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Name: Adam Bernard
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Mark McGrath Stays Fly, Carries The 90s Torch
Wednesday, April 23, 2014

If there was a Mount Rushmore for 90s music, Mark McGrath would be one of the faces carved into the mountain. The lead singer of Sugar Ray, whose infectious hits are still played over 20 years later, perfectly represents the genre blending era.

With 90s nostalgia at an all time high, McGrath has taken the reigns of the era he’s a face of with his Under The Sun Tour, which this year features Sugar Ray, Blues Traveler, Smash Mouth, and Uncle Kracker.

The tour starts up at the end of June, and in anticipation of it I caught up with McGrath to find out more about his plans for Under The Sun, as well as his thoughts on people’s nostalgia for the 90s, and what went on during some of Sugar Ray’s earliest tours. McGrath also discussed his role in Sharknado 2, his not yet released collaboration with Action Bronson, and who he credits for his prowess at Rock & Roll Jeopardy.

Adam Bernard: Let’s start by talking about the Under The Sun Tour. There’s a lot of 90s nostalgia on there. Is it strange to think of that era, an era you helped to define, as nostalgia?

Mark McGrath: Well, it’s strange to think that I could be part of the nostalgia, because I was a kid steeped in nostalgia. What’s weird about the 90s is the 90s never really ended. When we were first starting to put this tour together, we were like, “Are the 90s over?” If you look at Pollstar, the top ten bands are (filled with) 90s bands, like Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, Soundgarden. You’re like, “Did it even end?” You know EXACTLY when the 80s ended, especially in music. In 1991, when (Nirvana’s) Nevermind came out, the 80s were over, completely, and the nostalgia kicked in almost overnight. The 90s almost never really ended. It was kind of weird. So I think nostalgia, you can count on it being every 15 years, and since the 1990s started we’ve certainly hit that mark, and I’m noticing more and more younger kids coming to the shows. That’s when you can start feeling nostalgia. My big joke is we’re probably about two to three years away from a Sugar Ray t-shirt being in Urban Outfitters, and that’s when you’ll know nostalgia has completely arrived in the 90s.

Adam Bernard: When we’re paying $32.99 for that shirt?

Mark McGrath: Exactly, for a Sugar Ray shirt we couldn't give away five, ten years ago. It’s strange, though, to be part of that nostalgia. When people think of the 90s they think of me, and I’m very honored, it means we’ve made an impression in people’s lives, and we carry the torch now for the 90s, and this tour, in particular, I want it to be your one stop shopping place for all things 90s. If you were relevant at all, had a hit in the 90s, and you can put a band together, come on board with Under The Sun.

Adam Bernard: So there might be a small chance that in the future Len could join the tour?

Mark McGrath: Oh without a doubt. I’m not sure they’re still around. I think we checked in on them, because that song, “Steal My Sunshine” was so big, and it’s such a great sample they used. We never really intersected with them, but hey, Under The Sun, making friends, and making new memories. Len would be a great band to have.

I want (Under The Sun) to evolve to something like having five or six bands, and having En Vogue, having MC Hammer, having House of Pain, having Smash Mouth, just anything 90s. I think of the 90s, it was a real Lollapalooza age. It’s when the walls, the genres, really broke down. If you listened to pop radio in the 90s it had Eminem, Blink 182, and Mariah Carey. That’s when you knew the walls were kinda coming down.

Adam Bernard: And you did Warped Tour during some of Warped’s original years, so you saw that mix on the road, as well.

Mark McGrath: Yeah, you know it’s funny for us, we came out in ’95, our first record, Lemonade and Brownies, and we didn’t know what the hell we wanted to do. We were kind of a Beastie Boys with no talent. We loved metal, but we loved punk, but we loved hip-hop. We were just kind of doing it all, and our first tours were with bands like Korn, and the Deftones, and Monster Magnet. We actually played on a couple festivals with the Sex Pistols in Europe. We were kind of part of that, I guess the original ... they called it nu metal in Europe, it became rap-rock, but we were kinda flirtin with that whole thing originally. Then we wrote the song “Fly” and it just took us to light years, and genre, and demographics, beyond anything we could ever imagine, but we’ve always had one foot in that punk rock, Warped Tour, kind of thing, and always been friends with bands like The Vandals, and The Offspring, and Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Social Distortion, a lot of those bands from Orange County. We came from that scene, and just kind of became something else. I mean, I love Slayer, but I love The Beach Boys.

Adam Bernard: That’s a tour we’ll probably never get.

Mark McGrath: I’m gonna agree with you on that one, (but) I’d be first in line. I’d be center stage.

Adam Bernard: Maybe Brian Wilson can cover some Slayer songs.

Mark McGrath: There ya go. His interpretation of “Angel of Death” and Slayer would have to return the favor and do “God Only Knows,” or something like that. It would be pretty cool.

Adam Bernard: You’re a veteran, so you have your routine for when you’re on the road completely figured out at this point. When you look back at the early years of your career, however, what are some of your fondest memories of not having your proverbial shit together while on the road?

Mark McGrath: Oh God, they’re not really your finest memories. They’re memories that led to fights, that led to doing stupid things, drunken shenanigans. It was the greatest time in my life, and the toughest time. You’re touring Europe with literally eight bucks in your pocket. You had no credit cards, but you had these dreams. No cell phones, no internet, no nothing, just, “Alright honey, I’m leavin. See ya in eight weeks,” and I’d literally see ya in eight weeks. We’d just be gone. We couldn't even buy calling cards. It was just all sorts of craziness.

When you’re on your first couple tours, and you’re a brand new band, you’re like a little puppy. You just want to eat it all up, and shit it out. You don’t know where to go, or what to do, and you gotta find your level. I remember with one of Korn’s early tours that we were on, Jagermeister decided to sponsor their tour. Someone thought that would be a good idea. I remember after two weeks their managers came in and said, “Get these bottles out of here. No more Jagermeister,” because we were just drinking the bottles, they were drinking the bottles, and the shows were kind of suffering.

You get a long leash to hang yourself in a band. You’re in a rock n roll band, you show up to work, there’s three cases of beer, a bottle of booze, whatever your rider requires, and being stupid young kids, full of testosterone, you’re gonna rock n roll, and do your thing, so they give you a long leash to hang yourself, and it’s almost excusable. Then you start doing stupid things, maybe missing some shows, saying some stupid things. My stuff’s documented, and it took me a while to learn, but when the money kinda gets involved, and you start selling some records, as much as you hate it to become one, it becomes a business. There are people relying on you. You’re relying on you. Your dreams are starting to come true. You’re like OK, let me protect these a little more. Maybe I don’t need 55 beers to get on stage.

Adam Bernard: That being said, is there anything from that time that you look back on and say, “I was young, I was dumb, and I’m really glad I didn’t know better, because if I had known better I wouldn’t have X memory?”

Mark McGrath: That’s a really good point. Absolutely. I’m glad that maybe we didn’t have a hit first, and then tour, because you just do so many stupid things. I remember being in France, I think we were in Dijon, and we were playing in Leon the next night. I didn’t know how far it was. I go, “Dave, just let the bus carry on, I don’t care, I met this chick, and just whatever, I’ll find it.” The next day I wake up, I find out the gig is nine hours away, and this girl’s got like a broken down VW, or something, and we just piled in it and somehow made the show, just barely. She didn’t speak a lick of English, I didn’t speak a word of French, but we just made it, we somehow figured it out. Those kind of memories, things like that, I can’t believe that happened, and if I’d known better I certainly wouldn’t have put myself in that position. There are a ton of those stories, and they come back through the fog. As I’m getting older, I don’t party as much, I don’t tour as much, and I'm getting more lucid and clear in my old life. I’m also a dad now, so I’ve kinda gotta tap into those old memories if I want to sort of feel any sort of craziness. They kind of slowly come back. The one I just told you I hadn’t remembered since it happened.

Adam Bernard: Was that the most lost, or out of your element, you’ve felt in a foreign country?

Mark McGrath: I think that it was. Luckily, I had a band itinerary. For some reason I had it with me. I think it was in my pocket. I had one page of it, and it was to the club for the next show. It just showed the city. It didn’t show you how to get there. Then when we got to the city they’d moved the show venue because it was oversold, or something, and the guy didn’t know the club. All I remember is “Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?” All I know is that means “what” in French. I remember hearing that over and over. Somehow it got pulled off. It was just crazy.

Adam Bernard: Quoi is probably the one word you didn’t want to learn while you were there.

Mark McGrath: Exactly, and it was the only one I heard over and over and over again. Boy that was a long trip, and I was hungover ... I’m giving myself the willies thinking about it, and it’s funny, it’s exactly one of those things, I just didn’t know any better, and I didn’t care. You just kind of threw it all out there. I had nothing to lose, and I had no money, I was just trying to make experiences, and if it all ended tomorrow I was gonna have a few, and that’s kinda how we lived.

Adam Bernard: Moving to the present, I noticed an unexpected collaboration on your resume. You’ve worked with Action Bronson? How have I not heard this?

Mark McGrath: It hasn’t been released. It’s funny, here’s the deal. Our manager, Chip Quigley, his son is Harry Fraud, and I remember meeting Harry when he was like ten years old. He’s a really big underground hip-hop producer now. He’s worked with Wiz Khalifa, he came up with French Montana, and he and Action Bronson are very close. So basically, we were writing some songs last year, and Harry Fraud, our manager’s son, invited us down, and said, “Hey man, do you hear anything on this Action Bronson song that we’re working on?” We heard his verses and were like oh, that’s the coolest thing ever, so we added some guitar parts, we added some choruses, some vocal harmonies, and stuff. We thought it was killer. We’ve been told it’s gonna come out on his record, his debut record. I don’t even know if his record’s come out yet. I think I would know. At least I would know if our song is on it. Hopefully it gets on the record, because it’s a great song, and he’s such an incredible talent.

Adam Bernard: It’s definitely unexpected, though, to see your names next to each other.

Mark McGrath: That warms my heart. It really does. That’s what music’s about for me. If you listen to old Sugar Ray songs, or kind of know what we’re about, almost to our detriment, we’re such fans of music. We had five guys, and three of us mainly wrote the songs, but all of us contributed a little bit, and we all had different loves, musically, different influences. On our first record I was singing in falsetto. We had punk rock songs, we had heavy metal songs, we had everything. I just love music. There’s 12 notes in music, and it’s all how you wrap it. I’ve worked with everyone from Willie Nelson, to KRS-One, to Action Bronson, to Run-DMC, to 311, to the Wilson sisters from Wilson Phillips, because of our willingness to put ourselves out there, and love music, and never be defined. I think that’s important. It’s certainly import to stay relevant. That’s something we’re working on. Staying relevant, that’s a whole different story, but loving music, you can never take that away from us.

Adam Bernard: In addition to your music, you’re going to be in Sharknado 2. How did you land the role?

Mark McGrath: I ask myself that very same thing. I was on a bus on the Under The Sun tour last year when the movie premiered on SyFy. We had one guy who was kind of familiar with those shark sci-fi movies, and he was kinda watching it in the front. We all migrated to the back lounge to watch like Goodfellas again for the millionth time, or something. Halfway through Sharknado we were all up front Twittering about it, laughing about it, going, “Oh my God, this is the greatest movie ever!” So I was just a fan first, like everybody else. A couple months ago I got a call from my manager, who said, “Dude, they want you to be in Sharknado 2,” and I go, “You gotta be kidding me.” I just said, “Tell me when and where to show up.” Thankfully, I don’t think they’d seen a lot of my acting in the past, and they didn’t judge in that manner, and just said, “Let’s get this guy in there to make a cameo,” but I have a pretty significant part. I play the brother-in-law of the lead character, Fin, who’s Ian Ziering’s character. I marry his sister, and that’s who they’re coming to New York to visit. Then insanity ensues. I’m not gonna tell you whether I live or die, but fingers crossed I make it to number three. I mean, I’m just a fan who feels like he won a contest.

Adam Bernard: And they could always, in editing, just decide you’re gonna die.

Mark McGrath: Absolutely. You can die, or you can die and then they go, “You know what, you’re gonna be a ghost in number three.” That’s what so great about that genre, you just complete suspend belief, and the more insane, it almost serves the movie better.

It’s weird, Sharknado, it’s become even bigger than it was last summer. You’d think it would die down a little, but we’re filming in the middle of Manhattan, truck drivers are stopping their trucks in the middle of the street to say hello. Our first five minutes we started shooting, it was all over TMZ. I found myself in a taxi cab sitting there on Broadway with Judd Hirsch, Vivica Fox, Ian Ziering, and Dante Palminteri, who’s Chazz Palminteri’s son, and plays my son, and I'm like this is insane. I’m acting with the guy in Taxi, Judd Hirsh. There are also so many great cameos, from Robert Klein, to Richard Kind, Biz Markie, Benji from the Howard Stern Show, Matt Lauer makes a cameo. The producers were saying, “Get ready for the Comic-Cons and things, dude. You got a whole new sorta career you’re gonna be venturing into here.” It’s been a lot of fun to be part of it. Hopefully I can push my parts along. I’m not Marlon Brando. No one’s ever gonna confuse me with him, so hopefully I don’t damage the movie, or wind up on the cutting room floor.

Adam Bernard: I like that you’re worried about damaging the legacy of Sharknado.

Mark McGrath: {laughs} How scary is that? I know, find me a role that doesn’t require you to be that good, and watch me blow it.

Adam Bernard: Moving back to music, Sugar Ray will be celebrating its 30th anniversary pretty soon.

Mark McGrath: God, that’s so scary to hear that.

Adam Bernard: Do you have something special planned for the occasion?

Mark McGrath: I hadn’t even thought about it until you just mentioned it. It’s... well, it’s a little early. We started in 1988, so it will be in four years, but the fact is, to make 26 years is crazy. The fact that we had our 25 year anniversary last year was crazy. That kind of passed by without any fanfare because we’re kinda going through some legal stuff right now. Two years ago two of the original members, which we kept together for 23 years, which is something I'm very proud of, left, so we’re sorta in a legal situation with them, so we haven’t been in the mood for celebrating the history of Sugar Ray.

Adam Bernard: Would you like it if everything came full circle and there was a set of Sugar Ray Shrinky Dinks?

Mark McGrath: No, because that would mean some people would have to be involved in that. There will never be another Sugar Ray record, I can guarantee you that, and a Shrinky Dinks thing, that would have to be the original members, and that’s not possible either.

Adam Bernard: Finally, how would you react if someone were to actually defeat you at Rock & Roll Jeopardy?

{laughs} It’s happened before. Listen, I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things. People will try and get me. Most people want to stay in the classic rock range, and what was so great about Rock & Roll Jeopardy is it went into new wave, it went into hip-hop, it was all over the place. If people just stay right in the classic rock vein, I’m gonna beat most people in that, but I’m beatable, but if you take it to Rock & Roll Jeopardy, where it includes hip-hop, punk rock, new wave, and everything, I am unbeatable there. No one’s ever beaten me in that capacity. You need to know a lot about a lot to beat me at pop music Jeopardy, but if you’re gonna go rock n roll straight down the pike, classic rock, there are some things that just didn’t cross my plate. Pink Floyd, things like that, things that might be super obvious to others. Lyrics I suck at, too. You can beat me at lyrics if you throw that in there, as well.

Adam Bernard: Really?

Mark McGrath: Oh yeah. Also, Jeopardy has a real dynamic consideration to it, too. A person’s inclination when you’re on Rock & Roll Jeopardy, you see the question, you go “OH I KNOW,” and you’ll hit the button really quick, but you don’t know, you haven’t thought it out enough, so you’ll hit the button and you’ll lock yourself out. There is a little rhythm that I learned quickly in that dynamic. If you aren’t ready to deliver the answer, don’t hit the button. A lot of people didn’t get that. You’d just hear “The lead singer of Led...” and people would hit the button, and then you wouldn’t finish the question, “The lead singer of Led Zeppelin’s first solo record.” I picked that up because my mom was a huge Jeopardy fan, and she used to make me play her when I was younger. She’d give me a dollar for every question I beat her on, which wasn’t many, because this was regular Jeopardy.

Adam Bernard: And you were a child.

Mark McGrath: Yeah, I was a child, but she led me to enjoy trivia, and it kind of led me to my Rock & Roll Jeopardy victories.

Adam Bernard: Did you ever return the favor with your mom and make dollar bets during MTV’s Remote Control?

Mark McGrath: {laughs} You’re good. No, but rest her soul, until she passed about a year ago, she would still want to play Jeopardy with me and do that dollar thing. We were doing that until she passed. As recently as a year and a half ago I remember, “Alright, sit down, let’s do the dollar thing.” Good memories.

Adam Bernard: That’s a really beautiful memory.

Mark McGrath: It is a great memory, and the irony of the whole thing is my mom was on Jeopardy when it was in New York in 1968 and she was pregnant with you know who. My mom liked to say she was helping me with the answers, or preparing me, and I would say, “Mom, I was giving you the answers in ‘68!” My mom won. Jeopardy champions are in the family.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 3:55 PM  
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