Back when I was working for Elvis Duran And The Morning Show on Z100 many, many years ago, a band called Sugar Ray came into the studio to promote their new single “Fly” and their CD Floored. I had already been a fan of the band because I loved their song “Mean Machine” off of their CD, Lemonade And Brownies, which featured a very hot and very naked Nicole Eggert from Baywatch on the cover. I used to hear the song all the time on WSOU, so when the band came up to Z100, I was pretty excited. Singer Mark McGrath was the friendliest of his bandmates and he and I hit it off right away talking about music. The minute I mentioned I was a fan of the band since hearing “Mean Machine,” he took an immediate liking to me. As the years flew by and Sugar Ray became bigger, the band would continue to frequent our radio station because songs like “Every Morning” and “Someday” would become huge hits. They would come in to promote their local shows in NYC and every time Mark would come in, I would be the first person he would come looking for. I always thought that was pretty cool! Plus, he would always make sure I was on the guest list whenever they played the Roseland Ballroom.
That was almost 15 years ago! Since then, Mark McGrath has gone on to host TV shows like Extra. He’s a three-time champion of Rock & Roll Jeopardy. He was on Celebrity Apprentice and Celebrity Wife Swap. He’s acted in various TV shows and movies. And through all that, Sugar Ray is still together! That is minus original members Stan Frazier and Murphy Karges, but that is a whole other interview. Mark also co-founded the annual Under The Sun Tour, which features the best pop-rock acts of the ’90s. This year it includes, of course, Sugar Ray, Better Than Ezra, Eve 6 and Uncle Kracker. To coincide with the tour, Mark also released his debut solo EP, Summertime’s Coming, through a site called PledgeMusic. They’re a site who helps artists create and promote their music and gives fans a personal connection to the artists they love and support. That is awesome!
I got to talk to Mark for the first time in 15 years and he claims he remembers me, but I doubt it. He might, though! His memory seemed pretty amazing! Regardless, he sounded like the same exact Mark McGrath that I met back in 1998. His personality didn’t change one bit, even after all of the success he’s seen within the 15 years. I was happy to hear that he was still one of the nice guys in the entertainment business who didn’t let success go to his head. I talked to Mark about the Under The Sun Tour, his solo EP Summertime’s Coming, and of course, Sugar Ray! Here’s what he had to say:
Mark! It’s been a very long time since the last time I’ve seen you, you’ve become kind of the prince of all-media…rock star, TV-host, actor…what’s next? Author?
First of all, rock star? I would throw that term around very loosely. Performer, let’s say. Music has always been my first and foremost love and that’s something that I’ve never stopped doing and I will never stop doing. Even when I was at Extra and I was working every day, we still did about 40 to 50 shows a year. They were just either private shows or fly-in shows. We just weren’t doing a cycle of recording a record and then touring. We were just so fortunate to be in a position where we’d written a few songs that mean something to people and that’s why we’re still out doing it. That’s kind of what the tour is about, you know?
So, this is the third annual Under The Sun Tour and you’re actually the co-founder of this tour…
Yeah, it’s the third, but I kind of look at it as the fourth. The first year, I did it with Art Alexakis from Everclear and it was called Summerland and we were playing the same venues we’re playing now, and at the end of that tour, he wanted to go in a harder direction. He wanted to make it more guitar-specific and I was looking to broaden it. I wanted to add hip-hop and all that stuff. So, it’s the third year of Under The Sun, but it actually feels like the fourth year of doing it.
Has it been interesting to watch it grow from the ground up?
Oh, yeah! It’s been a real trip because the first year, we didn’t know if people were ready for the nostalgia of the ’90s, and to a lot of bands, nostalgia is a bad word. To me, it’s a word to be celebrated with. If you look up “nostalgia” in the dictionary, there isn’t one negative connotation attributed to the word. It’s all “beautiful times,” “times I remember,” “looking back fondly.”.All of these are wonderful adjectives.
I think music is the only industry where “nostalgia” is almost considered bad. You think of the nostalgic sports teams you grew up with. God, you would go running to get those autographs or remember those memories. Music is a little different, but it mostly comes from musicians. In music, if you’re saying “nostalgia,” you’re basically saying your recording career is over. Now, with the exception of maybe four or five superstar acts, your recording careers really are over. I’ve got news for everybody! (Laughs) When U2 gave away a free record and people were pissed off, I think that we can all pretty much agree that the industry was done.
Hey, look at bands like Mötley Crüe! Even they’re calling it quits!
Well, let’s clarify Mötley Crüe. Let’s clarify what that is. They’re calling it their last hurrah because they want to make the millions of bucks that are on the table and that’s probably going to draw the most amount of business toward the band. Now, this last hurrah has been going on for about three years and I constantly hear Nikki Sixx saying, “I don’t want to have one guy being the original member and destroying the band and ruin their career.” But Vince Neil is playing headlining gigs in between the Mötley Crüe farewell tour! (Laughs) So, why don’t we just not call it anything and just go out and have fun and have people come? I think people are so caught up in terms and what it is and what it isn’t. If people like your music and like your band, they’re going to show up! Don’t worry about what it is and what it isn’t. The Who had a farewell tour in ’82. Put it that way (laughs).
Under The Sun has been a who’s who of ’90s pop rock and this year, it features Sugar Ray, once again, Eve 6, Better Than Ezra, and Uncle Kracker. I didn’t even know Eve 6 and Better Than Ezra were even still at it…
It’s funny because bands like that were once just so big and you knew the day they were releasing a record because you would hear it on MTV or you would hear it on the radio stations or you would see it in Tower Records. You don’t see those things anymore. I mean, did you know when the last Coldplay record was released? We just don’t live in that era anymore, but these bands used to. We used to hear Carson Daly on MTV, “Next week, the new Better Than Ezra [record] is coming out, so pick it up! And now we have Eve 6!” There are just no channels anymore to receive the conventional way that these bands, which are conventional bands, can let people know there is a record out.
I mean, I put out an EP about a month ago purely for fun. There is no business associated with it. I paid for it by myself, but I wanted to do it. When you’re in a band, you do two things; you either play live or you release music. And we’ve been doing a lot of performing and I can’t tell you what a joy it was to release an EP! It was so much fun!
So, I don’t think you’re going to know when the new Pearl Jam record is coming out. It’s a different world we’re living in now. So to say what have these bands been doing? They’ve been doing what bands do. Once you’ve been lucky enough to receive any sort of success, they’ve been performing a lot. Better Than Ezra and Eve 6? They perform almost 50 to 60 shows a year. It’s just not on the conventional template that we’re all used to.
I’ve been listening to Sugar Ray since the “Mean Machine” days and I noticed you and Rodney Sheppard are the only remaining members of the original Sugar Ray. Did Murph and Stan give their blessing to continue with Sugar Ray without them or did that just end ugly?
Well, you know with Stan and Murph, bands in their 40s, pressing situations happen, and I’m glad to say we had a legal situation. It all got taken care of. We’re all happy with the outcome and Rodney and I will continue as Sugar Ray! That’s what I will tell you.
I’m glad it’s over. It wasn’t fun. It’s unfortunate relationships are severed forever, but that’s it. I will always continue playing these songs because I will never leave the stage. You’re going to have to drag me off the stage. I will never walk away from it.
I read somewhere that you’ll never release another Sugar Ray record. Is that true?
Yeah! Absolutely! I don’t think it’s fair to be public to ever put out a Sugar Ray record that doesn’t have all the original members. I have no problem performing that way because I have no control whether people stay or go. So, I have no problem performing as Sugar Ray. Obviously, legally, no one does either. We’re performing as Sugar Ray. But anything released in the future will be released under my name. If you’re a fan of Sugar Ray, you’re going to love the Mark McGrath EP because I wrote the majority of the music, I wrote the majority of the lyrics, so it’s really respective of my EP as well.
As you mentioned a couple of times, you recently released you’re debut solo EP, Summertime’s Coming. Is that something you always wanted to do? Why do you think it took so long for you to finally do a solo release?
The solo CD actually came rather organically. I didn’t even know if I wanted to do another CD. Our last record was released in 2009 and I would slowly write music and I would do it for fun. What kind of happened in the music industry was like the good news and the bad news. The good news is that everybody can do it and that’s also the bad news. So, you and I can get together tonight, write an EP and release it tonight, but we’ll have to expect no one will give a shit.
So, we got to a point where we had five or six good songs, so we decided to put it out there. I know there are fans of Sugar Ray still that contact me asking me when new stuff is gonna come out. We were fortunate enough to hook up with PledgeMusic, who’s kind of like an online fan club. A great way to get the music out to people that want to hear it and like I said, there is no business or commodity associated with it. We don’t have anybody pushing it to radio, but if you’re a fan of Sugar Ray and you want to hear some new stuff, well the Mark McGrath EP is for you.
Well, why PledgeMusic?
Well, the idea behind this whole thing is to not be so pressured with all music. When we were on Atlantic Records, every song had to be gone over with a fine comb. Then we had to make four quarters and the president was calling me when the record was going to be due.
This is purely a labor of love. We’re not going to be so pressured with every song. We’re going to write them. We’re going to release them and then we’re going to think about the next EP. Hopefully, in a year or two or three years from now, we have four or five EPs out there and we tour as the Mark McGrath band and have some fun!
You’ll be bringing the Under The Sun Tour to here to Asbury Park, NJ on Aug. 21 and Philly on Aug. 22. Will you be performing any of the solo stuff live?
Well, this is a “greatest hits” tour, so I try not to do that and I don’t want to do that, but when you are in a band, you try to play a brand new song every now and then, which is cool. So, we’re going to open with a brand new song that’s on the EP. The past couple of years we’ve been opening with a brand new song called “Summertime’s Coming,” which is the name of the EP. This year, we’re going to open with another one called “It’s Always Sunny.”
Each band on the bill is playing about 40 minutes. Out of that, most of the bands will have 30 to 35 minutes of pure hits and then you’re getting into a covers or a new one. So, we’re throwing a new one in there, but we’re getting it out early! We’re not going to abuse our fans with a 20-minute blues jam! (Laughs) This is the first year we’re rotating the lineup also. So, you’re going to hear hit songs! If you can handle three and a half hours of giant hit songs with quick changeovers, this is the tour for you!
Last question, what is Mark McGrath listening to now?
I’m listening to a little bit of everything and I always have. Being a rock ‘n’ roll historian and three-time champion of Rock & Roll Jeopardy, those accolades don’t come easy! You have to be picking through the grapes your whole life! Let me just tell you what I’ve been listening to in the last five minutes on my iPad, okay?
I have Royal Blood on there, Herman’s Hermits, Steel Pulse is still in there, Adolescents were in there as well. The Steal got in there. My wife threw them in there, but they’re pretty cool. I like them a lot. And then I heard a little Jefferson Starship with a little (sings) “Jane, you’re playing a game!” So all over the place, dude! Just remember who you’re talking to—three-time champion of Rock & Roll Jeopardy! You can’t be delving in certain areas. You have to have a broad love and attention for music! (Laughs)
Catch Sugar Ray and Mark McGrath on the Under The Sun Tour with Better Than Ezra, Eve 6 and Uncle Kracker at the Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, NJ on Aug. 21, Xfinity Live in Philadelphia on Aug. 22, Sands Casino in Bethlehem, PA on Aug. 23, and The Paramount in Huntington, NY on Aug. 24. For more on Sugar Ray, visit sugarray.com. And check out Mark McGrath’s solo EP, Sometime’s Coming, at pledgemusic.com/projects/markmcgrath.