Mark McGrath Interview: Sugar Ray Frontman Talks Debut Solo EP, "Joe Dirt 2" and New Radio Gig
Image attributed to Mark McGrath
Best known as the frontman for the alternative rock band Sugar Ray, Mark McGrath has also starred in last summer’s indie hit Sharknado 2 on the SyFy channel and has a role in this summer’s sequel Sharknado 3. In addition to his role in Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser, opening July 16, 2015, he was the co-host of entertainment news TV show Extra and hosted Don’t Forget the Lyrics as well as Killer Karaoke.
McGrath is excited to announce his debut solo record and has chosen to work with PledgeMusic, the groundbreaker in the direct-to-fan platform. PledgeMusic offers pledgers a chance to get up close and personal with their favorite artists, access exclusive content and be a part of something that fans would not normally have access to.
"We were shooting Joe Dirt 2 in Covington, Louisiana. It’s not the biggest metropolis on earth, and there were a couple of restaurants. It’s a beautiful city, but you’re bound to run into people. I went into a place about an hour after Christopher Walken did, and I was talking to the restaurant owner. He said, 'Christopher Walken was just here!' I go, 'You didn’t do the cowbell thing, did you?' He goes, 'Yes we did! He loved it!' I know he doesn’t love that (laughs). It has been following him around forever."
With every pre-order, fans will be able to download the digital EP upon completion and receive an instant download of the new single, “Summertime’s Coming.” With the Access Pass, pledgers will experience exclusive content such as pictures and videos from the studio and the tour as well as updates from Mark about his music. The fans can also receive a signed copy of the EP, exclusive t-shirt, a VIP Under the Sun Tour experience and an acoustic house performance.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mark, I saw a headline recently that read, “Uncle Ezra Ray Supergroup: Has 90s Nostalgia Gone Too Far?” And I wondered, what even does that mean?
Mark McGrath: It’s funny. As you say, I don’t even know what that means. Has it gone too far? How can the songs go too far? What does that even mean, you know? Everybody’s got a blog, everybody’s got something to say these days. That is referring, I believe, to Kevin Griffin who sings for Better Than Ezra, one of the groups in our Under the Sun Tour this year. He had the idea for all of us to have some fun and put a single together.
Kevin had written a song for Florida Georgia Line, and for whatever reason, it didn’t make their record. He said, “Hey, why don’t you and Uncle Kracker come down, and we’ll finish the song and see what happens to it.” We didn’t have any ideas of anything grand happening. I thought I’d go down there and track the song and never hear from them again, but fortunately SiriusXM picked up the song and added it to the rotation (laughs).
All of a sudden, Kevin was like, “We’ve got to come up with a band name quickly.” I go, “I’m terrible at band names.” Apparently so was Kevin because he came up with Uncle Ezra Ray (laughs). And that’s how the single, “B.Y.H.B.” (“Bring Your Hot Body”), came about. It’s just a fun thing. If you’re going to base nostalgia on going too far with a couple of guys getting together and throwing a single together, well then I believe we need to look elsewhere (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s a very catchy song.
Mark McGrath: It’s a fun single. So many times musicians say, “Hey let’s get together and write a song. Come down to the studio.” And it never happens, you know. But Kevin’s very proactive, and he’s also very active in Nashville songwriting circles as he co-wrote stuff like “Stuck Like Glue” with Sugarland. He’s a working songwriter in Nashville so he’s got the respect there. I just thought we’d do a single, and no one would ever hear it, but we’ll never doubt Kevin Griffin again. That’s for sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you choose PledgeMusic’s online direct-to-fan music platform for your debut solo EP?
Mark McGrath: I was looking for a place to distribute the record. I wasn’t looking for anybody to finance the record though PledgeMusic does offer that to bands that cannot do that themselves. We started making a solo project and had a couple of songs together. I’m like, “How do I get these out to people? What do I do?” I was just curious because in my situation, I don’t need money to make a record, but I’d like to get it to people. I wasn’t familiar how to do that digitally or in that whole Internet community.
PledgeMusic has the distribution to get the record out and get it available to people. Blues Traveler, Everclear, 311, Megadeth and other bands of our stature, who have sold records before, are going there not necessarily to seek financing for a record, but to get the music out. PledgeMusic is great because it’s an interactive place with the band and the fans. If people want to come down and watch us write a song or get involved in the studio or come backstage at a show, they can do that there. It’s kind of like an online fan club.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Or if I want you to come to my house and sing, I should submit $15,000. Is that right?
Mark McGrath: To reiterate, PledgeMusic offers a whole variety of experiences there for bands and for fans. I’ll never ask for money to make a record because I don’t need to, thank God, but if you want us to come to your house and play a set, yeah, that is the price … and that is a bargain price by the way.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are these new arrangements of older songs on the EP?
Mark McGrath: No. These are all new songs that we’ve written. When you’re in a band, you do two things; you perform live and you write music. In the past couple of years, Sugar Ray and myself have been performing a lot, but just haven’t written any new music. We finally found a place at PledgeMusic that’s able to distribute the music, so we said, “We’ve got a couple of originals. Let’s put them together and have some fun.”
Let’s be perfectly clear. There’s no commodity associated with the Mark McGrath EP. I’m hoping to get my money back and want to make another one. That’s it. This is purely done for the love of making music. The irony is I come from the era where people sell millions of records off one single, so I’ve got to think differently in terms of the business model and so do the fans.
It’s a place we can release music and maybe come out with something every six months and not worry about the business side. It’s kind of freeing in that sense. It’s truly a creative exploration done for the purity of writing music. But yeah, it’s all brand new stuff. I’m not interested in redoing the Sugar Ray songs or rearranging them. What I want to do is write new music. That’s why I hooked up with Pledge, and we’ve got a new EP out. And it’s a lot of fun to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will there ever be any new music from Sugar Ray?
Mark McGrath: No. That will never happen again. I have no problems being Sugar Ray in performing live, but I wouldn’t want to put out new stuff under the Sugar Ray banner if the original guys weren’t involved. That’s not going to happen. So I found a good place to get creative with the Mark McGrath project, and we’ll see where that takes us. It’s brand new and exciting.
It’s fun to be creative and release music, however and whatever the scope. Just the fact I can say I have an EP out, and there is a place to buy it is great. You can download and get it. That’s the reward. Again, there’s no business associated with it. There are no misconceptions about what this could be. It’s a place to release the music if you want it. If you don’t, it’s not a problem as well.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Can you tell me about your character in Joe Dirt 2?
Mark McGrath: Yeah. Absolutely. David Spade called me around November, and he said, “Listen, Kid Rock is not going to come back for the movie. Would you like to be the bad guy?” I’m like, “Sure.” He said, “Kid Rock’s character was so beloved. I want to maintain some spirit of that character, so you’ll be his brother.” So I’m kind of Joe Dirt’s nemesis in the movie. I’m trying to steal the love of his life, which, of course, is Brandy. That’s a lot of fun. There’s Patrick Warburton, Christopher Walken, Brittany Daniel and David Spade of course, just so many smart, genius minds. It’s a pleasure to be a part of the cast. If you liked the first Joe Dirt, you’ll like Joe Dirt 2.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who’s funniest off screen, David Spade or Christopher Walken? I have tongue firmly planted in cheek on that question (laughs).
Mark McGrath: (laughs) Without a doubt, David Spade. Christopher Walken is an amazing human being. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the “cowbells” sketch he was involved in on Saturday Night Live.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Oh yes, a classic.
Mark McGrath: That’s really kind of come back to bite him in the ass (laughs). We were shooting Joe Dirt 2 in Covington, Louisiana. It’s not the biggest metropolis on earth, and there were a couple of restaurants. It’s a beautiful city, but you’re bound to run into people. I went into a place about an hour after Christopher Walken did, and I was talking to the restaurant owner. He said, “Christopher Walken was just here!” I go, “You didn’t do the cowbell thing, did you?” He goes, “Yes we did! He loved it!” I know he doesn’t love that (laughs). It has been following him around forever.
Christopher Walken is funny accidentally, but David Spade is funny all the time. The person you see on film is the guy you see off stage. Sometimes you don’t want to meet the people because the legend is better than the reality. But David Spade is a funny person and the guy you want him to be 24/7. What a really great guy and a super talent.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sharknado 3 … I’m trying to picture Ann Coulter as the vice-president of the United States.
Mark McGrath: Anything can happen in Sharknado. Ann Coulter can be the vice president of the United States, and Mark Cuban can be the president. It’s funny. I had a lot of scenes with Ann Coulter. I don’t necessarily share her political views, and I’ve seen her on Bill Maher a bunch of times, so I’m like, “Oh boy. This should be a lot of fun. I’ll bet she’s a ball of laughs.” I was kind of wondering what was going to happen when we were shooting. I’m telling you, though, she is funny and smart. She knows what she is doing and was a lot of fun to be around.
I think Sharknado literally gives people a chance to let their hair down. I think you’re going to see a different Ann Coulter. She actually does laugh at herself, and she’s really self-aware. I was surprised, and I think Sharknado brings it out in a lot of people. I found myself in a taxicab in Sharknado 2 acting with Judd Hirsch. So many surreal opportunities are there by association of Sharknado. It’s the movie that doesn’t think it can’t, you know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice a few years ago. What do you think about the recent controversy surrounding Donald Trump?
Mark McGrath: Well, I know NBC just separated from Donald Trump. I know that. He’s no longer hosting Apprentice. I would never say I’m a huge acquaintance of Donald. I did the show, and he was always fair to me and was kind of fun to be around. I think it’s a sideshow though. Donald Trump is doing what Donald Trump does as he’s in the Donald Trump business.
The irony is that he’s second in the polls right now. I don’t know if that’s a testament to America or a testament to Donald Trump, but he says a lot of things people want to hear. He’s great at rallying people. He will not apologize for anything. But he kind of has the stance a lot of Americans have, and he’s getting some traction with it. How far it will go, I don’t know. Again, he’s in the Donald Trump business. I doubt he will even make it to … I envision him dropping out soon. When it doesn’t suit him, I predict he’ll be dropping out.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did I read that you were in Washington, D.C. the day the Supreme Court handed down that landmark ruling on same-sex marriage?
Mark McGrath: You did indeed. What an incredible place to be. You could see that the city was alive, and you could just sort of see change happening in front of you. It was an historical day for everybody in America anyway, but to be in the ground zero of the whole event was moving. It truly was moving.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On your Twitter page, you say, “If you don’t like Howard Stern, chances are we won’t get along.”
Mark McGrath: Yeah. I found that to be a pretty good gauge on meeting people, you know what I mean? It’s a pretty good gauge for me (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Well, you are a singer/songwriter, actor, television host. Have you ever wanted to be a shock jock like Howard?
Mark McGrath: It’s funny you ask that because there are some talks right now about me getting back on the radio. In fact, talks so close that I’ll be signing the contract very soon. I’ve done a little bit of radio in the past before, so it’s something I’m definitely interested in. I think one thing about me and certainly still the reason why I’m talking to you and why I’ve been around for a while is that I try other things.
Music will always be my first love and first passion as you can tell. I’m making and financing a record by myself that no one’s going to hear, and I don’t care because I love music. That’s always going to be my home base. Fortunately, it keeps the lights on. But this is Hollywood, and there are a lot of opportunities out here in the entertainment business. If you’re nice and remember names, you shake some hands and return phone calls, there are many opportunities for you.
I’m always curious as to what’s around the other corner. I’ve never done more acting in my life, which I never thought I’d do any. I’ve been doing some TV hosting as well. Radio opportunities presented themselves. So it looks like you might be hearing me on a certain channel that would be appropriate for what I do. That will be my clue to you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ll be listening. Since Sugar Ray will not be doing any new music, how would you like the band to be remembered?
Mark McGrath: I think what we are kind of being remembered for now is sort of being justified by the crowds that come out to the Under the Sun Tour. Each year we do this tour, it gets bigger, and the crowds get younger. That’s a testament to the music. I was on an interview earlier, and someone was joking how I was the sexiest rock star in 1998. I wouldn’t be talking to that person or you right now if that were the only accolade I had in ’98.
We happened to write some pretty good songs that people still relate to. People come up to me and say, “Hey, ‘Fly’ was the first song my son ever sang,” or “’Every Morning’ was on when I got engaged.” Music, God bless, has become a part of people’s life’s landscapes, and once you have that hallowed ground, you’ll always be remembered. We have a couple of songs that have that power and quality. That to me is an honor to be remembered that way. That’s why you pick up an instrument or get on the microphone for the first time, to have some songs that mean things to people as songs to do me. It’s something that is a blessing, so I can imagine it’s going to keep going forward. At least I hope, fingers crossed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are your favorite artists?
Mark McGrath: I listen to everything. I know it’s a cop out, but I truly do. Being a three-time Rock & Roll Jeopardy champion, you can’t limit yourself to one category of music (laughs). I like everything from the Beach Boys to Slayer to J of X-Clan to Johnny Mathis to Chet Baker, and I listen to it back to back. I just love music. If you limit yourself when you’re younger and go, “I’m a punk rocker,” you go through those phases, but as you get older and life experiences happen to you like getting your heart broken and getting married, you start adding Air Supply and Frank Sinatra to the list. Music is a great way to supplement your emotions in life, and limiting yourself to one type of music has never been my bag.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are those twins a handful at five years old?
Mark McGrath: Boy, they’re a super handful, but my son just came in and brought me some breakfast like the good little boy he is. But yeah, they say it gets easier as they get older, but now they have opinions on everything. These twins are five years old, and they want what they want immediately.
They’re a part of this new generation, the immediate generation. It’s quite a load to bear especially when I’m on tour. My poor wife just gets it in stereo from these two when I’m gone. They’re a little bit manipulative now. They know how to beat up on her, but they’re a ton of fun. It’s a journey, but man, it gets hard sometimes (laughs).
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