BY LARA MICKLE It’s been 18 years since she won a Grammy for “I Try,” but Macy Gray is a neo soul survivor. Over the course of the last two decades, Gray has released 10 studio albums, embarked on countless world tours and racked up dozens of film, television and video game credits. Concurrently, she has weathered multiple micro-controversies, all of which have proven, in the fullness of time, to be proverbial tempests in a TMZ teapot. Through it all, one thing has remained above reproach: that voice. Like honey on sandpaper, Gray’s voice signals both vulnerability and fiercesomeness, channeling the ghosts of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and a thousand nameless soul divas doomed to obscurity by the forces of racism and misogyny and self-destruction. Gray has wrestled her share of personal demons. She has spoken candidly about her struggles with mental illness and self-acceptance and on her new single “Buddha,” from last year’s Ruby LP, she celebrates her newfound mindfulness and self-confidence. She is currently on a tour that brings her to the newly opened City Winery on October 27th. Last week we got her on the horn to catch up. DISCUSSED: How she overcame crippling shyness to become the Macy Gray we all know and love; how getting her be-here-now on inspired “Buddha”; Kanye’s MAGA bullshit; her new line of CBD oils; her favorite Billie Holiday and Nina Simone songs; her new Hollywood Boulevard braid bar; and Cher’s tight ass.
MACY GRAY: No, I am not a Buddhist, but the Buddha has a quote that says ‘concentrate the mind on the present’ and that’s what the song is about, just living in the moment and getting your now right and not putting all your energy in the past and just being in the right now.
PHAWKER: What sort of things do you do to keep yourself ‘in the moment’? To not get lost in negative thought patterns or obsessing over negative memories?
MACY GRAY: Well, you have to get to know your mind and how it works. Of course I think about the past sometimes but i just have conditioned myself to be in the now, and to make my moments right, and make my moments the best they can be. But that was just growth and maturing, I think. I don’t meditate or anything like that, you know?
PHAWKER: You have spoken candidly about dealing with crippling shyness when you were young, how did you overcome that?
MACY GRAY: People still call me shy. I don’t think I’m shy but everybody that meets me says ‘oh she’s shy’, but everybody needs confidence. You just need a reason to, you know, feel like it’s okay for you to talk, and speak up and that just comes with accomplishing things. When I meet shy kids I know they just need to have something going on that’s great, and they can be proud of themselves and that’s how you slowly come out of it. I think people say shy is a growing up thing, nobody is born shy, but I beg to differ. You know everybody is different, some people are just not as outgoing as others, that’s all.
PHAWKER: What’s the deal with your “Make Kanye Great Again” hat? Did you hear from Kanye about it? If so what did he say? Or what would you say to him about his support of Donald Trump if you had the opportunity?
MACY GRAY: No, but he put a Like on it, it was on Twitter and I saw that he liked it which was so weird and so wild. But I’m a huge fan of his, so I was very disappointed when I saw him endorsing Trump, only because of the things that Trump stands for. I just felt like [Kanye] has this amazing platform, and you know, there are millions of people with it, if he said jump they would jump. I just hate to see him waste that on Trump. I thought it was hurtful to see him give all that to someone like Trump but at the same time, I noticed he only does it when he has a record coming out so I guess it’s all bullshit anyway. Then as soon as his record comes out he doesn’t say nothing, and then he has a record coming out and all of the sudden he’s supporting Trump. Over the weekend he said something about supporting Trump, but everybody knows he has a new gospel record coming out. So I don’t know. I could be getting all upset over nothing.
PHAWKER: I actually never even considered that.
MACY GRAY: Last time he had a record was when he started to wear the Trump hat, and then the other day–– you know he does Sunday services–– so he was on Instagram and he stands up and gives this long speech about ‘how come black people can’t support Trump?’ and all this other stuff. But you know, he is about to announce his new gospel album so it just seems like it’s all bullshit now, so I don’t really care anymore.
PHAWKER: You’ve mentioned you have a CBD oil line coming out, and that CBD and marijuana advertising are generally targeted toward men. How do you expect to change that?
MACY GRAY: Well, I think it’s going to take a lot of education. I live in LA and LA is all about trends and what’s happening right now and CBD is very big in big cities. But it’s about educating all of those people in Nebraska and Kansas and Illinois and showing them that there’s alternatives to prescription drugs and you don’t have to be depressed or in pain. There’s lots of natural medicines that can help you. That’s the main thing because my mother has cancer so I’m really working on developing nonprescription medicine mostly to help her out, and my daughter, but it’s getting to be this massively crowded industry so that’s gonna be our challenge: how to stick out and how to do it right? I don’t know if it’s going to become a gender thing. I think once it hits everybody is going to be all in on it.
PHAWKER: You recently joked to an interviewer that you were a vampire — and that turned into a whole thing — but, given that Halloween is right around the corner, if you could come back as a famous monster like Frankenstein, Dracula, the Mummy which would you be and why?
MACY GRAY: [Laughs] Okay, let’s see… do I have to be a monster?
PHAWKER: Well, what did you have in mind instead?
MACY GRAY: I don’t know, let me think… I was thinking of being Cher because I’m so overweight right now so I thought it would be funny to put on a long wig and wear no clothes around.
PHAWKER: [Laughing] So that’s who you’re going to be for Halloween?
MACY GRAY: I’m thinking about it, just having my ass out, but she had a really tight ass when she did that and mine is not so it would be funny, I might do that.
PHAWKER: What can you tell me about your new braid bar?
MACY GRAY: Oh that’s going amazing! We open next month right in Hollywood, right on Ventura Boulevard. The reason it’s gonna be the greatest is because we’re scouting people, like people scout for athletes, we’re scouting for all the best stylists around, and braiders and weavers, and we’re going to do wigs. We have one of the best wig designers in the U.S. right now. So I’m looking forward to that, and we’re going to be launching our own hair products so that’s going to be this thing that’s turning out to be really magnificent and I’m really excited about it. It started out as just a little shop, we were sharing a space with a barbershop and now it’s turned into this huge thing which is going to be great.
MACY GRAY: [pauses to think] The last album that blew my mind was probably Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, but that was a long time ago. I haven’t listened to a full album for the duration in a long time to be honest with you, but that’s the last album that I felt was just mind-blowing as far as being fresh and creative and creating a whole new wave of music. I thought that was pretty cool.
PHAWKER: What is your favorite Billie Holiday song? Why?
MACY GRAY: She has a song that’s called “Gimme a Pigfoot And A Bottle Of Beer” that’s my favorite. It’s uptempo and there’s all these crazy horn arrangements going on and she’s singing about being at a club and the music is bringing her down and everybody can relate to that. I mean of course we go to clubs and we have DJs, and they had piano players and danced, but I just thought that song was so relatable because you go to a club and you’re like ‘come on DJ, get it together!’ you know?
PHAWKER: What is your favorite Nina Simone song? Why?
MACY GRAY: She has this version of “My Way” that’s incredible. I talk to jazz heads–– dudes that just play jazz all day and they think they know everybody and everything about jazz–– and none of them know that version. She has this version of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra that’s insane, I listen to that quite a bit, actually.