Macy Gray's Triumphant Return (and How She Came to Embrace Her Iconic Voice)

Macy Gray
Photo: Dennis Manuel

In the early aughts, Macy Gray's "I Try" was a ubiquitous love anthem that likely had a permanent spot on most moody teenage mixtapes. The catchy song—made so by Gray's smooth-sounding, gravely voice—rightly scooped up numerous accolades, including a 2001 Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, a coveted MTV Moonman for Best New Artist, and seemingly played on endless loop on radio stations across the country. It was almost inarguable that, at the ripe age of 30, the musician had peaked.

Yet after releasing a slew of uncharted studio efforts, and making cameo appearances in movies such as Spider-Man, Scary Movie 3, and For Colored Girls, the smokey-voiced drawl we all know and love is back in action with a brand-new album, The Way (out now), and it's arguably her best yet. It's also our sincere hope that somewhere in these 10 tracks lies the next heart-wrenching ballad. We caught up with Gray right before her show at the City Winery during CBGB's Music & Film Festival in N.Y.C. to discuss her voice, her new record, and yes, "I Try." Here's an excerpt from our chat:

Your raspy voice has obviously become your trademark. Have you always had same inflection?Yeah, all the kids used to pick on me about it. They'd always giggle when I spoke, like everything I said was funny. I got really self-conscious about speaking for a while in my high school years, and it's carried over into my adulthood—I still definitely think twice before I speak in front of a bunch of people [laughs].

I take it you didn't sing much back then either.I didn't start singing until my 20s, when I was almost out of college.

What did you do to embrace your voice? I fell into this group of hippie kids while I was a student at USC, and we'd sit around and write songs with a guitar. I was always good at writing lyrics, so I made all of these tapes with me singing lyrics. One of the kids in the group needed a singer for this gig he had on Sundays, and he asked me to do it. That's pretty much how I started. I had no idea I'd end up being a singer.

The Way
Courtesy Photo

You came out with "I Try" not long after graduation, and it dominated the charts from 1999 to 2000. Why do you think it resonated with so many people?When I first recorded it, I wasn't expecting it to be a big hit at all. I just think it sums up everybody's relationship. I'll never be tired of it, I still love that song. I play it every time I perform.

Before The Way, you released Covered in 2012, an 18-track album where you try your hand at Radiohead and Arcade Fire. Any songs you're hankering to cover in 2014?I love "Clarity" by Zedd. It's so catchy. I'm also really into Beirut.

Would you say your sound has evolved at this point in your career? It seems pretty consistent with your old stuff. I think I've grown as a musician and as an artist, but it's still definitely me, and it's definitely consistent. One thing we're doing different this time is we're working on some cool remixes with bands like Prodigy, which should be awesome.

Listen to “Hands” below, and download Gray's new album The Way from the iTunes Store.

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