Don't try to hide it, it's clear: Your world crumbles when Macy Gray is not near. Now, nearly four years after her last studio album, the raspy-voiced Grammy winner returns with BIG, her first effort under her new label will.i.am music group/Geffen. Largely produced by Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am and Ron Fair with help from Justin Timberlake and vocal cameos from Fergie and Natalie Cole, BIG proves that Gray just can't do things any other way. The budding actress and philanthropist (she established the M. Gray Music Academy in North Hollywood) spoke to us about her questionable fashion choices, her sexual experimentations and her misunderstood "craziness."
By Brandon Voss
HX: It's been almost four years since your last album. What took you so long?
Macy Gray: I changed labels, and that took me a long time, and then it took me about two years to make the album.
Could you have ever made an album like this one on your old label?
No, because the people who made my album are all at Geffen: Ron Fair, who's the chairperson, and will.i.am. So absolutely not. I wouldn't have ended up working with them and it would've been a whole 'nother kind of album.
What did will.i.am and Justin bring to the project?
They're both really great visionaries. They're both passionate and excited about music and they want to make changes in music and do things differently, so we all related on that level.
Do you have a crush on Justin like everyone else?
No. [Laughs] He's a sexy guy, but I don't have a crush on him.
Why did you name the album BIG?
Because it was such an enormous time in my personal and my professional life. Everything was changing and moving along, so it was very different.
Tell us about the first single, "Finally Made Me Happy."
It's just about getting out of a relationship and how when you're in a relationship they really influence you and change you up. When you're out of it you rediscover yourself and remember the things that you enjoyed and you start hanging out with your friends again.
Did it take you a while before you were at a place where you could sing about being happy?
Yeah, it took a couple of years.
Another standout track is "Okay," which is about surviving as a single mom. As a single mom in the music industry who's been through her share of problems, do you have any advice for Britney Spears?
Her life is very different from most people's. She's going through a lot, she just had another baby and went through a divorce, everybody's watching her, and I think that would be very difficult for anybody. She's human and those are very heavy situations for anyone to deal with, and I'm sure it just doubles it that everyone watches and makes fun of it. So I actually feel really bad for her.
The track "One" talks about the search for Mr. Right, so what exactly are you looking for?
Well, I met someone who's very happy, which is very refreshing because you see these guys and they always end up having issues or some kinda shit that's going on. I've been hanging out with someone who I really have a good time with. He has a great perspective on life, he's funny and he doesn't take things too seriously. We're just having a good time right now.
On BIG you follow up past songs like "I've Committed Murder" and "Give Me All Your Lovin' or I Will Kill You" with "Strange Behavior," which is about a wife killing her husband for the insurance money. It's enough to make a man nervous!
I know. Well, "Strange Behavior" came from when I was watching A&E one day and they were doing this marathon on wives and husbands who killed their spouses for money or because they wanted another lover or whatever. So it's not to make fun of it, but it's kind of crazy how you can marry someone and all of a sudden they become secondary to an insurance payment.
But is the general message not to fuck with Macy?
[Laughs] No, it's about how times and our priorities are changing and how we've become a very self-absorbed, materialistic society. Even though it's kind of funny, it's very tragic what's happening to us.
Some of your albums have done considerably better than others. Do you worry about chart positions and record sales?
No, I've afforded myself the luxury of making the kind of albums that I want to make, and I've accepted the fact that some of them are going to be successful and some of them are going to considered abstract or creative and not commercial. That's just how my career is gonna be. I'm not really a mainstream kind of artist, so I'm always going to have ups in downs in my career.
Are you rocking a new look for this album?
Yeah, I cut off all my hair.
No, I'm not bald. It's just a short little boy's cut.
Tell us about HUMPS, your new clothing venture.
It's a challenge for girls who have hips and thighs to go shopping and find really cute stuff, so we created this line that's really hip, young and fashionable for bigger girls.
Do you ever get offended when the media criticizes your fashion choices?
No, because I dress how I want to dress, and I think it's cool when you stand out. People are going to talk about how you look no matter what.
Are you aware of your gay fan base?
Oh yeah, I have a huge gay fan base, I always have. They're at my shows and they come up and talk to me. I think it's because people see me as free-spirited, open and accepting. But I think everybody has a gay fan base at this point. [Laughs] It is what it is.
Did you ever experiment with girls?
Yeah, in high school. I would always practice kissing with my friends. We'd practice on each other before we kissed a boy and stuff like that. I'd much rather kiss a boy, but a girl actually taught me how to kiss.
Out of your many acting roles, I especially loved you as Taffy, the diva in Idlewild. Is Macy a diva?
I've never really understood what a diva is. I'm definitely demanding and I'm not a big fan of compromise, unless it has to do with my kids. I think life is there for you and you should do whatever you have to do to make yourself happy. A lot of times people take that as arrogance or divaness, but if you're not going to at least attempt to be happy in your life, what are you doing?
Any other acting roles coming up?
Not right now. I've been working on writing my own movie, but it's taking me forever. It's a story about my family.
Did you wish you were a part of Dreamgirls?
I really liked that movie, but I wouldn't have fit in that role. I actually auditioned for the part of "Effie," Jennifer Hudson's part, but after I saw her do it I was like, "There was no way I could've topped that."
What was the audition like?
You had to go meet the casting director first, then you read the lines and then you had to pick a song to sing on camera. I guess they showed it to Bill Condon and he called back the people that he liked, but I forget what I sang.
What was the drama when you performed at the recent Barbados Jazz Festival?
I didn't know that there was a law there that you couldn't use curse words, so I got onstage and of course I'm all, "fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." Then I got offstage and the police were backstage ready to arrest me. I said whatever I had to say, I flirted and I was ready to do whatever I had to do not to go to jail in Barbados. You gotta do what you gotta do. The police officers stepped outside and me and my assistant were going to try to sneak out the window and just run. I was just not going to jail for saying a curse word. That was not gonna happen.
So are you as crazy as people say or are you just misunderstood?
Craziness is such a subjective word. You can be crazy any time you stand out or do things differently. That's just the easiest word to grab onto, but it doesn't necessarily mean you're crazy.
HX, April 2007 issue; extended online version.