A Conversation With Macy Gray

By: Shiyana Bellamy

It’s not often artists stay relevant for over 15 years in an extremely volatile music industry, but Macy Gray still garners respect from pop and sub culture. We had the pleasure of chatting with Grammy award winning recording artist Macy Gray while on tour for her new album ‘The Way’. Many may recognize her trademark voice, eccentric personality and brilliant songwriting but today we experienced a serene and enlightened side to the multi-platinum recording artist. We discussed her new album, career mistakes, food, encounters with interesting celebrities and much more.

Macy Gray

CLTure: You’re on tour promoting your 8th studio album ‘The Way’ and we’re very happy that Charlotte, North Carolina was on your list of places to perform. Now I’m not sure if you’re aware of what city you are entering, but it’s known as the “queen city” and “the city of churches.” After sharing those two things, if you were a queen, what would you want your city to be known for?

Macy Gray: Probably inventing things, being the first to do stuff. I would have wanted my city to be the first to invent the iPad or invent music. (Laughs) I don’t know, I just like for people to come up with stuff that’s never been done before. I think that’s just cool. You know the world has been around for a long time. So if you can come up with something new I think that’s amazing.

CLT: Now speaking of the album ‘The Way’ can you tell me the creative process behind this album and what is your favorite record?

MG: We recorded it really in about 8 months. There was actually two songs that didn’t make the album. It was cool because I was focused. For once in a long time I was really sure what I wanted to do and it was fun. I did it with people that I liked being around. It was just fun, it was a good experience and I’m really excited about it. I don’t know if it’s my favorite record, but there’s one ballad record called “First Time” it was produced by Booker T.

CLT: Yes, I listened to your album’s stream and that’s one of my two favorites. How are you preserving strength for such a long tour?

MG: Aww, thank you! I know it’s only six weeks that’s really nothing. Some people tour for two years at a time. I don’t want to ever do that, but six weeks isn’t bad at all. It’s a little hardcore because we only have one day off out the week. It’s a lot of work and we finally get a day off tomorrow and I’m dreaming tomorrow. I’m used to it, so it’s not that bad.

Macy Gray

CLT: Now I know we just spoke on the tour and I’m sure you travel to places with unusual foods. Do you know or have you ever heard of what livermush is?

MG: I have no idea what livermush is. Wow, is it good? I never heard of liver mush before. What restaurant would you recommend I get it at?

CLT: Yes, it’s pretty good. Well once you arrive in Charlotte, Clture.org will send you to a great restaurant in mind. You can also purchase it in the grocery store. It would be near your meats section or where you would get bacon. You can make a sandwich with it or eat it for breakfast. They showed an event dedicated to it on Food Network.

MG: Livermush, wow! (Laughs)

CLT: So what is your absolute favorite thing to eat?

Macy Gray

MG: I love pizza, I’m a huge pizza fan. Just deep pan pizza with mushrooms, I can eat that all day. I love pasta; probably my favorite is rice and gravy with a side of corn and yams. Like a proper Thanksgiving, I can do about three or four plates. I eat as much as I can on Thanksgiving. I go and eat, fall asleep, wake up to eat again, go back to sleep, watch TV, then eat one more time. Literally, make myself sick when that happens. Like if nobody was looking I would eat the whole pan.

CLT: That’s most of us during the holidays. Now I know you are a busy woman and sometimes you encounter fans. What has been your weirdest fan moment?

MG: Once I was on stage in London at their biggest festival called Glastonbury, I’m not sure if that’s what it’s still called. Glastonbury is this huge festival with 100,000 to 200,000 people; we’re on stage performing and this naked couple, they had to be at least 60 years old, really skinny pale white, no clothes, no underwear, no nothing somehow they got on stage. They ran across on stage and said “Hey Macy!” They ran off the stage before security got to them. I’ll never forget that, that was pretty awesome. (Laughs) They weren’t like twenty year olds like crazy people. They were grown a— grandma, grandpa and they did it together. I always remember that because I thought that’s real love. You know when you do something like that with your man, that’s pretty cool.

Glastonbury Festival
Glastonbury Festival www.nowherefield.com

CLT: Yeah that’s what I call relationship goals. Not many people know that you are from Ohio and went on to study script writing at the University of Southern California, which eventually developed into you helping a friend and having to sing because a vocalist didn’t show up. Prior to attending college what made you want to get into writing?

MG: You know I was always really good with the pen. I could always write my way in and out of things. I always got A+ on my papers, sometimes I get in trouble at school because I wrote papers and the teachers wouldn’t believe I wrote it. I always have been really natural with putting words together. Even in college I used to write people’s papers for $200. Like I’d say, “give me $200 and I’ll do your English paper.” It’s always been really, really natural for me. I thought I’d be a writer or a movie producer or I’d write books or something. So I ended up writing songs, but I wasn’t expecting that. I really thought I was just going to be a writer, you know lonely people sitting behind their computer with glasses on. I really pictured that would be my life you know.

CLT: Well you accomplished a lot and showed that you are a natural born hustler. When everything started to fall into place with your career, what was your most outrageous purchase?

MG: I was kind of a pimp; I used to buy stuff for my boyfriend. I bought one of my boyfriends a car. I use to buy love like men do, but a girl doing it which is totally different. (Laughs) Then, I bought a clothing line that was stupid. I didn’t know anything about fashion; I went through a lot of money with my own clothing line that was really dumb. I bought a lot of clothes, jewelry and I never owned diamonds before. I’m from Ohio, so having a diamond is just a big deal, you know. So for the first time, I was able to buy a $30,000 necklace. Kind of meaningless, but at the time it’s a big deal because you can. Over the top birthday parties for my kids that people pay for weddings, but I’d spend that for my 5 year old. I’d have dancers come in and they’re five, they’re not even going to remember. You know you have fun, people get down on themselves because they go through their money, but you just got to enjoy it while you have it. There is nothing like that. Having the freedom to be able to do whatever you want. Even if it’s for a little while.

Photo by James Duncan Davidson

CLT: Exactly! Well, I’m a person of positivity. I don’t think it was dumb for you to pursue your own fashion line. How many people can say they owned a fashion line? So, take that experience as a life lesson.

MG: (Laughs) Ok, thank you! You’re the first person that’s told me that. Everybody else goes, “that was stupid, I can’t believe you did that.”

CLT: It’s quite alright. You’re well-known for your raspy voice, beautiful big hair and memorial songs. Naturally you are your own brand, you know we just talked about businesses. As a business woman, what advice would you give to others in this industry?

MG: Mostly take the time to really get good at what you do. Hone your craft and just make sure when you present yourself you got it down. It’s kind of like how I approached the fashion business. I thought, “Oh I can do that, I can make clothes and go put them in stores.” So it’s the same thing with singing, people think if they can sing a little bit then they should be an artist. If they play an instrument, that makes them a musician. You really have to get to the point where you can do what you do better than almost anybody has ever seen. Then you have a chance. There’s a lot of people that get lucky and aren’t that great at what they do, but still do well. It’s not even talent, it’s just having done the work and taking the time to really study your craft, get good at it and to be the best at it. It just goes a long way and it’ll probably take you wherever you want to go.

Macy Gray

CLT: Why do you think you’ve stayed successful for this long?

MG: I think I just keep doing it. I really don’t think about the time frame. I get up every day and this is what I do. It’s kind of like the philosophy where you just keep moving. No matter how many “No’s” you get, how many people hurt your feelings or how many times you get down on yourself, how many times you go broke or how many times you get drunk. You still get up and do what you got to do, but do it the best way that you can and put your whole heart in it. I think if you do that, eventually you’ll get where you want to go. If you stop, if you give up you won’t have a chance, you definitely won’t get there. I think it’s a matter of keeping it moving. Like people say or keep that phrase around of “keep it moving”, like it’s not a big deal. It really is, if you really want to get anywhere that’s really the only way.

CLT: You seem to take part in a lot of acting, this past March Lifetime Television aired “The Grim Sleeper” which you played “Margette” who was the only survivor of a serial killer known in Los Angeles. How did you come across this story and how did you prepare yourself for this role?

MG: The director of this film saw “Paperboy” and thought I’d be good for this role. He literally called me up and they sent me the script, so I really liked it. Margette is still alive and well, she’s actually really young. I got to meet her, but she had been through something I don’t think you could ever research. I could never propose to say that I feel the way she feels or I know who she is after going through something like that. I just got to know her, I hung out with her a little bit and watched some of her mannerisms. When she told me the story of what happened, I tried to duplicate a little bit of that in the movie. When it’s just a script of a character you can kind of make up their past and create whatever which is a part of the art in it, but when you are doing someone for real, it’s weird because you don’t want to do them any injustice. You don’t want them to see it and hate it, but at the same time you can never be them. It was a lot more difficult than my other roles. I think I did my thing, I think I pulled it off. She was at the premiere, she really liked it and she was really happy. That was the thing I worried most about which was crazy. Everybody else was like, “no, no you need to worry about doing a good job.” I just wanted her to see the movie and like it.

Macy Gray in 2012 Film “Paper Boy” Directed by Lee Daniels

CLT: You did a great job. So if you had the opportunity to collaborate with a person living or dead for a thriller who would it be and why?

MG: Probably somebody like Shaft or the Mac or Doctor Spock. They are like twisted heroes. Doctor Spock had those weird ears, you knew he wasn’t totally a good guy because he had those pointy ears and those weird eyebrows. He came off as a hero, but you knew he kind of came off as suspect he had something dark going on. It just seems like that would make for a good movie. Same thing with Shaft, he always saved the day, but he was from the ghetto. You knew he wasn’t all good. (Laughs) So I think that would make good for an interesting movie. You know who have more than one dimension, like real people.

Richard Roundtree from 1970’s film “Shaft”

CLT: I see that you appeared in a charity poker game with Bravo and you competed in season 9 for “Dancing with the Stars.” Is it safe to say that Macy Gray is a low key competitor?

MG: Just as far as dancing, I’m just not a good dancer. My mom talked me into doing that show because it’s one of her favorite shows. I really did that for my mom, I really was so nervous. I was the most nervous I’ve ever been and I’ve never been a natural dancer at all. It sucked for me, but it was cool because we danced every day. I lost twenty five pounds without even trying. Eating, doing whatever I want I still lost twenty five pounds. So that’s what I really got it because it’s literally dancing four hours a day. It was cool for me because it was a challenge, it was totally out of my comfort zone. I was scared to death to do it, but I did it anyway. On things that I’m good at I’m fierce, I’ll beat you! That kind of stuff, it’s not my thing. It just didn’t go well, competition wise, but I did get a lot out of it. I learned a lot about myself and a little bit about dancing.

CLT: So we spoke on competing and I see that a lot on “The Voice”. There’s no dancing involved for that show, so no worries. However, would you ever consider being a part of their show?

MG: I feel like I could kill on that show. I’m very persuasive, I feel like I can totally get all those people on my team for sure. I got really great taste in music, I think I could nail that show for sure! (Laughs)

Macy Gray Dancing With the Stars Season 9

CLT: They always have some type of celebrity judge on that show and /or change the line up every season. What’s the strangest celebrity you’ve encountered?

MG: I have tons of those, but Andre 3000 showed up to my house one day. That was pretty awesome. It was so funny, I was having a massive party for my 8 year old and he came in with Dallas [Austin] who is a friend of mine. Dallas left and came back later that night and he walks in with Andre 3000. That was super cool, I wasn’t expecting him and all of a sudden he’s walking in my house. Then Gary Oldman from “The Dark Knight Rises”, well my daughter who is having a birthday party, he walks in my house to pick up his son. I didn’t know he was coming. It was wild because it let me see how people walk into my house and you don’t even know. I was in awe because it’s somebody that I admire in my life and I didn’t even invite them.

CLT: Lastly, with this year almost coming to an end what else can we expect from Macy Gray?

Macy Gray with Andre 3000 and Big Boi of Outkast www.mtv.com

MG: At the moment I’m focused on my album. I’m super nervous about the reaction. That’s really my whole world right now. I’m working on doing a movie with a soundtrack and I’m writing that right now. I’m also doing a new Lee Daniels TV series called “Empire” and that starts in January. There is a lot going on, but all I’m really thinking about is my record and we have a lot of stuff to promote for it.

Catch Macy Gray at Amos’ Southend on Oct. 12th.

Stream the new song “Stoned” by Macy Gray from the new album The Way.

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