Don't ever leave me in Manhattan for two weeks with nothing to do and a ton of speed," says Sugar Ray singer Mark McGrath, sounding straight off the pages of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.
Such was the case when Sugar Ray set up shop in a New York City rehearsal studio/crack-house to write songs for a new album. After nearly two years on the road, the Los Angeles-based quintet had decided to rent a cheap, run-down room in midtown Manhattan, a perfect place for the band to regroup. "That place was sketchy," bassist Murphy Karges recalls. "You could get Chinese food or cocaine delivered."
The band set up the room with their gear and recording equipment, enabling them to record long jams or spontaneous riffs at will. "We could jam all day," says guitarman Rodney Sheppard. "Then we'd get ripped at this Irish bar on the corner, and then go back and listen for the stuff we liked. Somehow, we work best that way."
With no firm schedule in front of them, Sugar Ray settled in and started piecing songs together, eventually recording demos of more than twenty new tunes. Many of those ditties can be found on the band's raucous sophomore effort, "FLOORED."
"FLOORED" finds Sugar Ray expanding on the hard riffs and heavy grooves that marked their 1995 Lava/Atlantic debut, "LEMONADE & BROWNIES." The band have added stronger melodies to their music and further integrated the unique scratching of DJ Homicide's wheels of steel into the mix. As a result, "FLOORED" swings from mood to mood with ease -- from the total heaviosity of "RPM" to the eclectic cover of Adam & The Ants' classic "Stand and Deliver" to the free-flowing "Fly" (featuring the dance-hall stylings of Jamaican toaster Super Cat).
Sugar Ray met with a multitude of producers before hooking up with Sublime/Soul Coughing knob-monster David Kahne, whose universal knowledge of producing, writing, and recording had great appeal to the band. In addition, his varied resume of credits assured his ability to understand Sugar Ray's admittedly-schizophrenic approach.
The two years of near-constant touring tightened the band's already-considerable power. The aural attack of "FLOORED" is fronted by the supertight section of bassist Karges and drummer Stan Frazier. Their potent rhythm dynamics are ideally matched by Sheppard's ferocious buzzsaw axe-work. Rather than focusing on individual virtuosity, the three musicians concentrate on pounding out their music as a cohesive unit, an attitude reflected in the record's vigorous and unrelenting energy. The road also provided DJ Homicide (aka Craig Bullock) the time to develop his own sound within the band. Homicide was bigtime excited about getting into the studio after the seemingly-endless tour. "I love the studio," he says. "It's always a fucking madhouse in there."
Not content to simply scratch, Homicide focused on innovating his instrument. Sounding at times like a second guitarist, he twists and manipulates sounds into complex shapes and shrieks that seem as if his head might have been jammed up a Sega video game during the recording of "FLOORED." "I didn't want to just record some bullshit stuff that you've already heard from a DJ in a band before," Homicide explains. "I wanted to do something different."
On the lyrical tip, McGrath continues to write about life's simpler pleasures, filtered through his keen eye for wit and irony. It is Mark's skewed outlook that defines the Sugar Ray attitude and philosophy. Although his words may not seem to represent any deep or social concerns, the voice of Sugar Ray is unafraid to address the big issues in his own idiosyncratic way. Take this bit of science from "American Pig": We get our culture from a mini mall/Fuck inside a bathroom stall/Rob Peter, pay Paul/I'm just like you/I want it all...
The brass tacks is that no matter what, the primary goal of Sugar Ray is to entertain. "We started this band for fun," McGrath swears, "And we haven't changed."
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The men of Sugar Ray all grew up in sunny Orange County, California, with the exception of the Pasadena-raised DJ Homicide. All five of them shared a common dream of playing rock 'n' roll music for a living, a dream that has indeed come true.
At the impressionable age of 14, McGrath's suburban life -- "I was a latch-key kid," he says. "I'd come home to flat Pepsi and Kojak." -- was rattled by the ferocious sound of the Sex Pistols and Black Flag. From there on in, Mark knew what he wanted to do when he grew up. That is, as he so succinctly puts it, "Drink, scream, and fuck."
The rest of the band share diverse influences and dreams. Drummer Frazier's heroes include Keith Moon, Stewart Copeland, and TV's John Ritter, while bassist Karges (who learned to surf and smoke at age 12, and someday hopes to open a "1-900" psychic hotline and chicken farm) idolized bands like Devo, T.S.O.L., and the Dead Kennedys. Sheppard says his musical destiny was forever determined when he saw KISS' 1979 "DYNASTY" tour. Finally, DJ Homicide's musical tastes extend from hip-hop to heavy metal, a combination of influences that enables him to dig the diverse Sugar Ray sound and style.
The band spent 1995 and '96 touring the world in support of "LEMONADE & BROWNIES," performing over 200 gigs, both as headliners and as special guests of bands like Korn, Cypress Hill, The Deftones and the reunited Sex Pistols. They also logged a bounty of TV appearances on shows that include MTV's 120 Minutes, Sound F/X, and The Jon Stewart Show. In addition to being blasted in many a North American hockey arena, their "Mean Machine" single was immortalized by America's animated arbiters of music taste, Beavis and Butt-head. They became special friends with Howard Stern by virtue of their awesome cover of "Psychedelic Bee," a song originally written and performed by the King of All Media's high school band, the Electric Comic Book. The Sugar Ray and high-profile comedy connection continues with their performance in the Robin Williams-Billy Crystal flick, Father's Day, a role that saw the boys hand-picked by the legendary director, Ivan Reitman.
A great many things lie ahead for Sugar Ray in 1997 and beyond. Tours and festival appearances are already planned for the U.S. and Europe, with the band also scheduling in some dates as openers on the KISS reunion jaunt. Needless to say, Sugar Ray are pumped about hitting the road and bringing the big sound of "FLOORED" to the people. "I can't wait to get back out there," Mark McGrath exclaims. "Free bear, deli plates...and the fans. What more could you ask for?"
© Atlantic Recording Corporation 6/97