Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath isn't stupid. The sunny, reggae-tinted pop-rock outfit's baby-faced frontman accepts his band's position in the rock-and-roll food chain. He's hip to the fact that, given today's musical climate is overwhelmed by marketable dance-rock acts and thinking-man's metal, there's almost no room for the likes of Sugar Ray. But that's not going to keep McGrath from booking studio time.
Sometime in July, Atlantic Records, the band's label home for 11 years and counting, will release a Sugar Ray Best Of disc, featuring hits like "Fly," "Every Morning" and "Falls Apart" and three new songs the boys have yet to record. McGrath said the band hopes to enter the studio with longtime producer David Kahne once he's wrapped up work on the Strokes' next album in New York.
"Is there a giant demand for a Sugar Ray hits record? Probably not," McGrath said. "Hopefully, we can get a single off of it that people will react to, one that can kind of reintroduce people to the band. You kind of go through phase one of your career, and then it's like your window of opportunity kind of closes, and the Bravery comes along, the Kaiser Chiefs, all these great bands, and now you're like, 'OK, that's great, but how do I keep on going?' I still want to be in a band, but how do you become the Eagles? How do you become Aerosmith, you know? We're kind of going through that in-between period where some of our guys are having babies, raising kids — we're kind of just going away from the band for a while, having some more individual experiences, and then we'll get back together and see if a) people want us to do it, b) see if we want to do it and hopefully, still carry on. We still have the passion to play."
McGrath said the band's written a new, "right down the middle Sugar Ray" tune called "Endless Summer," which will be one of the three fresh tracks set to appear on the hits disc. The other two cuts Sugar Ray are planning to record for the effort? Covers of "Life's Been Good" by Joe Walsh and the Cyndi Lauper gem "Time After Time."
"That song's my karaoke jam," McGrath said of "Time." "So we thought, 'Why not put it on the record?' "
On top of finishing the new Best Of material and his current everyday gig co-anchoring the syndicated entertainment tabloid show "Extra" with Dayna Devon ("It's been a good segue ... really, it was either Betty Ford or 'Extra' "), McGrath's been plotting his next move: a solo career.
"I've been casually working on that," he said. "I love music and I'm just trying to figure out how I can stay in the game, and how [Sugar Ray] can stay in the game. A solo career can sometimes feed a band's career and vice versa. I'm certainly doing it at my own pace, and I'm just trying to figure out the vibe. I mean, how do you become George Michael's 'Faith'? How do you become Rod Stewart? I'm getting into the cerebral aspects of it now, and sort of how to do it, as opposed to just going in and doing it and throwing things against the wall. The ego in me wants to still be relevant in music and still wants to hang with the Killers and the Strokes. But when I look at my driver's license and it says 37, I go, 'OK, let's just age gracefully now.' I'm trying to figure out how to combine both and not kid myself."
McGrath denied rumors that he's already signed a solo deal with Capitol Records, but did reveal he's had meetings with songwriters Scott Storch (50 Cent, Justin Timberlake) and Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera, Pink) for direction and to discuss the future of the project and their possible involvement. He'd also like to sit down with hitmakers the Neptunes and talk shop.
"I have written material, and I've quickly scrapped a lot of it, too," he said. "As a songwriter, I like to collaborate. I can barely play chords, and I have things in my head I want to hear, but I really need that collaborator. I haven't decided if I'm going to commit to one guy and do the whole record or kind of cherry-pick some incredible talent. And I'm also trying to figure out what the hell I want to write about. If I'm going to do this, I really want it to be a real extension of myself, and I want my stamp on it. I need to visualize it to make it happen. It's just not an organic thing with me where I can sit down with a guitar, on the beach, and, like, I'm Ryan Adams or Conor Oberst and I've got 40 songs."