Up Next with Woz

The rising alt music artist talks family trauma, mental health and the making of his debut EP, ‘At the Gulf’, for Re-Edition’s new music column

Looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure? Be wary of the algorithm and let yourself be guided by the entrancing vibrations of Up Next – Re-Edition’s long-awaited music column – where arts and culture writer Gilda Bruno sits down with some of the most inspiring names on the up-and-coming and established music scene to delve into the inspirations, sounds and dreams of a new avant-garde of musical talents.

Today Bruno speaks with New York-based alternative music artist Woz to learn more about the story behind his haunting, melancholic debut EP, At the Gulf, and explore what is next for him in 2023.

Dylan “Woz” Wozniak is a young singer-songwriter and guitarist juggling between music rehearsals and graveyard shifts at the Long Island’s Gulf oil station where he works “to make ends meet”. The son of John Wozniak, the lead singer of ‘90s rock band Marcy Playground, Woz’s relationship with music is one that is hard to put into words; yet, if you allow yourself to indulge in the catching riffs of his tracks, which are paired with compelling lyrics and visualised in nostalgia-fuelled DIY, lo-fi videoclips, getting to the bottom of his production shouldn’t be too hard.

Just like his debut EP, At the Gulf, which came out last November 9, most of Woz’s music production stems from a place of emotional and financial uncertainty. Through music, the artist gets to find his way out of “dysfunctional family relationships, childhood trauma and a boring and mundane suburban town he dreams of leaving behind”, gradually carving out space to establish his own legacy. Having already amassed a following of over 100,000 fans on Instagram, it is fair to say the artist is getting noticed.

Below, we catch up with Woz to discuss his early music influences, the inside story of his first EP and what he will be up to this year.

Image courtesy of the artist
Image courtesy of the artist

Re-Edition Magazine: Your work is a refreshing mixture of influences spanning classic, alt and hard rock, all encapsulated in your Jim-Morrison-meets-Keith Richards fascinating personality. When exactly, and how, did music come into the frame for you, and what led you to it?

Woz: Thank you! It all started when I was super-duper young. I was a very lonely kid, but emo bands like My Chemical Romance and Of Mice and Men or classic rock bands like The Beatles and The Doors really filled the void that existed from not really having any friends. When I finally made some, they were into that same kind of stuff. Over time, I picked up a guitar and randomly discovered that I could sing. It just felt so natural, as if I never even had a choice in the matter… as if, for me, making music was just inevitable.

RE: Think of the way your music has evolved since you first started playing around with it. What drives your musical experimentation today and what is the vision behind it?

W: It’s changed so much. I was a super-duper angry kid when I first picked up the guitar. Back then, I was all about power chords, distortion, overdrive and feedback; it took a lot for me to still feel rock and roll and put a piano in a song. But as time went by, I got into different things and learned to appreciate melody and storytelling. Weirdly enough though, that distortion makes a comeback in some of my new tracks, including my new single, Medicine.

Image courtesy of the artist
Image courtesy of the artist

RE: Speaking of your recently-released song Child Support, which is inspired by your experience of childhood trauma, you said that you hope the track will provide emotional relief to anyone dealing with dysfunctional family relationships. What influence do themes such as family, mental health and vulnerability have on the shaping of your work?

W: I think it’s hard being young nowadays. Not to be a Debbie-Downer, but if you were to walk into a school and ask kids how many of their parents are still married, most of them would probably say that theirs are divorced. I only have two friends whose parents are still together. Though in Child Support I talk about my own family trauma, the song resonated with so many people because everyone has family issues.

I also write a lot about mental health. One thing that really pisses me off is how school systems preach about mental health advocacy all the time, but the minute you reach out to your guidance counsellor, you’re immediately pushed to the side and ignored. In Medicine, I talk about mental health because I was always made to feel weak if I talked about that stuff. The lyrics, the screaming and the guitars are a reflection of 12 years of being ignored by the school system.

RE: Your first EP, At the Gulf (2022), came out last November 9. What inside story gave birth to this project and how is that translated into the tracks that feature in it?

W: There are too many to count. For the song Gulf specifically, I remember I was talking to my friends and collaborators Dallas and Alex about funny work stories. I was telling them [about] this one where a customer – a fully grown adult man – tried to punch me in the face over 40 cents… crazy stuff. We started the song from that, listing the types of customers I had while working at Gulf. The track then naturally became about not having a real support network financially, and kind of being thrown to “the wolves” and forced to support myself at a young age – something a lot of people have to deal with. It was cool to take such an innocent and wacky idea and pull out a story that so many people can relate to.

RE: Which song from At the Gulf (2022) best embodies the essence of the EP?

W: Easily Pennsylvania. I lived there when I was super young but when my dad left, we moved back to New York and I lived with my grandmother near Queens. I’ve always longed for those times and the stable family situation I had down there. The song is separated into three parts: the first one is about my father, the second verse and the chorus are about my mom, whereas the final part is about my friends. I can’t listen to that song and not cry; every time I’ve played it live, I've butchered it because I start sobbing in the second verse. I reference Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide in it, which was the track’s main influence.

RE: What can you tell us about your newly released single, Medicine?

W: I wrote the guitar riff on my manager’s couch and kept it for the studio. It went through different lyrical stages, but we ended up pulling from the darkest time of my life. A while back, I was so disillusioned with my family, life and everything that I started going insane. I was so strung out on drugs and alcohol that my friends barely recognised who I had turned into. They were terrified of my behaviour and it took everything I had to drag myself out of that place.

Image courtesy of the artist
Image courtesy of the artist

RE: In recent years, more and more music artists have lent their talent to other creative realms. Whether music, fashion, cinema or art-related, what would be your dream collaboration?

W: Anything with Saint Laurent, hands down. I always do a double take when I see their ads and campaigns: their stuff is so sick and I love how they’re such an iconic brand with a heavy music influence.

RE: What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2023? What can we expect from you in the future?

W: I’ve got a few honestly. I want to finally finish a bunch of song ideas that have been sitting in my voice memos, eat more healthy food, and I also want to read more. I have a ton of new music ready to put out this year that has a much harder tone than the first EP – I’m so excited for everyone to hear what I’ve been working on. I’m also stoked to be playing more shows this year, my band and I have been rehearsing a ton.

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