Interview: Mark McGrath Talks Dark Side of the 90s

Building upon its successful Dark Side of the Ring documentary series, Vice premiered a spin-off called Dark Side of the 90s. The first episode chronicled trash television and Jerry Springer’s rise, while next week’s will focus on the legendary club The Viper Room. The series is hosted by Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath.

RELATED: Dark Side of the 90s Trailer Teases Vice TV’s Newest Docuseries

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese got to speak to Mark McGrath about Dark Side of the 90s prior to its premiere. They spoke all about the series, his personal ties to The Viper Room, a strange concert experience for WWE, and comparisons to Ethan Hawke. Check out the full interview below.

Tyler Treese: Mark, absolute pleasure to speak with you. I’ve been blasting 14:59 all week in preparation. A great album.

Mark McGrath: Ah, dude, I love hearing that, man. That record was good to us and that was the record that said, you know what? I think we might be here for a while.

How did you come on board with this project? This is the second iteration of Dark Side, we had Dark Side of the Ring focusing on pro wrestling. Had you seen any of that?

Yeah, I stumbled upon it. I’ve never been a giant wrestling fan, and the Dark Side series is so compelling. I was immediately drawn into it. So I just casually, when I was surfing, once I saw the Dark Side of the Ring like, wow, this is really well done. They’re really going in a deep dive. It’s not just the same photos over and over. They’ve got the major players involved. That’s what I kind of took away and I forgot about it. I went on with my life, right? So last Christmas, I get a call from the people at Vice. “Listen, you were a Secret Santa gift for some of our employees, but they don’t know it’s you. So, you’re doing a Zoom call with them and they’re gonna be surprised at you.” So let’s just say they have a sense of humor over there at Vice. I was the ironic Secret Santa gift.

So when I popped up, it was a bunch of producers, really hipster-type folks that were just really super cool. We all got along really well. We forgot about even like what the topic was, and at the end, after talking for a while they said, “Would you ever want to do something with Vice or be involved in Vice or maybe be a part of a documentary?” So I go, “Sure. Give me a call. I’m up to.” This is Hollywood baby things get done like that, but I just didn’t think anything of that and it went away and then this offer came in about two months later. Now they’re doing the Dark Side of the 90s, would I like to be a narrator.

Now, I don’t want to say it came from that Vice Secret Santa, but boy it sure was a bit of serendipity. The people involved in this, the production team, weren’t on the phone call, but I think it was in the air for me to sort of be a part of this. Towards certainly the end of the 90s, I became at least one of the faces of the 90s, and I was honored to get chosen because I’m telling you, like I said before, these episodes are so well done and researched. I thought I knew everything about the 90s. I was there, and I was fascinated by how little I actually knew and how much I learned.

Speaking about living it, the second episode is on The Viper Room. I’m sure that was a very personal subject matter for you. I read that you met your wife there and proposed. How personal was that episode for you?

Couldn’t have been more personal. In all the paparazzi footage that you’re going to see and there’s a ton of, you can see my elbow and outfit. You know what I mean? Like if you waited two more seconds on the edit, you’d see me pop in. All my friends are in there. I remember Adam Duritz bartending there. I met my girlfriend there, who is now my wife, like you mentioned. In fact, I went back to The Viper Room and asked her to propose there. So The Viper Room has so many connections for me. It was before Sugar Ray fame. It was trying to sneak in and begging the doorman to get in. Then that was the first place I went when we got a little fans because being able to walk into the room as a legitimate “success story” was quite a thrill. I’ve spent many a night there. Some I don’t remember, some I do remember, but it felt like I was kinda going through my own 90s yearbook ironically, when I was narrating that episode in particular. That one really, really got to me.

An episode like that, where you’re dealing with people you know, is it a bit weird to be narrating over it?

You know, it would be because in the past they’ve done things in the 90s like say on grunge and you get that English voiceover guy. . I feel bad for Ethan Hawke!

I’m telling you, bro, I can go to the airport. Sometimes I go through security, I’ll have a hat on or something and they’ll go, “Hey man. Um, I saw Training Day, man, you were so great.” I go, “No, I know you’re talking about Ethan. It’s not me.” They would get mad. They go, “Oh, you don’t have to be like that, man. I wouldn’t bother you or anything,” and so instead of them thinking Ethan Hawke is a dick, I started signing autographs as Ethan Hawke. So they wouldn’t think he was a dick. I’m happy to hear that he’s doing his side. I’ve never heard that he’s done that or he’s admitted to it, but I’ve done it just so people don’t think Ethan’s unpleasant, cause I’ve heard he’s nothing but a cool guy. But have you ever seen us both in the same room? That’s the question.

That is a good question.

One last thing, sorry, I talk a lot. So he was being interviewed by Katie Couric on the Today show, when I first started Extra and this was probably 2005, and he’s talking and he was really eloquent, in an intellectual manner about the novel he’s got out and it’s kind of a low energy, morning interview and Katie Couric is about to wrap it up. She goes, “Ethan, I’ve got to ask you something,” and he’s like, “Yes?” So behind them, there’s a split screen of me and him. And she goes, “Has anybody ever told you that you look like Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray?” and you feel a little piece of him die on that screen that day. He handled it like a gentleman. He’s like, “Yeah, I’ve been told that. Yeah. Yeah,” but he was not trying to go into it at all. So Ethan, if you read this man, I’m still apologizing my friend.”

You mentioned The Viper Room being personal and the surprise of the Beanie Babies episode. Is there a favorite topic that you covered in this?

Yeah, The Viper Room was so personal to me. So I mean that that doesn’t even count because like I said, I met my wife there. I got engaged there.

That TV for teens episode is really cool because it tells basically the story of the Fox network. Now I know it’s kind of unbelievable to think about now, but back then there was three big networks and they weren’t challenged. They basically had a monopoly of the TV world and then Rupert Murdoch goes, “I’m on my own network.” So they started and they struggled and it didn’t last. This little show called The Simpsons came along and then changed TV forever. Then they found what their lane was with the Melrose Place, 90210, and now Fox is one of the big four networks, you know? Ironically, now there’s so many networks. It doesn’t even make a difference if you’ve got a streaming company. But that was a really fascinating topic to me and how that all came about and how there was just the ups and downs. They had to rob Peter to pay Paul to keep that network running.

That was a great one, and grunge in the Seattle sound. I thought I had heard it all, but you haven’t heard a lot from the Sub Pop guys. Now that I challenge any other series to really go in depth with the Sub Pop guys. It’s a real testament to the hard work of the production team on Dark Side of the 90s. They really got the players that you really wanted to hear it from in the episodes. The Baywatch episode, you have the executive producers and their whole take on the whole thing. So it’s just phenomenal. It’s so well done. I mean, you saw Dark Side of the Ring. It’s well done. It’s just about the 90s. They’ve got a wonderful series here. I’m honored to get a small part of it.

We’re seeing COVID restrictions ease up and after a year of not being able to see a lot of your fans, are you excited to tour again and do some shows?

Thank God. We’ve been playing probably since late March. We’re a band that has songs that appeal to a big demographic. I thank God. So we’re able to play the casinos or if there’s like a zucchini fest or something, Sugar Ray’s playing. I like to say if you smell funnel cake, Sugar Ray is playing. So we’ve been able to get out there and play a little bit. Depending on what state you’re in, there’s different protocols. Some people are wearing masks, some people aren’t, but it’s been really great to get back because music is so important. Not just for the artists, but for people. Music is life. Music is what we need right now.

So I know there’s been recent resurgences and it’s a virus. It’s going to do what’s going to do. Take care of yourself. That’s the best advice you could give. If you’re sick, probably stay home. I think a lot of common sense goes a long way. We’re still trying to figure this thing out. I know the Foo Fighters rescheduled some gigs and even Buckcherry had to. So it’s an interesting time. I think the tours are going to be a little difficult getting those started, but the one-offs that we’re doing, I, fortunately, haven’t had any problems yet.

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