Macy Gray needs no introduction. The American soul singer and R&B star has been a household name since her 1999 debut album On How Life Is. Over the years she has collaborated with major names, including Fatboy Slim and Will.i.am, and continues to surprise us still, recently teaming up with pop mega-star Ariana Grande.
Older fans were re-introduced to Macy Gray last year via her tenth studio album and first fully-fledged jazz record, Stripped. Many will know Macy best for her pop-R&B noughties chart toppers, but the Grammy Award-winning singer, whose voice is heavily inspired by Billie Holiday, has taken a different pace in her latest release, which features both original numbers and jazz covers of some of her most-loved tracks, including a fresh take on Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters (which was previously reimagined on her 2012 album Covered).
To celebrate the release of Stripped, Macy will be performing at Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival at Colston Hall later this month, promising a set including songs from across all her studio releases, but with a special focus on music from her latest album.
Nitelife were honoured with the chance to speak with the icon ahead of her Bristol show to talk about her jazz debut.
Jazz is super big, it’s like the big league ball of music,so it was excellent that my album was noticed.
When you hear the name Macy Gray, your mind conjures thoughts of her distinctive raspy voice, fur coats and, most notably, her hit debut single I Try. But before all that, the singer started out as a jazz vocalist in a friend’s band.
‘Jazz was my first introduction to music and that kind of stuff never leaves you. I know it’s kind of cliché to make a jazz album later on in your music career, but when I was offered the chance to make Stripped, I thought it was a really good opportunity to do something different. We recorded in a church one night in the old school way too, so I was really excited about that.’
Putting a jazz spin on some timeless classics, the album features a selection of Macy Gray’s hits, including I Try and She Ain’t Right For You.
‘It was the label’s call to cover I Try – they were really insistent on me doing that. But there are some songs in my catalogue that I really love and also feature on the album. It was fun because we got to play around with different ways to re-visit some of my most popular songs. That was really cool.’
Macy Gray also made her first foray into the world of binaural recording with this latest release – a method that uses microphones arranged to create a 3D sonic experience, as though the listener is in the room. The result in this case is an up close and personal listening experience, from the echoing sound of the music travelling around the church where it was recorded, to the dusty sounds of the double bass and crisp vocals of Macy Gray.
It was the label’s call to cover I Try – they were really insistent on me doing that.
‘I think I was a lot more conscious of what I was doing when we were recording binaurally. Usually, I would just go into the studio and I would sing my heart out because I could, and that would be that.
‘There’s always a fallback in the studio, because you can edit it or tune things out, or you can just do it over again. This recording experience was different. We would record a track live with the band once and that was it, so I was a lot more conscious of my performance and staying in pitch. I was a lot more conscious of myself technically as a whole.’
The singer songwriter who is used to dominating the pop and R&B charts has introduced herself to a different audience with the release of Stripped, but the switch-up has paid off for the singer, whose new direction has been showered with unanimous praise from jazz critics, including the Billboard jazz charts.
‘Jazz is super big, it’s like the big league ball of music, so it was excellent that my album was noticed. We even got to number 3 in the US jazz album chart. I was really honoured by that.’
The distinctive singer hopes another jazz album is on the cards for the near future, but in the meantime, she is focusing her attention on the release of her recent single, White Man – a socio-political song that responds to race relations in America and illustrates the current high tensions with a beautifully choreographed video, which is available to watch on YouTube now.
Don’t miss Macy Gray at Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival on 19 March for ‘lots of great music and partying.’
Article originally published in Nitelife March 2017