Things that we may at first see as a curse can sometimes reveal themselves to be our greatest assets. What is now known as one of the most distinct singing voices of the past decade was once a shameful burden for a little girl growing up in Ohio. Fortunately, as she discovered her own musical spirit, Macy Gray began to embrace her unique gift. Her latest album, Covered, reveals a whole new side to the Grammy-winning chanteuse, as she takes songs from the likes of Metallica, My Chemical Romance and Radiohead and makes them her own. Macy will perform songs from the album during her show at QPAC on September 20.
I grew up in Ohio … and my childhood dream was really just to get out of there. It’s a wholesome kind of place where you grow up with nice values, but I always wanted to do something really special. It’s not that you can’t do that in Ohio, but just not the things I wanted to do.
I’ve always loved music … and I grew up with parents who always had the radio on. My mum and dad were very social people and they’d always have people over and the radio would always be playing. I’m going to date myself by saying this, but my father also had an eight-track that was always on!
The first song I remember hearing … was ‘Everyday People’ by Sly Stone. I was five years old and I was living with my mum, who was single at the time – I really remember it very visually.
I didn’t like my voice … as a kid, because everyone made fun of it. It made me very quiet and I didn’t talk much as a result.
I started singing … for fun, really. I learned about music really early on and I took piano lessons and always gravitated towards musicians. I started joining bands just for fun and I ended up with all these tapes with my singing on them, because I would write songs and then show the person how to sing it. Then people started asking me to sing at hotels with them, but it all started out as a little joke for fun, to be honest.
The greatest challenge in music … for me, is freedom. There are a lot of people around who want to tell you what to do and that you need to change this or that. But I think it’s really important to stick to your guns and stay true to what you really believe in. Hold on to your confidence in yourself. A lot of people, including the press, have opinions on what you should do differently.
My greatest achievement … is still being able to tour. I’m still shocked when people show up and they know all the words. I think it’s cool to have been around for this long and to be still doing it and having people come to my shows.
When I started doing Covered … I really wanted to do my own thing. I had heard this Nina Simone record where she took all these rock songs and turned them into Nina Simone songs. I thought that was really extraordinary and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but no label wanted to do it. I wanted to take all the songs and make them my own and to make them sound new – like songs that you’d never heard before.
I haven’t talked to everybody … whose original songs I’ve covered on the album, but I did get hold of Dave Stewart, and Gerard from My Chemical Romance.I know Karen O from Yeah Yeah Yeahs heard it, but I never heard back from her, so I don’t know what she thought of it!
When I want to discover new music … these days I have kids, so I find out that way. My daughter is actually a huge rock and roll fan, and she really got me into Jack White. I always liked him but, because of her, now I’m obsessed with him because she listens to him all the time. I also heard about Adele years ago from my youngest daughter, who showed me her video on YouTube. I remember thinking she was cool, but I didn’t realise she’d become who she has.
My kids inspire me … because you do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t be doing if you didn’t have kids. I’ve really just been introduced to another side of life and I’ve found different things to write about. You even approach love differently when you have kids.
My favourite place to listen to music … is anywhere at all. If you’re paying attention, music is all around you. I love blasting it in the car, but I’m also a big fan of headphones.
There are lots of musicians who inspire me … I’m a big Prince fan and I’m a Bob Marley worshipper – for me he was Jesus in another form. I’m inspired by different music every day, but I never got into death metal or stuff like that, because I like melodies and lyrics!
Music is like any other craft … because the more you know, the better you’ll be.
I love going to other people’s concerts … As soon as I see someone is in town, even if I’m not a huge fan of them, I still go along just to check it out because every artist brings something new – there’s a reason they have fans. I like watching crowds a lot, and I kind of study them in a way. Often it changes my approach to performance, but I had to stop going for a while because I was starting to get jealous of the other artists and down on myself because I wasn’t doing what they were doing!
I came to be in the film Paperboy … after I first met director Lee Daniels a few years ago when he wanted me to be in the movie Shadowboxer, with Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jnr. We got to know each other then and he really is extraordinary and fearless – he’s not afraid to do what he wants to do. He’s not all about giving people what they want. We’re really good friends and I love him a lot. I hope I get to work with him a lot more.
The reason I campaign against the situation in Darfur … is because there are a lot of people out there who are really helpless and there’s a lot of power and money in the world, so there’s no reason that things should be that way. And when you dig into things and find out the reasons and the people behind it, there’s not a lot you can do, but I still think it’s important that everybody chips in. We get upset at our leaders and politicians, but what have we actually done about the situation ourselves? A lot of people either don’t have time or they don’t make time. I just think that if you want the world to be a better place, then you have to be a part of that process and do your part, even if it’s just a little bit.
I love going to TED conferences … because it’s as if all the nerds went to the Grammys. There are so many interesting people there, it’s crazy. And you just get to see another side of things – I mean, there’s a lot more going on in the world than just music.
If I could give my kids one piece of wisdom to take through life … it would be to stay out of trouble. If you try to be poetic with kids, they just tune you out! But for myself, I live by the philosophy that if you make mistakes, you just pick yourself up and keep going. Hopefully I can pass that onto them one day.