Macy Gray burst onto the music scene at the turn of the century, winning multiple Grammy and MTV awards for her 1999 album “On How Life Is.” Audiences fell for her signature raspy voice and unique blend of soul, rock, disco and hip-hop. Her sound was both new and retro.
Gray is still doing this same two-step of one foot in the future and one pointing to the past with her current tour, which takes listeners through the full “On How Life Is” album. She is adamant that the tour is a bigger step forward than it is a step back, though.
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“I’m not a look-back person. I rarely do that. It still means a lot to me, and what’s happening in my life now,” she says of the album. “When I’m up there [the songs] still resonate to the present. I didn’t write them to be that way, but I think with simple life stuff, you’ll have it years from now. You’re still dealing with love, your spirit and yourself, forever.”
In the 14 years since her initial fame, Gray has raised three children, appeared in a number of films and produced seven studio albums. “Life” remains her biggest commercial success. The fact that she’s performing these songs at venues that are the same size as the ones she played when she was first starting out doesn’t seem to faze her.
“You learn a lot playing clubs and having people right in your face,” she says, “but my mind and my heart are always on the same planet. That doesn’t change for me. The atmosphere, the vibe and how loud the crowd is, [that’s] always different.”
Although a lot has changed with how life is since “On How Life Is,” Gray says the biggest change has been an internal one. “I just really got in these last few years to the point where I could communicate the way I always wanted to,” she says.
Macy Gray under cover
Since “On How Life Is” clocks in at less than 45 minutes, she’s bound to dip into other material. Gray’s two most recent albums, both released in 2012, are entirely made up of cover songs. “Talking Book” is a straight-up tribute to the Stevie Wonder album of the same name, while “Covered” features the songs of a disparate collection of artists who all seem to make sense when set to Gray’s signature voice. She covers Metallica, Arcade Fire and Colbie Caillat, to name a few.
“The ‘Covered’ album was just a lot of favorite songs. It came down to songs that I could sing from the heart, that were personal to me and that I could be genuine in singing them,” she says.
As for “Talking Book,” she says, it’s “one of my favorite albums of all time. I love that record. I knew that one the best. I knew every word. It was really organic.”