Before iTunes, Pandora and pop stars born on YouTube, music came on CDs (we’re not sure what life was like before that), and pop-rockers in cargo shorts made those CDs awesome.
Their tunes were peppier than alternative, grittier than pop and softer than rock. Detractors call it “faux punk,” or “mall punk,” but we say detractors can go to hell. Let the scholars debate genres; we just want to be “Walkin’ on the Sun.”
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from most of out favorite pop-rockers of yesteryear. What’s become of those spiky-haired men with troubled childhoods? How have they managed life without a song atop “TRL”? We found out.
1. Mark McGrath — Sugar Ray
Sugar Ray, led by Mark McGrath and his frosted tips, entered the spotlight in 1997 with its second album, “Floored,” and the hit single “Fly.” The video featured a dreamy McGrath channeling Jamiroquai and crawling on walls. Unlike many of its pop-rock contemporaries, Sugar Ray stuck around after it broke out, releasing four more studio albums and cranking out hits like “When It’s Over” off its 2001 self-titled album.
The band stayed together but McGrath started co-hosting “Extra” in 2004, a position he held until 2008 when he wanted to turn his focus back to music and Mario Lopez took over for McGrath (seriously). McGrath has had various other hosting and TV gigs, and starting in September you’ll see him as the host of a syndicated version of “Don’t Forget the Lyrics!” on Fox. A.C. Slater is waiting in the wings.
2. Steve Harwell — Smash Mouth
Powered by the strength of Harwell’s soul patch and his jolly personality, Smash Mouth followed a similar arc as Sugar Ray, with three well-received albums from 1997 through 2001. Most notably, the band attached its remake of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” to “Shrek.”
In 2006, Harwell starred in the sixth season of “The Surreal Life,” in a cast that included C.C. DeVille and Alexis Arquette. And last fall Harwell put out a country album. For those of you who prefer to live in ’97, you can play “Walkin’ on the Sun” on Rock Band 3 this October.
3. Sean Nelson — Harvey Danger
It’s temping to call Harvey Danger a one-hit wonder, and even though it’s technically true, we won’t do it because they were so damn awesome. But really, Harvey Danger didn’t have any commercial success following “Where Have All the Merrymakers Gone?” and the stupidly awesome “Flagpole Sitta.” Sadly, in May 2009, the band broke up amicably.
As for lead singer Sean Nelson, he isn’t Buddy Holly but he wore the glasses well. During HD’s run, he lent his voice to various other acts, including Death Cab for Cutie, Nada Surf and The Decemberists. He’s also a music writer for The Stranger, an alt-weekly newspaper in Seattle, a host of KEXP’s “Audioasis” local music show, an editor for Microsoft and the co-owner of the excellent Indie record label, Barsuk Records. Sadly, he thinks everyone is still coming to get him.
4. Dexter Holland — The Offspring
Dexter Holland was never supposed to be a rock star. He graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in molecular biology and was on his way to becoming a Ph.D. before dropping out to focus on the band. Then in 1994, The Offspring’s third album “Smash” destroyed the charts and sold more copies than any other album on an indie label. Several successful albums followed, including the most recent, 2008’s “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace.”
Although still with the band, Holland has other hobbies that keep him busy. He has his own label, Nitro Records; he got his pilot license and bought a couple jets; and he also has his own brand of hot sauce called “Gringo Bandito.” He even got Adam Carolla to be his pitchman: “I put Gringo Bandito on eggs, steak, chicken, hookers. Everything I want to taste great.”