Mark McGrath's Under The Sun Tour: "This is a show for the fans!" + interview
Mark McGrath’s Under The Sun Tour made a stop at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma last Saturday night.
The tour, which currently features 90s hit-makers Sugar Ray, Eve 6, Better Than Ezra and Uncle Kracker, is all about fun and giving the fans what they want. “A couple years ago, I said ‘why don’t we get a couple bands from the nineties together? We’ll play a solid night of hits and hit some beautiful venues that we could never play by ourselves anymore and have some fun!’”
Every band featured as a part of the Under The Sun tour was successful during one of the most transitional decades for music - the 90s. For Mark and his band Sugar Ray, it was an incredible time. “It was like all of your dreams could come true. I almost feel band for the bands of today that will never get that feeling again - that will never know what it’s like to sell millions of records or to see your video on MTV and VH1, or to be able to go into any record store in America.”
“It’s almost impossible to think on,” he continued, “but every city and every state in this country had a ton of record stores. You could walk in and you’d see your new CD and you’d see your poster on the wall and it was so exciting.”
“And then literally, a couple years later, the industry died. I don’t think there’s ever been a bigger fall in terms of an industry that went away so quickly.”
The change in the industry presents a lot of challenges, but it has also provided people like Mark an opportunity to allow fans to be a part of getting his new music out to the world. “We hooked up with these great people called PledgeMusic. They’re kind of like an online fan club to help you get your record out to fans. You can give fans an opportunity they may not be able to get elsewhere like being able to come see you backstage, come down to the studio or have you play acoustically in their living room.”
The best thing about it is that no matter what happens, Mark McGrath isn’t going anywhere. Please enjoy excerpts from our great conversation below:
Hi Mark! Great show in Washington over the weekend!
Thank you! What a cool venue with great people! The northwest in particular has always been listening to Uncle Kracker. The Under the Sun tour hasn’t been up there in a while and I was pleasantly surprised at the turn-out and most importantly the enthusiasm in the turn-out.
What inspired you to put together the Under the Sun tours?
You know, there’s been decades before us - in the 60s, 70s and 80s - that have put together tours of a similar notion. In fact, there’s this band called The Turtles from the 60s, who sing that song “Happy Together” - you know that song?
They’re still doing their version, called the Happy Together Tour and they’ve been doing it for about 30 years now. And then I noticed that bands from the 70s are also doing it and bands from the 80s - hair-metal bands - are doing it.
A couple years ago, I said 'why don’t we get a couple bands from the nineties together? We’ll play a solid night of hits and hit some beautiful venues that we could never play by ourselves anymore and have some fun!'
And that’s been the emphasis behind the tour and it’s been going great. The most important thing about this tour is that you know what you’re getting. No one is selling new records, no one is promoting. If you love that music from the 90s, you’re going to have a good time.
What’s unique about working with the current lineup - Eve 6, Better Than Ezra and Uncle Kracker?
Well, what’s important for me in putting this tour together is 1: I really want to be able to have bands that I like and 2: I want to make sure that the bands understand the spirit of this tour.
This is the second year we’ve had Uncle Kracker. We’ve never had Eve 6 or Better Than Ezra, but Uncle Kracker has been one of my best friends for about 20 years in this business. I can’t think of a more likable, more down-to-Earth, sweeter guy than Uncle Kracker and he deserves everything that he’s gotten.
What’s been really fun for me putting this tour together is that I wasn’t really familiar with the guys from Eve 6. I knew the guys from Better Than Ezra a little bit, but we’d never really had a chance to hang out and tour. Getting both of these bands on has been such a joy. They understand the spirit and are really celebratory of the spirit of giving the fans what they want. This is a show for the fans! If you want to see these bands individually, all of us tour throughout the year but if you want the hits back to back with quick change-overs, this is what this tour is about.
It’s like a big summer camp out here. Everybody’s having a good time. Someone’s always got the barbecue busting out after every show!
I am a huge fan of the 90s and most of my favorite music came out of that decade. What was it like to be a successful band in the 90s?
Boy, it was like all of your dreams could come true. I almost feel band for the bands of today that will never get that feeling again - that will never know what it’s like to sell millions of records or to see your video on MTV and VH1, or to be able to go into any record store in America.
It’s almost impossible to think on, but every city and every state in this country had a ton of record stores. You could walk in and you’d see your new CD and you’d see your poster on the wall and it was so exciting. The 90s were the salad years of the record industry. It’s when we sold the most records and when the labels made the most money. In fact, they were selling so many records, they had to make up the “Diamond Record,” if you sold 10 million records, you got a diamond record. You know a Platinum Record was for selling a million records - but they were selling so many that they came up with the Diamond Record because N’ Sync, The Backstreet Boys, Metallica and all these bands were selling so many records.
And then literally, a couple years later, the industry died. I don’t think there’s ever been a bigger fall in terms of an industry that went away so quickly. Being a part of that whole machine - the records came out on Tuesday and you’d be so excited to see your video on TRL with Carson Daly and then you’d get the reports of how many records you sold and you’d see how many adds you got on the radio - there were so many things involved. And receiving a gold record in the hallowed hallways of Atlantic Records in New York City. Looking around the walls and seeing Led Zeppelin, seeing Stone Temple Pilots, seeing Aretha Franklin and then seeing them add a Sugar Ray gold record to the Hall of Fame. That was an incredible moment! There’s so many, I could go on and on forever!
When you guys started playing in 1988, were you someone who was confident that your band was going to make it from the beginning?
Oh absolutely not. Not at all. In fact, we didn’t even write our own music. We had zero aspirations of being rock stars. Of course everybody who ever listened to music and picked up a tennis racket, stared at themselves in the mirror and pretended that they were in KISS or Aerosmith had dreams of becoming a rock star. I had a dream of playing point-guard for the LA Lakers in the NBA - I didn’t think that was ever going to happen either, you know? We literally were just a bunch of guys who wanted to play our amps loud and play some cover songs and maybe get a couple girls at a party.
Slowly things started getting bigger and more people were coming to the parties we were playing at so we decided to write a couple songs. We lied to Atlantic Records and said we had 100 original songs when we only had 2 terrible songs and had never made a record. We constantly kept hitting these plateaus that we said, “oh my god we better learn how to write a record, oh my god we better learn how to play, oh my god we’ve never been on a tour before…”
We just kind of rode the waves - this was not predestined by any means. And the fact that I’m still talking to you all these years later and still performing music and making a living off of it - my dreams are still coming true. Publicly they might not look like they are, but internally I’m still the luckiest guy in the world.
Have you ever had any moments where you’ve just been in awe of how far you guys made it?
I have moments every night. I’ve had a bunch of tangible ones that I can explain to you. One night in 1999, “Every Morning” was number 1 on the charts and we were fortunate enough to be opening up for The Rolling Stones. So I’m opening for The Rolling Stones in Las Vegas, I’m looking over to my right and there was Mick and Keith watching us play AND “Every Morning” was number 1 in the country.
I had a moment of clarity right there where I went, ‘I don’t know if it’s ever going to get better than this moment right now. I don’t see how it can…we’re opening for the Stones, our song is number 1, I’m going to really soak this in.’ I almost closed my eyes for 5 seconds to really remember that. So I can really exactly pinpoint the greatest time I’ve ever had was right then. Now mind you, that was an incredible, supersonic time. That’s a dream come true, but there’s been many: I got to do a duet with Willie Nelson, we sold 10 million records, we toured around the world, I got to do a song with Super Cat who’s one of my heroes and did “Fly” with us.
And it’s going to sound cliché, but every night when we hit “Fly” or “Every Morning” and I look out at the crowd I get to see how much these songs mean to people. I have 5 year-old twins now and they love Taylor Swift and Katy Perry and I know how much those songs mean to them. I can see in the eyes of the people out there how much our songs mean to them, so I’m getting those moments every night from the people. I’ve said this a million times, but no one pays me to perform. People pay me to travel. That performance thing is a gift from above and I’m just lucky that I get to do it.
You’re a really busy guy! Between hosting TV shows, doing Sharknado movies and now releasing a solo EP - how to find balance in your life?
You know, it’s funny, people ask me what I do when I’m not playing music and I’m like, ‘I’m a dad.’ I’m not a golfer, I don’t go off riding, I am with my family unless I am working. That’s my balance. That keeps me really grounded. My kids don’t care what I’ve done or what I’ve done lately.
We played the Greek Theater the other night. There’s four thousand screaming people. Screaming. I just walk off the stage and my kids are there. My daughter grabs my hand and says, “Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom!” So I’m literally walking off the stage, she grabs my hand and I go ‘that’s what it’s all about.’ That’s what keeps me grounded. They’re also my life driving force. I do everything for them.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be busy lately, but it’s the entertainment industry and it comes and goes in waves. You have to get it while it’s hot. Luckily I have a family and a wife who understands that.
I don’t care who you are…Mick Jagger, Robert DeNiro - believe it or not George Clooney’s got a few duds now and then, Kid Rock writes a dud of a record every now and then. You just have to learn to survive those times mentally, financially and spiritually. And once you do, you can be around in this business for awhile as long as you remember to shake some hands and remember some names. That’s one thing that I’ve found in this city. I’m not the most talented guy in the world, I’m not the best singer in the world but I think people really appreciate that I show up on time and remember peoples names and I’m really thankful to be here.
Very excited about your solo EP! What inspired you to go solo?
Thank you! The decision was made for me. A couple years ago two of the original guys in Sugar Ray decided they don’t want to be in Sugar Ray any more. We went through a legal thing, we worked it out and everybody’s happy now. I don’t feel good about releasing material as Sugar Ray. Sugar Ray was the four of us; I believe people perceive it as that. There’s nothing I can do about that. As far as performing as Sugar Ray - I never left and our guitar player Rodney never left, so we reserve the right and we legally have the right to do that. In terms of releasing music, I just feel that there’s not a commodity anymore associated with releasing music. Now, I don’t think a Sugar Ray is going to sell that much better than a Mark McGrath record anyway - nobody’s selling records anymore.
This is purely done as a labor of love. I don’t have a record company. The record company is myself. I pay for the records. I do this because I love it and I come from an era when people used to pay me a lot of money to make a record! I have heard from people who are curious if there was going to be more music from Sugar Ray. When I write music - Rodney and I were the majority songwriters in Sugar Ray - it’s gonna sound like Sugar Ray. We came up with a couple songs at our own pace and all of the sudden we had three or four and wanted to release them. We had no idea how to do it, mind you we come from the record label business where you hand them a record and they do everything else.
We’re learning as we’re going along. We hooked up with these great people called Pledge. They’re kind of like an online fan club to help you get your record out to fans. You can give fans an opportunity they may not be able to get elsewhere like being able to come see you backstage, come down to the studio or have you play acoustically in their living room.
What we look forward to doing is putting out a record every six months purely for our own enjoyment. We’re not going to worry about every little lyric and every little change. We’re just going to do it for fun. We’re paying for it so if you don’t like it you don’t have to buy it! The idea is to get creative every six months and it’s fun to add new stuff to the sets.
What are your go-to albums for inspiration?
Those are very simple. They’ve inspired everything I’ve ever done. They’re the reason why I’m playing music. Number one is the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bollocks. That was the reason why I got on stage. They destroyed all convention of music - the belief that you had to be a guitar virtuoso, that you had to be an incredible songwriter or singer. If you had the “balls” to get on stage you could do it. The Sex Pistols gave me that and it’s also an incredible record top to bottom.
The other one would be Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. That’s Brian Wilson at his finest. I still listen to that record and hear things I’ve never heard before. It's so beautiful. It’s the record that the Beatles heard and decided that they needed to make the best record ever or quit and then they made Sergeant Peppers.
And finally, the last record would be by a band called The Cult. It’s called Love. That record got me through High School. There’s a song on there called “She Sells Sanctuary” that's still one of my all-time favorite songs. That’s the one I used to listen to all night long when I was crying when none of the girls liked me and it was the one that spoke to me.
Thank you so much for your time, Mark!