The raspy-voiced pop singer Macy Gray continues to dance to the beat of her own drum while making music. She's shown a unique perspective while nodding to classic singers like Billie Holiday for years.
In 1999 her multi-platinum debut, On How Life Is, spawned a Grammy-winning song, "I Try," that played everywhere. She has since landed acting roles in movies such as Training Day, Spider-Man, Idlewild and For Colored Girls.
Her eighth album, The Way, just dropped, following her Covered album and Stevie Wonder tribute Talking Book. Gray's new video for the single "Bang Bang" features America's Next Top Model cycle 19 Kiara Belen and lesbian swim champion Diana Nyad.
Windy City went backstage after a recent City Winery concert to hear more on the new music from the lady herself.
Windy City Times: Hey, Macy. Last time we talked was at the Macy's Glamorama event.
Macy Gray: Oh, yeah.
WCT: I have to ask how many boas you own.
Macy Gray: I have lots but they wear out, so I get lots of new ones.
WCT: Do fans give them to you now?
Macy Gray: Not really; they are actually expensive. This is real ostrich, see?
WCT: Nice. Congrats on two sold-out shows in Chicago. Why is your new album called The Way?
Macy Gray: It is about figuring your way through life. Everybody has these very big dreams and on the way to them all these things happen. There is always a way to get what you want. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't so that is what is interesting about it. The Way is about the journey of where you are ultimately trying to get to.
WCT: The title song sounded personal.
Macy Gray: All of my songs are written from the heart. I don't make it very personal to start off but when I went into the studio that just came out of me one day.
WCT: You have British swimmer Diana Nyad in your "Bang Bang" video. How did that come about?
Macy Gray: It was so crazy. Two weeks before I was watching her documentary on HBO. Did you see it?
Macy Gray: You gotta see it. She is the only woman that swam the English Channel. I think she tried maybe 20 times. She almost died a few times. There were sharks and she got frostbitten. At age 63 she finally made it.
The director is a good friend of hers but, it turns out, she is the godmother of one of my daughter's best friends. I had actually met her years ago but I didn't know who she was.
WCT: You kiss a girl in the video.
Macy Gray: Yeahthat is my buddy Kiara Belen.
WCT: Who came up with the treatment?
Macy Gray: The director did it. The kiss was a surprise because they didn't want me to worry about it. She just walked up and kissed me.
WCT: Seemed natural to me.
Macy Gray: It was very weird!
WCT: Then you just drive off into the sunset together...
Macy Gray: With lots of moneythat's the most important thing.
WCT: You have tons of gay fans. It was nice you did something for your lesbian fans.
Macy Gray: Yeah. People always ask me why that is, and I have no idea.
WCT: I think it's the disco and glitter.
Macy Gray: Exactlyand the voice!
WCT: "Hands" is the new single. Who is that about?
Macy Gray: It was about someone I was really missing at the time. The producer was in the studio and he kept playing the track to it. At first I didn't like it but, for some reason, at four in the morning he's playing it and it hit me. The words just came out like boom! We wrote the song in three hours.
WCT: How do you pick your cover songs? Tonight you did "Brand New Key" and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy." Do you change them up?
Macy Gray: Oh, you mean different nights? We do a few different covers. They are mostly songs like anybody else just songs I think I sound good on. [Laughs] They are my favorite songs. The roller-skate song is my song. I love that song. I could listen to that all day. The real one, the Melanie one.
WCT: Do you roller-skate?
Macy Gray: I do! I grew up in Ohio. You have to know how to roller-skate and play cards because there is nothing else to do thereoh, and play checkers.
WCT: One of my favorite songs by you is "Strange Behavior." Where did it come from?
Macy Gray: That was from watching too much TV. It is about fantasizing about killing your husband and running away with lots of money, like those movies!
WCT: "Relating To a Psychopath" was great out there, too.
Macy Gray: Thank you. I like that song.
WCT: Where did it come out of?
Macy Gray: It was when I first got popular and you have to keep yourself private, you don't want everyone to know everything. It is ironic. When you are cheering on somebody but you don't really know them. They could be crazy or killing somebody or [cutting] off their balls or something. You go, "Yeah!" You know what I mean? You don't even know who you are rooting for half the timethat's all.
WCT: That was the longest drum solo out there that I have ever heard.
Macy Gray: That is because I have to get dressed. My drummer hates it, too. He's like, "Can't you put on something quicker?"
WCT: Do you like touring and being on the road?
Macy Gray: I do. I love being on the road. Mostly I love being onstage. I love everything about it, being around my band, and the fact that we get to do music every single night. If you are an actor then you make a movie you don't see the results of it until six months later or the reaction until you read the papers. With music you know right away.
WCT: You have instant feedback and reaction.
Macy Gray: Yeah, it comes back to you right there.
WCT: What new music are you listening to right now?
Macy Gray: I like that new girl Mapei and who I really like is Beirut. He has an opera voice.
WCT: I've been reading your Twitter account. Do you like being on there?
Macy Gray: Not really. It is this necessary thing my label makes me do since I am not really a social media person. I hate most people. I'm kidding! [Laughs]
WCT: Are you acting more in the future?
Macy Gray: Yeah, I did a couple of movies this year. Lee Daniels has a new television show on Fox and we are shooting that. That comes out in January.
WCT: Are you doing anything fun while in Chicago?
Macy Gray: I have a few really good friends here. We are going out dancing tonight and tomorrow I'm doing some shopping, just regular Chicago stuff. I like to go out to eat here. Where should I go?
WCT: My friends just went to Sunda tonight.
Macy Gray: I love that place. Billy Dec is my friend. I'm going to The Underground later tonight.
Gray launched The Way this month, promoting it with the tour. Follow her on Twitter @MacyGraysLife.