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Macy Gray

Rolling Stone Australia (July 2001)

Room 372 of the Great Eastern Hotel in London's Liverpool Street has everything a travelling soul megastar could wish for. Bowls of red orchids adorn the marble and chrome bathroom. A state of the art television flickers in the corner. The coffee table bears the latest style and fashion magazines. A journalist sits in one armchair battling jetlag, having flown 23 hours for a half an hour audience. And on the sofa, a hairstylist and make-up artist do their best to understand the impossible.

"So, you can only pass <I<backwards<I>?" says the make-up artist, frowning at the rugby on the television. "Man, that's sick."

In the adjoining room, curled up with gentle fatigue, her head wrapped in a purple cowl as if she's halfway through drying her hair, is the queen of the mood swings, Macy Gray. Two nights previously, she'd been out partying til 6am, buzzing with a childlike sense of fun. The next night, a call from her band in LA had her so angry she couldn't focus on the TV, let alone sleep. There are no photos to be done today, but she's asked the stylists to stick around anyway. "For support," they say, pointedly.

The last time Gray needed a little help from her friends, she was in a nightclub. She'd been flitting between moods for a while. One minute, she'd be overjoyed that this ex-scripwriter from Ohio via LA had sold 1.9m copies of her debut album, "On How Life Is". And the next she'd be devastated by the attention focused on her personal life: her suicide attempt at school, her gangly looks and misfit voice, her tendency to be a "pathological liar". And that night in the club, it all came to a head.

"I was just turning into a vagabond," she recalls, smiling. "I was at a club with a friend of mine and I peed on myself. I just didn't want to go to the bathroom." She notices my shocked expression. "When you look back on it, it's funny. Ha ha! You're not laughing!"

Why didn't you want to go to the bathroom? Because people could see you up close?

"I don't remember what was going on exactly in my head, but I just didn't want to go. I was hanging out on the streets a lot. I guess I was just doing really strange stuff and my friends got concerned. One of my friends knew my condition and took me to my doctor. That's all."

When Macy Gray, quite possibly the most psychologically intriguing pop star on the planet, wants to play down one of her many eccentricities, she uses her favourite phrase: "that's all". As if she's saying "don't worry about that, it's no big deal". Which is ironic because, on her latest album, "The Id", she opens by trumpeting her psychosis, singing "You are relating to a psychopath/Your role model's in therapy".

"Do I see myself as a psychopath?" Gray giggles. "Some days. Some days I have psychosis for sure. I've been rushed to hospital a couple of times. I'm a manic depressive so I have my days, that's all. As an artist, you meet people all the time who say they relate to you and they love you. And then, as soon as you leave them, you go into therapy. I wonder if they knew the real me, they'd still say that. That's all."

What happened when your friend took you to the doctor?

"They do your blood and you get medication. But you don't want to be medicated all the time. You may as well take drugs, you may as well take…good stuff. I have a few friends that have that condition and it's so anonymous. None of us take the medication every day, none of us are disciplined enough to do that. It's just not that pleasant."

So is the medication a sedative, to keep you down?

"It doesn't really keep you down. It keeps you very level. I don't get a lot done when I'm on medication. Maybe that's all psychological because I know I'm affected and I automatically don't do anything. I definitely can't be creative when I'm on it."

This is the dilemma of Macy Gray, of course. "The Id" outshines "On How Life Is" precisely because it's stuffed with musical moodswings. On the sublime "Sweet Baby", she blends "Stand By Your Man" and "Don't Look Back In Anger" with a honeysweet soul sheen to produce the biggest heartstopping anthem of the decade to date. And then, a few songs later in "Gimme All Your Loving", she's pointing an AK 47 at a lover's head. Take away the mood swings and you take away the woman's genius.

"Yeah, that's what I like about my music. Even if you don't like it, it's interesting. It goes places. It's not all dah de dah de dah. I love my new album. If I was a man I would marry it and have kids with it. Stay with it forever."

So did therapy help?

"Does therapy help?" she repeats in a sing song voice before suddenly sounding sad and tired, like Marge Simpson after yet another disappointment. "It depends. When I was in college and I was first diagnosed I had a really good therapist. But since then I haven't really met anybody that I clicked with. And I stopped going, so. . ."

Why did you stop?

"Because I felt like I was cured and I didn't need to. I don't want to talk. . . I don't want to tell somebody everything."

Which is an advanced "that's all", meaning "move on". Gray's keen to stress that "Relating To A Psychopath" is "tongue in cheek, nothing to take too seriously", and it's important to recognise how funny her songs can be. "Gimme All Your Lovin'" made me laugh out loud.

"It did?" beams Gray, sounding pleased. "I was watching the news one day and it's funny how our whole society, one thing we have in common is violence. How you can get anything done with a genuine threat, if you hold a gun to someone's head. You can offer them money or have sex with them, but there's nothing that will work better, or more faster than to tell somebody that you're going to harm them. That's sad, but like everything, you have war to have peace."

Do you have a gun?

"No. Not since my kids moved in the house."

But you did.

"A long time ago. Because I like shooting. That's one of my hobbies, I go to the shooting range. It's around the corner from my house."

Why do you like it?

"I don't know. It's very heavy for one thing, so it's a challenge. Especially for a girl because your hands aren't that thick. So it's a challenge to hit the thing and meanwhile your hands going back like that. I don't know." She laughs. "It's just something to do."

Is it theraputic?

"A bit. Because you have to focus and you have to hit the thing you're shooting at. Because if you don't hit it, it might. . . you know how you shoot and slowly the guy's coming, so you've got to hit him or he's going to hit you. It's real weird if you think the way I do. You've got to get his heart or he's going to get you. That's all."

Isn't it cathartic, a way of releasing tension?

"Not really. It's more focus. You have to focus on there, you have to hit that thing. Whatever that means subconsciously. That's what it does for me."

The simple dictionary definition of id is "a person's inherited psychological impulses". For Macy Gray, it's all about working by instinct, surrendering to your subconscious and the many urges – for pleasure, for love, for recognition - that lie within. The name for the album came from a friend who told the singer, "Macy, you're all id", and Gray says the album is "very automatic. It's very spewed out. None of it is forced."

The obvious question, therefore, is what happens when the id is exhausted. "On How Life Is" dealt extensively with Gray's relationship with her former husband, spawning such bruised love classics as "I Try" and "Still". Was she worried that this time around she wouldn't have anything to write about?

"No. I never run out of things to write about. I really didn't want to write about the same things. You can write about my life on the road but most people don't give a shit. The good thing is your inner self remains. Everything around you changes but you still have the same. . . if you have a fear of purple elephants, when you get famous you still have a fear of purple elephants. That's your saviour if you're a writer. You can still find real inspiration."

This time, one of Gray's inspirations seems to be celebrating her oddness, shouting out for the inner freak instead of mumbling and saying "that's all" in a bid to be accepted and get by. "Sexual Revolution" sees her exhort "share your freak with the rest of us", while "Freak Like Me" is a peaen to a lover who's just as much of a misfit as she is.

"There's nothing better than the day you discover that the things that are freakish about you, that's your Jesus, that's your saviour," Gray says, stretching out on her sofa. "And then you have an even better day when you let that out, when you let other people see it. It's very liberating. If you go to the circus, everybody wants to see the freakshow, because that's what's spectacular. You don't have to hide that. As long as you're not hurting nobody, just let people see that, because that's when you'll see who your true friends are and that's when you'll be your happiest."

What about Gray? Is she happy? In "Sexual Revolution", you say there are
things you want to try before you die. What things?

Gray gives an amazed laugh, as if she can't quite believe the question.
She adopts a deep, husky voice.

"Well. . . the obvious thing is sexual. All the kinky things you want to do. All the things you're masturbating about, actually do them one day. And just on a worldwide thing, got to do it before I die, you gotta get that thing out."

Like what?

"I don't know yet. I know there's something because you think, I'm gonna make a lot of money, I'm going to be famous and make good records and that's my mountain top. But I feel like I'm still looking for something. My dilemma is that I thought I was looking for this, but this ain't what I've been looking for. So now I'm really stuck."

Gray's PR comes in to say that my twenty minutes are up. You need to sit on a plane for a day if you want another ten. Time for one last question. Two songs on the album, "Oblivion" and "The World Is Yours", sound like they're from a Broadway musical. Is that something that interests you?

"Yeah. I love old musicals. Every one."

What would Macy The Musical be?

She laughs mischeviously. "I don't know. I must do that, though. You know like how Dorothy had a yellow brick road, I'd have a whole multicoloured one. Like orange, red, blue, a whole different bunch of colours. I'd like that. I'd have to have an Oz, but at the same time they've got to walk on. . . I don't know. I'm going to ramble if I answer that question. So I'll shut up."

And it'll be set on the moon

"Oh definetly. The yellow brick road definitely goes to the moon. Jupiter. As far as you could go out."

And if there's a finer quote in the galaxy to encapsulate the magical, mental, multicoloured delight of Macy Gray, I'll eat my space helmet.

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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