Sugar Ray Sweeten New LP With Melodic Pop

The ska-pop quintet is looking to prove that its one big hit was no fluke.

Nearly a year after riding high on the summer radio airwaves, Sugar Ray guitarist

Rodney Sheppard and his bandmates are hard at work trying to prove that their

dancehall reggae-tinged smash hit was no fluke.

In an effort to prove their point, Sheppard said Sugar Ray have come up with material

that focuses more on melody-based pop a la '50s sounds than the harder edge of

their previous effort -- the 1997 breakthrough Floored. And while the emphasis

right now may be on catchy pop, Sheppard said he suspected that the songs would

eventually balance out with more heavy guitar-based tunes.

"We're working with [DJ] Homicide [who worked on the last album] a lot more this time,"

the guitarist said, "and in the early stages, I think we've got some really well-written,

likable songs. One has this sort of '50s chord progression with very '90s production."

Ensconced in the same L.A. rehearsal space that Sugar Ray have used to write songs

for the past four years, the band is busily writing new material and demoing songs for an

album that it hopes to have out later this year, Sheppard said.

"We've moved our stuff in there and already have basic tracks for six new songs," said

Sheppard, 30. Re-teaming with producer David Kahne (Soul Coughing, Sublime), who

produced Floored, the band -- which also includes singer Mark McGrath, Craig

"DJ Homicide" Bullock, drummer Stan Frazier and bassist Murphy Karges -- is again

attempting to mix and match styles from a diverse palette.

The last time the band did that and scored big was with its dancehall-reggae hit

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Sugar_Ray/Fly.ram">"Fly" (RealAudio

excerpt), off Floored.

Kahne, who recently moved his equipment into the rehearsal space to begin working

with the group, said he thinks that the band is expanding on the sound of the last album,

from punk, ska, pop, funk and rock into a '90s-tinged, Southern California sound. "One of

the reasons I wanted to do this album was because they have grown their sound since

last time," Kahne said. "They have this really heavy stuff and then some loopier stuff and

a much broader range of composition than in the past."

Although the sounds range from what Kahne described as a "really '50s-ish" song to a

more '70s-style rock tune, the in-demand producer said it didn't feel like the band was

copping anyone else's style. "They take from all over, but you don't hear it and go, 'Oh,

that's a Buddy Holly riff,' " Kahne said.

One of the standout tracks so far, according to Kahne, is a bittersweet ballad written

several years ago by a friend of the band. Also scheduled for inclusion on the album is a

more band-oriented version of "Burnin' Dog (Don't Pet A)," which Kahne said would

differ greatly from the drum & bass version on the Avengers soundtrack.

Sugar Ray are slated to enter a studio with Kahne to begin recording the album in

mid-August.

Sheppard said the group also recently laid down a souped-up cover of the Steve Miller

hit "Abracadabra" for the soundtrack to the television show "Sabrina the Teenage Witch."

Born of the fertile ground of Southern California's Orange County, home to such fellow

musical dilettantes as ska-rockers No Doubt, Sugar Ray formed in the early '90s. Their

1995 debut, Lemonade & Brownies, was an unpolished look at things to come on

Floored, with a genre-hopping mix of R&B, punk, funk and ska tunes that set the

precedent for the band's fusion pop sound.

Perhaps trying to recapture the spark that the band found with dancehall-reggae toaster

Super Cat, who was featured on "Fly," Sheppard said Sugar Ray currently have a list of

hoped-for collaborators for the new album. High on that list is Pretenders singer Chrissie

Hynde. "The stuff we're doing right now has a real musicalness to it," Sheppard said. "It

expresses our love for '50s and '60s pop music -- all the doo-wop stuff and pop hits from

bands like the Everly Brothers."

Both Sheppard and Kahne credited pin-up lead singer McGrath with having worked hard

on his nasally rap singing, saying the singer has lately found his voice and gained a

renewed confidence in his vocal abilities.

"I don't think these guys are a one-hit wonder at all," Kahne said. "I wouldn't have done

this if I did. They're more of a band now than ever before."