McGrath Does "Extra" Work

Sugar Ray singer adapting to life as a TV host

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Ever since Sugar Ray named the follow-up album to their breakthrough smash 14:59 -- a reference to fifteen fleeting minutes of fame -- it's been clear that singer Mark McGrath has the pop-star life in perspective. Having hosted a variety of shows for MTV and VH1 (he'll also serve as guest judge on the upcoming season of American Idol), the next logical step for McGrath is his new job as co-host of Extra. He hasn't given up the music gig -- he recorded "Party for Two," a duet with Shania Twain for her upcoming Greatest Hits CD, and Sugar Ray will record a couple new songs for their own greatest hits collection, due in the spring -- but he's warming to life on the small screen.

How's the new job?

The new job is a trip, man. It's funny coming off tour and going to a place where you've got to show up every day -- there's no beer backstage, and sometimes a hot intern is just a hot intern. I went to the Emmys and got to interview Al Pacino and Meryl Streep, some of my all-time favorites. It's opened up a whole new world for me, and it's given me a challenge, a vitality again. It's scary doing something you've never really done before.

So what's your routine like now, because this [9 a.m.] is obviously not a very rock star hour.

You've got that right, man [laughs]. I'm up every morning at 6:30, I'm here [at Extra's Glendale, California, offices] by about 8, and there's homework and research involved. I haven't done homework ever in my life, even when I was in school. And the nature of an entertainment show is that it's very spontaneous -- there might be a big story breaking, and the whole thing shuts down and everybody's involved. You're sort of on-call all the time. For Chrissakes, I have a commute, and I'm in bed every night by 8:30. There was no transition either. I came off tour on a Friday, and I was at Extra on Monday.

What's proven to be the biggest challenge in your first couple weeks?

Well, I'm used to being the interviewee, not the interviewer. There's sort of a pacing and a structuring that goes with the interviewer -- asking questions, intently listening, responding to the questions. That's interesting for me. Where I used to be able to dictate the climate of the interview, depending on my mood, I kind of have to be the chameleon -- as you well know -- and adjust to what's going on. I interviewed Anthony Kiedis, and he was fantastic and really forthcoming, and Jim Belushi was the same way. But I understand there are some people out there that just give you nothing, so I'm terrified about that.

This seems like something you've been anticipating for a while. One of your record titles even suggests that Sugar Ray is something you're enjoying, but when it ends, it ends.

I kind of go into all these occupations like that. I don't believe I was put on this earth to be a singer: I sing about as good as the everyman. I enjoy singing in the shower, and I have a quality in my voice that people have responded to -- and that was a stroke of luck. Some people are born to sing, some people are born to play guitar and some people are born to host shows. I was born to do none of the three. I kind of go in with a "my God, what am I doing here, I can't believe how lucky I am, and when are they going to find me out" mentality, and it's served me well. I can't believe I'm onstage every day with the lovely Dayna Devon reporting entertainment news -- life has really afforded me amazing opportunities. And Extra didn't hire me because I'm this sort of Ron Burgundy polished host. I mumble my words, I speak in dude-speak, and apparently there's a market for that.

What was your bandmates' reaction when you told them about your new gig?

They were stoked. They were like, "Finally you can take the lampshade off his head." The funny thing is - and since I'm doing this high-profile thing away from the band, it seems like I instigated the change -- three of the guys in my band are having families. And after the non-success of our last record, they said, "Hey, I want to settle down a little bit. I don't want to work this hard at this anymore." And you can't begrudge people that: we worked pretty hard for sixteen years. You have to love being in a band. You have to wake up every day and smell it, breathe it and eat it to be competitive in this market today. And you have to mix the art and business together, or you're dead in the water. I don't wake up in the morning in my garage with my tortured songs -- that was never a big part of it.

What are things like now for Sugar Ray?

I feel like we're REO Speedwagon and Guns N' Roses is about to release Appetite For Destruction. Music is cyclical, and it's starting to really change its face. You notice it as a fan, but when you're involved as a musician and you're making a living off it, you really can see the writing on the wall. You have to go to phase two in your life: How do you go out to pasture, still be a relevant recording artist and still be able to tour? That's the phase we're at right now. We were kind of holding out for the brass ring with MTV and all that, but, age and evolution and all that, it's certainly time -- the cycle of music changes and reinvents itself every six, seven years. We were hanging on about two records longer than ever we deserved to, but the fans have just been so great to us. We're lucky, and we still have a record deal.

You have a greatest hits record coming out with Sugar Ray. Is there a new album in the future?

I think a new record is pretty ambitious. Part of the deal with me taking the Extra gig was being able to devote time to the band. It's my first love, it's what I love to do, and I will always be in a band -- in this band. We're going to write a couple new songs, put out a best of, see how people react to it and certainly tour off it and take it from there. I'm focused right now on getting singles back on the radio: we want to taste that again, because it's just an amazing feeling. I think we can do it again.