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Macy Gray: On Dreams, Fame, and How It All Began

By July 22, 2022August 1st, 2022No Comments

Photo: Irvin Rivera

Macy Gray is well-known across the globe. Standing out from other artists, with her signature raspy voice, Gray has never skipped a beat. Because of growing up in Ohio, despite all of her success, she still remains passionate and humble, with a big scoop of ambition and faith. She is so reputable that most could hear her voice and distinguish her from any other artist. As an actress, Gray’s roles have been equally memorable. Some of her songs holding sentimental value for so many, her presence in culture is the opposite of a fragment. Going on 20 whopping years in the music industry, Gray has no regrets.

I sat down with Macy on Zoom at 7PM on a Sunday.

Happy: So you have a very specific reputation as a very wild and free spirited and outgoing artist. Do you feel that the way your fans view you, is aligned with the person that you are in your personal life?
Macy: Well, I’m older now, so I wouldn’t call myself wild, that’s for sure. But I do know wild people my age, so that’s not an excuse. I don’t think I’m wild. No, but I think I’m free spirited and I can be outgoing when I want to be.
Happy: Since you got your record deal at 26, you’ve been a famous artist for more than half of your life. So do you ever get tired of Fame?
Macy: No. There’s nothing I’m really tired about. About what I do. I think that some things, because I’m used to them, they affect me differently. Like touring… Before, I was say, ‘yeah, let’s go. Let’s get on the bus.’ Now I say, ‘I need to make enough money so I can buy a jet because I’m tired of the bus.’ Stuff like that. But I’m only tired of the bus and going through airports. I really actually love touring. In a weird way, I like the stress of it. I like the challenges of it, still. I know people say that fame is this horrible thing, and it ruins and changes people. But it’s actually good. It’s actually a good thing if you let it be good to you.
Happy: That’s awesome. I feel like people that have been in the industry for as long as you don’t feel that way. So that’s very special that you do.


Photo: Giuliano Bekor
Macy: Yeah. That’s one thing that I prayed to God for when I first started. I said that I never want to be jaded. When I was a lot younger, I met somebody, and I don’t want to say her name. But she was much older than me, she had been super famous, and she was so jaded. She hated everything and hated everybody. Everything was bad. And I remember praying that night. I said, ‘I don’t ever want to be that way. I don’t ever want to be jaded or unexcited about what I do.’ So far, so good.
Happy: That’s really great. So if you couldn’t have been an artist, what would you have done as a career instead?
Macy: I think I would have been a criminal, honestly. I think it’s in my blood. I come from a family that came up back in the day when black people had to take shortcuts. But just with some of the ways I think,  I would have been a bank robber. That looks fun. Like Set It Off. 
Happy: Isn’t “Set It Off” your favorite movie?
Macy: I can’t say I have one favorite movie, but that’s up there. That’s in my top ten. I know it by heart.
Happy: So you released your debut album, “On How Life Is,” in the summer of year 1999. The album sold 10 million copies. Because of the second single of the album, “I Try,” you were nominated for three Grammys, and actually won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. What was the inspiration behind your infamous song, “I Try,” and did you ever expect it to have such worldwide popularity in the way that it does?
Macy: The inspiration was my ex-husband, and we were together at the time.  I remember I wrote it and I had a little guitar back then. This was before having kids. (I wrote, “I Try,” a long time ago.) I had a guitar. I was sitting there. I only knew three chords: D, A, E. Well, I knew C and G, but those were the only chords I knew. And I came up with it that night. Then, I played it for my ex-husband and he was was like, ‘yeah, yeah,’ because he was watching a basketball game… He was watching the Knicks. It was the playoffs. And he was like, ‘yeah, whatever.’ So I never thought it was that big of a deal. He really liked some of my songs.  And when I played him that one, he was like, ‘oh, yeah, that’s cool.’ He was kind of trying to get me to shut up so he could watch the game. So I think because of that, I never thought that song would be what it is.

Photo: Giuliano Bekor

Happy: Wow. So the inspiration behind the song was your ex husband?
Macy: Yeah. At the time, it was our relationship. We didn’t get along most of the time, later on. Actually, no. I had Aanisah [her oldest daughter] then because we lived in that townhouse. So I think I had Aanisah, and if we were in the townhouse, then I had Mel [her son] too.  So I had two kids. When we started having kids, it got really stressful for us. We weren’t ready for that as a couple, I think. He was always really stressed. Looking back, I think he was just under a lot of pressure. He felt a lot of pressure, too, because I think a lot of people were in his ear telling them he had to take care of his family. My mom was always telling them that he needed to marry me and all this stuff. I think just as a man, he just couldn’t do it pleasantly. So we were always arguing, but nobody left. And we said things to each other that, if somebody says that to you, you should go. But, we always came home and, you know, he was my best friend at the time. So that’s really what it is: I try to walk away and I can’t.
Happy: That’s amazing. That’s incredible that you’ve been able to make such a real situation into such a worldwide sentiment and appreciated work of art.

Photo: Giuliano Bekor

Macy: Yeah, I was surprised. I think people connect to that because everybody has a relationship like that at one point or another. So I think a lot of people connect to it. I’ve performed the song at a few weddings. I know it’s people’s wedding song. I get a lot of people telling me that they had babies to it, they named their baby Macy, and crazy stuff like that. So it’s cool because I was just kind of venting with my guitar with what we were going through. It’s cool that a lot of people connected to that and could relate to that.
Happy: So what is it about you that you think is responsible for the fact that you’ve been so successful in the music industry for over 20 years now?
Macy: I never let up. I kept doing it. Probably no matter what would happen, I would still do this. I think it’s the only thing that I do really well and I adore it. I like what I do. I like the people that are in the music business. I get those people. Like, I get musicians, I get record company people. So I think it’s a space that I belong in.  Even when I’m doing terrible or things aren’t going well, I know that that’s where I belong. I think when you really care for something, it makes it easy to keep going. I mean, naturally you’re going to keep doing it. I think a lot of people, they say ‘I wanted to be this and I wanted to be that.’ I truly think it’s if you stop, then of course, you won’t get there. So if you want to do this for 20 years, you just have to do it for 20 years. But if you stop or you get tired of it or you want to go into real estate or something, then of course it’ll end for you. You know what I mean?
Happy: Alongside all of your different ventures, you also act. I think that a lot of people will never forget your role in Training Day. What is your dream role as an actress?
Macy: I watched that show you told me to watch Abbott Elementary. I think I would be good on that show. I want to do something cheeky, and not really serious, but I don’t know what my dream role would be. Actually? That is my dream role. Abbott Elementary. 

Photo: Giuliano Bekor

Happy: A lot of people are shocked to find out that on top of being a music legend, you’re also a mom of three. What is the biggest thing that you hope your kids will learn from you?
Macy: Just to go your own way, and to do your own thing. Also, to trust that what you want out of life, what you believe in, what you commit to…. If that feels good, then to follow that path. Don’t let anybody talk you out of it or tell you you should be doing this or that. I think that’s probably number one.  Just to ‘do you’ in life, because even if you don’t, people are still going to have things to say. You’re still going to have issues and you’re still going to make mistakes, so you might as well do the thing you really want to do.
Happy: I think it’s so amazing that you grew up in Canton, Ohio, and you were able to build yourself into this Grammy Award winning artist, living in LA. What was the motivation that helped you get to where you are at now?
Macy: Even when I was little, I always wanted to be somebody. I liked privilege  more than money. I like it when you go to a club and you don’t have to stand in line… Just simple stuff like that. I like that and I need that. I just like the privilege of it. I wanted that for myself.  I always knew that I’d either be on the streets, or I’d be really successful. I knew I’d never be in the middle, but I was willing to go either way. I like extremes. I think because I was open to going either way, then it was easy for me to pick which way want and to try to make that happen. But I did have a moment when nothing was working out,  I went home and I moved back in with my mom. I was just going to go back to school and be a teacher. I think I would have been really unhappy, but because I had kids, I knew I had to do something. But right at that moment, I got my record deal, right when I decided ‘let me go get my teacher’s certificate because my mom’s a teacher.’ She would say, ‘I can help you get your teacher’s certificate in two months. You can be teaching at so and so.’ She was ready to get me all hooked up. But yeah, I think it’s a choice. I think if you decide that you want a certain thing out of life, I think most people have the wherewithal to go get what they want. Some people, of course, have huge hurdles and obstacles in their way, and that’s not their fault. But I think most of us… If you really want something, good or bad, I think God blessed us all with the ability to go get it.

Photo: Giuliano Bekor

Happy: Before being an icon, before having kids, if you could go back in time and speak to your 25 year old self, what would you say?
Macy: Two things. I’d tell myself to hold onto my money because I didn’t get very good financial advice when I was coming up, and that’s important. Even if you have a billion dollars, you have to be really smart about your money.  I really think that our education system is completely neglectful in not putting that in schools because they set it up so that your life relies on how much money you have. But they don’t teach you about money. That’s a whole ‘nother conversation that I get upset about. But I think from the time you’re twelve years old, you should be getting educated about how to manage your money. That’s one. And I would just say to be open to people. Now that I’m older, I think I’m finally understanding people, and I’m not as hard on people as I used to be, as critical. It’s not fun but it’s like a part of conversation to hate on people. ‘Look at her shoes.’ You know what I mean? I would just tell myself, and kids that age, not to focus on those kinds of things, because they don’t matter. And that everybody is just doing their best every day and to really appreciate that. Of course you’re going to run in people who, you can appreciate them all day, and you’re still not going to be friends. But just be more open about people, not judge or criticize.
Happy: In the midst of the rise of documented police brutality, you launched your charity, “My Good” in 2020. What is the goal of “My Good” and what is it that made you want to launch a charity for such an important cause?
Macy: I personally am so sick of it and I know everybody else is. There’s a lot of things that we, as citizens, don’t have any power over, and one of them is policing. We have no say in how that goes. People say, ‘defund the police,’ and you can defund them all day. But you still can’t keep them from handling situations violently, control how they handle people, or force them to do the right thing and treat people like people. So one thing that we could help was the families, because I think the thing with George Floyd and Brianna Taylor is they reportedly got these massive settlements. But, if you talk to 99% of these families… they don’t get anything. Their situations are just as brutal, but maybe they weren’t on TV. All of them are necessary. I didn’t hear one necessary story. So those families…  What I also found, being involved in this, is that a lot of it’s economic. I know that the headline is ‘race,’ and ‘black people,’ and ‘police kill black people.’ And proportionally,  yes, that is true. But there are more shootings of white citizens than any other, almost double. So my thing is to make it a national issue. I think that a lot of people think it’s not their problem  because they’re not black. But my point is that it’s economical because you never see like a black man from Beverly Hills getting shot. You just don’t. Or a black man on the Upper West Side getting blown away. It just doesn’t happen. So, with that, we found that the families of those victims, have a lot of needs. They can’t pay for funerals. Some of victims are dads and their kids are left with nothing. So, we do as much as we can. It’s hard, because, like I said, it’s a very specific cause. I think a lot of people don’t think it’s their problem. I think a lot of people don’t know the facts and don’t understand them. So we’re doing this. It’s difficult. We’re at a difficult time. It’s something that the other founders, Grace Blake and Charyn Harris, and I really deeply care about. W.E’ve raised quite a bit. We’ve helped a lot of people, not as many as we’d like to, but I think we’ll get there. It’s a new foundation, but it’s hard to run a charity. It’s really difficult.
Happy: Yeah, I bet. Aren’t you corresponding with these families yourself?
Macy: Yeah, some of them. Grace [Blake] and Charyn [Harris] talk to some of them. But yeah, I’ve talked to quite a few. I almost, selfishly, had to stop for a minute because it was so heavy on my heart. I got really depressed. I feel bad saying that because these mothers and fathers… Imagine what they feel if I took to it that way. If I sat and cried… Imagine what they go through every night. You know what I mean?
Happy: Yeah.
Macy: But I actually had to take a break from interviewing the moms. Charyn [Harris] and Grace [Blake] started doing it because it was so much. So, now, all three of us talk to the families equally. It’s good. It’s healthier that way, because of the stories. I have kids of my own. So, of course, that’s my biggest fear. And that’s because I see what these parents go through and some of them don’t bounce back. Some of them don’t come back from that. I mean, they’re never the same. There’s been suicides. Parents committing suicide, or are homeless now. They really struggle in the aftermath of that. And I think that’s probably what would happen to me. I don’t think I’d ever be the same. So it’s very close to my heart,  I have really good partners in it, I’m glad that we’re doing it, and I just want to do more.

Photo: Giuliano Bekor

Happy: Have you always known that you would become such a notable force in the music industry?
Macy: No. 
Happy: Your songs hold a lot of sentimental value for a lot of people. Besides your artistry… If the world ended tomorrow, what is it that you would hope people remember about you?
Macy: That I was a good person. 

Photo: Giuliano Bekor
Happy: What’s next for you?
Macy: I have an album dropping in May. I have an NFT coming in May. I’m doing the American Song Contest, on NBC. I hope you all go online and vote for me. I’m doing a cartoon with Laurence Fishburne. I’m going on a Europe tour, in May. It’s a busy year! Everyone had to take the last two years off. So everybody is just smooshing everything into this year. Because of that, it’s been really busy. Non stop.

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