Nostalgia’s Not a Bad Word: Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath on Under the Sun and His Role in ‘Sharknado 2’


“Do you remember the glorious ’90s?” Mark McGrath asked in Atlantic City on Saturday night, in just one of the many instances when he mentioned the decade during Sugar Ray’s short set. We’re told that if we like ’90s hits then we’ve “come to the right fucking place” and, later, are reassured that all the bands will keep “smacking [us] with hits of the ’90s” for the rest of the night. Coming out of anyone else’s mouth, this would inspire nothing but eye-rolls, but Sugar Ray — and the rest of the Under the Sun tour: Blues Traveler, Smash Mouth, and Uncle Kracker — are both refreshingly sincere and self-aware.

There was definitely some irony on display in the crowd — devil horns thrown up in the air, a failed attempt at a “Shrek!” chant during Smash Mouth’s set — but for the most part, everyone was having a genuinely good time. The Under the Sun tour isn’t a nostalgia-baiting listicle but instead a fun “why the hell not?” celebration of music from a decade that seemingly never ended. I recently chatted with Mark McGrath about Under the Sun, his role in tonight’s SyFy Sharknado 2: The Second One, and why nostalgia isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Flavorwire: How’d you get involved in Sharknado 2?

Mark McGrath: Like everyone else I stumbled upon [the original Sharknado] last summer. I got caught up in the social media of the whole movie. Ironically, I was on a tour bus as well, and there’s a sci-fi fan on one of our crews, and he’s like, “Oh I gotta watch this movie Sharknado tonight in the front lounge” and we’re like, “Oh, you enjoy that, dude, we’re gonna go in the back lounge and watch Goodfellas for the thousandth time.” I’ve never been a sci-fi guy. … Needless to say, halfway through the movie, he was yelling and screaming so much, all this excitement is coming from the lounge, and all of a sudden we’re all highly involved. We’re yelling at the TV, we’re yelling at Ian [Ziering]’s character, we’re tweeting, we’re social media-ing, we’re texting each other. I’m like, “Is everybody watching this?”

There’s just a certain charm to these movies that’s necessary by not winking at the camera or being in on the joke. When somebody does bad karaoke, it’s funny for five seconds. Good karaoke’s compelling because there is a quality to the singing. That’s how I can kinda compare this. I know you were asking me how I got involved and I’m going a long way around…

No, this is great because I loved Sharknado so much.

Sharknado, it just took off. It resonated with me, it resonated with the American public, it was a social media phenomenon, [and] then it died down. Then I got a call last January, “Mark would you like to make a cameo? They’re making Sharknado 2.” And I almost died. Because the first thing I could think of was, “Oh my God, I can’t wait to tell my friends.” When I said it to them, it was like I was in a Scorsese movie — literally that’s how excited people are. And so I read the script and I thought I’d have a five-second cameo. I’d walk in, I’d get eaten by a shark, and that’d be it or something. I got the script, I’m in it top to bottom! They obviously hadn’t seen me act before or they wouldn’t have given me that much space in a role. And I was honored. I kinda got scared. I got a little anxiety in my gut. It’s Sharknado; we’re not going to the Daniel Day-Lewis School of Acting here, but you’ve gotta push the movie along. Ian and Vivica [A. Fox] and Kari [Wuhrer] — these are people who have been acting for a long time. It’s what they do. I mean, I’ve been acting like a singer for a long time, but I haven’t done it in a theatrical sense.

I said, “Of course I’m in. How could I pass up the opportunity to be in Sharknado 2?” It was a double whammy and a great thrill and opportunity for me to have a part in a real movie…. It was great. The only problem was that we filmed it during the coldest winter in the history of New York.

This winter was terrible. It was never-ending.

It was insane! And this movie takes place in the spring. I mean, you were there, but we were going out there in short sleeves and we couldn’t go more than five minutes without getting frostbite or pneumonia. I give a lot of credit to the crew and everyone involved in Sharknado who wasn’t on the screen because they were the ones putting in 16-hour days to make sure we felt comfortable. This isn’t the most big-budgeted Hollywood blockbuster movie. You’ve got to make things happen on the fly. And we had a hardworking crew and staff and director. And Anthony, the writer, he was there every day, making necessary changes because the weather threw everything for a loop and you have to work around that.

I’ve seen some clips, and it’s all shot on location.

It’s so weird when you’re filming the movie. I know the first scene I did was jumping off a taxi, and you need to suspend reality, obviously, as a viewer, when you’re watching these things. These aren’t $100 million movies with the best CGI effects in the world. They’re done for the genre and for the charm of making a movie by people who love to make movies — and people who love to watch movies.

So, here I am, in the middle of Broadway, on top of a taxicab with Judd Hirsch — Academy Award nominee Judd Hirsch — and there’s a tiny string hanging down, and I’m supposed to believe that I’m swinging 75 feet across Broadway with a bunch of sharks all around me. It was just surreal. At this moment I really got involved in what Sharknado is. It was a surreal moment when I was on top of that taxicab, exchanging dialogue with Judd Hirsch. It was incredible.

Do you want to do more movies or TV in the future? I know you’ve done hosting duties, but do you want to do more scripted stuff?

Oh, I’m hooked now. I heard they’re doing a third one, and I’ve let them know I’m available. I’m suggesting a tropical climate this time.

But I’ve caught the bug a little bit, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to do a little bit more of acting, I’ve gotten more comfortable in front of the camera. It’s definitely something I want to do more of. To keep it in that genre would be awesome. I think that’s where my talent lies.

How’s the Under The Sun tour going?

The tour’s going great! This is our third year of doing Under The Sun, and it’s going to be our biggest year. And the irony of the tour is that we’re getting older and the audience is getting younger. I think the sort of nostalgia and irony of the ‘90s is really startin’ to come into play now. We’ve got bands out here like Blues Traveler, Sugar Ray of course, Smash Mouth, and Uncle Kracker. You put those four together, I mean that’s three-and-a-half hours of pure hits.

We’re really moving a product I believe in. Sometimes, in years past, you had to promote records or play songs off new records, you’re promoting a product maybe you don’t technically believe in. My thing is, if you don’t like music from the ‘90s, especially hit music of the ’90s, please don’t come to this tour. We have nothing to offer you. I just feel so validated that this product is great. I know it’s great. If you love this music, we have the best ’90s tour there is.

This has been the most diverse lineup we’ve ever had. Kracker’s basically a country artist now, Blues Traveler comes from the jam band genre of the ‘90s, and there’s definitely some pop stuff between us and Smash Mouth, but next year I wanna get into R&B and hip hop acts. I don’t see a reason why Naughty by Nature can’t play alongside Collective Soul and House of Pain.

That would be amazing. Or some ’90s R&B girl groups..

En Vogue. En Vogue is someone that’s always been in the back of my head. They’d do an amazing tour. There’s a ton of great bands from that era!

I went a few years ago, and what I really liked was that you guys just embraced the ‘90s songs and all of your hits. You’re never reluctant to play them. It’s like, “Fuck it, the crowd wants to hear ‘Fly,’ so we’re gonna play ‘Fly.’”

I have no misconception about where I stand today in terms of the music world. For some people, nostalgia’s a bad word. To me, I celebrate it. If you look up “nostalgia” in the dictionary, it’s all positive. It’s warm memories. It’s wanting to relive things. It’s gotten a bad rap on bands because bands are living off their hits. But that’s what we’re doing live. I’m not faking out the audience, I’m not like, “Hey, we have a greatest hits package!” and then playing and trying to promote some new record. That’s not what we’re doing. If you call it a greatest hits package, do what you say! Don’t bait and switch the audience there. All the bands share that spirit. All of us are so honored to have touched the American public in one way or another — had a hit that means something to people or had a few hits. We’ve had four Top 10 hits! That’s America saying, “Yes, we like these songs.” So no matter how self-effacing I am about myself or my band — I’m the first one to make fun of us, or me, or anybody — but you can’t take away that we wrote four amazing songs. I will brag about those things. I’m very proud of being a co-songwriter on all four of those. And it’s been validated by the public.

Are there any times when you want to play new stuff? Or even dip further back and play stuff off Lemonade and Brownies?

Yeah, don’t get me wrong, I’m in a band. And when you’re in a band you do two things: you play live, and you write music. And so we’re doing a lot of playing live, and just recently, me and Rodney, our guitar player, have started writing new songs. I think we’ll put out another EP in the next… about a year or so. When it’s ready. We’ve got one song done, we’ve got another song written that we like a lot, so I think we’ll do about a four-song EP, and it’ll come out as a Mark McGrath EP. I wouldn’t do another Sugar Ray record unless I had the original members. I think that is something that’s very important. I can’t stop people from doing what they do, but I wouldn’t want to package a Sugar Ray record that didn’t have the original members, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon, if ever, so any new material would come out as a Mark McGrath solo effort.

With me and Rodney writing the songs, let’s be honest, we wrote the majority of it in a tone that’s going to sound like Sugar Ray regardless. That’s just what I do, I mean my voice is, “Hey, I’m Mark.” I don’t have a lot to play with here. I’ve got a tone people relate to, and that’s where I’m gonna stay. But yeah, we’re recording new stuff to come out, and if we tour for the new album, we’ll certainly play our new stuff. But like I said, nothing’s worse than a bait-and-switch. “Hey, it’s a greatest hits package! And by the way, here’s our new record and we’re going to play a few songs on it 30 minutes in!” I don’t want to hear your new stuff either, believe me. I want to hear the hits from the greatest hits package.

Do you ever get worried that when you do release new music, you’re still always going to be known as that ’90s band or like you’re cemented in that decade forever?

Oh, we are. You can fight it all day long and act like you’re in a new position and blah blah blah, or you could just embrace how lucky you are to be part of such a glorious age of music that was the ‘90s. It was the last great era of the record label, when major labels were making millions of dollars and selling millions of records and bands were getting more money… That was a lot of fun. That was a fun decade. The ‘90s brought down the walls in terms of genres of music and everybody listening to everything. The Lollapalooza age, kids got introduced to that in the ‘90s. To hear the pop station saying “Coming up next, Eminem, Mariah Carey, and Blink-182,” I mean, you’ve got hip hop, pop, and punk rock on one channel! They tore down the walls.

It actually inspired people so much that it made everybody think they can do it. That’s the good news, but it’s also the bad news. It imploded the industry. The good news is that I could make a record right now without a label. That’s also the bad news. But that’s also the good news, because you could do it, too. So I think there’s just so much stuff out there now and it’s getting more specialized. Unless you’re a DJ, you certainly are having no commercial success, and if you’re a band… there’s a ceiling of what you can do as a band now, it seems. You’re never gonna get a gold record again. It’s an anomaly that comes through every now and then. I’ve seen people get awards for a gold single, which was unheard of in the ‘90s. That would have been a depressing thought to get a single award in the ‘90s. Now it’s sort of the benchmark of success. It’s just changed so much.

So to be considered part of that glorious age of the ‘90s, if that’s how I ride out the rest of my career… Like I said, to me it’s an honor. Nostalgia is not a bad word to me.