Macy Gray: No Sell-Out

Macy Gray may be many things, but she’s a far cry from being a “sell-out.” Since her 1999 debut, she has pushed the envelope on commercial expectations and limitations on artists within the music industry complex.  And unintentionally, whether Macy knew it or not, her brilliant distinctiveness challenged music lovers – at the very same […]

Macy Gray may be many things, but she’s a far cry from being a “sell-out.” Since her 1999 debut, she has pushed the envelope on commercial expectations and limitations on artists within the music industry complex.  And unintentionally, whether Macy knew it or not, her brilliant distinctiveness challenged music lovers – at the very same time – to recognize that the “beauty in the world” around us comes in varying shapes, sizes, sounds, and colors.

The Sellout stands as the fifth studio album in Macy Gray’s decade-plus career.  In the midst of a promotional tour for the album, the singer managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on marketing struggles, her purpose as an artist, and age discrimination within the music industry.  With three years passing since Big, your last release, is there a particular memory from The Sellout’s recording process that immediately comes to mind?

Macy Gray:  I was really nervous, especially following Big, you know.  It’s almost like when you know you have a baby on the way.  It’s one of those types of feelings – where you don’t know what’s going to happen. But it was really exciting to put this project together, since I haven’t been out for a while.  At the moment, the dance remix of “Beauty in the World” is currently No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Club Play Songs – which is a career-high for you.  Considering the current economy, in conversation with others, what elements of the song do you think contributed most to the song’s success?

Macy Gray:  Those remixes are really amazing!  And content-wise, they’re pretty light, and people can really relate to the lyrics.  Sometimes we just need to sit back, enjoy the simple things in life, and be grateful.  Beauty surrounds us – in everything. But we just need to open our eyes and take a deep breath.  In some of the promotional materials for this album, you noted that “[you] spent over a year making this album without any pressure or opinions and being able to choose the co-writers, producers and artists that felt good to me.”  Throughout your career, is there a piece of advice or inspiration that allowed you to maintain your artistic integrity and be uncompromising on your individuality?

Macy Gray:  Well, I was on my own. I went in and started working on it on my own. And for the first time, in a long time, I didn’t have a label pressuring me, or anybody to answer to.  When you’re on a label, you always have meetings, and I didn’t have to go through any of that this time around.  It was really liberating, and it reminded me of what that was like to be artistically-free, and not have to worry about the influence other may have in what you are doing or the direction you are going.  Last week, I read your Huffington Post piece on age discrimination in the music industry.  When you reflect on your experience, what do you consider to be a blessing, or perhaps a curse, of being a mature artist in the music industry?

Macy Gray:  Everybody knows you have a shelf life. Like, for example, you can only be an athlete for so long.  So there is a lot of pressure.  People don’t really think about the music industry in that way. But we have to remember that music is for everybody.  There will always be an older generation of listeners.  And right now, agents and labels tend to ignore them.  And when you think about it, there are very few artists that are marketed to speak to them and their life issues.  So I never really got the point of why it is so important to be a teenager, and why the vast majority of music is tailored for them.  There are people in their 70’s with money to spend! [laughing]  When you hit your 40s, is there a particular insight that you gained about the music industry?

Macy Gray:  Yeah, definitely.  You learn to just be yourself and make music that makes you happy.  I’ve learned that you’ll always regret the compromises that you make along the way.  And you also evolve. So as you grow older, you become better. I’m a better singer, and a better songwriter, and I’m always trying to get better.  So even though I’m older, it doesn’t really make sense for me to turn away from music, simply because I am older.  Eleven years ago, you made your grand debut with the release of your first solo album, On How Life Is. Over the years, is there a particular song on The Sellout that you think is a shining example of your growth as a singer and songwriter?

Macy Gray:  I really like “Lately.”  That is one of my favorite songs.  But I really like my vocals on the whole album.  They may not be technically perfect all the time. But I really love the imperfections, too.  I’m a really big fan of “Lately” as well, and “Help Me,” too.  Those are my two favorite tracks on the album. If you don’t mind, walk me through the recording process for “Lately,” and shed some light on the inspiration behind the lyrics.

Macy Gray:   “Lately” – I recorded it with Kaz James, who is a big dance producer in Australia.  So automatically, with him, you are going to do an up-beat dance record.  But with me, he wanted to keep it completely organic. So it turned into a great disco track. But it’s completely 2010.  Right now, everybody is trying to make dance tracks.  But this song really sounds like modern disco.  And on “Help Me,” I really gravitated toward the lyrics, which spoke to me spiritually.  I can really feel the emotion when you cry out: “Am I going to heaven?”  Were these lyrics inspired by a personal experience, or an observation?

Macy Gray:  Yeah.  It’s all about the realization that you don’t ever know what’s going to happen to you, or what tomorrow holds for you.  You might be doing everything right, but them tomorrow some s**t could happen.  So all you can do in life is just get up and have as much fun as you can.  You have gone on record to state that “[y]our purpose as an artist is to make great music. To contribute.”  Was this a philosophy that was embedded in your spirit at an early age?

Macy Gray:  It was something that I really had to grow into.  When I first started out, I liked to party a lot, and just have a good time.  But now, I really have a new focus.  I want to be an artist that people can listen to twenty years from now.  I want to be one of those artists that when people are digging through their crates, they pull out one of my records from the attic, and it still speaks to them decades later.  Considering the fact that you have spent over a decade in the music business, what do you think has allowed you to have such longevity?

Macy Gray:  In life, you just gotta keep stepping.  No matter what happens, or how many people put you down, you just have to remember that you have a purpose.  In everything, you got to get up and keep going.  That is one thing I really learned from my parents.  Growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s, I saw them go through a lot.  I don’t think I think about it a lot. But it’s something that I have always held with me – knowing that you have to keep on moving to get to where you want to go.  Those are some really good words of advice.  And when I think about your career, I have always respected your individuality and the fact that no one could ever put you in a box, mold, or genre. When you look over your career, what behind-the-scenes struggles have you had to overcome from a marketing standpoint?

Macy Gray:  I’m not your typical R&B girl in the industry. I don’t dress a certain way. I don’t wear any weave! [laughing] I’m just totally opposite. And it’s not for everybody. And I realize that. But that’s cool with me.  I’ve tried everything, and it really didn’t look right on me.  I get it.  That’s what’s hot. But not for me! [laughing continues]

For more information on Macy Gray, visit her official website: