Interviews, RnB / Soul — December 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm

A Chat with Macy Gray


Guest writer Scott Murphy from SIREN FILMS – a HK based independent production and creative house, had a phone call with Macy Gray when she came to play in Hong Kong on December 10. Hopefully he had some questions prepared.

Sometimes it just starts with a phone call. “Hello, would you like to talk to Macy Gray?”

“Sure,” I say. And why not? In the dozen years since her debut was released, she’s won several Grammy awards, made an impact on the music scene, jumped to the big screen and always followed her own muse. Plus, her show last week in Hong Kong was said to be a triumph – putting those pesky rumors to rest about drug abuse and drunken alcohol laden outbursts.

On top of that she’s released two albums in the past year. First, there was a covers album – and gutsy ones too – taking on Metallica and more. Then, more recently, Gray decided to re-record Stevie Wonder’s classic 1972 release Talking Book in its entirety.

In other words, just because Gray’s not dominating the charts and radio airplay doesn’t mean she’s gone away. She’s busy. It would be a treat to talk to her.

“Why can’t I meet her? We’re in the same city,” I ask.

“She prefers to talk on the phone,” says the record company rep. I’m told to call at 6:30pm. I’m told to ask for an alias – one that reminds me of a 70s fictional Blaxploitation character – and so I do.

The voice is unmistakable, almost comical. It sounds like female sandpaper.  “Yeah,” she says sharply.

“Is this Macy Gray,” I ask, hoping to soften her stance.

“It is. You were supposed to call at 5,” she says curtly.  But I wasn’t. I’ve got the emails to prove it.

This is going to be tough…and it was, until midway through, she decided to soften up somewhat.

I heard your show in Hong Kong was good, but it’s not your first time here, is it?

MACY: It WAS great and I have been here several times, but they were for mostly private events. I did a wedding here once.

It seems as though you’ve been under the radar since putting albums out on private labels.

MACY: It was a bit of a label shift for the stuff I’ve been doing lately. But that could change. I haven’t signed anywhere yet and my next album is almost completed. The first single is coming out on Valentine’s Day. The upcoming one is pretty awesome. We really searched for the right production team and I think we found someone really refreshing, really cool. The last two albums were really my own personal ideas. My producer Hal Willner told me that nobody had done a renewed album in its entirety before. We cut it in five days.

The covers album was pretty cool too – you took on some unlikely choices, like Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” for starters.

MACY: Most of them were really songs that I was fond of. I wanted to do a few recent songs. The rest of them I had known for years.

Surprised you didn’t do any Van Halen songs considering you’re a huge fan.

MACY: True. I really liked their material up until 1984 and all that stuff. I thought the new stuff was cool – and so was Sammy Hagar – but he wasn’t quite David Lee Roth. I didn’t do any because I couldn’t come up with good ideas for them. The covers came really naturally. For instance, I heard the guys in Metallica listened to their cover over and over.

What do you think of Asian audiences – for instance – last night…

MACY: Let me see. I didn’t see a lot of Asians, to be honest. I saw people from all over the place. And when we do places like Tokyo, that’s always an extreme.  They don’t give a shit about the English language. They are just feeling the music and it’s all about entertainment even though they don’t know what you are talking about.

What are your favorite cities in the region?

MACY: I love Tokyo and I love Hong Kong. There’s so much going on. It’s so compact. We went shopping yesterday.

I bet you found it similar to New York.

MACY: The shopping is totally different. It’s just, you see a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t see in New York.

I’ve always been intrigued by your acting role in “Training Day”. Tell me how it came about.

MACY: Antoine Fuqua, the director, he took me out to eat and went on and on about a new movie he was doing. My first album had been out and I’d never done a film before. I didn’t think I had a face for it and wasn’t skinny. I thought he was crazy. Then he told me Denzel was in it. I only did it because Denzel was in it.

I went to the set. It was for real. Denzel was there. There were massive things going on. I had to take this seriously, so I got an acting coach. Then we shot. When I went to the set, he was his character. He had a snap to his body and a walk. So I wanted to stay in character.

You were brilliant. And that lead to more?

MACY: Thank you. I’ve done nine movies now. I started getting other offers and scripts and I really got into it. I started studying different types of acting. I’m not the biggest actress in the world, but I do enjoy it. In the new film Paperboy I play a maid. It takes place in the sixties.

Going back to music, how has social media helped or hindered you?

MACY: It’s an entirely different world, things like being able to communicate to your fans. It used to be untouchable. Now you can go back and forth on Twitter. That’s cool. But I hate when artists give their music away for nothing.

That’s part of a changing music industry. What are your thoughts on that?

MACY: It’s different. You get the exposure, but you don’t get the reward. Before, if you do all the TV you have a good shot at selling a couple million records. Now everybody can download and check it out onto YouTube. Everybody’s trying to do the whole dance. Now labels have gotten really desperate. It’s just a whole different thing. It’s strange for me. I knew it in another life. But kids come in and get it and it works for them. I was looking at the charts the other day and the top selling record sold 11,000 copies.

If you had your choice, who do you really want to work with?

MACY: Oh, the big reward is to do a Jay Z song and I would like to work with Rick Rubin again. He’s awesome. He produces in the nicest way. He’s really, really great. I want to do another record with him for sure.

What are your proudest moments to date?

MACY: My first really huge moment was when I did Glastonbury. There were 200,000 people singing “I Try” all at once. You have a dream but you’re not expecting it–even when you have a fantasy. But you don’t think about the travel. I never thought I’d see Hong Kong and I see Poland next week–Dubai before that. I’m from Ohio, so that’s really amazing.

What have you learned through your travels?

MACY: I’ve learned so much. You turn on CNN when you’re travelling and they’re talking about something totally different then they do in the U.S. When I went to Israel, they were talking about the occupation, and I didn’t know about that. You get to see a different political view, other than being in the States.

What’s next for you?

MACY: Hmmm, where are the next dates? Poland, and I forget. Then we go to Amsterdam and Paris and then we go home.

What’s 2012 meant to you?

MACY: I made a lot of music. I wanted to make a lot of music this year and I did. Two records and more.

And where does Asia fit into your future plans?

MACY: Well, we do China next March…and I think we are coming back to Hong Kong.


By Scott Murphy