IT’S summertime and the living is easy – what better time then for the sun-bleached sounds of Sugar Ray’s “IN THE PURSUIT OF LEISURE”? The South California fivesome’s eagerly awaited fifth album – the follow-up to 2001’s million-selling “SUGAR RAY” – finds the band in a characteristically sunshiny state of mind, blending laidback island rhythms, funky hip-hop grooves, and infectious ’80s-inspired melodies into their uniquely delicious pop/rock cocktail. Tracks like the percolating lead-off single, “Mr. Bartender (It’s So Easy),” and the cinemascopic “Heaven” see the combo harnessing an inspired energy that remakes and remodels their spirited style into their best and brightest collection to date.
“We’ve definitely reinvented the Sugar Ray wheel a little bit,” drummer Stan Frazier says. “We wanted to come back and just kick everyone’s ass with a new vibe.”
The fresh grooves of “IN THE PURSUIT OF LEISURE” are partially the result of Sugar Ray’s reunion with longtime producer David Kahne (Sublime, Paul McCartney, Fishbone) – the man behind the board for the band’s top- charting smashes “Fly,” “Every Morning,” and “When It’s Over.” While the band has wholeheartedly enjoyed working with other producers in the past, they all agreed that they were at their most imaginative and enthusiastic when collaborating with the always-resourceful Kahne.
“On the last record we wanted to exorcise our rock ‘n’ roll demons,” singer Mark McGrath explains. “This time we were interested in mixing things up a bit more. We knew that David would be up for going out on a limb with us. He’s always got new production techniques he wants to try out; he’s always interested in trying new things.”
“There’s a certain chemistry we have with David,” Frazier says. “He understands the whole Sugar Ray vibe. When we first started demoing material, we forwarded some tracks to David and within a week or two, he had already put some of his mojo on it. We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is fantastic!’ and decided to just go full bore from there.”
The band’s desire to experiment in the studio yielded a number of surprising results, from the country-fried rock of “In Through the Doggie Door” and the jamming “56 Hope Road” (featuring the vocal stylings of toastmaster general Shaggy) to the album’s rumpshakin’ highpoint, “Mr. Bartender (It’s So Easy).” Melding the inimitable riff from Sweet’s glam classic, “Love is Like Oxygen,” with a head-bobbing hook from Midnight Star’s funktastic “No Parking (On The Dance Floor),” the track makes for a delicious departure while retaining the quintet’s quintessential sonic appeal.
“I was driving to DJ Homicide’s studio one day and ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ came on the radio,” Frazier says, recalling the song’s genesis. “I thought, ‘Wow, this has got to be one of the best guitar riffs of all time. How cool would it be to sample that riff and maybe put a hip-hop loop under it?’ We started messing g around with it in the studio – Mark suggested adding the Midnight Star sample – and it just kind of evolved from there.”
“We were almost embarrassed even to present it to David,” McGrath says. “It was literally the last song we played for him. And he loved it. Next thing we knew, he was adding these amazing Kool & the Gang-style horns and we had ourselves a song. It was really just a happy accident.”
All five members of Sugar Ray have always claimed a diverse spectrum of musical tastes, ranging from System Of A Down to The Streets. Among the influences that unify the band is their long-espoused allegiance to the New Wave Hits of the 1980s, an inspiration acknowledged here via a rollicking rendition of Joe Jackson’s classic “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”
“We tried to maintain the integrity of the song,” McGrath promises. “But at the same time, we added a little Sugar Ray twist to it. There’s a cool loop in the verses that DJ Homicide came up with, and we tweaked the melody at the end to give the whole thing a bit of a sadder tone. We’re all really happy with the way that it turned out.”
Elsewhere, such tracks as the exuberant “Blues From A Gun” display the band’s interest in unleashing their musical inventiveness and lyrical maturity. Which isn’t to say that Sugar Ray have veered too far off their chosen course. Having achieved U.S. sales approaching seven million records, not to mention a notable streak of Top Ten hit singles (including the unforgettable #1 smashes, “Fly” and “Every Morning”), Sugar Ray’s carefree, vivacious sound remains a comfortable constant in a fast-changing music scene.
“The common thread throughout our career has been the fact that we write melodic pop songs,” Frazier says. “Even though each of us listens to all sorts of different types of music, the artists that we keep going back to are The Beach Boys and The Beatles. As a band, we’ve never wanted to stray too far from that approach towards music.”
“We’re definitely a pop band, no doubt about it,” McGrath readily admits. “And I say that with no shame. When I think of pop, I think of the stuff that stands the test of time. All we ever wanted to do was to make music that would sound great on the radio.”
With “IN THE PURSUIT OF LEISURE,” Sugar Ray continue to kick out the pop jams of their dreams – close to 15 years after they first came together. In some ways, the key to Sugar Ray’s remarkable success might well be the band’s infectious joy at their own longevity.
“We’re so lucky to be here,” Frazier enthuses. “None of us can even believe it – that we’ve been around for so long, and people actually like us.”
“I remember when we first signed our contract with Atlantic,” McGrath recalls with a knowing laugh. “When we saw that the deal called for eight records, we all cracked up, thinking there was no way we were even going to make two records. Now, here we are talking about the fifth record. It’s been an amazing ride, no question about it.”
Stan Frazier * DJ Homicide * Murphy Karges * Mark McGrath * Rodney Sheppard