Macy Gray: Real Love

In this era of manufactured reality show stars, American Idol runners-up, and Mouseketeer graduates dominating the charts, the beautifully talented Macy Gray automatically stands out and adds a breath of fresh air to the current stale and somewhat repetitive music industry. For a while though, the helium-voiced Miss Gray seemed to be coasting instead of […]

In this era of manufactured reality show stars, American Idol runners-up, and Mouseketeer graduates dominating the charts, the beautifully talented Macy Gray automatically stands out and adds a breath of fresh air to the current stale and somewhat repetitive music industry. For a while though, the helium-voiced Miss Gray seemed to be coasting instead of crashing down the walls between funk, rock and R&B the way scads of breathless music pundits had once said she would. This was before Will.I.Am and a handful of other skilful knob-twisters entered her life. Now, multi-genre destruction and domination once again seem possible: Big – as the album title suggests – is a huge record. Bold in all the right places and subdued where it needs to be, Big is scruffy around the edges, but slick below the surface; nonchalant and yet reckless both at the same time. Big is also the appropriate word when talking about Macy Gray, who most definitely possesses a big attitude, a big voice, and most importantly big talent.Gray, most famously known for her quirky personality and unique sound, talks candidly with Alternatives about music, drugs, ego, and Alternatives: You took a four-year break between your last album and this album. Why did you decide to take such a long break away from music?Macy Gray: I didn’t really. I mean I did three movies, and then my album – which is this album that’s out right now- took two years to make, so I was busy just no one knew I was busy. I was working though.AHHA: So you didn’t actively step away from music?Macy: No. I got scripts, and I got some real good opportunities. I fell in love as well, so I was distracted for a little while.AHHA: We hear you. Love can be distracting.Macy: [laughs] I know right. I didn’t get anything done or accomplish anything for ages. When I finally did start my record, it was a huge rollercoaster. Will.I.Am was the producer, and then the “Peas” really blew up. Will got in real high demand as a producer, so a lot of the time it was me waiting on him to get back off of tour. Then he got tired at me b####### at him about it all the time, so he started hooking me up with different producers. So the record then took a whole different direction, and it basically just ended up taking a really long time. I learned a lot from the experience, but it was a really hard record to make.AHHA: That must have been frustrating. Did that put a strain on your relationship with Will.I.Am at all? With you having to work on his schedule?Macy:  No, I was really happy for him. I’ve known Will a long time. I’ve known Will from when no one called him. We’re in that kind of business, where if you have a shot you have to take it, you cant really say, “I’ll be a big time producer later after I finish working on your record.” So it wasn’t anything, where I was mad at him. You know before this, the longest I had ever spent working on a record was six months, so it was more a case where I didn’t understand why it had to take so long. It was more a personal thing I was going through, especially as from the get go I am an impatient person. I spoke to some friends of mine, and they explained some people spend three-four years on a record. AHHA: Sure. It was worth the wait in my opinion. Macy:  Thank you.AHHA: Your current album is a very personal album. You talk about your own experiences, including your break-up and difficult periods of your life. Is that hard to write about and share with the world via your music?Macy: Not for me. I find it’s easier to write about what I know and to write about myself. I find that the best songs are the songs that last forever, that are personal. When I’m inspired and when I sit down to write, I write about what I know and what I feel strongest about.  The whole point of art is having another way of expressing the things that you cant necessarily say.AHHA: I have to ask what made you decide to do the song “Strange Behavior,” where you sing about shooting your husband for the insurance policy.Macy: Oh it’s just like a tongue and cheek song. It’s a funny song. You know you hear all these stories about the wife or husband killing the other for money? It’s just a song about that. AHHA: Ok. As long as it’s not a personal story…Macy:  [laughs] Yeah, I have those feelings all the time, but don’t worry I haven’t done anything.AHHA: That’s good to hear! Ok so back to your current album. You did something different with this album in terms of having guest features and working with different people, which you haven’t done with your previous albums. What made you decide to that with this particular project?Macy: At the beginning, I had set out just to do my album with Will and like I mentioned, he got really busy. So really, I didn’t have any choice but to reach out to other people and at that point I was open to ideas. I just wanted to get my album done. AHHA: Justin Timberlake was a surprising collaboration. Some reports claimed that you were forced to work with him? Macy: Forced? No I wouldn’t say forced. Will basically called, and he was really tired of me b####### at him about not being available and he just said, “I’ve been talking to Justin and he has a song for you.” So you know, it was definitely an odd suggestion. I would never have thought of it myself. I didn’t even know Justin produced for other people at the time, but I said yes. We went to the studio, and we had a ball. He actually wrote two of my absolute favorite songs on the album. So it was definitely something that was meant to be. AHHA: In terms of women, you worked with Teedra Moses, Fergie, and Natalie Cole on this album. How did your experiences differ with each of these artists?Macy: Well Teedra is probably the only person I have ever let help me with my lyric. I’ve always been very possessive about my lyrics. She just has these really great ideas and these brilliant one-liners. In the past, if I’d get stuck, I’d always figure it out eventually. With this project, I’d call her and be like, “I’ve got this one line that goes like this, and I just need this other line.” We’d just be able to click. It was weird.With Natalie, I was always a big fan. I had that song “Finally Made Me Happy,” and I knew she would sound great on it. Fergie of course is with the Peas and was always around the studio, so that was just a natural collaboration. AHHA: So will you continue to collaborate now with your future albums?Macy: Yeah, I’m definitely more open to it than I used to be. Absolutely.AHHA: Ok. So you address motherhood frankly on songs like “What I Gotta Do.” Has it been a hard learning curve balancing both career and family?Macy: Oh yes definitely. Impossible. I’m lucky I have two great grandmothers, and a couple of friends who really adore my kids, so I get a lot of help. It’s not something I could do alone. No way.AHHA: Your current album is claimed by many as some of your greatest work, yet you haven’t been able to match the success in terms of sales or accolades from your debut On How Life Is. Does that bother you?Macy: Well it affects me, whether I want it to or not. I want as many people as humanly possible to hear my album, and anyone who says they don’t care about record sales is lying. That’s not reality at all, but I’m also very clear on the fact that what I do is very different. I know I’m not like average pop. I’m not really R&B. I have a different kind of voice, so with all my records, I’m taking a chance. It might work out great or it might not work out at all. That’s something I have just kind of accepted as what I do. With this record though, I really believe people will at some point latch onto it and really dig it.AHHA: You have said in the past that your ego is the reason your previous record deal didn’t work out. Why did you feel that? Macy: You can become an a**hole when you get things like money and fame. It’s very easy to just be a jerk, you know? So I went down that route for a while, and at the end of the day that’s all you really are though…an a**hole.You know you might be demanding, and you might get things that you want, but you’re not yourself any longer – none of that stuff actually matters anyway. The only thing that really matters is that you have people in your corner, you know?AHHA: So how did you humble yourself?Macy: Just life. I have three kids and like I mentioned, I fell in love. There’s nothing more humbling than a love affair. Also, I left my last label, and I came to a new label…that was a huge adjustment. At Sony, I was like the queen of the universe over there. Over here at Universal, they have everyone – groups like U2, people who have had their whole careers at Universal. So suddenly I was kind of waiting in line. I wasn’t as important as I thought I was, but it was good for me. I kind of had to start over in a way and just deal with myself, instead of whatever it is that I thought I was for a little while. So it was good for me. AHHA: Well we all have reality checks at some point in our lives right?Macy: Yeah exactly. It needed to happen.AHHA: Ok so another quote I read from you was basically saying that you believe God was punishing you for your drug use by causing your third album to fail.Macy: I said that? [laughs] I must have been on drugs.AHHA: You seem like you were going through a very rough patch. It must have been hard to overcome?Macy: Yeah. I looked in the mirror one day, and I looked terrible. I looked like I was 100 years old. My eyes were down, my skin had real bad acne, and I just wasn’t well, you know? I felt like sh*t. At the beginning, it was just vanity. I got tired of looking like sh*t, and then I just got exhausted of things going wrong besides my physical appearance. A lot of my friends didn’t go away, but it wasn’t the same. I was just bored of myself; I lost interest on the person I had become. In life when, you are who you are, and then you change a lot of the things you had originally goes away, so I lost a lot of things. It’s basically a case of you’re either going to die from it or you’re not. If not. then you’re going to have to start to figure things out and turn things around. It’s human nature. It was just a down part of my life, but I don’t want to seem like some weird tragedy person. I’ve moved past that part of my life. It was just something I had to go through, and things gradually started getting better.AHHA: Are you happy now both musically and personally? Macy: Am I happy? I feel all right. I don’t know if I’m happy yet. I’m happy with certain things in my life, but I’ve never been a happy sort of person. I know how to have a good time, but I’m not one of those people who are like, “I’m so fulfilled and so happy with life,” if you know what I mean.AHHA: I get you. A “things could always be better” attitude?Macy: Exactly.AHHA: Ok so lets change subject. You have also branched out into a lot of acting, appearing in Training Day, Spider-Man, and Idlewild. Is that something you will focus more on? Have you got any new scripts / acting projects currently? Macy: Well I have just been focusing on my record, but I think it’s time for me to start reading scripts again, and maybe try and make my own movie. I don’t know but that would be something I’d like to look into. AHHA: That would be great. You also have a clothing line Humps coming up, catering for the fuller, more curvaceous women. When will the line be unveiled? Do you think there are not enough clothing brands for curvaceous women? Macy: The line will be unveiled in September, and I think there are brands for curvaceous women, but they’re not really accessible, and also they’re not cute. For some reason, brands seem to think if you’re bigger than a US size 14, then you must not have style. So what I’m providing is just really cute clothes for sizes 10-20, graphic driven, street wear.Easy to wear also, like you can throw on without having to iron. Just really comfortable, really cute clothes. We really took time out to figure out cuts for things, you know cuts that can make you look slimmer and more flattering. I’m surprised no one thought of it before. AHHA: How is your music school going? Macy: It’s going good. We have like 150 kids now. It’s a really hard business, because it’s a non-profit organization, so it’s all about raising money and getting donations. I’ve never had to do that before, so it’s a whole different kind of business for me. AHHA: Ok so just to end with then, can you tell me what you feel are the five best break-up songs?Macy: Wow, let me think. Ok, what’s that song that goes, “If you can’t be with the one you love then love the one you’re with?” Oh I remember! Actually it’s Crosby Stills NashAnd Young – “Love The One You’re With.” Luther Vandross and Chaka Khan also did versions of it. It’s an old song. I’m showing my age picking that.Ok another one is, Dead or Alive “Move Out.” Do you remember that one?  It goes, “Don’t mess around. Move Out.” That’s one of my favorite break-up songs. That was hot.Ok I’m going to do a current song now. Actually all my own songs are break-up songs. You could probably run through my entire album track listings, and each one would be about either love or break-up’s. My current single is about breaking up – “Finally Made Me Happy.” Also from my first album “Why Didn’t You Call Me.” Oh and also from my album – “Get Out.” [laughs] See all my music is break-up music.  Oh I know! Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.”  That’s like a break-up anthem. I love that song, That’s my sh*t. Ok so let me think of one more. AHHA: What’s your favorite artist? They would have done at least one break-up song?Macy: [laughs] My favorite artist? That would be myself. Oh I know…Elton John and Kiki Dee –  “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.”