Q&A: Macy Gray grounds herself by looking to the present

Macy Gray

Macy Gray, Photo courtesy Giuliano Bekor.

It wasn’t an accident that Macy Gray released the video for “Buddha” in the days leading up to a week dedicated to mental health awareness late last summer. The song, which featured Gary Clark, Jr., as well as the video, depicts the hitmaker’s own struggle following her blazing-fast ascension to R&B superstardom in 1999 with “I Try” and three-times platinum debut album On How It Is.

Gray has been making music for 20 years, and Ruby is her 10th album. Though the 52-year-old hasn’t bested the success of her first and second albums, the latter of which found another in hit with “Sweet Baby,” she’s brought her soulful rasp to everything she’s made since. She’s collaborated with everyone from Ariana Grande to Galactic. She’s also found success with TV and film roles on the likes of Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls and Training Day alongside Denzel Washington.

“Buddha” is about Gray grounding herself and finding peace following a chaotic time. She owns up to mistakes that she’s made and the setbacks she’s faced, but declares victory and reasserts herself. The song, which was inspired by a Buddhist philosophy to concentrate on the present rather than to stress about the past and worry about the future, is the opening track on her 2018 album, Ruby.

“I think a lot of it had to do with growing up and … getting more comfortable with it and understanding it,” Gray said of getting to the point of being able to address previous struggles head-on during a recent call from her home. “It was really a growing up thing. It was a growth process. As I started out, I didn’t know anything about being successful or famous. It’s something you have to learn. It’s an art to keep it, you know what I mean? I’m sure I worked at it because I wanted to keep doing what I do. But a lot of it was just growing up and learning from my mistakes.”

She’s has taken that philosophy to heart, keeping busy not only with her music career—she’s already working on another album that may be released as soon as 2020—but with two new business ventures: a cannabis product line for women and a hair care salon specifically for braids.

Gray is about to begin a short run of East Coast shows, following summer festival appearances in the U.K. She returned overseas despite allegedly losing $500,000 on a European tour in 2017, which she blames on an agent whom she’s currently suing for fraud.

“Nothing’s going to stop me from touring,” Gray said. “It was a situation that didn’t pan out so well, and we’re working it out, but it didn’t change anything in my life.”

RIFF: Reading through other conversations with journalists this year, I see you are often quick to praise and give credit to the people you work with: Your producers, co-songwriters, musicians—even credit for your business ideas. Is that a trait you’ve always had?

Macy Gray: I didn’t notice I was doing that. … I’m not sure. I do get a lot of help. I do give credit away. I’ve done stuff, and I’ll let the other person take the credit sometimes. Mostly [on] producer stuff. When I would tell people I would produce albums, nobody ever believed me. My ambition is not to produce albums, but I do have a lot to do with my records.

You have said that Ruby, and “Buddha” specifically, deals with the disorientating nature of fame. How did that success affect you, and how did it hurt you?

Success is different than fame. … Success is a good thing, you know? I got to do a lot of things that I didn’t do before. I got to see the world. I was proud of myself, and my family is proud of me, so I don’t think success hurts. I think people say that just as an out when they screw it up.

And you’re already working on your next album. What’s influencing your new music, both sonically and thematically?

Giorgio Moroder.

Dancier, then?

Yeah, I’ve never been in the clubs. I want to get back in the clubs.

How about thematically?

Right now, a lot of it is about going out and having fun. I don’t know if we have the lyrical concept down yet. We’ve got really great musical ideas, but I don’t think we’ve gotten that far, to be honest with you.

Where did your two business ventures originate, and how involved are you with Macy’s Braid Bar and the line of cannabinoid products on a day-to-day basis?

That’s getting pretty intense. It took a while to get the right partners, and now we’re at the stage of developing [CBD] products and figuring out when we’re going to release it. We’re doing all the artwork. We are getting into the creative side of it.

What interested you in both of those?

I believe in cannabis. I can’t say [I believe in] drugs because that’s so wrong–everybody’s so sensitive now. There are healing properties in CBD, and I believe that your mind needs a break every once in a while. … You just have to be smart and not overdo it. It helps people.

The CBD products will be targeted to women?

Everybody can use it, but it’s marketed toward women. We’re going to make products for cramps and lip glosses; stuff like that. But weed is weed. Anybody can smoke it.

Where can people get it?

It’s super early, but we’re going to launch next year for sure.

In July, you stirred some controversy on a British talk show. This happened a day or two after you were briefly hospitalized, and the pop culture pundits there were pretty accusatory about you appearing disoriented and by what you said was the reason for the hospitalization. There was a comparison you made between yourself and a certain monster. I looked at the clip and it was pretty clear that it was humor. But since those folks talked about you after the fact rather than asking you about it, I wanted to provide that platform here. 

When I called myself Dracula, or a vampire? Yeah, so, I’m anemic and I ran out of blood. So I said I’m a vampire. And everybody got all excited about that. It was really stupid. Everybody’s too sensitive now; they’re too focused on stupid shit.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter