It got to the point where there were just hundreds of water bottles in the air going back and forth…. It was pretty dangerous. We had to stop and say, ‘Look, enough with the water bottles. Calm down already.'”
Relentless touring is Marcy Playground’s plan for ’98. The band has already hopped in its van and is rolling down the road, hitting clubs all over the U.S. And the members may just break out their passports for an overseas tour of Europe this summer.