Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath Talks Life, Love & Fatherhood
“In a million years, I didn’t think I had the talent to become successful,” declares Mark McGrath, the lead singer of the pop rock band Sugar Ray. “I was not put on this earth to be a singer.”
But the 44-year-old music maker has defied his own doubts about his potential to front a band that has left an indelible mark on pop culture with hit songs like “Fly,” “Every Morning” and “When It’s Over,” tunes that still get radio airplay nearly a decade after their release.
“I’m influenced by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Beastie Boys and the Sex Pistols, bands that don’t have the greatest voices in the world. But there’s something about them as a collective that makes them work,” proclaims McGrath, who has been Sugar Ray’s front man for more than a quarter-century. “And that let me think that I could get on stage and make an ass of myself and sing a few songs.”
It’s that mindset that led to McGrath’s discovery in the first place. During his high school days in Newport Beach, California, he attended a party where his favorite band, The Tories, was performing.
“The singer didn’t know the words to AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ and I did, so they let me sing,” remembers McGrath, whose rock-star good looks would lead to him being named People’s Sexiest Rocker in 1998. “I was drunk and I screamed the lyrics, and I dove into the pool when I was done. And Stan [Frazier] and Rodney [Sheppard] thought, ‘If we ever go hard edge, that might be our guy!’”
McGrath was that guy when The Tories broke up and re-formed as the Shrinky Dinx in the late ‘80s. The band would eventually change its name to Sugar Ray after signing with Atlantic Records. And nearly a decade later McGrath and company would strike gold with the insta-classic “Fly,” a song on Sugar Ray’s sophomore album Floored.
“I hated it at first ‘cause it was so different than anything we were doing,” recalls McGrath, who retooled the song at the request of a longtime friend. “I rearranged the song, added some vocals. It slowly started taking shape; and then producer David Kahne added his magical touches. And we thought we had something special. But I never knew how big it was going to be!”
Following its release in the summer of 1997, “Fly” would become the band’s first massive hit, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Airplay chart and the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. Sugar Ray would release subsequent hits like “Someday,” “Falls Apart” and a cover of Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”
“It’s such a blessing still hearing these songs on the radio after all these years, learning what they mean to people and seeing how they react when we perform them,” asserts McGrath, who performed for the third straight year at the Eat to the Beat concert series during the 2012 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival in Orlando. “I’m honored and humbled to have a few songs that really resonated with people.”
But McGrath’s career has taken him beyond music. In 2004, he became the co-host of Extra after a producer noticed his work hosting various VH1 and MTV programs and saw his potential as an entertainment news anchor.
“She must’ve really believed in me ‘cause I was learning in front of America,” says McGrath with a laugh. “And they were really tolerant of my learning skills. I remember six months after working on the show I walked into 7/11 and this heavily tattooed guy came up to me. I really thought he was going to punch me in the face! But he said, ‘Dude, you’re getting better. You sucked when you started, but you’re getting good!’”
But after a four-year stint at Extra, a gig hosting Don’t Forget the Lyrics! and competing on The Celebrity Apprentice, McGrath’s life would forever change on April 29, 2010, with the birth of Lydon Edward and Hartley Grace, his adorable twins with longtime love Carin Kingsland.
“I’m a dad first and foremost, that’s what I do.” says McGrath, who admits he was glad he waited until he was 42 to start a family because he was “pretty selfish” professionally and personally in his 20’s and 30’s. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the greatest thing I’ve ever done. You get little moments when they’ll look at you, hug you, say they love you. And that’s what it’s about.”
This September, McGrath married Kingsland, whom he describes as his best friend and soul mate, at an intimate ceremony at Santa Barbara’s historic San Ysidro Ranch.
“It was like the final piece of my personal puzzle,” says McGrath, who has been with Kingsland for 18 years. “I kind of did everything backwards. We started living together first, had kids and then got married. But my life is complete now. We’re a team; we’re a family unit. We got all the craziness out of the way, survived all that. So we’re pretty indestructible at this point!”
It’s that sense of completeness that’s now fueling McGrath’s next fire… the recording of a solo album.
“It’s helped me be hungry again… to hustle, make music and enjoy life. So I’m just gonna make a Mark McGrath record in 2013, at my own pace. It may have five songs; it may have 15,” announces McGrath, who recorded a duet with Shania Twain on the song “Party for Two.” “The Mark McGrath band will always play Sugar Ray hits. After all, I wrote those songs and sang them. But it’s time to pepper new music into the set.”
If McGrath’s determination and commitment to becoming a singer and finding his voice during those early years is any indication, there’s no doubt McGrath will find success as a solo artist. After all, he’s the same artist who gained acclaim singing the lyric “I just wanna fly.” And fly he shall.
Tom Castañeda is a creative writer, blogger, and award-winning broadcast journalist who has worked at Architectural Digest, In Touch Weekly, and Latina – a fashion, beauty, and lifestyle magazine for today’s bi-cultural Latina woman. Throughout his career in publishing, Tom has planned and executed numerous celebrity, fashion, and beauty programs throughout the country, including fashion shows, and shopping events for brands like Bloomingdale’s, Chanel, Mikimoto, David Yurman, Givenchy, Armani Fragrances, Macy’s, Southpole Collection, and more. Additionally, Tom has drawn on his strong journalism background to create various print, online, and video reports on various subjects, including fashion and beauty.