Macy Gray :: On How Life Has Been
In August of 1999, the world was introduced to music that spoke to us like we had never been spoken to before. It came from the distinctive vocal styles of Macy Gray.
The songs, delivered through her raspy voice, were from Gray’s debut album "On How Life Is," which collectively sold over 3 million in the U.S. and 15 million worldwide. With four singles released from the debut album to sustain radio airplay, the success of "On How Life Is" was derived primarily from the albums #5 Billboard Hot 100 Chart hit single "I Try" which remains Gray’s only U.S. top 10 chart single to date. "I Try" earned Macy the Best Female Pop Vocal Grammy Award in 2001, and the album put two BRIT Awards in Gray’s trophy case.
The singer continues to be a unique voice in the neo-soul music genre along with fellow artists like Erykah Badu and Angie Stone, though she has not experienced the same commercial success with any of the 6 subsequent album releases. In an industry that is most times stifling for the "real" music artist, these sales figures fail to show the depth of Macy’s music artistry to the fullest. Her music has continued to cross genres to encompass soul, alternative rock, retro-disco, and hip-hop, making her a collaborative favorite amongst fellow artists.
With her last 2 albums being collections of cover songs released in 2012 (a tribute remake of Stevie Wonder’s classic album "Talking Book" and the most recent "Covered,") Gray has not released any original material since 2011’s "Sellout" album. She is working on a new album due out in 2014, in the meanwhile Macy has embarked on a 14th Anniversary Tour that celebrates the release of her debut album in which she performs the entire track listing from "On How Life Is."
Hopefully the tour will create some traction for her upcoming album as the release date approaches. "None of my other albums have been as commercially successful as ’On How Life Is’ but I’ve definitely made better albums," says Gray. "This new album I’m recording now is, I think, probably the best album I’ve done so far."
It is also not uncommon for music artists capable of capturing varied emotions and expressions through their songwriting to make a successful transition into the film industry. Macy has developed quite a resume of film work which includes "Training Day," "Around The World In 80 Days," "Idlewild," "The Paperboy," and Tyler Perry’s "For Colored Girls."
"It’s been going well on the movie end lately. I’ve been offered a lot more (opportunity) than usual," says Macy of her movie career.
Prior to her mid October tour stop in Seattle, and her upcoming San Francisco area stops at renown jazz club Yoshi’s on Oct. 24 and 25, I caught up with Macy Gray and chatted about the successful beginnings of her recording career, the pressures media and critics attempt to put on her artistry, her desires to continually grow as an artist, and her thriving acting career.
BeBe: You’ve been putting quite a number of dates together on your current 14th Anniversary Tour which began in August. The tour coincides with the 14-year anniversary of the release of your debut album ’On How Life Is,’ does it not?
Macy Gray: Yes, the record came out in August 1999, so we are on the last leg of the tour.
BeBe: You have released 7 albums over the past 14 years giving you a lot of music to choose to perform on this tour. Are you only performing the hits?
Macy Gray: We do the whole first album, and then, we some songs from a couple of other albums. But, the main focus is that first album.
BeBe: ’On How Life Is’ was phenomenal for you. It went triple-platinum here in the U.S., and platinum in several other countries. Over the years has there been pressure for you to duplicate those results as you released other albums?
Macy Gray: No, I don’t feel pressure. Critics and the media like to make comparisons (to the debut album), but I’m more into evolving as an artist. None of my other albums have been as commercially successful as ’On How Life Is,’ but I’ve definitely made better albums. This new album I’m recording now is, I think, probably the best album I’ve done so far. I don’t know how well commercially it will do. ’On How Life Is’ came out at a time when there was nothing going on like that, and it spoke to a lot of people. But, I want to do a lot of different things in my career.
BeBe: Speaking of your career, I found it interesting to find that you were not a big fan of how you sounded when you sang and getting signed to a record deal as a singing artist kind of happened because of an odd circumstance...
Macy Gray: Well, I was just writing songs for fun while in college, writing lyrics for a friend of mine who had a little recording studio in his dorm room. A singer that we used to use to demo the songs didn’t show up for a couple of nights, so I put my voice down on a couple of songs. Another friend of mine heard the tapes with my voice on them, and asked me to sing with his band at a hotel gig that he had. That’s how I started singing. It just started out for fun and kicks.
BeBe: Your sophomore album ’The Id’ came out during a terrible time in the U.S. one week after the 9/11 attacks. Critics have said that ’The Id’ was a great album, and would have done much better commercially in the U.S. if the timing of release had been better. Comparatively, it went #1 in the U.K. Have you thought of a possible re-tooling or update of ’The Id’ and re-releasing it here in the States to see if it can truly get its due as a commercial success?
Macy Gray: Well, thanks, and that’s a really good idea! I have never thought about that, but that’s a good idea.
BeBe: Well, drop me down some coins if you in fact re-release it. (We both laugh)
Macy Gray: I will. I will. You’ll be credited.
BeBe: You’ve collaborated with many other artists over the years on either their albums or your own. I really like the duet you did with Bobby Brown ’Real Love’ on your ’Sellout’ album. Are there any artists out there you would like to work with that you have yet to?
Macy Gray: At the moment, I haven’t thought of anyone (to work with). There are a few deejays I’d like to work with now, but just singers or rappers, not really.
BeBe: Speaking of deejays, you have been doing some deejay gigs like so many other primary singing artists like Boy George, Erykah Badu, Lady Kier (Dee-Lite) and so many others. What’s that all about, and how did it come about for you?
Macy Gray: I actually learned how to (deejay) awhile ago. My ex-boyfriend was a deejay, and he taught me how ages ago. I’d deejay at after parties and when clubs knew I was in town they’d ask me to come over and spin. I’ve never claimed to be a deejay compared to the guys who get up and do it every night, and who know every single record before it comes out. I’m not one of those.
BeBe: Do you write for other artists?
Macy Gray: I’ve written a few things for others. Not any I really like, but I’ve written for other artists. (There’s) nothing you’d probably remember. But, I’m working on it. I really want to establish myself as a really great songwriter.
BeBe: Over the past 10 years you have worked up a pretty good resume of films that you have been in. You have a couple of films pending now.
Macy Gray: I filmed my part in the ’Cardboard Boxer’ (starring Terrence Howard) a few weeks ago. I’m going to start on a new movie called ’Brotherly Love’ in about a week. Then I have another movie coming next year. It’s been going well on the movie end lately. I’ve been offered a lot more (opportunity) than usual.
BeBe: You put out a ’Very Best Of’ album in 2004, and since then, have put out much more music. Is there another ’best of’ collection coming soon?
Macy Gray: We’ll see. I’m still working on that idea you had on re-releasing ’The Id.’
Macy Gray makes a stop on her 14th Anniversary Tour at San Francisco’s Yoshi’s Jazz Club on October 24th and Oakland’s Yoshi’s Jazz Club on October 25th. For more information and tickets www.yoshis.com
Macy Gray’s 14th Anniversary Tour November stops:
11/7/13 Solano Beach, CA Belly Up Tavern
11/8/13 Santa Cruz, CA The Catalyst
11/9/13 Crystal Bay, NV Crystal Bay Club
11/10/13 San Juan Capistrano,CA The Coach House
11/17/13 Akron, OH Tangiers-Cabaret Room
11/29/13 Biloxi, MS Hard Rock Biloxi Hotel
For more on Macy Gray, go to www.macygray.com