’90s Nostalgia

It’s hard to fathom the ’90s as nostalgic for those of us of a certain age, but for the growing number of 30-somethings, it’s the music they grew up on. It was music they heard in the car on the way to school, maybe they met their significant others while listening to a particular song, or one of their favorite songs happens to be of that era.
The boy bands seemed to dominate the music charts at the time, but there were many other bands making waves of their own. Sugar Ray was one of those bands.
They were at the forefront of yet another Southern California musical style that took the group all the way to the top of the charts in the 1990s.
This contemporary rock sound was punctuated with a DJ, which was unheard of at the time, and at the helm of all of it was group founder Mark McGrath.
He knew from the beginning that fame was fleeting, so he and his Newport Beach quintet unleashed a series of albums in a short period of time that McGrath describes as “love letters to the music we loved, with no irony, just pure enthusiasm.”
The album Floored was Sugar Ray’s breakthrough success, earning double platinum status, fueled in part by the No. 1 hit, “Fly.” That popular song was followed by other hits, including “Someday,” “Falls Apart,” and their signature smash, “Every Morning.”
One of the unique things about “Fly” — it featured dancehall reggae pioneer Super Cat, along with a “candy-colored companion video,” melding hair metal and hard-core punk with hip-hop, New Wave, disco and dub. In other words, Sugar Ray made music “like kids in a candy store.” They created a distinctive groove that made them one of the most popular and innovative groups of the era. The band didn’t rack up dozens of hit songs, but the ones that did make their way up the charts were solid successes.
The guys achieved many multi-platinum albums, including the three-times platinum 14:49, along with countless sold out tours.
Their time in the sun faded somewhat along the way. Music changes, groups come and go — it is the natural order of the music industry. The band wasn’t a relevant recording act anymore, but they did have these monster hits people still remember and respond to. Some bands understand they have a shorter shelf life than their songs do, so becoming a nostalgia merchant and continuing to navigate the musical waters to keep the music out there in front of the fans still delivers a paycheck. The fans continue to eat it up and McGrath couldn’t be happier with that.
McGrath realized even a short career as a rock star can sustain a group long after the arenas have closed up. Music is a fickle business, but working his way around that makes McGrath all the stronger for it. Considering all the ups and downs, the good and the bad that go with it, maintaining a sense of humor about it all is a survival skill.
Along the way, McGrath became a husband and family man, with priorities changing in a heartbeat.
“I’m more lucid now,” he stated. “I’m clearer. I’m not this maniac, going from city to city drinking 12-packs of beer. I’m a father now, my craziness is behind me. The fog has cleared and I’m like, look what we did! It’s awesome!”
Understanding that ’90s music is still popular, he created an annual event called “Under The Sun,” a summer music festival showcasing some of the biggest acts of the era and Sugar Ray continues to lead the charge.
But McGrath still loves to party and show music lovers a good time. He will do just that when Sugar Ray hits Harrah’s Laughlin Beach ready to unleash the party animal within. The show on Friday, Aug. 10, signals the last of this summer’s Beach Party Concert Series and is the official pre-party of the 2018 Laughlin River Regatta. Gates to the beach will open at 8 p.m. with a DJ spinning tracks until Sugar Ray takes the stage at 10 p.m.
He and the guys will come armed with all of those fun songs once again proving ’90s music will never fade away.
“We stand on our merits.” McGrath stated. “No matter how much I try to be self-effacing, when you have a No. 1 song you have been validated. As much as I try to bash what we did as a band, you can never disown that. Four top 10 songs, 10 million records — there’s nothing I can do to self-efface that. And the older I get, the more proud I get of what we did.”
At the time when they were most popular, Sugar Ray had a commanding view at the top of the pop world, making many live appearances on all of the news, daytime and late night talk shows of the day — Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Craig Kilborn, Ferguson, Regis & Kelly, John Stewart, Rosie O’Donnell, Wendy Williams and Ellen DeGeneres. Then there were McGrath’s memorable visits to Howard Stern’s many media outings.
The charismatic combo appeared in films and TV shows like Fox’s “American Dad,” ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show,” Ivan Reitman’s Father’s Day (starring Robin Williams and Billy Crystal), and 2002’s live-action Scooby-Doo, with McGrath’s smiling face starring by his own self on the covers of such national publications as Spin and Rolling Stone.
In addition to musician and performer, McGrath is also a pop culture personality as a host of various TV shows such as “Extra,” he’s made guest appearances on many other TV shows, he’s been a film actor and participated in other extracurricular activities — most recently as an honorary Beach Boy, performing with Mike Love and John Stamos, in a video remake of the song “Do It Again.”
McGrath always has a project or the next show around the bend. The guy doesn’t hurt for things to do. He continues to record knowing full well chart success isn’t in the cards, and he’s good with that.
“When you’re in a band you do two things,” he stated. “You write music and you play live. I’ve been doing a lot of one and not a lot of the other, so I feel the need to get out again creatively. I’m very aware there’s no giant commercial business left for Mark McGrath but that’s the good news too – there’s no pressure.”
There’s also that business of complete creative control which is liberating and the best part of all he can be utterly and completely himself at the helm.
“A Mark McGrath record is going to sound a lot like a Sugar Ray record and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “What I love is pop melodies, I love reggae, I love the Beach Boys. I always tried to steer the band in one direction but it was a democracy. Everybody had their own record collections, everybody had their own lifestyles and we had to make sense out of that.”
McGrath and founding guitarist Rodney Sheppard currently lead a Sugar Ray line-up that they feel fulfills the band’s onstage potential.
“We have the best 30-minute set in the business,” McGrath said. “We have a drummer who’s a monster — it’s a joy, really. It’s all about the songs now. No one’s coming out to see my beer belly and receding hairline, they just want to hear the songs.
“These songs mean a lot to people,” he added. “I look into the crowds and I’ll see moms losing their s— out there, remembering where they were 10 or 15 years ago. I see 20-year-olds who call it ‘classic rock,’ you get people in their 60s and 70s enjoying the music, you get the whole gamut.
“You’ve gotta love it,” he said. “And I’ll always love it.”


The Beach at Harrah’s

Friday, Aug. 10 (10 p.m., gates open 8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets