Sugar Ray, the band formed in Newport Beach, California and fronted by singer Mark McGrath that was responsible for a string of breezy, reggae-tinged mid-1990s radio hits including the ubiquitous "Fly," will release its first full album of new material in more than six years when "Music For Cougars" comes out July 21 on Pulse/Fontana/Universal. The group will tour clubs and festivals throughout the summer.
"Cougars" sees the band returning to the lazy grooves, easy beats, and catchy harmonies that proved a winning formula and propelled the group to sales of more than 12 million copies over a five album run for Atlantic, plus a "Best of Sugar Ray" release on Rhino, before parting ways with the label in 2006.
But even after the relatively poor showing of 2003's "In the Pursuit of Leisure," the group -- which still has all of its original members including Craig “DJ Homicide” Bullock, drummer Stan Frazier, bassist Murphy Karges and Rodney Sheppard on guitar -- continued to play corporate parties and summer gigs while McGrath also pursued a second career as host of the celebrity news show "Extra."
"Back in 2003, the writing was on the wall for bands like us," McGrath explains in an exclusive interview with Billboard.com. "Radio was changing, music was doing what it does, it was just going through a cycle. We weren't selling a lot of records and we were like 'You know, maybe we should take a break from the grind of recording and touring and see what else is out there.'"
But last year, when producer and Pulse label head Josh Abraham suggested the band record a new album on a small budget with the goal of simply having some fun and seeing what happens, McGrath and his bandmates of more than two decades jumped at the chance. "We got together 21 years ago to make music and have fun and that was always the passion behind the band," McGrath says. "I left 'Extra' in September and focused full time on the band and making this record. Its purely a passion, a labor of love basically making this record.
"We have realistic views of how the music industry is today. I know people aren't sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for a Sugar Ray record. But that wasn't the point. It was purely because we love to make music," he says. "We're not going anywhere. All of us have tried to sabotage the band one way or another. But some divine intervention has kept this band together and I think we all appreciate that. I think the biggest success of Sugar Ray is that after 21 years and all the booze, drugs, women, money, having no money - all those things have come into play and we're still together. That, to me, is the biggest reward."
The tracks on "Music or Cougars" were written during the recording process at Pulse Studios in Los Angeles. Songs on the album include the uptempo dance cut "She’s Got The...(Woo-Hoo)," the mid-tempo romancer "Love is the Answer" and the reggae-influenced remake of Eddie Hodges' "(Girls Girls Girls Are) Made to Love" featuring Collie Buddz. "Cougars" also features guest appearances by Rivers Cuomo, Donovan Frankenreiter, Josh Freese, Dean Butterworth, Wayne Jobson and Tim Pagnotta.
"Boardwalk," the album's first single which is going out to radio in May, is an instantly recognizable summer tune.
"We tried to get away from the Sugar Ray sound on our last record -- we even worked with the Neptunes on a couple of songs -- trying to reinvent ourselves but it didn't really work for us," McGrath admits. "But now we're like 'Let's give them a straight down the center, summer, sunny Sugar Ray song' and I think 'Boardwalk' really embodies that. From the title 'Boardwalk' to the sound of the song, the harmony, the acoustic guitar, the lyrical content -- you're going to hear the song and go 'Wow, that's Sugar Ray for sure.'"
Here's the Sugar Ray tour dates:
July 24: Hankinson, ND (Dakota Magic Casino)
July 25: Lac Du Flambea, WI (Taste of the Torches Resort)
July 26: Chicago, IL (Taste of Lincoln Ave.)
July 28: Detroit, MI (Hall)
July 29: Cleveland, OH (House of Blues)
July 30: Dewey Beach, DE (Bottle & Cork)
July 31: Baltimore, MD (Sonar)
Aug 1: Binghampton, NY (Spiediefest)
Aug 3: Albany, NY (Northern Lights)
Aug 4: Boston, MA (Paradise)
Aug 6: Stamford, CT (Columbus Park)
Aug 7: New York, NY (Fillmore)
Aug 8: Washington, D.C. (9:30 Club)
Aug 10: Norfolk, VA (Norva)
Aug 11: Charlotte, NC (Amos' South End)
Aug 12: Atlanta, GA (The Loft)
Aug 14: Ft. Lauderdale, FL (Culture Room)
Aug 15: Orlando, FL (Downtown Orlando/Orange Ave.)
Aug 16: St. Petersburg, FL (Jannus Landing)
Aug 18: Nashville, TN (Cannery Ballroom)
Aug 19: New Orleans, LA (House of Blues)
Aug 21: Austin, TX (La Zona Rosa)
Aug 22: Houston, TX (House of Blues)
Aug 23: Dallas, TX (House of Blues)
Sept 11: Seattle, WA (Showbox)
Sept 12: Portland, OR (tba)
Sept 14: Sacramento, CA (Empire)
Sept 15: San Francisco, CA (Grand Ballroom)
Sept 16: Santa Cruz, CA (The Catalyst)
Sept 18: Newport Beach, CA (Taste of Newport)
Sept 19: Santa Margarita, CA (Pozo Saloon)
Sept 20: Ventura, CA (Ventura Theater)
Sept 22: Tucson, AZ (Rialto Theater)
Sept 23: Phoenix, AZ (The Marquee)
Sept 25: Las Vegas, NV (House of Blues)
Sept 26: San Diego, CA (Hard Rock)