It was the quickest cross-country drive that John Wozniak had ever taken. It was
also the most anxiety-ridden.
After a somewhat successful tour opening for Toad The Wet Sprocket ended in
Los Angeles last June, the Marcy Playground vocalist said he and his band
were planning on a leisurely week driving the 3,000 miles back to their homes
in New York.
However, the trip turned into 48 hours of sleepless nights and worry-
filled days for the young striving band, Wozniak said.
"That's when we found out we didn't have a record label anymore,"
said Wozniak, 27, now back in California after spending a week shooting
Marcy Playground's first video, for the radio-friendly single "Sex and Candy" (RealAudio excerpt).
Though EMI shut its doors on the band, Marcy Playground was picked up by a new label.
And "Sex and Candy" is currently getting airplay at some 30 active rock and modern rock
stations across the country -- with more expected to add it to their playlists.Though at times sad, with a definite Beatles-ish psychedelic swirl, "Sex And Candy " draws you in with sultry lyrics and a chillingly slow Nirvana-esque tempo. "And
then there she was/ In platform double suede," sings Wozniak. "Yeah there she was/ Like disco
"No one walks up to us out of the blue yet, because people don't know
what we look like," Wozniak said. "But everyone who sees us immediately
picks up on 'Sex and Candy.' People who see us after a show and hear
'Sex And Candy' and tell us they hear it on the radio all the time -- I
love it. That's the whole point. That's why we do this. Every time we go
up and we play, we want people to party, we want them to drink, we want
them to have fun. They sing along with the song, have a beer, and come
up to us afterwards and tell us how much they like that song. It's
The fact that "Sex And Candy" was the top
requested song on 99X in Atlanta "shocked the hell out of me," Wozniak
said, primarily because "we don't even have any friends in Atlanta.
"People have been hearing the song on the radio, and this whole miracle has
to do with the reaction of people requesting the song," he said. "People like it,
and radio plays it. That blows me away, yes."
Wozniak marvels that the band was able to turn bad luck into a hit. He still shivers when recalling the day the band learned that EMI had shut its doors. "We were just outside Chicago, and when we called our manager," Wozniak recalled, "he was like 'blah, blah blah,' you know -- talking about his day. And then he was
like, 'Oh, and by the way... EMI closed shop.' "
"It was so scary that we decided to stay up the whole time and get right
back to New York," Wozniak said.
Marcy Playground was one of a handful of bands that lost their record deals
when EMI closed shop five months ago. Artists such as
Patti Rothberg, Fun Lovin' Criminals and D'Angelo were suddenly out of a label.
For Wozniak, who said he and the other members of the band developed close
relationships with EMI employees, it meant that a lot of friends were out of jobs.
The idea, he said, was to get back to New York so they could comfort their
friends, and reassess their own career path. Marcy Playground, whose debut
single hadn't even reached its official "add date," were one of the youngest
bands on the EMI roster at the time the label closed in June after the U. K.-based parent company, Thorn-EMI, decided the label wasn't profitable
enough. What the band had hoped would be a bright beginning had turned
dark. As virtual no-names, Marcy Playground's chances of landing a deal with
another label seemed slim.
"When a major record label closes on you," Wozniak said, "you're
damaged goods. People think, 'you know, they were on EMI, and they
couldn't make it fly. They must not be good.' "
favor, some of EMI's former employees continued to work the record even after
the label ceased operations.Sooner than not, other labels began to contact the
band for copies of its album. Five months later, Marcy Playground has a new deal at Capitol Records
(also owned by Thorn-EMI), the company headed by Gary Gersh, the exec who signed Nirvana and Everclear.
Candy" continues its assault on modern radio and Capitol has just re-released
Marcy Playground's self-titled debut album. The buzz on "Sex And Candy" has
some critics likening the band's sound to the early days of grunge, and there's
good reason for that, Wozniak said. In 1991, just as Nirvana broke nationwide,
the young singer was arriving in Olympia, Wash. for his freshman year of
"I got influenced from the sounds around me, and the bands -- that whole
Seattle vibe," Wozniak said. "But in my opinion, the whole Seattle thing is a
fallacy. It wasn't Seattle -- it was all the surrounding areas, like Aberdeen,
Olympia, even Idaho. These bands migrated to Seattle because that was the
only major market to play in."
But the Seattle sound wasn't the only vibe he imported from the city -- the local
drug scene struck him as well. Songs such as "Poppies" and "Opium" on Marcy
Playground's debut document his addiction, though Wozniak said he's since
fought off those demons.
"Off and on, I've had battles with drugs. Yeah, I've had a lot of personal demons
to fight, just like everyone's had."
Marcy Playground --named after the school yard Wozniak used to stare at
through a classroom window during his years at Minneapolis' Marcy Open
School -- formed in 1994 after Wozniak and bassist Dylan Keefe were
introduced to each other by New York jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
Coincidentally, Keefe had also attended the Marcy school as a child, although
he and Wozniak attended different programs at separate locations, and never
met until they moved to New York to pursue careers in music.
The pair recruited drummer Dan Reiser, who had performed with Keefe
during their college years in Boston in the late '80s. Reiser and Keefe
had been playing in backup bands for a number of New York singer/
songwriters at the time, but Wozniak felt it was time to get their own band together.
There are plans for the band to appear on an upcoming Capitol Christmas
compilation, according to Wozniak, who added that the band will embark on its
first festival circuit for radio station holiday shows in November.
"Looking back at it, it's all been just brilliant," he said. "Losing EMI was actually a good
thing -- they really weren't a rock label, they don't have that foundation as a rock
label. We didn't get the chance at radio that we're getting now, simply because
the record is being promoted. We've proven that even if you lose your label, you
can still make it happen."
Suddenly, that miserable drive home seems like years ago for Wozniak. [Tues., Oct.
14, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]