Alternative rock group
John Wozniak of Marcy Playground recognizes that some of the earliest memories a person has are often experiences which pour the foundation of who they become in later years. Early life can be described as a collection of memories from that hard desk in the grade school classroom. It includes a world filled with excitement of new friends, the anticipation and exhilaration of recess, and the careful wariness of local bullies. Wozniak, the frontman for Marcy Playground—a modern rock band from New York City that made its big break with 1997’s international hit “Sex and Candy” —acknowledged the activity among the swing sets, merry-go-rounds, and monkey bars as a beginning of life, and drew inspiration from that time for much of his work in the trio.
The real, but warmer emotions taken from a grade school playground in Midwest America were a change from the angst and disillusionment of the early 1990s grunge era. Marcy Playground rose from the careless, uninterested, and sloppy mood of early 1990s rock as something fresh. First of all, the group was formed on the East Coast instead of the Northwest or Southern California. Their persona was more positive than the aggravation commonly found in rock & roll bands. They represented a change of attitude from the 1990s
Members include Dylan Keefe, bass; Dan Reiser, drums; John Wozniak, vocals, guitar.
grunge movement of Seattle. Brandon Barber, from Rolling Stone, said the group “fashioned an enviable career out of making charismatic post-grunge pop and for being … ’nice guys.” ’ In addition, they implemented the latest Internet technology to express and share their personal experiences. These attributes, along with the ability to craft catchy melodies, helped the trio find commercial success.
Marcy Playground formed in New York City’s Lower East Side. Vocalist and guitarist Wozniak, bassist Dylan Keefe, and drummer Dan Reiser, named their group after Wozniak’s elementary school in Minneapolis: Marcy Open School. Keefe and Reiser had played together for about seven years before they joined with Wozniak and left college in Boston to pursue musical aspirations. They had put much effort into several successful New York City singer/songwriters’ projects. Honing their skills as professional musicians, the two were ready to put effort into a project of their own.
Wozniak lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during the late 1970s, where he grew up in a liberal, yet spiritual environment. He revealed on Marcy Playground’s official web page that he “grew up in a house where African shamen, Indian medicine men, and Tibetan monks could frequently be found rifling through the cupboards for peanut butter on any given morning.” Wozniak’s early education was also “alternative.” He attended Marcy Open School, a progressive, experimental elementary school. Avoiding bullies that would gang-up on him during recess, Wozniak stayed inside, listening to music, watching the events on entire playground down below. He developed his artistic nature during this time through creative expression of his fears and excitement as a child. Surprisingly, Keefe had attended the Minneapolis “open” school system at the same time as Wozniak, even though they did not meet until years afterward. Keefe had attended the sister school, the Lake Harriet Open Program, on the other side of town.
For Keefe, the beginnings of Marcy Playground were filled with high emotion. He met Wozniak on the same day his father took his own life in 1996. Perhaps through his family, friends, and the new-found creative outlet, Keefe was able to persevere through sadness and move past his immediate loss to reach out to people suffering similar situations. Keefe and his brother John worked through their grief by openly sharing their experience with others. John used grant funds to start and maintain a website so suicide survivors could become part of a community as they struggle through their emotions. As a tribute to Keefe’s creative and influential father, the band even dedicated its first record to him.
The trio released their eponymous debut album, Marcy Playground, on EMI in 1997. It contained the hit “Sex and Candy, “which peaked at number one on Billboards Modern Rock Chart and stayed in that position for more than four weeks. “The tune is breathy, hypnotizing and every bit as infectious as any verse-chorus-verse chart topper in years, “Barber said. Aiding the group in their success was prime exposure to listeners. They got off to a stimulating start as they began opening for bands such as Toad the Wet Sprocket and Chalk Farm.
Still, life was not easy. Marcy Playground traveled through turbulence when their recording label dissolved. Thanks to former EMI employees and a music director from San Diego, California’s radio station 91X, the band survived a move to Capitol Records. Capitol picked up the group, re-released the album and even put out a video for the project’s superhit, “Sex and Candy.” Marcy Playground’s debut album was commercially successful, selling more than two million copies.
Another uniqueness to Marcy Playground was their origin. New York was several thousand miles away from the trend in American music at that time. Despite the group’s home turf, they penned and often performed their tribute to the early 1990s grunge-movement from the American Pacific Northwest. Called “The Shadow of Seattle, “the song reverberated from their set as a representation of the global influence of the music from the Seattle, Washington area.
The group was not satisfied with a hit single and a successful debut album. Shapeshifter, Marcy Playground’s second album, was released on Capitol Records in the fall of 1999. The album was recorded in Vancouver, Canada at Mushroom Studios, which Wos-niak eventually purchased. The classic studio has supported artists such as Heart, Chris Isaak, Colin James, Sarah McLachlan, and Ringo Starr.
“It’s Saturday” was the single from the project that was sent to radio as the introduction to the album. The accompanying video was directed by Peter Christopherson, who has worked with Filter, Rage Against the Machine, and Ben Folds Five. Online marketing was utilized with Shapeshifter as the album was available on the Internet before hitting record store shelves. Fans who pre-ordered the album were able to download the entire project from the Web. Wozniak expressed his enthusiasm for the high-tech promotion to Spin journalist Marc Spitz, “I started my relationship with the Internet in 1979 when I was eight years old. My elementary school had a terminal where I could dial up a mainframe at the University of Minnesota and play weird, text-based games with my friends…. That was 20 years ago. I’ve been hooked up and using the Internet in some form ever since. So if there’s any question about how I feel about this promotion: the answer is ’I couldn’t be happier.’”
Shapeshifter saw mixed reviews. Jenny Eliscu of Rolling Stone proclaimed the album an enjoyable collection of tracks. “If you wagered that Marcy Playground would be a one-hit wonder, you’re in for a disappointment: The bouncy ’It’s Saturday, ’ is a ready-made hit that sounds nothing like 1997’s ambling ’Sex and Candy.’”
Along with the success of the sophomore release came friction from within the recording industry. Cover art for Shapeshifter was conceived by the California band Butthole Surfers for their own album. Due to a separation of the group from Capitol Records, the label assumed the art was their property because they paid for it. Capitol offered it to Marcy Playground without revealing its origin. Fortunately, the Butthole Surfers released their former labelmates from any blame.
Marcy Playground continued its presence in the alternative rock scene when it played the main stage at the Rolling Rock Town Fair in August of 2000. Joining the trio were musicians such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Moby, and Fuel. Marcy Playground gave some time back to the music industry by performing at the 2000 Panama City, Florida band search contest, Bandemonium. While headlining along with Moby at the spring break bash, they acted as mentors for up and coming unsigned bands.
By September of 2000, the band had to take on more responsibilities themselves when their label, Capitol, released them. All was not lost however, as their single “America” was included on a compilation compact disc supporting the drive against hand gun violence.
Marcy Playground, EMI/Capitol, 1997.
Shapeshifter, Capitol, 1999.
(Contributor) Stop Handgun Violence —Volume 1, Rounder, 2000.
Billboard, October 30, 1999, p. 12.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (November 19, 2000).
Chart, http://chartattack…2000/marcyplayground/index.html (November 19, 2000).
Marcy Playground Official Website, http://www.marcyplayground.com/ (November 2, 2000).
Mushroom Studios Website, http://www.mushroomstudios.com/ (November 2, 2000).
Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 2, 2000).
Spin, http://www.spin.com (November 2, 2000).
"Marcy Playground." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 19, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/marcy-playground
"Marcy Playground." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 19, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/marcy-playground
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