With so many nineties trends storming back into the zeitgeist—tiny sunglasses, low-rise jeans, Newt Gingrich—maybe we should have seen another Sugar Ray album coming. But we didn’t. And, to be fair, neither did lead singer Mark McGrath.
The album, out July 26th, is called Little Yachty as a nod to the rapper Lil Yachty and a signal that Sugar Ray has fully pivoted into yacht rock. The road to its release began when McGrath was shooting a fake studio session for the intro reel of Celebrity Big Brother. But guitarist Rodney Sheppard came prepared with a new song idea—and by the time McGrath reentered society after a month in the Big Brother house, Sheppard informed him that, much to his surprise, BMG was interested in giving them a record deal. Little Yachty is both Sugar Ray’s first album in ten years and their first release since losing two original members of the band, who were around for the “Fly” and “Every Morning” days.
McGrath has a sense of humor, both about the forthcoming album—which he’s just happy to have had an opportunity to make—and his old persona. “If there’s a bigger douche look in the nineties than the highlights, I don’t know,” he says. “And I’m responsible for it.”
GQ spoke to McGrath about embracing a new genre, his passion for self-deprecation, and, of course, his hair.
GQ: The album’s title references both fact that it sounds like yacht rock and the rapper Lil Yachty. I actually looked it up and realized he was born the same year you guys had your first hit. Has he said anything to you about it?
Mark McGrath: I wanted to be the first to let him know that this was happening. And I was hoping he would be cool with it and had a sense of humor. Hopefully he would get a kick out of that. And he hit me back on Twitter and said, “Oh, bro, you guys are legends and if we can ever jam, I’d love to jam with you guys some day.” So I’m so happy to get his co-sign on it because if it bummed him out, that would have bummed me out.
This is your first album in 10 years and the first album since you lost two long-time members of the band. Did you and guitarist Rodney Sheppard ever think you’d break up for good or stop recording under the Sugar Ray name?
The original band was together for 23 years, and two of the guys left to pursue other vocations. Neither one plays music professionally anymore. So I can’t make someone stay in the band, you know?
We were limping towards the end there, so it was nice to write a record that wasn’t really looked at as being a commodity or a product, simply writing a record for fun. And that’s where I kind of found the joy of songwriting again. And I think, Rodney, I’ll speak on behalf of him, he did too. Rodney’s written some of the most iconic guitar riffs of the nineties. The “Fly” riff, the “Every Morning” riff, the “Someday” riff, these are riffs you hear right away and you know them.
I mean, I’m going to piss some people off, but it’s like hearing “Sweet Child O’ Mine”: When you hear Fly’s riff—“do, do, do, do, do”—that riff is so iconic. And as long as Rodney’s still part of the team we were going to be in good shape.
Sugar Ray started out as a hard rock punk band in the beginning. You transitioned to nu metal. Then you went mainstream pop and now you’re all the way to yacht rock. That’s a pretty wild trajectory. How’d you end up landing here?
You get better as musicians. When we started out, I loved the Beatles. I loved the Beach Boys and I loved Christopher Cross. I also loved Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and Sex Pistols. Now, when you can’t really play music and you can’t sing, you’re going to gravitate to one sort of genre more than another one. You’re not going to do five-part Eagles harmonies when you can’t do them, you know?
We spread our wings a little bit on the song “Fly,” no pun intended. And we came up with a song that really worked. And, careful what you ask for, now we have this song that exploded across multiple genres and was one of the biggest songs of the nineties and we were lucky to follow up on subsequent albums. And 14:59 was a record that was bigger than Floored and nobody counted on that. We didn’t ourselves. That’s why I named it 14:59, as a tribute to Andy Warhol’s “everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame someday.”
As a 51-year-old man, father of two, I have no interest in going backwards and playing down tunes, rad rock, or anything of that nature. I’ve kind of been there and done that. And it’s just kind of organic to where we are now, this record that we produced. And we also want to make a record for our fans of Sugar Ray that like the music.
Let’s go back to what you said about the 14:59 album and poking fun at yourself, because I was reading this 1999 Rolling Stone interview, and I realized that you’ve always been kind of self-deprecating and bitingly realistic. How did you develop that attitude?
I’ve always kind of led with that. It’s a defense mechanism or an offensive mechanism, if you will. You’ve got to disarm people. And I love music. I pride myself on being a three-time Rock & Roll Jeopardy! champion. I’m a historian of music. So the fact that Mark McGrath, some douchebag from Newport Beach, ever got a chance to play in the big leagues and have number one songs and have platinum records and open for the Rolling Stones, I mean, that irony and that impossibility is not lost on me.
It bothers my bandmates and it bothers other people around me, that I kind of put it down so much, but I just think we got so lucky. But at the end of the day, it’s also about results. We did sell 10 million records. We did have two number one songs. We did write four top-10 songs. And I’m very proud of that. You can never take away that accomplishment. I don’t think I’d be so self-deprecating at this point in our career if those things never happened because we wouldn’t have a career. So it’s easy to sort of lead with that, but I’ve always been that way because I know how lucky we have been.
I want to hit you with a few questions about the nineties revival that’s been happening. First: what’s the most surprising nineties trend that you have seen come back?
The most surprising thing about looking back is we all look back at it with rose-tinted sunglasses. I obviously lived in the nineties. I had my peak of my career in the nineties, and I don’t think it was all that great when we were living in the nineties, you know what I mean? When you look back at it, you look back at it like you might look at a girlfriend or an ex-boyfriend. You only remember the good things. And there were so many great things in the nineties. The kids today, they mine all the great things.
The baggy clothes are coming back. I never thought those gigantic jeans would come back, but you look at Justin Bieber today and he’s wearing these giant jeans. So that was an unfortunate trend.
And listen, the highlights. I was a card-carrying member of the highlight club and a torch-bearer and a flag-planter of that club. But at the time, these things didn’t seem as great. I don’t know if it’s I’m just too close to it or not, but it’s interesting to see it all come back. And I know the stink of the decade goes away.
When I was growing up in the eighties we looked back at the sixties and we were wearing paisley and all that stuff. So it’s fun to see it come around again.
Yeah, and I think the rule is if you wore it the first time around, you’re not supposed to do it the next time around.
I think you’re right about that. I never stopped wearing the highlights because my hair’s gray now. I think I’m going to be the exception to the rule on that. And I took a lot of shit for 20 years for having highlights.
Can you share your highlight routine with us?
It used to be highlights back in the nineties, but now my hair would be like Anderson Cooper gray. So there’s a certain thing I do now where I do this like semi-permanent dye and then we go to some blond. It’s more of a blond dye, less highlights now. You just kind of dye it all over a little bit. It’s still a work in progress. And then the gray starts kind of coming back in again. So you don’t want to completely go newscaster copper. There’s a way you got to work around it and sort of make it look sort of organic.
So you’re still riding for the highlights but do you have any looks from the nineties that you really regret? Or any trends that you hope just say buried?
I don’t think anything was that lame in the nineties, ironically, except highlights, which I apologize for. If there’s a bigger douche look in the nineties than the highlights, I don’t know. And I’m responsible for it.
You’re doing these nineties nostalgia tours. You’re going on tour for this album. Do you find that there are any new, younger fans who are just discovering your music for the first time? Or are most of the people from the first time around?
There are a lot of younger faces out there, a lot of them are with their parents, but I see them at meet-and-greets. And they’re like, “Yeah you’re kind of the last era, the last decade with that traditional band set up.” Kids don’t even want to learn to play guitar anymore because it takes time. You got to sit down. It’s frustrating. There’s sort of a zen quality to it. You got to learn it. You can’t just do it immediately, like today’s generation wants everything done immediately with no work and a little bit of a sense of entitlement. I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but am I wrong?
You’ve been on a lot of reality TV [Ed. note: along with Celebrity Big Brother, McGrath has appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice, Celebrity Wife Swap, and Pussycat Dolls Present: The Search for the Next Doll.] in your day. What are some of your favorites to watch?
I watched the OG Real World when it debuted on MTV, I think in 1991. So I was hooked back then. And ever since then, the Bachelor, Bachelorette. That’s the one thing my wife and I can agree on. But I get dark in my reality shows. I like watching Lockup and the prison shows and all that stuff.
My last question is, what are your hopes for this album?
My hopes for this album and the way it’s going to change my life are probably going to be the same as yours.
It’s not going to change your life. Hopefully it does well. My hopes for the record are already met. We made a record and it’s coming out. So it’s done. I know that sounds a bit of maybe a defeatist, but certainly coming from that day where we sold millions of records … we got to make another record on a major label. You know what I mean? I never thought that was going to happen again for Sugar Ray. Never in a million years.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Source : Gabriella Paiella Link