Sugar Ray fights ska-punk expectations

Sugar Ray, with Goldfinger, Save Ferris, House of Blues, February 25, 1998

Sugar Ray's "Fly" was last summer's tastiest pop-radio morsel. Singer Mark McGrath wrapped his vocals around a great sing-along chorus that rode an infectious rhythmic thump -- a musical gumbo enhanced by Jamaican-toaster Super Cat's patois. Equally irresistible was the song's video, in which McGrath scampers around in a manner reminiscent of Fred Astaire. "Fly" transformed the Southern Californians into world-beating rock stars, and pushed their second album, "Floored," to platinum status, or so the story goes.

"That song came out because we were working together and we weren't writing shit," says bassist Murphy Karges. "We hadn't seen Mark in a couple of days. We got in a big fight, because we were in a bad mood. That's what made us good. That's what bummed us out and stripped us of writing the typical hard-rock song."

Those enamored with the sunny vibe of "Fly" might be put off by the bulk of the band's other material, prominently displayed on the album's opener, "R.P.M." The sound is defined by buzz-saw guitar, rhythms right out of the ska-punk workbook, and a band attack as heavy as any metal you might fathom. McGrath, however, worried that some early fans might be put off by the new sensations on "Fly."

"It was like the punkest thing you can do, to release an easygoing song when you're known for being a hard band," he says. "I thought people might just dismiss it. But it was a real moment for us. It's a very simple, touching pop song. Period."

Sugar Ray started when McGrath, Karges, guitarist Rodney Sheppard and Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock began playing parties and clubs around Newport Beach, Calif. Stan Frazier eventually joined on drums, and the band soon found themselves opening for Korn, Cypress Hill and the reunited Sex Pistols, gaining a measure of glory when their "Mean Machine" single was championed both by hockey fans and "Beavis and Butt-head." Then came "Fly."

"It was such a big hit, and that's great," McGrath muses. "But I just want to make a good record the next time out. Nobody ever thought we would get this far."

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