INTERVIEW: Macy Gray (2010)

An artist as eclectic and inspiring as Macy Gray might seem like an unusual person to unleash a dance-derived record on the listening public. But if you look at her career as a trailblazing R&B vocalist, stellar character actress (check out her work in the insane crime film Shadowboxer for just a taste of how good she is onscreen), and occasional dance diva (“Sexual Revolution” remixes, anyone?), it makes sense never to underestimate a personality as strongly-grounded as Gray’s. She’s a diva in the classic soul sister mode, but one who finds the music and the joy in whatever is around; the result is always something unique- something passionate, something funky, and something that nobody else but Macy Gray could do.

DJ Ron Slomowicz: So tell us about The Sellout.
Macy Gray: The Sellout is coming out June 22nd 2010, definitely the best album I’ve ever made and I’m really proud of it. I’m excited and I can’t wait for my fans to hear it.

RS: Are you going in a more dance direction with this project?
Macy Gray: I’ve definitely been influenced by all the dance music thats been coming out the past couple of years, but I wouldn’t call it a dance record. I hear some really terrific ideas on a lot of stuff and you steal it and then you have to have your own thing. But there’s some cool stuff happening in dance music and it definitely had an influence on me.

RS: Who are some of the producers you’re working with?
Macy Gray: Rodney Jerkins, Jared and Whitey, Caviar, and Caz James.

RS: Tell us the story behind the first single “Beauty in the World.”
Macy Gray: I actually got the idea for it when I was having a really bad day and I heard my daughter in the other room laughing. She has this really great laugh. So its about how we spend a lot of time focusing on what’s wrong and what’s not going right and how we had a bad day. It’s about focusing on the good things that have gone on, putting all your energy into that and looking up.

RS: Calling an album The Sellout, that’s a pretty strong statement. Why is that the title for the album?
Macy Gray: I had a couple of really slow years as far as my career goes. I think my last album went wood. So I got into a position where I had to really rethink what I was going to do and what my purpose was in music and what I was doing here. I thought maybe I should do really commercial pop and make a really commercial album. So I did this whole thing where I reached out and called all the big producers and writers but it didn’t really work out. I didn’t really like the stuff I was coming up with trying to do that, and most of those people never called me back anyway. It just didn’t work. So we went in the studio and just dug in and I did the things that I do best and just stuck to that. I didn’t know what was going to happen but at least I would have a record that I liked and that was honest.

RS: You’re such a unique entity, I can’t imagine you ever selling out.
Macy Gray: No, I didn’t. I couldn’t do it. That was the one thing I didn’t know how to do, so that’s why its called The Sellout.

RS: One of your songs has really touched me in a way that you can never imagine, “Sexual Revolution.” What was the story behind that song when you wrote it?
Macy Gray: It was at a time in my life where I had just gotten famous quote unquote, whatever that is. I had just gotten into the habit of exploring and doing all the things I couldn’t do before. You kind of go off in to this crazy free-for-all with yourself when your life changes that way. So I just got really indulgent and I actually wrote that song while I was indulging.

RS: Your signature record, the one you’re most known for is “I Try.” Do you ever get tired of singing that song?
Macy Gray: I used to, but I think I’ve got to the point where I really appreciate that song more than I ever did. Its done a lot for me in my career of course and just mainly because it means so much to so many people. Like I hear people all the time say they had a baby to that song or they had their first kiss to that song. So I’ve just learned to really, really appreciate it.

RS: On the dance floor a lot of what’s done is remixes, are you involved with the remixes of your music?
Macy Gray: Not really. My label, I just found out today, went off on their tangent and did them without talking to me, which is fine because I don’t really know that world. I just heard a couple of great ones. I’m excited. I love hearing different interpretations of my songs.

RS: What’s your favorite remix of one of your records?
Macy Gray: I remember Fatboy Slim did this- not Salsa, but he did this kind of merengue version of “Sexual Revolution.” Theres a remix of “When I See You” by Bugz in the Attic that I really like.

RS: Speaking of remixes, how did you get into DJing?
Macy Gray: My ex-boyfriend was a DJ and he used to teach me stuff and I got into it. It’s such a great way to learn about records. Most DJs know everything there is to know about every record and you kind of are forced to listen to them so you know how to mix them. Its been this great opportunity for me to learn a lot more about music than I knew before, and you learn the year it came out, who did it and who did a remix of it. Mixing is the part where it gets creative and that’s always fun for me. I love putting odd records together, like records that don’t go together- I like putting them together.

RS: That makes perfect sense. Have you ever DJed and sang at the same time, like sung over your records as you DJ?
Macy Gray: No, I haven’t done that yet. I might try it though, since you brought it up.

RS: What would you like to say to all your dance fans out there?
Macy Gray: Oh, I’d just like to say shake your booty and shake your booty.
Interview conducted March 2010.