Going Platinum

updated 06/09/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/09/2003 01:00AM

Hair colors they are a-changin' in the music world: Madonna, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have all gone dark. But Mark McGrath's new platinum blond shag has nothing to do with restyling his pop persona. "I'm trying to beat the gray to the punch," says the Sugar Ray frontman, who had been plucking out the offending strands. "But at least I still have some hair! You've got to look at the positives at this old age of mine."

McGrath may be 35, which is more like 65 in rock-star years, but he's got plenty of reasons to feel like a kid. He and his Sugar Ray bandmates—guitarist Rodney Sheppard, 36, bassist Murphy Karges, 35, drummer Stan Frazier, 35, and Craig "DJ Homicide" Bullock, 32—are tighter than ever after 15 years. On June 3 the group releases its fifth album, In the Pursuit of Leisure. "You think of Sugar Ray, you think of the beach and going to the party," says radio host Rick Dees. "They are fast becoming the new millennium's Jimmy Buffett." Certainly, McGrath's sex appeal doesn't hurt. Says Dees: "He has a James Dean attitude with Tyrese abs."

Leisure is packed with summer-ready songs in the vein of their previous hits "Fly," "Every Morning" and "When It's Over." "The fact that we grew up a mile from the beach," says Sheppard of the Orange County, Calif., band, "just comes out naturally through our music." That's not all that comes through lately. For Leisure's "Chasin' You Around," "Rodney came up with this chorus: 'I spend all my time/Chasing you around,' and I'm like, 'That's cool, I'm chasing a chick,' " says McGrath. "I ask Rodney, 'What chick are you talking about?' He goes, 'My [2-year-old] son [Campbell].'"

In other words McGrath isn't the only Sugar Ray member who's growing up. Karges has a 6-month-old son, Matthew Jr., with wife Julie, 28, and says he "likes to go to Bed Bath & Beyond and get linens." Frazier, who will marry publicist Jennifer Casinelli, 24, in August, plays chef: "Chopping vegetables is good therapy." Sheppard tends to Campbell and 6-month-old Charlotte with wife Gretchen, 31. Meanwhile the single Bullock designed the landscape for his Claremont, Calif., pad.

The mellowed lifestyles don't mean that Sugar Ray has stopped having fun. The bandmates still have an onstage tiki bar for their current tour with matchbox twenty, but McGrath says they've learned from their past excesses. At their peak of fame in 1999, "I was becoming this spoiled rock guy," he says. "There was too much drinking going on, and it was getting too crazy." Now "we're certainly no saints and no one's 12-stepping here, but there's less partying."

Instead of sleeping in, McGrath rises at 7:30 a.m. in his Hollywood Hills home to let out dogs Chopper, Lola and Ruby. He's enjoying domestic bliss with his girlfriend of nine years, aesthetician Carin Kingsland, 30. "I didn't know there was linen-spray stuff, and now I can't live without it," he says. "She's got me wearing slippers, for God's sake!" While McGrath says the relationship "has had its ups and downs," he's almost ready to tie the knot. "It's probably time," he says. "But right now I'm going to concentrate on the band."

That's just where his focus has been for the past 15 years. Growing up in Newport Beach, Calif, (parents A.M., 61, a training manager for a software company, and Edward, 61, a retired financier, divorced when he was 12), McGrath "was the shy guy that got all the chicks," says Charlie's Angels director McG, his best friend since childhood. But Sugar Ray was his true love. Formed in 1988 as the Shrinky Dinx, the then punk-rock band played local college parties before renaming themselves after boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and softening their sound with their 1995 recording debut, Lemonade and Brownies. In 1997 they broke through with Floored, followed by 14:59 in 1999 and Sugar Ray in 2001—more than 5.5 million albums sold in all.

Next, McGrath wants to try acting. "For every Mark Wahlberg there are 99 Vanilla Ices," he says of singers turned actors, "so I want to make sure I'm ready." He feels the same way about fatherhood, which he may be ready to embrace in a few years, with one caveat: "I want to be the Disneyland dad." McGrath might be an aging rock star, but "I still have a lot of kid qualities. My kids are going to get mad at me for playing with their toys!"

Jason Lynch
Marisa Laudadio in Los Angeles

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