At the beginning of 2009, Macy Gray was on the verge of becoming "The Sellout.” After selling more than 15 million albums and one of the most successful singles of all time ("I Try"), she was alone and a free agent after the disappointment of 2007’s Big. "So I thought I should make something very commercial. You know, something for the 14 year olds," Macy told Rod 2.0 during a short phone interview last week. "Maybe a dance track or a 'guest rapper.'"
Then she pauses. "A producer—I mean a big one—his first suggestion to me was to straighten my hair and get a weave. We didn't even talk about music, just my hair." Macy laughs in her signature raspy voice. "Please!"
In other words, Macy considered selling out. Thankfully she didn't and now The Sellout is the Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter's first album in more than 3 years. The Sellout will be released June 22 and features 12 new songs, much of it co-written by Macy in studio space that she rented. "This is about me, returning to what I love, music," Macy Gray told Rod 2.0.
R20: You probably won't remember, but we met twice before. At the old Body & Soul in New York City, in the early 00s.
MACY GRAY: Body & Soul...Body & Soul ...
R20: Sunday afternoons to Sunday nights. Downtown. Deep house music. It was—
MG: Oh baby yes! I remember! (LAUGHING) That music was fantastic. I danced so hard ... I left that party soaking wet. (LAUGHING) I was looking for a club like that in LA but i couldn't find anything like it. What happened—did they close ?
R20: Yep, after 9/11, it was just blocks from the Trade Center. They re-opened much later, but it wasn't the same.
MG: I went back to New York looking for it a few times but couldn't find it. And no one knew what as I talking about either (LAUGHING), I was like, 'I know there was this great party on Sundays, what happened?' Yeah it happens, parties open and close.
R20: I saw you on Leno this week performing "Beauty and the World." It's an amazing track. The set was phenomenal and that 90 degree camera angle...work!
MG: Oh did you notice that? I really liked the set they designed for me on The Tonight Show. I borrowed it from something John Lennon did. They did an amazing job bringing it to life. It totally fits the song's message of peace and love—which we need more of.
[Watch Macy Gray rehearse "Beauty in the World" and behind-the-scenes at The Tonight Show—and perform her new track "Lately"—WHEN YOU JUMP ...]
R20: I love it. It has an early 70s vibe, almost Sly Stone.
R20: There's an interesting story about how you started in music. Was it really to impress a college boyfriend?
MG: I started writing songs to impress a boy. He had a little four-track studio in his room and I said,. 'Yeah, I write songs!' I would nod and pretend to follow along but then I got really good at it. But when you're writing songs, someone says, 'How does that go?' so you have to sing the lyrics. (MACY HUMS) Like that.
R20: Your voice is so quirky and soulful, it's almost iconic like Billie Holiday. Have you thought about a jazz album?
MG: I want to. I was talking to someone about doing some Frank [Sinatra] or Billie. But that's how I started singing, along to jazz records. My boyfriend gave me these records and said, 'Sing like these.' I was emulating what I heard and it took time but I eventually developed my own sound.
R20: So for The Sellout you went in the studio yourself—
MG: A friend offered me a really good deal on some studio space in Tarzana. So I would just go there and write and work, that's how I got the idea for "Beauty and the World." Instead of going for a dance beat, I went more peace, love, happiness and The Beatles. Have you heard the next single yet?
R20: No, I haven't. Which one will that be?
MG: "Lately". They're releasing that in Europe, where I'm going to tour in July. Let me make sure you get that. (TALKS AWAY FROM PHONE) Okay, they're going to send you the whole album now but the next track will be "Lately."
R20: If I can switch up. I know that you're a mother and have three teenagers, which must be a handful. How would you feel if one of them came out to you as gay or lesbian?
MG: That's interesting. Sometimes [television] makes it seem like being gay is cool or fun. But it's not all fun or games. Or you watch The Real World and there is one token gay. But I would hope my kids understand this and aren't just exploring ... hell, even some adults are exploring, still are. But if they were convinced, I would love them, and hold them and want them to be happy and safe. It's rough out there. But I am so impressed by the gay community. You all are one of the few communities left that has a real cause, something worth fighting for. To fight for gay rights.
R20: Even harder for black gay men and lesbians.
MG: (PAUSE) Yes, definitely. Black gays have it much harder. That's why I would be so concerned about my kids.
R20: You delivered some amazing performances on the big screen like in Lackawanna Blues. And now you're taking For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. Ntozake Shange's staging and dialogue was very theatrical. How will this translate on-screen?
MG: That's what makes it so exciting to me. The writing is so poetic ... it's almost spoken word. We rarely see plays like that anymore, it was iconic. I want people to see that. I'm very excited about the movie. No, I'm confident. Plus the cast is fantastic...Whoopi [Goldberg], Kimberly Elise, Janet [Jackson]. It's going to be an event.
R20: There's been criticism of Tyler Perry's Madea movies. Is he is right for this? And can a man give justice to Ntozake Shange?
MG: And I know what you're talking about because I come from the theater...but not so in Tyler's case. All of his movies are women's issues. He has amazing sensitivity and empathy. And my character is written brilliantly. But I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. The script is really good. And wouldn't put myself out there for a weak script, if you feel me?
R20: When do you begin lensing?
MG: June 24th.
R20: Hey, that's my birthday.
MG: Well that's good luck for me then!
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