This past summer, Sugar Ray co-headlined the first installment of the Summerland Tour performing alongside some of the best bands of the ‘90s including Everclear, Lit, Gin Blossoms, and Marcy Playground. Recently, Sugar Ray frontman, Mark McGrath, took time to reflect upon the summer tour and also assured AA that he would be releasing new music in the near future; what remains to be seen though is if it will be yet another Sugar Ray album or McGrath’s first solo record to date.
Although the Summerland Tour was not made a reality until this year, it was actually an idea that McGrath and Art Alexakis (Everclear) had been throwing around for quite some time. The two musicians knew they wanted to create a tour that would feature some of the greatest acts of the ‘90s, but they were uneasy about when the opportune time for the festival would be. “We’ve been kind of thinking about this idea in parallel universes for quite some time but the time just never seemed right because there was such a hangover from the ‘90s and the end of the millennium; the record industry imploded, they weren’t making new rock stars, and no one was really selling many records. There was just such a hangover from the music so it took awhile. And when Art moved down to L.A. last fall, he said ‘how about now, you want to give this Summerland thing a try?’ And I said, ‘let’s do it.’ And at the very least if the nostalgia isn’t there, we know we have a tour chalk full of hits.”
What most likely comes as little surprise, McGrath and Alexakis have a relationship dating back to the ‘90s – a time when both respective bands were in their heyday. In the latter half of the decade, Sugar Ray released 14:59 which went triple platinum and spawned the hits “Every Morning,” “Someday,” and “Falls Apart” while Everclear achieved mainstream success with “Santa Monica,” “Everything to Everyone,” “I Will Buy You A New Life,” and “Father of Mine.” “I’ve known Art for a longtime. Back in the ‘90s there were so many alternative stations that had all these radio festivals so you couldn’t help but run into each other. You’d meet at award shows and all types of MTV functions because believe it or not there was a time when MTV played music. So I’ve known Art for awhile now; he’s a smart guy, a driven guy, and very proactive so we’re a good pair. Starting a new tour like this is a pretty big undertaking and to get a brand going is tough but it feels right and it looks like we’ll be able to do this for a of couple years.”
Looking back on Summerland, it would certainly be fair to deem the tour a success, especially considering that none of the groups featured on the bill have released a radio hit in about a decade. But even with that being the case, fans old and young came out to see the shows all summer which certainly says a lot about the impact each band has had on rock and alternative music. “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and really honored too. It is great music and the fact that it’s still around and being celebrated by a new generation is awesome. To see them well represented and singing at the top of their lungs has been a real joy. And these tours really can’t survive unless the music is celebrated by the younger generations...Summerland is something we want to do for the rest of our lives. One thing in rock and roll and pop music that has always been vogue is a good melody and a good lyric, and thankfully this tour has plenty of that.”
While the initial plan regarding the Summerland Tour was to have about ten bands on the bill and make it an all day festival with multiple stages, the unfortunate reality was this wasn’t a real possibility from a logistical standpoint. To begin a music festival is no easy endeavor; in fact, it is typically said that in the first year the goal should only be to break even and it’s not until years two and three that substantial revenue can be generated. Regardless, McGrath and Alexakis made the most of the situation at hand, and were still able to launch a nation-wide tour performing in some of the most prominent cities in the country including New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. “I think we’ve proven a little bit that this can succeed and I look for bigger bands to be on the bill next year as well. It’s exciting in that sense; you want to build a brand, show people that you can do it, and really show people you’re passionate that you can do it. And hopefully all the hard work will pay off.”
As one may imagine, touring in 2012 was quite different for McGrath in comparison to being on the road in the ‘90s when the music industry was thriving and Sugar Ray was a multi-platinum selling band. And to say circumstances have changed for McGrath and the music business since then would be an understatement. For instance, Sugar Ray hasn’t even released an album in over three years, both record and concert sales are down for rock acts, and finally, the internet and social networking was a total nonfactor over a decade ago. “When I signed a record deal in ’94 there was no digital concerns back then. The internet was a flicker on the radar and no one really paid attention to it; it was really sort of a novelty thing back then. If you had a website for your band in the mid-90’s it was considered forward thinking. And today, the digital concerns are the only way to promote tours and music in general. I’m kind of playing catch-up with that whole thing and certainly learned a lot about it out on tour but the social media aspect is very important; it’s a great way for me to be able to reach out to the fans, see what they thought about the show, and most importantly thank them for coming out.”
Following suit with Summerland acts Everclear and Lit, McGrath is also planning to release new material this year. While out on tour this summer, McGrath spent a large portion of time writing with his guitarist, Rodney Sheppard, and is adamant that either his first solo record or a new Sugar Ray album will be released towards the end of 2012 or at the latest, early next year. “It’s all very exciting to me; even if it’s just to establish a solo record that I’ve wanted to do for a long time because there’s no pressure there. It kind of just alleviates all of that; it’s not being built as a commodity…coming out here I’ve seen thousands of people rocking out and asking me about the new stuff. I think what’s great is that I can give it right to them without having to worry about the machine of a major label. So if I sell ten thousand copies of a Mark McGrath solo record then it’s a complete success in comparison to back in the day where you had to sell a million for it to be considered a success. And it’s taken me a while to recalibrate my thinking because I come from that multi-platinum selling world that used to constitute success.”
The hope and general feeling is that the Summerland Tour is poised to make its return in the summer of 2013. McGrath even commented that he is open to the idea of inviting rap and R&B artists of the 90’s era remarking that Lollapalooza has achieved a considerable amount of success doing the same thing. It is also expected that if Summerland continues then the tour will expand its lineup.