Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marcy Playground

Sound Familiar?
“Sex and Candy”

Who Are They?
Classic ‘90s one-hit-wonders responsible for one of the most frequently asked questions of the decade: “What the hell is disco lemonade?”

Marcy Playground (named after the elementary school front man John Wozniak attended) achieved success early on with its debut self-titled album and this little ditty called “Sex and Candy.” Prior to the band’s formation, John had already recorded an album of his own called Zog BogBean – From the Marcy Playground in 1990. Two songs from that record (“Our Generation” and “The Dog and His Master”) would appear on later Marcy Playground albums.

After attending notable liberal arts school Evergreen State College, John moved to New York and hooked up with his pal Jared Kotler. Once bassist Dylan Keefe joined the band, Marcy Playground began to play shows in NYC and eventually signed to Capitol Records in 1995. Unfortunately, John and Jared couldn’t get past their personal problems, so Jared split and Dan Rieser stepped in just in time to record Marcy Playground in 1997.

The album’s first single, “Poppies,” failed to make a splash, but once “Sex and Candy” hit the radio waves, the band’s popularity skyrocketed. (Fun fact: “Sex and Candy” knocked Oasis’ “Wonderwall” out of the number one spot on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks list.)

But what does “Sex and Candy” mean, you ask? Well, according to John, the title is a reference to an evening he spent in his girlfriend’s dorm room when he was 17. The girl’s roommate walked into the room and said, “Oh, it smells like sex and candy in here!” John liked the phrase, so that’s why we have a song called “Sex and Candy.” As for the meaning behind the lyrics, your guess is as good as mine. (But according to Urban Dictionary, “disco lemonade” is actually a tasty cocktail made with vodka and lemonade.)

Marcy Playground released its follow-up, Shapeshifter, in 1999. The album didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessor (hence why the band is considered a one-hit-wonder), and Marcy Playground went on a short hiatus.

(Fun fact: The cover art for Shapeshifter had originally been conceptualized by Paul Leary of Butthole Surfers for the Surfers’ aborted project After the Astronaut. After the artwork was used without permission, Paul was ready to fight. Fortunately for John and company, it was Capitol Records who had stolen the artwork, not the band, so Paul let it go and John had a mini fanboy moment when he realized that a member of Butthole Surfers had designed one of his album covers.)

Where Are They Now?
Touring till death do them part.

After a brief hiatus, Marcy Playground released its third studio album, MP3, in 2004. It didn’t achieve mainstream success, but “Deadly Handsome Man” was featured on the Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back soundtrack and “Punk Rock Superstar” was featured on an XBox 360 playlist.

But the boys remained positive about their future in music, especially on the track “Hotter Than the Sun,” in which John reflects on the band’s short success.

Leaving Wonderland…In a Fit of Rage followed MP3 and Marcy Playground began touring along the California coast.

Lunch, Recess & Detention, a collection of rarities, b-sides and new material, new released earlier this year. Marcy Playground spent the summer touring in support of it alongside fellow ‘90s heavyweights Everclear, Sugar Ray, Lit and Gin Blossoms on the Summerland Tour (which I had the privilege of attending).

But Why Marcy Playground?
There’s the album, the tour and the band’s determination to keep touring no matter what. These guys have another album or two in them. Just wait.

What Does Sam Think?
I have a soft spot for most ‘90s one-hit-wonder bands, mostly because a lot of them deserve more than one hit. Marcy Playground is number one on that list.

“Sex and Candy” is one of the best songs of the ‘90s (though it was ranked criminally low on VH1's list). It’s simple, but murky and just plain sexy. The band’s debut album as a whole is pretty quiet and minimalistic, and I think that really works to its advantage. The late ‘90s was chock full of post-grunge bands wanting to be as loud as possible and Marcy Playground was a welcome alternative to that mindset.

Marcy Playground was heavily influenced by bands like Van Morrison and Nirvana, and you can definitely hear that on each album. The band’s music is a little dark, but not the black metal kind of dark; it’s the art school kind of dark.

As far as live performances go, these guys definitely know who their audiences are. They make light of being one-hit-wonders and always, always play “Sex and Candy” at least once (they usually let the audience sing it a few times). Seeing them live actually prompted me to listen to the rest of their discography, which is pretty solid.

So will Marcy Playground come back to rock radio with a vengeance? Probably not. But I think this band has some more secretly great music up its sleeve. And if these boys continue to tour in support of that new music, they will always have a faithful audience.

If you tour, they will come.

-- Sam Boyer, reporting from the ‘90s.

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