Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath
The singer returns to his stomping grounds to sing for Goodwill Gala
The ’90s may have faded, but Newport Beach native Mark McGrath, frontman for the blockbuster band Sugar Ray, never got the memo. McGrath’s songs supplied the soundtrack of so many summers. Just a few words from any one of his hits will instantly transport you back to the days of MTV beach houses and KROQ shows at Irvine Meadows.
But how does a ’90s star stay relevant? He keeps working and keeps making music, like McGrath has done. Between releasing a new EP, producing a summer tour and hosting a radio show, McGrath – former co-host of “Extra” who is now married and the father of twins – is a creative spirit still making it happen.
On November 5, McGarth joins a celebrity lineup that includes Kool & the Gang’s Skip Martin, Tony Orlando, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night and John Cafferty of the Beaver Brown Band at the third annual Goodwill Gala at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point. The event raises money for veterans services and for fitness equipment and technology to help people with disabilities. McGrath chatted about his various projects and the legacy of the decade that saw him become a star.
Coast: OK, so let’s start at the beginning: What high school did you go to?
McGrath: I went to Corona del Mar High School, from 1982 to 1986. There was so much great music at that time in Orange County. The walls were being broken down; you had punk rock, rockabilly, mods, hip-hop; and KROQ gave us a steady diet of great music.
Coast: Wasn’t there was a big rivalry between OC and LA punk back then?
McGrath: Oh, God. It was gigantic. When punk started in LA, it was way more arty. Then, when it hit the beaches, all these surfer/jock guys got into punk rock. Bands like T.S.O.L., The Crowd, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, Adolescents and all these Orange County bands brought a little danger to the scene. And the Cuckoo’s Nest, in Costa Mesa, was one of the most iconic punk rock venues of all time.
Coast: How will you explain the ’90s to your children?
McGrath: The ’90s were an incredible time. Those were the salad days of the recording industry. They were selling so many records, they had to make up a new denomination; gold and platinum wasn’t enough. They went to diamond ‘cause people were selling 10 million records.
So I’ll tell them it was an incredible time, but a time that we’ll never get back because the industry that I loved so much is gone. But I’ll let them know how much fun it was to go into a record store and pick up a CD and have a tangible product.
Plus the ’90s were the years when, musically, all the walls broke down. It was the Lollapalooza age, where it was ok to like Wu-Tang Clan then listen to Blink-182, then listen to Mariah Carey and Eminem and the Lemonheads. Music didn’t define who you were; people just liked music. I think that was what was really healthy about the ’90s.
Coast: So you guys just came off your Summerland tour?
McGrath: I partnered back up with my buddy Art Alexakis of Everclear, and it worked really well. The crowds are getting bigger and younger. I always say we’re a year or two away from
a Sugar Ray T-shirt being in Urban Outfitters. You know it’s almost cool again to have highlights in your hair. The ‘90s are almost cool again.
Coast: Talking about generational stuff, for this Goodwill Gala you look like the lone Gen Xer in a sea of baby boomers.
McGrath: Oh yeah, I’m the young stud, approaching 50. To be the boy toy of the group doesn’t happen for me much anymore, but I have done some shows with these guys. Skip Martin looks like he’s 25 and will rock the house, John Cafferty sounds better then ever, Chuck Negron has got one of the greatest voices you’ve ever heard. It’s an honor to share the stage with these guys, and to do it for a charity like Goodwill is such a win-win.
Coast: So you used to be an investor at A Restaurant, which used to be The Arches there on PCH in Newport …
McGrath: Yeah, they were going to tear it down and put up a minimall, but it was such an iconic building, a huge piece of Orange County would’ve been missing. So some buddies of mine got together and got the lease. I think we opened the day the economy collapsed! There were some real lean years, but we really tried to maintain its essence so it’s still doing well today.
Coast: What’s your favorite OC restaurant?
McGrath: I can’t go to Newport Beach without going to the Crab Cooker. That will always be my spot. That chowder is in my DNA.