The Synergy Of Macy Gray Blurred Culture Speaks With Macy Gray About Music, New Ventures & Making Your Own Moves
LOS ANGELES– In the 20 years since her monster hit “I Try” exploded onto the charts, Macy Gray has refused to be pigeonholed. Musician, actress, entrepreneur — Gray does it all while blazing her own path. Prior to embarking on her European summer tour, Gray spoke with Blurred Culture about the myriad projects she is currently juggling.
Her latest album, Ruby, is a dreamy jewel box of a record. It’s the kind of music you can listen to on repeat for days without its growing stale. Gray’s songs sound like they were born to be played under the stars. As I’ve played the album on a loop all week, I wished I could have attended one of her recent festival performances — and hoped that the Hollywood Bowl would book her for a summer concert with an orchestral backing.
Gray’s vision for her tour reflects her out-of-the-box thinking. She plans to incorporate “cool visuals [they’re] putting together” with a mix of “different styles and cultures,” explaining that she wants to give her audience a break from the homogeneity so prevalent in current music. In a time when she feels that the media can portray the world as being small, she wants to inspire her audiences to seek more: “It’s a big world, and I hope you’re out there checking it out.”
She is also about to release a video for “Buddha,” one of the most compelling songs on Ruby. Gray described a serendipitous meeting with guitarist Gary Clark Jr. that led to their collaboration on the track. “He’s one of my favorite guitar players, and I ran into him at Afropunk in New York about 2 years ago… I ran into him backstage, and… then I just made up something, like I got this song I want you to do. And… by the time I started my record, there was a song that he was perfect for. I sent it to him thinking I’d never hear from him again, and… he recorded it in like three days [and] sent it back to me.”
Their sounds blend so beautifully into a bluesy funk that you would never guess they had recorded in separate studios, much less that it had not been a long-planned collaboration. Contemplating other potential pairings, she includes two giants on her bucket list: Jay-Z and Kanye. “You know you’ve finally made it when you do a Jay-Z song. That’s when it’s confirmed…. It’s hard for me to mention all of them, but those would be two of my top ones for sure.”
Gray oozes glamour, and her video for “Buddha” promises to continue that vibe. Directed by Teyana Taylor and featuring a fur-clad Gray on skates, it reflects back on the singer’s life. She spoke effusively of the collaboration, ending with a sentiment she sprinkled throughout our conversation: “It’s pretty cool — you’ve got to see it.”
Unwilling to be labeled, Gray keeps her audiences excited for music both new and old. She described songs that particularly electrify the crowds: “We have a song called ‘White Man’ that goes pretty crazy on stage, and then we do a song called ‘She Ain’t Right for You.’ It’s one of my oldies, and we… remixed it and made it kind of this reggae song. I love doing that one.” She also speaks highly of the love her fans have for her breakthrough hit. “I always like playing ‘I Try’ because the whole crowd is fascinating — 20 years later, and everybody still knows that song.”
Her passion for every part of the industry was clear throughout our conversation. She explained, “I just love music; I’m a big fan. Even songs that I hate — I appreciate them for some reason. I find something I like about them, and it’ll just always be in my system… I just love music. I love being around it. I love people who make it. I love the business of it. I love the shit part of it. It’s just one of my favorite things.”
Gray also reflected on the evolution of popular musical taste and the reasons for her own career longevity. It’s more than just her trademark smoky voice or nostalgia for old hits. “I think because you can’t label [it], it doesn’t go out of style. It’s my own thing… because… it’s a mixture of all different influences… If you commit yourself to one style, and then that style’s not in, then… it goes away. Like I think it’s really sad what happened to rock and roll. I think that’s awful, and even… some brands of hip-hop — they just don’t do them anymore… So I think if you are able to create your own thing and make your own moves, then I think you keep people interested — at least for a little while.”
In addition to her music, Gray also has several side ventures. As with her collaboration with Gary Clark Jr., Macy Gray’s Braid Bar was born at Afropunk. What began as a one-off festival booth quickly grew far beyond her wildest expectations. “It got really popular really fast… I thought when you get to a festival, you’re already set… I was shocked at the number of people that wanted their hair done, you know? … It’s pretty amazing. So we took that idea and we opened up here in LA, and it’s just getting off the ground, but it’s going well.”
While endless column inches have been devoted to Gray’s natural hair, she values braiding as an art form. Throughout our talk, she sang the praises of braiders and their dedication to their craft. Located in Tarzana, California, the business is clearly a passion project. “I think braiding is such an art. I really didn’t realize until we opened up and we had braiders like sending us pictures of stuff they could do… It’s for everyone. I know it’s associated with the black culture, and it’s associated with summertime because it’s hot, but there’s just so many things… There’s so much art in braids. You can do almost anything if you’re a good braider — make shapes and write words with braids… It’s beautiful with any texture hair, I think… It hasn’t really caught on as a totally universal thing, but I think it will because it’s just so hot and it’s such an art, and there are so many braiders that are so serious about what they do… I think it’s huge.”
She is also developing a line of CBD products. Gray described the industry as particularly fierce, with intense rivalries and a customer base that has pre-existing loyalties and tastes. “It’s hard because there’s a lot of competition… Everybody knows there’s tons of money in it, so everybody’s trying to get into it, … especially out here in LA… That’s what I know in LA, [but] I’m sure it’s happening everywhere… It’s difficult to brand yourself in weed because it’s such a universal thing. A lot of people smoke, and they don’t really care where it came from, so it’s hard to set yourself apart and make it unique… Everybody has their favorite dispensary, and everybody has their favorite strand…”
For her brand, she explains that “we’re fishing out some unique strands, flavor-wise… We’re also… developing a CBD lipgloss, which is really awesome, and it’s amazing for your lips… And packaging — make it easy, like pre-rolls and not having to buy one of those little containers. Making them packaged pretty for women, and putting out strands in CBD that help with mostly women’s issues, cramps and stuff like that. So that’s our goal.”
With so many different projects, Gray is juggling a full calendar. “We have so much going on, and… it’s all a priority. It’s hard to wake up every day and pick what has to be done first… We have a tour, we’re doing the CBD thing, and we’re putting out new music… [We’re] just trying to sort through it to make it all real. Working on a tv show. Yeah, so it’s pretty crazy right now.”
On one hand, her projects seem unrelated. And yet, talking with her, you can feel the synergy. She’s unlabeled but also unfettered by expectations, and her fans love her for it. Here in Los Angeles, I’ll keep playing Ruby on repeat, waiting for the day I can see her perform under the stars.