Mark McGrath is Happy to Wash the Stink Off '90s Nostalgia

For a guy whose better years are admittedly behind him, Mark McGrath isn't ready to leave the '90s behind just yet. For the past three years, he's spent his summers on the road taking advantage of the thirst for nostalgia with his Under the Sun tour. Playing with his hits with his contemporaries is a far cry from what Sugar Ray was at its inception.

“We started as a cover band/party band playing Run DMC, Blondie, Motorhead and Zodiac Mindwarp,” the singer says. “We maintained that spirit and that's who I am.” His solo project that has been in the works, has purposely been worked on at a deliberate pace. That's partially due to his schedule, and the lack of pressure from external sources for a new record.

“No one is waiting for the new Mark McGrath record,” he explains. “Which is the good news, since there's no pressure to release anything, but it's also the bad news.” The EP, which McGrath optimistically prognosticates, is thinking for a tentative release during the first quarter of next year.

On Saturday at the Huntington Beach Food, Art and Music Festival (Sep. 5-7), the band will stick to its greatest hits, with maybe a few solo songs sprinkled in for good measure. We caught up with the singer who was at home in Studio City, who has taken his talents to the small screen including Sharknado 2, to talk about nostalgia, the '90s and the biggest differences between hosting and being a frontman.


OC Weekly (Daniel Kohn): How was the Under the Sun Tour this summer?

Mark McGrath: When we first started, I was hoping it would make it through the first year and wouldn't collapse because no one came. Now in year three, it's bigger than ever. We sold out Red Rocks, and the thing that's great is that it keeps getting bigger and the crowd is getting younger. I think the irony, the nostalgia of the '90s is really starting to manifest itself. We're two years away from a Sugar Ray shirt being in an Urban Outfitters! I remember when people were rocking Poison and Ratt shirts, so it does come around again. The '90s had a little time to get the stink off it, and by stink I mean that every time when you look back at a decade, you can't believe you're into certain things – like Hammer pants and highlights.

What's the camaraderie like backstage?

What's great about it right now is putting the lineups together. This year, we had Uncle Kracker, Smash Mouth and Blues Traveler – four headliners playing together. It's great because I don't really take any bands that don't get the spirit of what this is about. This isn't play your new record or begrudgingly play your hits. This is more like “We're lucky to be here to do this and we're so thankful for playing a sold out venue” and it's awesome. Half of these bands we've toured with before, and we all know each other in some way. If you had a hit in the '90s, you are part of a fraternity of people, whether you've seen them at a music awards show or radio concert, and we all knew each other. We're too old to deal with any insanity out here anymore, so to bring a team that supports the same spirit of what you're doing is amazing.

So a little nostalgia goes a long way.

If you look up nostalgia in the dictionary, there isn't a negative word associated with it. I know there are bands, and certainly bands of my era, that think nostalgia is a bad word. But at this point, that's what you're dealing with. I tell the band that I don't want to hear their new stuff either! I barely want to hear my own new stuff. (laughs). Let's stick to what we're doing and do this as a greatest hits package and dive into the deep end with full glee saying “Thank God we're able to do this.” If you're going to this tour, you like '90s music, and if you don't we don't have anything for you.

What has the response been like?

Well, I was reading a review on Noisey, which is the snarky snarkerson type website, and at the end, the guy said “Damn you Mark McGrath, I had a good time.” It was perfect. That's the biggest compliment you could give me. You can throw all the adjectives and douchery you want – and I get it, you got a job to do – but at the end, you said you had a good time, so that's all that counts. What else am I doing this for at my age? Am I supposed to be cool with my receding hairline with my Propecia? There's nothing more uncool than a nearly 50-year-old man trying to be cool. Look I'm the first guy to make fun of me, so I get it. I was looking forward to reading the Noisey review and getting ready to cringe at the time. But at the end, the guy was very fair and his digs were right on. But saying he had a good time was the biggest compliment you could give me.

What's the biggest difference between being a frontman, an actor and a host?

It's very simple. TV and movies is very subtle and non-verbal. There are actors who have made a living by just giving a look to the camera and it's a lot more subtle. Being a performer on-stage, you want to hit the last row of the arena, so everything is big and grand. I'm a spazz by nature, so I've really had to tone it down when I'm hosting. When I started Extra, I was bad and scared. It took me a while to learn, and I was learning in front of America. I went to a 7-11 about six months after I started Extra and a guy walked in with a neck tattoo, and I thought he was going to punch me in the face and beat me up. And he said, “Hey dude, c'mere,” and goes, “Keep it up with Extra. You sucked when you started but you're getting better!” I had to tone the energy, which is great on-stage but doesn't go well on screen.

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