When I reach out to sisters Janet and Tricia Wygal to see if they’re interested in talking about their old band Splendora, they invite me to meet them at the Penguin Random House offices in midtown Manhattan, where they both currently work as senior production editors. I’m marveling at the walls of the office lobby, lined with classic books behind glass cases, when they come downstairs to greet me, both in general business-casual attire.
Later, Janet explains that she first got into proofreading, and later copyediting, in the late ’80s, when then-bandmate Faye Hunter introduced her to the job as freelance work she could get done on the road. Tricia followed in the practice shortly after, and many years and bands later — including Splendora, whose “You’re Standing on My Neck” soundtracked countless post-Gen X adolescences as the theme to MTV’s animated cult hit Daria, which turns 20 on March 3 — both ended up working in the field full-time. “Of course, I thought, ‘Hey, I’ll take it for two years or something,'” Janet recalls. “Now it’s been like, 16 years?”
The sisters like the work, and they especially enjoy the benefits. “They’ve been very good to us, but y’know…” Janet says, pausing. “I never thought I’d be working for a corporation, I guess. But it’s pretty hard to avoid it.”
By the time they formed Splendora in the early ’90s, Janet and Tricia Wygal were both veterans of the Tri-State indie world. Janet moved to Brooklyn from Ohio (where their family lived on a farm, after moving from southern California) in the late ’70s to study art at Pratt Institute, but fell in love with the city’s incredible rock scene; joining her first band, The Individuals, through an ad in the Village Voice. Tricia followed a few years later, and similarly found herself under music’s spell. “I was a ballet dancer — I danced in Milwaukee ballet and Chicago ballet — and I was just totally seduced by my older sister’s rock ’n’ roll,” she says.
The Wygals both bounced around in bands, together and apart, before Splendora came together as “a labor of love,” as Tricia says, with the sisters jamming together in Janet’s apartment. The group ultimately became a five piece, with Janet (guitar) and Tricia (bass) joined by Delissa Santos (drums), Cindy Brolsma (cello) and Jennifer Richardson (violin) — strings being a rarity for a rock band at the time — and both sisters providing vocals. “We all got along really well, we rehearsed all the time,” remembers Tricia. “It was just fun.”
Since the band came up in the era of Nirvana — and even had a connection to Kurt & Co. through Richardson’s husband, Jim Merlis, who was the band’s publicist — they’ve since been labeled “grunge,” almost by default. But the sisters say they were more influenced by the CBGB bands of late-’70s New York (The Ramones, Television, Talking Heads), as well as the sunshine pop of late-’60s collective The Free Design. “The idea [for Splendora] was to have this aggressive-sounding bed, with pretty vocals floating over it,” Janet explains.
The group scored a development deal with Geffen records, but had the misfortune of their contact at the label also having just acquired Beck, who was about to become a major star with his breakthrough single, “Loser.” “‘You know, I’m just so busy with Beck,'” Janet remembers him saying. “‘I just don’t really have time [for Splendora] … but I’m gonna get this other guy to be your A&R guy.’”
They struck out with him, too. “‘It’s either you or this other female [act],’” Tricia quotes the second guy saying. “It’s almost like the quota, you know? And this other person had a hit already.” That person was Lisa Loeb, who the sisters both have affection for, but whose Hot 100-topping smash “Stay (I Missed You)” made her an easy choice as label priority.
Splendora ultimately signed to Koch Records, then primarily a jazz-and-classical label, and released their debut LP In the Grass — a spin on the 1961 teen melodrama Splendor in the Grass — in 1995. A sunny, noisy collection of barbed-wire kisses with gorgeous harmonies, the set exemplifies a lot of the best qualities of mid-’90s alternative, and stands as something of a lost classic today. But the album received little promotion, and failed to spawn anything resembling a hit.
“We didn’t have a booking agent, the tour that we did, I booked, I think… I remember going in there and calling radio stations myself, and asking if they’d received our CD,” Janet recalls. “You just need so much help, you know?”
But a year later, the band did get something of a lucky break through Brolsma, their cellist, who was working as a producer on a new MTV show: Daria, a nominal spin-off from the channel’s animated mid-’90s sensation Beavis & Butthead. The show focused on Daria Morgendorffer, a smart and sarcastic teen attempting to rise above the triviality of her suburban existence. Brolsma strategically placed a CD of the band’s on the desk of producer Susie Lewis, who liked it enough to consider them for the show’s theme song.
“I think [the Daria producers] sort of put [the word] out there, too, to other bands,” Tricia says of the process behind choosing a theme song. “They definitely didn’t want anybody known,” she continues, whispering a single-word explanation: “Money.” Nonetheless, the sisters were excited by the opportunity, and say they connected to the show immediately. “It just felt like, ‘Wow, this is so much better than being asked to be in some car commercial,'” Janet offers, before adding: “Although, that probably would’ve paid more.”
Splendora recorded a four-track demo for the show, building their songs around certain phrases that they were asked to include in their lyrics. One of those phrases — “you’re standing on my neck” — ended up providing the titular refrain of the song the producers were most excited about, which was ultimately chosen as Daria‘s theme. “It was pretty clear that the song they picked was the strongest one,” Tricia concludes. “It was the most direct,” Janet agrees, laughing as she realizes her unintentional pun on the song’s lyrics. “Got to be direct!” she quips.
With its taunting “La la la la la” hook, buzzing guitars, stop-start verses and shout-along chorus, “You’re Standing on My Neck” quickly became an iconic piece of the Alternative Nation’s final years. But despite its popularity — and the sisters say that fans still submit covers to them to his day — the song never saw official release. “It’s too bad that that never happened, really,” Janet says in retrospect. “I thought it would be great if somebody from [MTV parent company] Viacom or somebody from the show would get that together. But I think all their jobs were so compartmentalized…”
Not only did Splendora not release the show’s theme, they never put out another album, with a pair of contributions to future made-for-MTV Daria movies — “Turn the Sun Down” and “College Try” — marking the end of the band’s discography. “I feel like we didn’t really try to capitalize on it,” Janet says of the band’s stalled post-Daria momentum. “It was kinda towards the end of the band… a couple of our members got married and had kids.” Tricia explains that the departure of drummer Santos also dampened the group’s overall enthusiasm: “It wasn’t quite the same band. It felt a little different.”
Today, any record of Splendora has practically vanished from the Internet. Biographical info on the band is scarce. In the Grass has long gone out of print — you can buy a used copy on Amazon for about $22 — while none of their catalog is available for streaming anywhere except YouTube, where one user uploaded their entire LP (along with an era-appropriate extended CD skip in album closer “Busted”). This erasure isn’t the product of label drama or royalties issues: “Just a lack of entrepreneurial skill or interest,” half-jokes Janet.
The Wygals drifted in and out of other bands after that, before life realities started to take precedence. Janet was on tour with the band Two Dollar Guitar, featuring Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, when the more stable life of publishing came calling. “I remember coming back from playing in Europe, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s really the life, that’s what I wanna do.’ And then they offered me this job. And I was kinda like, ‘Well… it’d be nice to get a house. And have a drum set.'”
Today, Janet has transitioned to part-time work at Penguin Random House, and has a new band, the appropriately named Wygalator. Tricia works freelance at Penguin, and has also gotten back to her dancing roots, with her and her new husband — they wed last summer — coaching engaged couples on how to dance at their weddings. The sisters reunited once to play “You’re Standing on My Neck” live, for one of the final shows at legendary New Jersey venue Maxwell’s, and played a different song at Tricia’s wedding — disappointing some of the guests in the process. “One of the younger relatives of my husband was like, ‘I wanted to hear the Daria theme song!‘,” Tricia laughs.
The sisters say they share no real bitterness about the way Splendora’s ’90s career transpired. “Yes, it’s unfortunate that we couldn’t have gotten a record deal that would’ve supported us more for touring, so that we could’ve been a band for a longer amount of time,” Tricia offers. “But on the other hand, we really liked one another, and to me, I don’t have any regrets.”
Janet, for her part, isn’t jaded about the entire band experience. “I really do still just love that spirit of “Well, you can have a band if you want to — and there’s probably a place you can play, too,'” she rhapsodizes. “To turn on an amplifier and stick a cord in, and have all this volume… there’s just something very freeing about it.”
So I ask the Wygals: With Daria‘s 20th anniversary approaching, would Splendora consider reuniting, or at least finding a way to share their older music with the world again? The sisters consider the question for a second, before Janet asks with legitimate curiosity:
“How would you suggest we do that?”