Music News & Reviews


Marcy Playground front man John Wozniak, far right, named the band after an experimental school he attended as a child.
Marcy Playground front man John Wozniak, far right, named the band after an experimental school he attended as a child. COURTESY PHOTO

I f there was ever any doubt that John Wozniak’s childhood had a profound influence on his adult life, you need only check out the name of his band.

Marcy Playground is named after the Marcy Open School, an experimental, student-empowered school in Minneapolis. Even though Wozniak was a child when he attended the school, he said his music was heavily inspired by it.

The band formed as a trio in the mid-1990s. While songs like “Saint Joe on the School Bus” and “Sherry Fraser” had

Q: So you guys had something with VH1 today?

A: Yeah, we did. The 40 biggest hits of the ’90s kinda thing.

Q: Let me guess — A: “Sex and Candy.”

Q: What number were you guys?

A: I have no idea. I don’t think they’ve come up with that yet. They just interviewed us, and we talked about the song and talked about some of the other songs from other artists.

Q: Which songs did you talk about?

A: We talked about Tom Cochrane — “Life is a Highway.” We talked about Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” We talked about maybe 10 or 11. It was a really long interview.

Q: I was reading about the school you went to. Were kids creative there? It sounds like a charter school.

A: It was a public school. They called it an open school. It’s still there. It’s been experimental education since the early ’70s. You call your teacher by the first name, you get to sort of learn at your own pace. I got a good education there. It wasn’t like they just let you do anything you want

some success, “Sex&Candy”—No. 1 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks for 15 weeks—is the group’s signature hit.

The band, which performs at SLO Brewing Co. on Wednesday, recently released “Indaba Remixes from Wonderland,” which consists of fan remixes of songs from their 2009 album “Leaving Wonderland ... In a Fit of Rage.”

Our original interview time with Wozniak was postponed so he could do a VH1 interview. But we caught up with him by phone later in the day.

to do, but you didn’t sit in little corn-row seats and raise your hand and answer questions like regular public schools.

Q: It sounds like you have mixed feelings about it.

A: I had some social issues there that were difficult. Southeast Minneapolis at the time was a rough neighborhood.

Q: I saw that the founder of the school is the one who is credited for the saying that ultimately became, “To the victor goes the spoils.” Have you ever tried to put that in a song?

A: No, I have not put that in a song. That’s sort of like, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” It’s not really a phrase that I necessarily abide by.

Q: Some people really hate their hits. So when it comes to the live shows, they really mangle them because they get bored with them and want to do something different. Have you ever rearranged “Sex & Candy?”

A: It’s not the same song it is on the record. I like it still. The band likes it. It’s not like we would have changed it because we didn’t like it any more. We just changed it because naturally, as musicians, we evolve.

Q: How do you feel as a fan when you hear someone play a song and they change it a lot?

A: You don’t want to go up onstage and play an album from start to finish so that it sounds exactly like the record. If you wanted that, you could walk up there and put in the CD and just stand there. When I go to a concert, I want something fresh, and I want to hear what they do with it live.

Q: So do you still get checks (for “Sex and Candy”) in the mail every now and then?

A: It still gets played on the radio. It still gets a lot of airplay. It was in “True Blue” recently. It was in “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” Kevin Smith’s film. It still gets a lot of licenses. It was just licensed for the video game “Rock Band” or “Guitar Hero,” one or the other — I can’t remember which one.

Q: I read that you’ve turned down movie requests. What makes you turn a soundtrack down?

A: I can’t remember the last movie soundtrack I turned down. I’ve turned down advertising opportunities from, like, M&Ms and Coca-Cola and things like that.

Q: That’s got to be a big payday to turn down.

A: Probably, but it’s not really what I wanted to do. There’s a difference between contributing to art— you know, someone else’s film or television program, where they’re actually creating something — and contributing to selling a bunch of widgets or foodstuffs.

Q: The recent song “Good Times” helped you come out of depression — how well do those raw emotions help the creative process?

A: Music is an emotional form of communication that’s tied closely to the limbic part of your brain. If you’re not in touch with your emotions, it’s really hard to be in touch with music. Because music is emotion. It’s emotional communication. So it’s not surprising when you hear artists say, “I had my best work when I was about to blow my brains out.”

Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.