We recently were given the chance to sit down with lead singer/guitarist/songwriter John Wozniak from the band Marcy Playground. Yes, they’re still around.
In fact, while they aren’t as big as they were in the ’90s, they are still extremely active. This year alone they are touring to support their fourth studio album, preparing a fifth, readying a multi-volume collection of rarities and b-sides, putting together a live DVD, and much much more.
Join me as John shares with us everything from his inspirations to his favorite road food in our massive two part interview.
Zac Pritcher, Everyview: To kick things off I thought we could talk a little bit about your newest album. What exactly was it that inspired the title “Leaving Wonderland… In a Fit of Rage?”
John Wozniak, Marcy Playground: It’s kind of a personal title. I was going through some hardship in life, and at the time I was living in Vancouver, which is beautiful, and I have a friend who’s a singer/songwriter out there, and we were just standing outside the studio that I owned there for seven years telling him how I was probably going to leave, and he said “Yeah man I’ve been stuck here for 30 years. It’s like being entombed in paradise.” And I thought about that as we were standing there looking out at the mountains. Vancouver is probably one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
As I was dealing with one of these issues in my life and through music, through writing the album, I came up with that title, “Leaving Wonderland… In a Fit of Rage,” and it reminded me of what [my friend] said, you know? Like “being entombed in paradise” because you’re taking two things that don’t seem like they should be going together and sticking them together and it feels right. And I felt as I was leaving Vancouver, I felt like I was leaving Wonderland in a fit of rage.
You’ve said previously that this is your most personal and your most introspective effort to date. Before you started writing the album, what problems were you facing that, in the end, you were able to draw a lot of your inspiration from?
Relationship issues. I was going through a divorce, and I had a girlfriend for a little while as well, as I was going through the divorce and then we broke up, and then we got back together and now she’s my wife! I’m married for the second time now. But it was all relationship stuff, really. Stuff that I think everyone goes through at one point or another in their life. So far I think it’s been the record that’s connected with people the most because of that, because everyone does go through these things.
I mean, I like writing songs that [like] “Ballad of Aslan,” which is about The Chronicles of Narnia, and “Cloak of Elvenkind,” songs that are kinda more fantastical and story-like. This record was just right down to Earth, with songs about people and myself and people in my life. I liked doing that because it was just simple and I could just be honest in this record. I’m probably going to look back on this record most fondly because of that and it’ll probably be my favorite forever.
How would you say this album affected you? Do you think there is still some room for personal growth?
Yeah, I’m always growing as a person and always learning new things. Every time I meet somebody new I feel like that’s an opportunity to grow because everyone has something new to offer. I think that the next record, hopefully, is going to reflect that. I’m a much more mature person than I was when I started playing music. I’m 39 now, and when we started I was in my early 20’s. There’s just a massive difference between who I was then and who I am now and who I’m going to be in 10 years. I don’t think you ever really stop growing and developing as a person, and it’s nice to be able to put some of it into song.
You obviously poured your heart into the process of writing the songs. It’s also apparent that you and the band are putting your hearts and souls into performing and playing the music through your extensive tour. How does it feel to be embarking on such a long tour after such a lengthy hiatus of not doing one?
It’s amazing. We have a new drummer, Shlomi Lavie, and he’s been playing with us for two years now and it’s just me, Dylan (Keefe, bassist), and Shlomi. We’re like a little family out on the road, and I had forgotten about that. When you take time off, like we did, you forget how much you really love being with the people you play music with. They’re friends that you love and care about, and we’re a family. Dylan’s like my big brother, [laughing] sometimes he calls me “little brother.” That’s how we feel.
It has been really long. We started touring a year ago, and we’ve been pretty solid. Over the holidays we took a break, but for the most part we toured all last year and we’re going to be touring all this year. All year. It’s a little hard because we’re away from our actual families and our wives, but it’s so worth it. I can’t imagine doing any other job, this is what I love to do. This is the life man. I’d rather be in Jamaica some times, especially when the weather’s really bad.
While we’re talking about Shlomi, you guys haven’t really had a very good track record with keeping drummers around for very long. Does Shlomi have anything to worry about?
[Laughs] Yeah, he might explode! You’ve seen Spinal Tap, right? It’s basically the same kind of thing with us.
Dylan brought Shlomi in. Actually I think Dylan’s brought all the drummers in. Dan was the longest, then Reeser. We toured with him when “Sex and Candy” was out. He was there from ’96 to 2002 , so that was the longest drummer situation we had. But I think as long as Shlomi doesn’t get deported back to Israel for some reason [laughs] then we should have him for a long time. He loves it, he’s having a blast and we love playing with him. I think we’re in good shape with drummers now.
Here on Everyview.com we like to get the word out about a wide range of products through our reviews, and one of our most popular categories is food. So while you guys have been on the road this year have you come across any stellar restaurants that you want to let our readers know about?
[Ponders] That’s a good question, actually. I like that. Ummm…. Hey Dylan, have we run across any really bitchin’ restaurants in the past year? That you remember that were really good? (Dylan doesn’t know) That’s a good question, man. (Shlomi chips in…) Oh yeah! They had those little… [John, Dylan and Shlomi try to remember the name of the restaurant] We don’t remember the name of this place, but it was in Dayton, Ohio. It was a little taco shop that was just to die for. It was off the charts.
There’s another place in Toronto called Indus Junction. It’s Indian food and it’s amazing, really amazing. So if you ever make it to Toronto and want some unbelievable Indian food, there’s a place called Indus Junction on Queen street. It’s really good.
While we’re talking about food, do you personally consider yourself a hamburger guy or a hotdog kind of guy?
Oh, I’m definitely a hamburger kind of guy. I do like my Dodger Dogs. [One of our managers] years ago, was a Dodgers fan. Every now and then he would take us to a Dodgers game in L.A. At Dodger Stadium they have the Dodger Dogs, which are giant hot dogs that are really good, but other than that I’m a hamburger guy. I like to think that I make the best hamburger in the world.
I don’t know about that, man. Have you ever been to a place called Five Guys Burgers and Fries?
No, where’s it at?
Oh they’re all over the place. They started out East and have been working their way over to the West. They are the best hamburgers on the face of this planet, I promise you.
And it’s called what?
Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Oh, Five Guys! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fuck yeah. Of course, man. Yeah, those are great. (To Dylan) Five Guys, the hamburger joint. You remember that place? Oh you don’t — (back to me) Dylan doesn’t eat meat. I forgot about that. He’s definitely a veggie burger kind of guy. He like’s chicken though.
Tell him they’ve got grilled cheese there. My girlfriend’s a vegetarian and she loves it.
Yeah, definitely when we go that’s a good idea. Five Guys. Yeah man, I love that place. Actually, you know what’s really good road food, too? After a long night of rockin’ and drinkin’? You wake up and go to Cracker Barrel and get their breakfast. That’s good road food.
Alright, getting back on topic. What are you expectations for “Leaving Wonderland?” What do you want the album to accomplish?
Well, the one thing is that we’re doing this on our own. We’ve released it on the label that we started, Woz Records, and it’s a tall order to be a touring band and the label as well. What we’ve been able to do is get together a really great team of people from the industry to do everything from radio promotion to marketing to sales and distribution and publicity and touring and put everything together to do it, but expectations have to be a lot lower when that’s the case because you don’t have major label money getting thrown at the project.
So we like to be pretty honest with ourselves and say “Well, we’re clearly not going to be doing multi-platinum on this album,” because you really have to have tons of money and a giant team of major label people in order to pull that kind of thing off. Especially in this day and age. It might have been possible in the late ’80s, early ’90s but in this day and age it’s tough, it’s really tough to sell records these days. We’re being cautiously optimistic. The record has been doing amazingly well for independent, and we’re just going to tour it until we feel like we’re done. And so far we’re not done. We feel like this thing still needs to be heard by people, and that’s why this whole year we’re going to go out and get the word out about the record and make sure people at least have an opportunity to hear it.
And another thing that we’ve done for that reason is you can stream the entire album on the web site. Which I thought was really critical for us because, I mean, how many times have you bought a record and been disappointed because you only really liked one or two songs on the record? Man, I’ve done that a million [times], you know what I mean? So, we figured the best way to get the word out about it was to let people hear the whole thing. And then if they only like three or four songs, well then they can go to iTunes and download just those three or four songs. Or, if they like the whole record, they can actually buy the whole record. But, you know, if we were on a major label we wouldn’t be able to do that. They wouldn’t allow that. So we do have some freedom, and I love it, doing it independently in terms of that sort of stuff.
One of the big things that I’m really excited about is that we’ve been working with an online music collaboration website called Indaba Music, indabamusic.com, and we did a project with them where we had about 100 of their members do remixes of the songs on our record, and I think we ended up getting like 330 individual remixes of songs from our record. And so we’re going to be releasing that as a companion release to the album. It’s going to be the Indaba remix release of the record. So it’ll probably be called like “Marcy Playground All Mixed Up” or something like that [laughs]. But we’re really excited about that, and it’s another thing I don’t really feel like we would have been able to do if we were with a Major [Label], because we had to take the masters and we had to take the stems from the masters, and literally upload them to the website, and, in a sense, kind of give them away in order for people to be able to remix the record. Most bands, and definitely labels, don’t want masters out there floating around the internet in broken down form where you can do anything you want once you have the stems for the record.
It’s an exciting time for music when you can go on the internet and collaborate with people in Australia and Europe and make music. I think the times are a changin’, as it were. And I’m going to be doing a panel about online music collaboration and I think that it’s the way of the future. If we had gone the normal route of trying to get this album remixed, to get 300 remixes, that would have probably been about $1.4 million. This way what happens is we had to give the guys who remix it, if we use it, a remix royalty. So they had a good pay for the work that they do. It’s a cool idea, and my expectations for that are very high. Even though I’m being very cautiously optimistic about the actual album, I think the Indaba thing could really take off and be pretty amazing.
Continue to part two of our interview.