At the age of 19, New York multi-instrumentalist Kenny Siegal signed as a songwriter to Polygram Music. Eventually his band with drummer and longtime collaborator Brian Geltner, Hunk, signed to Geffen Records. They released a strong self-titled album in 1996, but because of the frustrations of the music industry and lack of widespread promotion, the band disbanded less than a year after their album came out.
By that time, Siegal and Geltner had already begun experimenting and writing songs on the side with Indian-trained musician Chris Rael in a project they called the Hand. They wrote an estimated five albums worth of songs before officially recording their first album, Mule Me, which was subsequently released by New York-based independent label Messenger Records. A second album was recorded but never released because the Hand morphed into the new ensemble Johnny Society. They almost immediately set out to record some of the astounding number of songs that Siegal and Rael were writing. Instead of trying the major-label route once again and fighting for artistic control, they signed with Messenger Records and set up shop in the Kennel, their Brooklyn recording studio founded with producer Bryce Goggin (the Breeders, Spacehog, Phish) and engineer Danny Kadar (Chris Whitley, Cheap Trick). Johnny Society's debut album, It Don't Matter, was recorded and released in 1997, after which Rael left the band to give his full time to the reconvened Church of Betty. Wood arrived the following year with additional contributions from Rael, the Hand live keyboardist Jan Kotik, Goggin, and labelmate Chris Whitley. The album was named to the "Top Ten List of Independent Records of 1998" by The New York Times at year's end. By this time, the band had generated considerable buzz with their eclectic, innovative albums and through widespread touring, garnering notable fans such as Ray Davies and Robin Zander. Critical acclaim also began to filter their way. Johnny Society became a legitimate trio in 1999 when Gwen Snyder (who also records under the moniker Blueberry) joined in time to record the band's third album, the ambitious Clairvoyance, released at the beginning of 2000. ~ Stanton Swihart