Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath takes pride in the variety of styles his band has to offer the world of music. And he wants to make that clear.
Especially now that the band has made its way to the radio and MTV.
You wouldn't know it from hearing their current hit single, "Fly" (RealAudio excerpt) -- a bouncy ska-inspired tune with a guest vocal from dancehall legend Super Cat -- but the singer for the Southern California band said he likes to think the group is about much more than the sound of the moment.
"That song's cool because it has a good summer vibe to it," McGrath, 27, told ATN recently from the road, where the group is holding down a spot on the Warped Tour's third stage. "We knew it would be the single as soon as we recorded it. But it's all a part of us trying to keep different styles going, so even if people think it's a new style for us, if they check out the record, they'll see it's all over the place."
While never predictable, the band's new album, Floored -- the follow-up to their more scattered 1995 debut, Lemonade and Brownies -- is, in fact, a more focused mix of punk, reggae, hardcore and hip-hop that benefits not only from the group's musical maturity, but also from the presence of their new fifth member, Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock.
Following in the footsteps of House of Pain's DJ Lethal, who produced Sugar Ray's first album, Homicide has stepped in to give the band a harder, more mixed-up feel. Drummer Stan Frazier, 28, said, "Homicide came in toward the end of the last album and he's a clown like us. We grew up listening to KISS and AC/DC and he's from a totally different background, so it's a great exchange."
Frazier said Homicide has also helped the group's live show by adding backing vocals, guitar licks, horns, scratching and anything else he can think of. "He's awesome," Frazier said. "He'll just spin something, or he'll hear a sound and sample it and then play it back later in a song. He's a great all-around player."
As for how the group ended up getting Super Cat to guest on "Fly," McGrath said it was all just a matter of timing. "I said to our producer (David Kahne, who has worked Soul Coughing, the Bangles, Fishbone and others) that it would be really cool if we could get a guy like Super Cat to sing on that song." David had previously produced for Super Cat, so he got him on the phone, he added, and five days later Super Cat was recording his part of the song.
With the single currently receiving plenty of radio and MTV play (no doubt some of it due to McGrath's newfound resemblance to unwashed actor Ethan Hawke), the singer said the response on the Warped Tour has been growing every day. "People are starting to know who I think I am," McGrath said. "It's incredible, because we've been on the other side of the coin, selling, like 100 records a week, driving around in a shitty van, all that. When I was a little kid in my bunhuggers miming to KISS, I never thought I'd be able to do that Tom Petty thing where you hold the microphone out and kids sing the song for you."
"We just tried to make a more focused record this time," said Frazier, who credited the diversity of styles on the album to the fact that all the band's members (guitarist Rodney Sheppard and bassist Murphy Karges included) write songs. But that still doesn't explain the band's odd choice of Adam and the Ants' "Stand and Deliver," refashioned as yodeling, punky attitude fest as the album's cover. So McGrath gave it a shot.
"We grew up in Southern California listening to KROQ and Adam and the Ants and all that new wave stuff," he said. "The label knew we wanted to do a cover and they gave us all this Parliament-Funkadelic stuff and '70s soul collections and we just thought the Ants were closer to our attitude. It's so weird and glam, with two drummers and a real attitude."
McGrath said the group hopes to keep their fans intrigued by continuing to mix up styles live and in the studio, a strategy that he said is sort of the band's unofficial philosophy. "I might try to write a German polka song next time, or another Boyz II Men thing like on the first album. People know that about us now, so they know not to expect anything. But in a good way."