If you can't believe Sugar Ray are serious on their new single, "Mr. Bartender (It's So Easy)," you're not alone. Neither could they ... at first.
"It started off as a joke," singer Mark McGrath said of the uncharacteristic tune, set to surface at radio next week. "It's like a club song, it's a dance song. It's like Pink's 'Get the Party Started' or No Doubt's 'Hella Good.' "
Atypical singles are nothing new to Sugar Ray, a band who broke through in 1997 with "Fly," a left-field, reggae-tinged pop hit that was nothing like the punk casing that wrapped their 1995 debut, Lemonade & Brownies.
"You know, you work your whole life to get a sound, and then years later it's outdated," McGrath said. "You've got to evolve and you've got to reinvent yourself, so I think this track is going to f--- people up. It's coming straight for the clubs, dude."
The song — off Sugar Ray's fifth album, the David Kahne-produced In the Pursuit of Leisure, due June 3 — has a split personality. It was recorded by an instrumentally proficient quintet, but it sounds as if it could be a boy-band banger. Any new elements added by the band are built upon samples: "Love Is Like Oxygen" by '70s glitter boys Sweet in the verse, and '80s funky bunch Midnight Star's "No Parking (On the Dance Floor)" in chorus. And as if that wasn't multifaceted enough, some hip-hop tang is provided by guest rapper Prohoezak.
The band recently shot a video for the song with director Steven Murashige (Incubus, Rage Against the Machine) at a Los Angeles car wash.
Another strange song to appear on the 12-track In the Pursuit of Leisure is a cover of Joe Jackson's 1979 hit "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" Sugar Ray's version is mostly true to form, save for some overly excitable drumming by Stan Frazier.
"David [Kahne]'s not interested in redoing," McGrath explained. "He's interested in updating the song and not making it better than the original, necessarily, but hopefully you can add an element as interesting. At the core, it's still the song. Joe Jackson has a really distinctive voice. It's not necessarily Pavarotti-esque, but it's right up my alley and it just fit really nice. It was a fun song to do."
Other songs on the album include the calypso-tinged "Heaven," which features steel drums and a ukulele; "Chasing You Around," written by guitarist Rodney Sheppard about his son; and "56 Hope Road," named for Bob Marley's old address in Jamaica and featuring dancehall-pop purveyor Shaggy. The previously reported Neptunes collaboration, "Here She Comes," didn't make the final cut.
Although only two years separate In the Pursuit of Leisure and 2001's Sugar Ray, McGrath said the construction period seemed to go on forever, which for a five-member democracy like Sugar Ray is par for the course.
"It's really laborious for us to get songs done because it's truly a collaborative effort. There's five guys in this band and every guy gets his opinion or his music heard. No one writes songs by themselves, so it's a process to get everyone's ideas in coming up with a song."
Despite the leadoff single's dance-club readiness, McGrath described the new tunes as furthering the band's maturity. That's what the plan was last time around, too, and with more than 742,000 copies sold, Sugar Ray was considerably less popular than its predecessor, 1999's hit-laden 14:59, which moved a whopping 2.4 million copies, according to SoundScan. McGrath said he hopes Sugar Ray's core fans have moved forward with the band and are open to something different.
"As you get older, your palate becomes more distinguished, and so is what you're writing about, because real things happen to you every day. I mean, some guys are married and two guys in the band have babies now, so real life kicks you in the ass no matter how much you try to stay in your rock-and-roll-lifestyle bubble."
Sugar Ray will support the In the Pursuit of Leisure on a tour with label mates Matchbox 20 beginning Saturday.
Sugar Ray/Matchbox 20 tour, according to Atlantic Records:
- 4/26 - North Little Rock, AR @ Alltel Arena
- 4/27 - St. Louis, MO @ Savvis Center
- 4/30 - St. Paul, MN @ Xcel Energy Center
- 5/2 - Chicago, IL @ United Center
- 5/3 - Milwaukee, WI @ U.S. Cellular Arena
- 5/5 - Auburn Hills, MI @ Palace of Auburn Hills
- 5/6 - Cleveland, OH @ Gund Arena
- 5/7 - Toronto, ON @ Air Canada Centre
- 5/9 - Pittsburgh, PA @ Mellon Arena
- 5/10 - Philadelphia, PA @ First Union Spectrum
- 5/12 - Boston, MA @ FleetCenter
- 5/13 - Albany, NY @ Pepsi Arena
- 5/14 - East Rutherford, NJ @ Continental Airlines Arena
- 5/16 - Washington, DC @ MCI Center
- 5/17 - Pasadena, CA @ Rose Bowl
- 5/19 - Manchester, NH @ Verizon Wireless Arena
- 5/20 - Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Casino
- 5/21 - Rochester, NY @ Blue Cross Arena
- 5/23 - Indianapolis, IN @ Conseco Fieldhouse
- 5/24 - Grand Rapids, MI @ Van Andel Arena
- 5/25 - Columbus, OH @ Nationwide Arena
- 5/27 - Peoria, IL @ Civic Center Arena
- 5/28 - Kansas City, MO @ Kemper Arena
- 5/30 - Denver, CO @ Pepsi Center
- 5/31 - West Valley, UT @ E Center
- 6/2 - Seattle, WA @ KeyArena at Seattle Center
- 6/3 - Portland, OR @ Rose Garden Arena
- 6/7 - San Jose, CA @ HP Pavilion At San Jose
- 6/8 - Sacramento, CA @ Arco Arena
- 6/10 - Bakersfield, CA @ Centennial Garden
- 6/11 - Phoenix, AZ @ America West Arena
- 6/13 - Las Vegas, NV @ Mandalay Bay Events Center
- 6/14 - Los Angeles, CA @ Staples Center
- 6/16 - Albuquerque, NM @ Tingley Coliseum
- 6/17 - El Paso, TX @ UTEP Don Haskins Center
- 6/19 - San Antonio, TX @ SBC Center
- 6/20 - Houston, TX @ Compaq Center
- 6/21 - Grand Prairie, TX @ Next Stage at Grand Prairie
- 6/23 - Valley Center, KS @ Kansas Coliseum
- 6/24 - Tupelo, MS @ Bancorp South Center
- 6/25 - Antioch, TN @ AmSouth Amphitheatre
- 6/27 - Pelham, AL @ Oak Mountain Amphitheater
- 6/28 - Atlanta, GA @ Philips Arena
- 6/29 - Charlotte, NC @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater Charlotte
- 7/1 - Sunrise, FL @ Office Depot Center
- 7/2 - Orlando, FL @ TD Waterhouse Centre
- 7/3 - Tampa, FL @ St. Pete Times Forum
- 7/5 - Raleigh, NC @ Alltel Pavilion @ Walnut Creek
- 7/6 - Virginia Beach, VA @ Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater