Gray has been a force in the music industry for the past decade, yet she remains such an enigma to many; especially in the African American community, where folks just don’t seem to “get” her.
EUR journalist, DeBorah B. Pryor, recently attended the 2012 ‘Soul2Tour’ at the Nokia Theatre/LA Live, where the unlikely pairing of British soul and R&B artist Seal took the stage with Gray as the “very special guest.” Since there was a little snafu with the credentials at the door, I was only able to catch the end of Macy’s show. This [telephone] interview was my “consolation prize.”
Not a bad problem to have, yes?
“It was cool, it was a little difficult, but it was OK,” Gray says when asked what it was like to tour with Seal. “We had a blast; we had a really good time.”
When the tour was announced, Gray admits there was a lot of buzz.
“I know a lot of people wanted that opening spot…to open for him, but for some reason he picked us,” says the two-time-Grammy-Award-winning-artist, on being chosen as the featured opener for Seal’s tour.
“I know that he is a fan of mine. I’ve met him several times before. We’ve done a couple of festivals together. We are both fans of each other, but I didn’t know I was going to get the tour until he said so.”
Though Gray admits she is accustomed to being the headliner, the few tours where she has opened for others include her travels with The Roots, David Bowie, Santana, and now, Seal.
“It was a big adjustment for me,” she says with a chuckle on being the opening act. “And I didn’t really get to see him very much; but the tour went great. It was a great turnout, and I think I got out of it what I wanted, so it was good,” she concludes.
Famous for her distinctive voice, bohemian style, and, as she has demonstrated to some journalists (not this one, at this time) the rep to be a ‘difficult’ and ‘uninspired’ person to interview, Gray has come full circle in her journey as a celebrity. In her interview with me, (where she was so comfortable she even mentioned, at one point, that she was ‘cleaning the bathroom’) she seemed to be a woman of wisdom; someone who is aware of, and has taken responsibility for, her past actions and their results. She sounds like a mixture of unapologetic, but humble; unaffected, but in a flippant kind of way – on what others may think of her. Macy Gray knows that everyone doesn’t “get” her, and of course this is a dilemma – if you will – we wanted her take on. ‘Why exactly, Ms. Gray, do you think this is?’ She sums it up like this,
“I know that I’m different from most artists. You know, there’s a lot of artists who kind of do the same thing, and that’s what the fans kind of gravitate to; and I’m kind of outside of that so, I realize it’s not for everyone. I’m proud of that, its fine with me.”
When asked if her “presentation” is a persona, and how the persona may differ from the personality of Natalie McIntyre (Gray’s birth name), the raspy-voiced singer swears, it is what it is…all the time.
“I’m pretty much who I am. I don’t get into presenting something other than who I am only because I don’t know how to. There are artists who do that ingeniously; sometimes I wish I could (chuckles). I kind of just say what I say, you know. I never had like, the training. Some artists … went to media training and they do all the things, all the setups, to be who they are; and then it works, you know. I just never did all that.”
So many people started out with stars in their eyes. Dreaming of being in the limelight; being the center of attention on red carpets and in stadiums around the world, only to find out that the view of being in showbiz looks very different from the inside. We have seen numerous examples of the effect being a show business professional, can have on you. In responding to a question about how different the reality of the industry is versus what she thought it would be when she was “dreaming of becoming a star,” Gray offers a very insightful response,
“Most artists are ‘artists’ – meaning they have a creative mind, [so] they are not always prepared for the business of it; and I think the adjustment to expectations, once you present yourself, people expect things from you; and when you’re out there on your own, no one is expecting anything. You’re doing it for fun, and for love, and all of a sudden it becomes that you’re doing it for other reasons. And that’s just a part of growing into it, that’s a part of life, you know, with any job I think. It’s just a different hustle once you get inside of it.”
“To keep going back for more and more you have to really adore it. So that remains…Hopefully, that doesn’t get tainted for you. That can happen, where you don’t feel the same way about it…But you know, it just becomes the business more than art or maybe you were doing business before, and you just didn’t realize it. But there’s a lot of business going on, and a lot of expectations. You might say what you want to say, but it doesn’t always go over very well, and its weird, but your business is affected by who people think you are; by how they perceive you. It just turns into more business.”
Macy Gray’s career has spanned a 10-year existence. The Los Angeles-based singer-producer-songwriter-actor is the single mother to three teenagers; two of them one-year apart. Just recently she told Nick McGrath at The Guardian,that she didn’t plan to have children so close together,
“I just kept getting pregnant. Aanisah was born in January 1995 and Tahmel was born in December that same year and Happy came along in 1997. With the second one, I was like, “You gotta be kidding me?” I should get some kind or award for that, don’t you think? Some kind of recognition.”
The singer obviously sets some very strict guidelines in parenting her children. Recognizing how their expectations can change as they reach that teenage status, she tells McGrath is ain’t tryin’ to be their ‘homie,’.
“I don’t want to be a friend to my 16-year-old. We talk and we have a good mother-son relationship, but I tell him all the time, ‘I’m not your homie,’ because they get comfortable and it makes things harder for you. I don’t really think about being a single mum and I have a lot of help. My mum is around. My sister, everyone who works with me has relationships with my kids. You don’t do it by yourself. I don’t anyway.”
She has had featured roles in several blockbuster films, and successfully jumps between projects in both the music and film mediums. Heck, she even took a moment to slip in television, where she took her mom’s…er, mum’s, advice and did ‘Dancing With the Stars’ – just to step outside of her comfort zone. One has simply GOT to respect that! With that said, Gray admits that she has been blessed to work with tons of film directors and actors so far. No doubt, she has collaborated with some heavy-hitters; Janet Jackson and Whoopi Goldberg in “For Colored Girls,” and Andre (3K) Benjamin, Terrence Howard, and Cicely Tyson in “Idlewild.” She has also had roles in the films, “Lackawanna Blues,” “Scary Movie 3,” and “SpiderMan.” When asked if there is anyone out there she aches to work with, in film or in music, she says,
“I am not pursuing anyone at the moment. I’m shooting another movie in December, and “Paperboy” is coming out in October, so I’m excited about that. That’s the new Lee Daniels movie; and it’s been good, such a blessing, definitely something that fell into my lap…I’m really excited about where that might go and where it could go…I think it would be really cool to do a record with Jay-Z or Kanye or Busta Rhymes, I like him a lot.”
Hey, are we ready for a hip-hop, Macy? Bring it, girl! You may wonder, as this writer did, what it is about acting that singing doesn’t fulfill. To this question Gray responds,
“For me, just because I’ve been singing for so long, I don’t study it. I probably should. Acting gives me the opportunity to try to master something new. To get better and better at something…To study and do research on characters, and hang out with my acting coach. Its just more of a process…for me. Because making records, I got it so down …it [acting] gives me something to get excited about. Learning more about it, and getting better, I think.”
Macy admits there is no special ‘process’ she follows when developing a song. Where some may go into ‘the zone’ and disappear into a room, or get out of the city to sit on a mountaintop to contemplate and compose, Grays music appears to come about more organically.
“…Things that happen in my life…they spark a song idea, and then I do my best to flush it out and make it a proper song. I know some people …go in a room and they only write from 10 to 6. I don’t…I just kind of write when I write. I usually only write in the studio. I very rarely write outside of the studio.
Word? You don’t carry a note pad or anything around to try and capture a song that might come into your head if, say, you’re just chillin’ at Starbucks or something?
“Songs come into my head all the time,” she adds. “If I don’t remember it, then maybe it’s not very good. Maybe its pretty forgettable. I don’t write ‘em down. The one’s I remember, I definitely lay them down.
All we can say is, thank goodness she “remembered” hits like, “I Try,” (her #1 hit on the debut album, ‘On How Life Is’). The song remains a radio staple and a fan favorite.
Let’s sing it now…Ahem (clearing throat)….ready”?
“I try to say goodbye and I choke; try to walk away and I stumble…”
EUR readers, you sound awesome!
Macy Gray treats her fans to a FREE concert tonight, August 23, under the stars in Glendale, CA, at the beautiful Americana at Brand. Singer, Haley Reinhart joins her. The new Macy Gray album, “Covered,” is out NOW.
DeBorah B. Pryor is a Los Angeles-based writer specializing in entertainment; with a career span of more than 30-years, she is a former personal assistant to the iconic Sly Stone. As an entrepreneur, she is the author of the seminar, “Public Speaking for the Private Person.” DeBorah is the president of a small communications consulting company; and is an independent associate with LegalShield, which offers access to law firms nationwide for matters trivial to traumatic for a small monthly fee. Visit her website to learn more at www.dpryorpresents.com