Sugar Ray shines again with new album

Monday, August 17, 2009 at 11:45pm


Although they never formally disbanded, it seemed for a couple of years like the onetime hit band Sugar Ray had seen its best days. They were released from their Atlantic Records contract in 2006, and were doing periodic gigs, but it seemed only a matter of time before things would turn sour.

Then they got a boost from the single “Into Yesterday,” which was featured in the film Surf's Up in 2007. A year later they were back in the studio, working on their first disc of new material since 2003.

Now back on tour and headed for the Wildhorse Saloon Tuesday along with Fastball, guitarist and founding member Rodney Sheppard acknowledges that the band’s enjoying things a bit more these days and that they’ve seemed to be back in sync with what’s happening musically.

“We never really broke up, and were always playing a few dates here and there, but I think what’s helped us a lot has been the cyclical nature of pop music and the fact that we’ve always been a band that emphasized melodies and good songs,” Sheppard said. “The whole thing now with so many people being back into individual songs and downloading is that it’s helped bands like ours, because we’ve always tried to do songs that had something to say, but also were well arranged and were tight and concise.”

The band’s new CD Music for Cougars (Pulse) has already had one single, “Boardwalk,” issued, but the tunes that seem to be generating more overall interest are collaborative pieces.

One teams them with Collie Buddz on the opening number “Girls Were Made To Love,” while the other concludes the disc with an upbeat, catchy piece titled “Dance Like No One’s Watchin” featuring Donavon Frankenreiter.

“One thing about this project was that everyone really did check their egos at the door,” Sheppard said. “(Main producers) Josh (Abraham) and Luke (Walker) had some ideas they wanted to try, and we had some things we wanted to do a little differently in terms of the vocals and arrangements and everyone was ready and willing to work and make sure that this was really what we wanted.

“We really embraced the suggestions that they made, and I think it’s a really solid and distinctive release.”

Propelled by the demonstrative vocals of lead singer Mark McGrath, Sugar Ray emerged during the mid’90s as one of the hotter pop/rock ensembles, though they occasionally explored everything from reggae to funk and metal in their songs.

They enjoyed a pair of No. 1 Top 40 hits in 1997 (“Fly” and “Every Morning”) and overall had five songs crack the Top 10 from 1997-2001, while also having one triple-platinum release (14:59), one double-platinum disc (Floored) and another gold CD (Sugar Ray, which peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 and remains their biggest disc).

But Sheppard admits that stardom took its toll on the band, particularly when Rolling Stone called with a special request.

“They wanted Sugar Ray to be on the cover, but then they informed us that the only person they wanted to photograph was Mark,” Sheppard remembered. “Well, we understood intellectually that he’s the most charismatic person, the front man and the singer, and that’s what they were focusing on, but it didn’t exactly make everyone else in the band feel good to know they didn’t understand we’re a real band, not a cover group backing a vocalist.”

Still, with roots dating back 22 years, Sugar Ray’s members ultimately overcame that incident, and Sheppard maintains that they’re stronger now than ever.

“We started out as friends back in high school, long before we ever even dreamed about playing anywhere except in bars back home (Orange County, Calif.). I would be lying if I told you we’ve never had any fights or conflicts, but it really is a family thing. It was at the beginning, and it still is today, and that’s why we’re still recording and performing.”

What: Sugar Ray in concert along with Fastball
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Wildhorse Saloon, 120 2nd Ave. N.
Cost: $15-$70
Info: 902-8200