Macy Gray: 'Big' Sound, Bigger Voice Gray has kept busy since her audacious 2001 debut. She's put out three albums, and she's acted in a number of films. She's also established a music school, The M. Gray Music Academy, in Hollywood, and is about to launch a line of clothes called Humps, designed for full-figured women.

Macy Gray: 'Big' Sound, Bigger Voice

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(Soundbite of song "Finally Made Me Happy")

Ms. MACY GRAY (Singer): (Singing) Bet you thought I'd die when you went away. Thought I'd get drunk on my sorrows and just drift away. But things have changed from back in the day...


Big sound, big voice, big hair - ah, wait, the hair is not so big anymore. She is Macy Gray, and "Big" is the sound of the name of her new album.

(Soundbite of song "Finally Made Me Happy")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) Baby, you finally made me happy when you walked out that door. Baby, you finally made me happy when you walked out that door.

SIMON: This is "Finally Made Me Happy," the first song on Macy Gray's just-released "Big." Macy Gray joins us in our studio. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. GRAY: Thank you.

SIMON: When did you - when did you first realize you had a voice that could attract notice and lift people up?

Ms. GRAY: Not till my first record came out.

SIMON: Really, I mean, not like, I mean, nine or 10, or something.

Ms. GRAY: Oh no, no. I didn't even - I took piano lessons when I was very young, but I never pictured that I'd be a singer because I have such an odd voice so it never occurred to me that I could sing. I never even tried it before.

SIMON: And what would change? How did you?

Ms. GRAY: A boy, of course. I was - I had a boyfriend in college and he was -and he's the one that really got me into music, you know. He taught me how to play the guitar, and he got this gig where he needed a singer for the gig. And so he told me, he said, you know, you have to learn how to sing so we can get this gig and he gave me a bunch of records to listen to like Billie Holiday records. He gave me a Michael Frank record, like old jazz stuff. So I listened to it. And I just, kind of, emulated those singers for the gig that we had every Sunday.

SIMON: Where was this gig?

Ms. GRAY: In Hollywood, at the Ramada Inn. Every Sunday during brunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRAY: Everybody was eating and talking so no one heard us anyway. But I really got into, like, performing and I ended up hanging out at a lot of studios. And I started writing songs with him just for fun and I discovered that I really, really liked it and that there was a chance I might be good at it.

SIMON: I want to hear another one of your songs if we could. Let's listen to a little bit of "Glad You're Here."

(Soundbite of song "Glad You're Here")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) I'm so happy you're here. It's been a long time since I had you near, my dear. Come on inside, get away from the cold wind that's blowing. Gonna let you know that I'm so glad you're here. I worried about you. I'm so glad you're here. After all we've been through, I'm so glad you're here. It's good to see you, baby. I'm so glad you're here. Leave your troubles out...

SIMON: May I ask? When you sing that, do you keep anyone specific in mind?

Ms. GRAY: Maybe like, you know, when I order pizza and it finally gets there. You know, pizza takes forever.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRAY: They say 30 minutes but it's like 45 to an hour now.

SIMON: You know, we should note, and now your first album won the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2001.

Ms. GRAY: Mm hmm.

SIMON: You've been in a couple of movies since then, in addition to your music?

Ms. GRAY: Yeah, I've done about seven movies, I think. So far .

SIMON: "Training Day" with Denzel Washington.

Ms. GRAY: "Training Day" and then I did "Idlewild" with the OutKasts. And I did a movie called "Shadowboxer."

SIMON: This is Cuba Gooding.

Ms. GRAY: Cuba Gooding and Helen Mirren. And I did "Lackawanna Blues," which was a HBO movie.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. GRAY: Then I did - no one knows this - but I did "Crow 3."

SIMON: I don't think I know "Crow 3."

Ms. GRAY: Yeah, no one knows "Crow 3." And that was a really horrible movie and I don't think it even made it to the videocassette.

SIMON: Have you ever asked, like Denzel Washington or Cuba Gooding, or Helen Mirren - it just occurred to me because I believe they are all Oscar winners -have you ever asked them or anyone else, look, I know about singing, maybe, but tell me about acting.

Ms. GRAY: Well, you know what, Denzel taught me a lot because my first opportunity was "Training Day," and I was so intimidated by the fact that he was in it and it was this huge production and I went to the set for the first day to get my fitting in. I actually was going to leave. I was going to quit because I was so intimidated, I didn't feel like I could do a scene with Denzel, you know, because I had such a crush on him, you know.

So I went into his trailer and I, you know, told him how I was feeling and he, you know, he kind of showed me how to approach it and he gave me, you know, complete confidence in doing it and he was actually my first official acting coach.

SIMON: What about singing can you transfer it into acting?

Ms. GRAY: It's really two different animals, you know. Singing is all about, you know, self-expression and pouring out your heart and - whereas acting is the opposite. You know, it's all about how well you can be someone else and totally different for me, really.

SIMON: Can I ask about your children?

Ms. GRAY: Of course.

SIMON: You have three kids, right?

Ms. GRAY: Yes, 12, 11 and nine - Aanisah, Mel and Happy. Girl, boy, girl.

SIMON: And we thought at least one of the songs in this CD sound...

(Soundbite of song, "What I Gotta Do")

SIMON: As if it might have been written for them. Can you...

Ms. GRAY: "What I Gotta Do," yeah.

SIMON: Yeah, can we hear a little of that?

Ms. GRAY: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "What I Gotta Do")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) Yeah. A girl, a boy, and oh, girl. Never thought I'd have babies looking up to me, want to give them all the world. Yeah, trying to make it always going. They say here mommy, don't go. Ooh. I don't want to leave you.

Unidentified Group: I don't want to leave you.

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) What I gotta do with you. No place that I'd rather be than be with you. So what I gotta do to take care of you. Make it right.

Unidentified Group: Make it right. Make it right.

SIMON: This is a very nice song.

Ms. GRAY: Thank you. I love that song.

SIMON: Do you think about them when you sing it?

Ms. GRAY: Oh, of course, yeah. I think about my kids all the time. Yeah, they're always in the back of my head, you know.

SIMON: Can you travel with them or is that hard?

Ms. GRAY: No, they travel with me. I mean, when I do stuffs like this where I'm gone for like, two weeks, you know, then, they stay with my mom. But if I'm gone for a long time, I take them with me. They've been all over the world. They've been everywhere.

(Soundbite of song, "What I Gotta Do")

Unidentified Man: You're always on my mind.

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) Yeah, I'm going to show you the world. But it ain't easy. Oooh, well, I don't want to leave you.

Unidentified Group. I don't want to leave.

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) What I gotta do. There's no place that I'd rather be than be with you. What I gotta do to take care of you? Oh yeah.

SIMON: Why is the album called "Big"?

Ms. GRAY: It's named after my big brain, my big heart, and my big old butt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well.

Ms. GRAY: Okay.

SIMON: That's the best answer I think I've ever had to that question about why did you call the album this. Thank you for giving us a segue to something. Because you've been designing a line of women's clothing.

Ms. GRAY: Uh huh.

SIMON: And it's called?


SIMON: What made you decide to get into clothing line?

Ms. GRAY: Actually, my size, you know, there's a really like, slim Pickings for girls who are, you know, who have curves, you know, have boobs and booties and hips, you know. And so, we're making this line, you know, it's really, like, graphic, really hip, you know, street wear, everyday line for girls sized 10 to 18, you know, comes out in the fall. It's adorable.

SIMON: When you become very famous, were there people who just want to get near you, attach themselves to you?

Ms. GRAY: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Yeah, that's all day.

(Soundbite of song, "Get Out")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) You tell me so much that I know it by heart. How you taught me everything and took me to the top. I'm hiding...

That's just, you know, human nature, you know. You want to be around things that you think look, you know, exciting. People like to be around money, I think. I think, you know, when people like to be around, like, opportunity, or things that they think are opportunity.

(Soundbite of song, "Get Out")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) You drive me crazy, get off my cloud. But you don't want to leave, let me go get my boy.

Unidentified Group: Get out, get out, she don't love you.

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) Macy don't love you.

"Get Out" is kind of like - well, it's kind of like it's directed - I wrote the song at a time when I was like getting a lot of, like, you know, weirdoes out of my life. You know, people who were just, like, around me for the wrong reason. And in my own, you know, like, when you say we clean your house, you know. I was going though that when I wrote that song. I wrote that with Justin Timberlake.

(Soundbite of song, "Get Out")

Unidentified Group: Get out, get out, she don't love you no more.

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) I don't love you no more. And I don't love you no more. Shh. Hit me. Yeah. Let's boogie. Just like your attitude. Funky.

Ms. GRAY: You know, I myself am a groupie. I love, you know, like I saw Oprah Winfrey a couple weeks ago and I went crazy.

SIMON: Did you go over and say hello?

Ms. GRAY: Yeah, I went and said hello. I said something really stupid to her, really embarrassing. But I would have loved to follow her around...

SIMON: Wait. I can't...

Ms. GRAY: Have her give me some money...

SIMON: Can you give us some clue as to what you said to Oprah Winfrey that embarrasses you?

Ms. GRAY: I said I'm going to be in Chicago next week and I'm - I'll look you up and see if I can get your number. And I'll call you and invite you to my show.

SIMON: Well, that's not stupid.

Ms. GRAY: That's really stupid.

SIMON: Why is it stupid?

Ms. GRAY: Because how are you going to look up Oprah Winfrey and invite her to your show.

SIMON: You mean, you just don't open up the...

Ms. GRAY: Yeah, like she - like she's in the Yellow Pages, yeah.

SIMON: I bet you could call people who could find out her number.

Ms. GRAY: Yeah, but she looked at me like I was really stupid. That's when I knew it was stupid. Because she went, okay, sure.

SIMON: What?

Ms. GRAY: No, it was cool. She's just hot, you know, she's just Oprah Winfrey, so you, kind of, like, you know, you kind of like stand up straight. She has that kind of, you know, power.

SIMON: When you're making music, when you're traveling, when you're performing, how much music do you listen to?

Ms. GRAY: Mm. I listen to a lot, like, I went to the record store yesterday and I bought Marvin Gaye and Barry White's "Greatest Hits" for my grandma. And I bought the new - the Biggie Greatest Hits album, and I bought Robin Thicke's album for the third time, everybody keeps taking my copy.

SIMON: Well, I have to ask, how much time can you actually spend listening, or it hard to listen when you're performing?

Ms. GRAY: Oh no. I'm listening to music all the time. I've been listening to my album a lot, you know, like, just being, you know, so nervous about it coming out. And it's, kind of, like listening to my album just helps me focus, you know.

SIMON: What's fun for you about making music?

Ms. GRAY: Oh. Everything. I just love the process of it. I love, you know, that I can express myself through it. You know, I agree, you know, it's very godlike, like you can't touch it or see it, you know. You can just feel and hear it. You know, I remember being really young and this Marvin Gaye song came on and my uncle, who had been really drunk and had passed out in a chair, you know. And this song came on, and it got him up and he started dancing out of his, you know, blackout.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. GRAY: And I thought how powerful music can be, you know, that it woke up my drunk uncle. You know, I love that I was blessed with the talent to create it, you know. I think it's great.

SIMON: Ms. Gray, it's been a real pleasure. Thanks so much.

Ms. GRAY: Thank you.

SIMON: Macy Gray. Her new album is "Big."

(Soundbite of song "One For Me")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) Oh baby I'm my own pedigree. I hang out sometimes but it's mostly with me. It's cool but lately when we...

SIMON: Are you big enough to listen to more? You can sing along with some other songs from Macy Gray's new album at

This is NPR. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(Soundbite of song "One For Me")

Ms. GRAY: (Singing) One dance and I was hooked. One more for me to see that you're easily the one for me. The one for me. Millions of people on this planet Earth. You're lucky if you find one in your search for someone who's true, completes you, love divine.

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