An Interview with Dylan Keefe of ‘Marcy Playground’
By Jeremia Schrock / Sun Star Reporter
It isn’t easy being Marcy Playground.
Say the bands name and one is either met with blank stares (“who?”) or a disheartening, “Oh, yeah, the ‘Sex and Candy’ guys. Where have they been all these years?” Well, they’ve either been in the recording studio – having released three albums since their 1997 debut – or on tour. Bassist Dylan Keefe has seen it all: the band’s creation, its four-year hiatus, all the way through to their latest release, 2009’s Leaving Wonderland…in a Fit of Rage. Now Keefe, and Marcy Playground, are coming to Alaska.
Have you ever been to Alaska before?
The band hasn’t been to Alaska. I’ve been to Alaska before.
When did you come up?
Like, last year…late spring.
Where at in Alaska?
Why is the band coming to Alaska? What’s the draw for you, man?
(laughs) That’s a good question. Actually, we’ve been trying to hit pretty much everywhere we never hit before. We played all over the country. Except we weren’t hitting a lot of smaller towns or more out of the way places, you know? Like Alaska.
There was an article that said “Marcy Playground shows they’re more than one hit wonders” (by John Paulson) and what I want to know is, how have you felt being considered a “one-hit wonder?” Have you ever felt like you were one?
I guess if you’re looking at it from a strictly music business perspective, I understand the title. I mean, yes, we had one massive hit that was 15 weeks on the top of the charts. It was massive. So, I understand the label in the business sense. When it was going on, it took on a life of its own to the degree that we were like, “Can you guys start playing some of our other songs?”
While “Sex and Candy” was still number one on the charts, Spin magazine came out with an article called “One hit wonderland” and it had a whole bunch of bands, and of course ours. This is while the song was really huge. And they started off by saying “they start off as sweet little songs that you can’t get out of your head and the next thing you know, you want to take a shotgun and blow the head off of John Wozniak’s laconic little shoulders.” I went to our publicist and said, “…that is totally violent and irresponsible and fucked up to say that about a specific person that they don’t even know.”
I ended by saying “you know, and my dad blew his head off and I don’t appreciate people just throwing that shit around so easily like some smug ass motherfucking editor sitting in his chair in Park Avenue.” I got a really long letter back from the editor of Spin magazine apologizing, which was impressive. That was the only time I ever got upset about what someone said.
The article was talking about a whole bunch of different bands and they singled out not only our band, which hadn’t even had a chance to have a follow up yet, but also our lead singer/songwriter’s name. So, the cards were stacked against us from the very beginning…so we decided to say “…it’s nice that we had a huge hit…but really, we’re doing this to play music.”
That particular article that you brought up, where somebody said that we’re not a one hit wonder, I think that they were referring to a show where they heard a ton of really catchy songs. When fans come out to our shows they know we have a ton of catchy songs. You know, “Sex and Candy” is one of them, but that particular article, I think, was just trying to say that, “Hey, these guys are more than that…musically.”
How did you feel when you finished recording your most recent album, Leaving Wonderland…in a Fit of Rage?
The latest record is simply more moving to me. It was a very emotional time that Woz (lead singer John Wozniak) was going through when he wrote that music, and for me too. I was coming back from the death of both my grandparents within one week. They were married for 69 years and died within six days of each other. My mom and I were on a two hour drive back down to her house and she wanted to put on (the album) and I gotta tell you, I’m playing this shit every single night…and I was a little like “Ah…I don’t want to hear that shit.” And my mom put it on, and we were both bawling the entire ride home. And not every song is sad, but it’s all very whimsical and touching. That’s how I feel about that record.
Also, it was produced by a guy named Jeff Dawson who is…amazing. Comparing the first record to this last record, I guess, I wish that he’d produced every single one of my records.
It was Jeff who got John to start writing songs again (during a depression caused by a break-up), wasn’t it?
Yes, absolutely, I think he was kind of already writing, but Jeff was like, “Hey man, let’s start getting this down. Finish the songs and get them together.” I was really grateful that Woz had him in his life so he could, like, pick his ass up. We lived in different cities at the time, so I wasn’t around.
What was the inspiration for the album title Leaving Wonderland…in a Fit of Rage?
As with Woz, there’s always several different sorts of meanings. I think he had moved to Vancouver, sort of feeling like, “wow, this place is so amazing.” Which it is, it is like Wonderland. He’d moved there and had a studio there and had a relationship. He [messed] up the relationship, and he ended up selling the studio, and he got into some drug problems and he realized he had to leave. Everything had come down on him. He was pissed at this place…this place that he’d come to and he was just pissed off. “In a fit of rage” sort of encapsulated that.
So, your first album is full of references to childhood. The “playground of youth,” so to speak. Leaving Wonderland seems to invoke a move out of adolescence. Was this an intentional reference to “the road to adulthood” as both individuals and a band?
Totally. You hit the nail on the head. Woz is very, very nostalgic about his childhood, which actually wasn’t very good, but he’s very nostalgic about [a] creative force that was present when he was a kid. He’s always looking back. Even the band’s name is based on his nostalgia for the past. I think he got really stuck and realized that being like a kid, and un-responsible for your own actions…takes its toll.
You’ve always seemed like the dark horse of the band. Are you hiding from your fans or something?
I’ve always felt that bass had some sort of character to me that was about support. I don’t feel like I’m that crazy about being the center of attention. I like to support people. That has been my role. You know, Woz is kind of my little brother, and, he, uh…
Do you feel like a shepherd sometimes?
(laughs) A shepherd. More of a wrangler!
What do you do in your downtime?
I still work for public radio sometimes, when I can, and if they need me. But otherwise, I paint every day. I bring a little kit with me on the road and try to do it whenever I can. Or at least draw, whenever I can. I also bring a bicycle with me on the road so I can tool around in towns that I’ve never been to before.
Why do you play music?
I grew up, luckily, around a lot of great music. My parents were into cool music and [then] I picked up the bass and realized “wow, this does not come naturally to me.” Art and drawing came naturally to me, but I just love the communal aspect of music. Music is about performing and playing with other musicians. And somehow, when you’re 14 years old, getting along with other people is really important. It’s an art form you can do with other people…it’s the greatest thing about music.
Who do you listen to in your downtime?
Right now I’ve been listening to Double Fantasy’s, John Lennon’s album from 30 years ago. I really love Tom Petty. I’m an insane Elliot Smith fan and have been for a really long time. Before emo was popular, I was crazy about [him]! We just recently played with the Hot Hot Heat up in Canada, and they were just awesome.
Are you a beer drinker?
Way too much, yes.
So, we are smack in the beginning of Oktoberfest-
Wait, hang on one second, before you ask that question; I am not a beer connoisseur.
No, that’s cool man. Since it’s Oktoberfest, do you have any recommendations for our beer-drinking college students?
Do I have any recommendations?
Yeah, anything you like to toss back.
The other day I walked into a local beer warehouse and I found this beer, King Cobra, and it was 16-ounce cans, right? Six percent alcohol. A case of it for $11. So I was like, “Alright, I gotta try this.” So I bought a case and I love it.
How fast did the case disappear?
Oh, very quickly! (laughs)
You will do just fine in Alaska, I guarantee it. Our university is putting on a big comic-pop culture convention later on in the year, and I want to know, if you could have only one super power what would it be?
(laughs) You know, I always thought that the Wonder Twin that could turn into anything that was water was so great because, somehow, they stretched it so far that it could be water, then ice, which you could then make anything out of. Like, “form of: an ice car!” So, it seems to be pretty versatile. So, I’d like to be the Wonder Twin ice guy.