Rewind to 1997…
In some cases, a meager beginning builds character. You have to work and work for every chance you get to move ahead. Like their namesake, Sugar Ray Leonard, the band named Sugar Ray started with little, only to kick, scratch, and claw their way to the top.
Bands dream of reaching the plateau of rock stardom. The guys in Sugar Ray are no different. In a chat with Rodney Sheppard, lead guitarist, I learned that they had “to play parties for years and years,” but only after realizing that they were going nowhere did they get serious about music and get a major label recording contract.
With a sound much their own, Rodney told me that the band’s musical influences vary, everywhere from “The Jam to The Beatles and a lot of English punk. All of us like the Sex Pistols and Ted Nugent. We also admire Rage Against The Machine and Korn.” Sugar Ray was able to play with a few of the bands they admire, but none as special as when they opened for the Sex Pistols. “It was awesome. It was a thrill of a lifetime. It was all the original guys, minus Sid Vicious, and in the same year we also opened for KISS.”
Where did the track “Fly” come from?
That came out of a broken rehearsal. The band was fighting, and Mark, our singer, left, and we started getting ready to pack things up. Murphy just started playing bass and our DJ had a drum loop and then everyone pitched in and in five minutes we had it. And when we got back to LA, Mark wrote the lyrics and the verses. We took it our producer and after that we had a really excellent song.
Why did you guys make two versions?
Atlantic Records felt a lot of radio formats wouldn’t want Super Cat rapping through the whole song, so we wanted to include both because if some people heard one of the versions on the radio and bought the record they wouldn’t feel ripped off.
We all know how it is buying a record and getting the shaft.
Yeah, I got that once with a Breeder’s single.
What is it like to have a hit song?
It’s exciting. It’s everything. It’s everything we always wanted all of our lives. It’s not like the money, because nobody is really making money. We’re just having the greatest time.
How did you shoot the video for “Fly” with Mark walking across the ceiling?
That’s actually taken from an old Fred Astaire movie from the ’40’s or ’50’s. It’s a square room and all of the furniture is nailed down and the room itself is in a giant circular thing almost like a ferris wheel. It spins and they mount the camera and the room spins. It’s an optical illusion.
What’s up with this Sweet Rain band trying to rip you guys off with a cover of “Fly”?
I know. I heard Kurt Loder on MTV talking about it, but I’ve yet to hear the song. I’ve gone to every music store to try and buy it.
So much for their stealing your fire?
[Laughs] I know.
I actually heard their cover of your song and of Smash Mouth’s “Walking On The Sun”.
Was it good or bad?
The cover of “Fly” was really good, but the Smash Mouth cover was exact. If you didn’t know any better, you wouldn’t know better.
You see, they’re banking on the fact that we haven’t released it as a single. They just released a single for the people who hear “Fly” on the radio and go to buy the single. But honestly, it is a bit flattering that someone wants to cover our song. I know they have other reasons for doing it, but it’s still flattering.
A few years ago you guys took on a challenge by Howard Stern to any band out there listening to try and cover two songs he wrote as a child.
So we took him up on it. I guess Atlantic got a version of “Psychedelic Bee” and “Silver Nickels” (the two songs written by Howard Stern) and we had them while we were touring. So we listened to them and I decided we should cover “Psychedelic Bee”. We went into the studio in Denver and recorded it in like five hours. The next day we sent it back to Atlantic and they gave it to Howard. He played it for a week and a half, every single day. And then we got to New York and he asked us to come to the studio and play it for him.
What was it like when you finally got in there?
It was great. We still have a relationship with him. After “Fly” came out, his daughter got it and loved it, and liked the video and Mark, so he had us come back in again.
What is Howard is really like?
He’s a nice guy. He’s not at all like the character he projects.
What is the band’s future?
Relentless touring. We’re gonna tour China, Australia, and then more in the States. Then we’ll get another album out.
Will the next album convey the same Sugar Ray?
We’ll have to see how this year has changed us.
+ charlie craine