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Sugar Ray: An Unlikely Road to Stardom

Posted in MusicWorld on September 30, 1999 by
The success of Sugar Ray's third and current album 14:59 - a wry reference to Andy Warhol's 15-minutes-of-fame theory - provides a decisive rejoinder to the skepticism that followed in the wake of the band's breezy pop smash "Fly."

Indeed, some observers had tagged the Orange County quintet - frontman Mark McGrath, guitarist Rodney Sheppard, bassist Murphy Karges, drummer Stan Frazier and turntable specialist Craig Bullock, aka DJ Homicide - as potential one-hit-wonders before the current disc demonstrated the band's staying power.

As McGrath told Guitar magazine, "It's not about changing the world. It's about human emotions, things people can relate to. So for the first time with a straight face we were able to sing a song about maybe loving someone or missing someone."

The 10-year-old combo's unlikely road to stardom began with its 1995 debut, Lemonade and Brownies, which consisted of relatively conventional party-animal alt-hard-rock, and failed to find a mass audience. But the 1997 sophomore effort Floored went double platinum, thanks in large part to the quintessential summer hit "Fly," whose melodic lilt and bubbly hip-hop beats were noticeably at odds with the rest of the album's hard-rocking contents.

The sonic approach that energized "Fly" is considerably more prevalent on 14:59, on which the band employs psychedelic guitar hooks and funky percussion loops, alongside the contributions of turntable specialist DJ Homicide (who joined the band on Floored) as well as a guest appearance by rap icon KRS-One. Such radio-friendly tunes as "Every Morning" and "Someday" echo "Fly" 's blend of strummy guitars and percolating beats, while "Live and Direct" mines a fluid Caribbean groove. Elsewhere, the band underlines its pop stance by covering Steve Miller's infectious '80s hit "Abracadabra"

"There was no conscious effort to write songs that sound like 'Fly'," McGrath asserted in an interview with Spin. "But these songs are in a similar vein. 'Fly' has shown us what we're best at. I don't want to say, 'Don't bite the hand that feeds you,' but don't bite the hand that feeds you, you know?"

Sugar Ray's success has also turned the photogenic McGrath into a familiar media presence. The brash yet self-deprecating singer has been a guest panelist on TV's Politically Incorrect and the first male to grace the cover of Cosmopolitan, and was even named Sexiest Rock Star by People magazine. Though he's received the lion's share of the media spotlight, he hastens to point out that most of Sugar Ray's songs are written by the entire group.

"This band has always been and always will be the sum of its parts," he told Alternative Press. "That's why for 10 years we've had the same members. Outside of the band, we're completely useless at anything."

"We're not trying to be anybody's lifestyle; we're just supplementing people's lifestyle," McGrath told Rolling Stone. "I believe there's a niche for bands like us, bands that have a good time and are just happy to be here."

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SOURCEMusicWorld TAGS Pop Rock Musicworld Feature Artists Sugar Ray