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Members include Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock, turntables (joined band, c. 1996); Stan Frazier, drums; Murphy Karges, bass; Mark McGrath, vocals; and Rodney Sheppard, guitar. Addresses: Home--Los Angeles, CA. Record company--Atlantic Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY.
Sugar Ray grew out of the irreverent Southern California, Orange County-centered music scene that spawned such alternative successes as No Doubt and Sublime--bands who, like Sugar Ray, have helped infuse a spirited reworking of both the neo-punk and reggae genres into modern rock. Fronted by vocalist Mark McGrath, Sugar Ray hit it huge with their 1997 release Floored and its extremely successful single, "Fly." The reggae-esque song, wrote Michael Saunders of the Boston Globe, featured "pillowy bass lines and summer-camp-sloppy harmonies " Saunders deemed it "a track as simple as a virus and every bit as infectious." McGrath summe up "Fly"'s widespread success by pointing out to USA Today's Cathy Hainer that the song has a basic appeal--"my grandma loves it, and my hard-core punk friends love it."
All members of Sugar Ray, with the exception of latecomer Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock, grew up in the affluent Orange County enclave of Newport Beach. McGrath, a graduate of the University of Southern California, confessed to acquiring a love of punk rock music at an early age, while bandmate Rodney Sheppard admitted to learning to play guitar by copying Cheap Trick riffs. Sugar Ray's rhythm section is made up of Murphy Karges on bass and drummer Stan Frazier. Originally, they began as a cover band called the Shrinky Dinks that played rap and heavy-metal tunes at parties. "We were bad enough players that it all sounded like one wall of noise," McGrath told Rolling Stone's David Wild, "but people were so amused by our antics, no one picked up on it." Later they were forced to find a new name when the toy company who manufactured a product called Shrinky Dinks objected and threatened to sue. The "Sugar Ray" tag came out of McGrath's love of sports and pays homage to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson.
Eventually Sugar Ray began writing their own material-- from metal to punk to hip-hop. They also attracted a devoted fan base in their Orange County area with raucous live shows centered on McGrath's showmanship and penchant for near nudity at times. The labels soon came calling, and in 1994, when "anyone who played electric guitar was the next Nirvana," as McGrath told Wild in Rolling Stone, they were offered a deal with Lava Records. Success simply offered more opportunity for pranks. Their 1995 debut album, Lemonade and Brownies was delivered, true to irreverent Sugar Ray form, to the label offices by the band themselves clad only in jockstraps. Furthermore, it received far more attention for the provocative pose of Baywatch actress Nicole Eggert on the cover than the music. Inside, wrote Jerry Lee Williams of Seconds, it offered "a compendium of basic suburban AlternMetal Funk Hop movers."
Tracks on Lemonade and Brownies like "Danzig Needs a Hug" displayed the band's smart aleck side even further. Its first single, "Mean Machine," received some airplay, but it was a career-making appearance on Howard Stern's syndicated radio show that would fuel sales. Stern had once written a painfully bad, though somewhat precocious batch of songs as a teenager in the1960s, and once played them on his show. Sugar Ray learned to play one, "Psychedelic Bee," and included it on Lemonade and Brownies. Stern was so touched that he invited them on his show, and the subsequent televised version of the session, which aired on the cable-television channel E!, helped earn the band greater exposure and new fans.
Even on Lemonade and Brownies, Sugar Ray was displaying a talent for being able to cross over into a myriad of musical genres, from punk to ska to alterna-pop. "There are five guys in this band, and when we collaborate everyone contributes their different styles," drummer Stan Frazier explained to Doug Reece in Billboard. Their sound took on an added and fresh dimension when they added Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock to spin turntables and give their songs a whole new live, quasi-Beastie Boys kind of mood with scratching, sampling, and heavy remixing of their own instrument. "Homicide is like a second guitar," bassist Murphy Karges told Guitar World.
Before their 1995 debut, Sugar Ray had never actually toured, though they were certainly veterans of performing live. They paid their dues over the next two years, however, playing extensively through 1996 and even opening for the revived Sex Pistols that summer of 1996. The band then headed into the studio to record their second album with renowned producer Dave Kahne. It was not an easy time for the band personally, but out of the tension came Floored. Within one week of its release in mid-1997, Floored's sales eclipsed that of Lemonade and Brownies.
It was the extremely catchy second first single called "Fly" that launched Sugar Ray into alternative chart history. The non-radio version of the song featured a Jamaican dancehall-reggae singer named Super Cat. Just a few days after the idea of adding a live "toaster" to the reggae-influenced track, Super Cat was in New York with them. Sugar Ray was, appropriately, floored "to see this guy put down a track with four white guys from Newport Beach--it was just a lucky act of fate," McGrath told Spin's Jonathan Gold.
"What came out of those sessions with Super Cat," wrote Details' Pat Blashill, was "a sweet, slightly drunken song, wobbly with reggae flavor and a ridiculously sunny vibe." "Fly" stayed at the number one spot on Billboard's Modern Rock charts through the summer and fall of 1997, and it made Sugar Ray one of the top alternative acts of the year. Ironically, the blithe song was actually borne out of some band friction during the New York recording sessions: McGrath didn't like the new songs that they wrote, was thinking about quitting, and disappeared for a few days. Meanwhile, Frazier was also depressed, but came up with "Fly"'s melody and the line "I just wanna fly!" Six months later, they received a gold record for the song.
Floored also contained more teen-angst nostalgia with a cover of the Adam & the Ants classic "Stand and Deliver," as well as several original tracks that again ran the gamut from punk to hip-hop. Sugar Ray were now full- fledged rock stars, having appeared in the 1997 Ivan Reitman film Father's Day, starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal,. The band spent most of the summer of 1997 on the Warped tour, the nexus for the skate-punk, surf- punk, Southern California area punk bands, before achieving more mainstream success. Afterward, they played some dates in Europe and then headlined an American tour, where they found that being rock stars had some unexpected drawbacks--they were startled to realize they needed aliases when checking into.
Even with a number one hit and a movie credit under their belts, Sugar Ray was not fazed by success. As McGrath explained to Gold in Spin. A video on MTV or a gold record do not necessarily equal wealth. Instead, "you see that you owe the bank of Atlantic records lots of dough." McGrath said he had to borrow money from his father just to pay his pager bill.
Neither touring nor the constant barrage of media encountes seem to bother them, and they profess that they had slogged so long as relative unknowns that they are thrilled with the idea of being rock stars. "In music, you work within a framework," McGrath told Blashill in Details. "You have to get in there, rob as much as you can, then get out."
by Carol Brennan
Sugar Ray's Career
Band formed as the Shrinky Dinks; signed to Atlantic Records, 1994; released first LP, Lemonade and Brownies, 1995; Floored, 1997.
- Selective Works
- Lemonade and Brownies, Lava/Atlantic, 1995.
- Floored, Lava/Atlantic, 1997.
September 2, 2004: Television executives signed Mark McGrath as co-host of the entertainment show Extra. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/TV/09/04/mcgrath.ap/index.html, September 7, 2004.
- Alternative Press, October 1997, p. 33.
- BAM, June 27, 1997.
- Billboard, September 20, 1997, pp. 11, 81.
- Boston Globe, July 11, 1997.
- Details, September 1997; October 1997, p. 56.
- Guitar World, October 1997.
- Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1997, p. 38.
- Maximum Guitar, November 1997, p. 49.
- New York Daily News, July 21, 1997, p. 30.
- Rolling Stone, November 21, 1997; February 5, 1998.
- Seconds, August 1997.
- Spin, November 1997.
- USA Today, August 8, 1997.
- Additional information was provided by Atlantic Records,.
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