Meet John Wozniak, the lead singer of Marcy Playground. You might know him for the band’s alternative rock mega hit “Sex and Candy” which dominated the airwaves in the late nineties. Soft spoken and self-aware, we recall memories from his eventful music career and find out why the singer has so much more left to give (including two new projects on the way). Stopping in London to perform at Grooves on Record Store Day after playing Tillsonburg, he is currently on a tour through select Canadian cities to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut album. Today also marks the first time their debut album has ever been reissued on vinyl… just in time for Record Store Day!
Check out what John had to say about what’s to come below.
Your band is named after the Marcy Open, the school you attended while living in Minneapolis. Many songs you wrote were inspired growing up there. What was so important about that school for you?
I ended up writing a song called “From the Marcy Playground” before I even had the name for the band. I have mixed feelings about it. Some good memories, some bad memories. Getting in a lot of scraps on the playground, getting in trouble. I was pretty much a loudmouth kid with ADD. It got me into some trouble with some older kids and I ended up writing the song about the school because when I was nine, we moved from Minneapolis to Philadelphia and it’s weird because that year I had just started to make friends. I just started to settle in and I had some friends and didn’t feel so awkward and then I got moved away to the East coast of a neighborhood and school that was just really foreign to me. I didn’t know at the time how much of a shock it was going to be to my system as a little kid, but it was. Later on when I was writing songs in my teens I just wrote a song, “From The Marcy Playground.”
Sex and Candy stayed at the top of Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks for a record 15 weeks. What do you think resonated with audiences about the song?
I think it was simple, it was different, it had a confidence and attitude to it. The thing that’s the hardest to do is make something simple yet different because you’d think everything simple has already been done. There’s a lot to be said about songs that are hits. There’s a complexity to them that gives them their newness but also there’s a simplicity to them. It struck a nerve at the time, I don’t know why. If I knew why all of my songs would’ve been like that. [Laughs]
So you weren’t expecting it?
No, I mean I had high hopes for the song. I thought it had a shot, people liked it. They responded really well to the song – and I liked it. But to say I could predict that it was going to blow up the way it did? No man, that was crazy.
It’s unusual to have such a fan-driven, request-driven hit. A lot of the time songs have to be promoted. This is an instance where this song wasn’t promoted in fact I remember talking to Phil Costello who was the radio promotions guy at Capitol. He said saying, “I don’t do anything. I can’t get people to stop playing this song.” So that was kind of unique.
What does this Canadian tour mean to you? Your band’s origins come from New York, you grew up in Minneapolis. Why Canada?
In the process of making record number two (Shapeshifter), we were working with Steven Drake who’s a great singer-songwriter. He was a member of the band The Odds, a nineties band from Vancouver. He and I were just really into recording. That’s all we’d do was talk about recording. So he told me about this recording studio in Vancouver and it’s been for sale for two years and [how] it’s an amazing place. Heart recorded there and BTO and Loverboy and Zeppelin. He was like, “You should buy it.” It just so happened I had a bunch of money from the previous album so I was like at least I can talk to the guy, he owns this place. Within two weeks I bought this recording studio in Vancouver and that was in ’99 and in 2001 I moved to Canada. So I’ve been in Canada for 16 years. And it’s my home.
What was the best part about being a band in the 90’s?
The best part was the newness. Being in your 20’s and hopping in a van with four other guys and just hitting the road with a few dates and a trailer full of gear. It was awesome. It’s not a job at that point. At that point you’re just doing the thing you love the most with the people you love the most. I think that nowadays it can be a little expensive to do anything in the music business, except put out music. I think the best part about it was the fact you had support in the nineties. If you were travelling you probably had a label and nowadays labels don’t have touring budgets. I mean they do have touring budgets now but they’re reserved for artists that are breaking the radio. We were out for two years on the road on EMI’s dime. That was pretty cool. They were committed to breaking the band.
It’s been about 5 years now since your last major release, Lunch, Recess and Detention. What can fans expect next?
There’s a new record on its way. There’s also going to be a solo record for me. Yeah, I’m doing a lot of writing. There are two albums in the works. One Marcy record and a solo record.
Elaborating on that whole idea of what inspires you, we talked about the school where you grew up. What do you think inspires you creatively? What all of a sudden has got you so in the mood for writing again?
I think it’s just connecting to people really. People become the stories that lead to the songs for me. In my past I used to find a lot of inspiration in literature but it was usually the stories in the literature about the people. It’s always about people.
I find it a lot easier to people-watch and enjoy other people’s lives for what they are and my own as well. I don’t have to get so involved in other people’s lives to be able to appreciate them and even the chaos that’s in them. Just sort of let people be them and live their lives and appreciate that for what it is. That has led to a deeper understanding of myself which in turn leads to a deeper understanding of other people because we’re all kind of similar. I don’t know, somewhere in the last five years something opened up for me in that regard.
Maybe I’m getting old [Laughs] but I feel a little more at peace with things and that allows me to be able to connect in a deeper way, a more sort of understanding way, a compassionate way… It’s so much easier to see the differences in people, than to see the similarities between me and other people. At some point in my life I stopped comparing myself and I stopped seeing the differences and I started looking at other people and seeing the similarities that they have with me.
Looking back on your music career and where you’re planning on going with the new record: not just as a musician but as a person, what do you hope people remember you for?
I’m always amazed when people remember me at all. [Laughs] When it comes to that, the people in my life that they remember me fondly and that I was a giving person. I mean I’m a self-centered prick, let’s be honest. [Laughs] But I think that’s it. That I gave what I could and I didn’t squander the time that I had.
Catch John performing at Grooves Records for Record Store Day on April 22nd!
Feature photo via Facebook / officialmarcyplayground