Admit it -- you have probably sung along to Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly" during the early stages of love, or "Creep" by Radiohead while feeling a little more damaged inside. So has Macy Gray. But she didn't stop there.
Gray's new album, Covered, is not only eclectic and adventurous, but also a clear reflection of the artist herself.
"Of course I'm a fan of all those songs," Gray said. She fell in love with the lyrics of a wide range of hits, including those mentioned, as well as "Love Lockdown" by Kanye West and "Here Comes the Rain Again" by The Eurythmics. The key to choosing the right song for this album, Gray said, was finding one she could spin in her own peculiar, dark, twisty kind of way while of course wielding her signature raspy voice. Covered seems particularly dark with a tone that Gray said is akin to "hiding in a dark closet."
It's been two years since Gray released The Sellout, with a title track that takes a dig at a music industry in tumult as artists grapple with reduced album sales, a heavily reliance on revenue from touring, and piracy. But Macy Gray can't be held down by any of that. Filmmakers are increasingly captivated by her unique star quality, prompting them to cast Gray in pictures like Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls and out director Lee Daniels's upcoming film The Paperboy. Gray has a particular affinity for Daniels, who she calls "really awesome" and whose own success with Precious nearly won him an Academy Award in 2010.
"He's different. He's loud," she said of Daniels. "He wants to get exactly what he wants. He's really an extraordinary guy and a very interesting guy. He's probably one of the most open people I've met. He's not afraid to talk about anything."
The film, starring Zac Efron, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, and Nicole Kidman, is about a journalist tasked with returning to his home town in Florida to investigate the case of a death row inmate. But being on set with Kidman was, by far, the most memorable thing about the shoot for Gray.
"I just remember I couldn't keep my eyes off Nicole Kidman," Gray said. "I was just star-struck, and I haven't been star-struck in a long time. I think I freaked her out."
Gray isn't one to conform with expectations. With big, natural hair, outlandish outfits, and her love of Metallica, Gray happily defies her persona as simply a soul singer. Gray sees the soul in bands like Sublime and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs because, in the end, good song writing is good song writing. She says all of her love songs should just resonate with anyone feeling a little love-struck. All of her breakup songs should resonate with anyone who's just been dumped. She knows she has some songs that play particularly well at gay events, but Gray says her song writing -- and in the case of Covered, song selection -- knows no gender or orientation when it comes to audience. Men and women, straight, gay, and in between can all relate.
Gray has performed at countless benefits for organizations such as the AIDS Project Los Angeles, The Advocate's own 45th anniversary party, and gay pride events across the country. Anywhere she sees a "fight against separatism or discrimination," Gray wants to join in.
"I have a lot of gay people in my life, so it never occurred to me to not support [gay rights] or to discriminate, or have any kind of separatism," she said.
Gray is always surrounded by gay people, so she can't help but feel a connection to the LGBT community, she said. "It's a very powerful community in music. And, we've all been gay on occasion, you know?" she says with a laugh.
Watch the videos on the following pages for "Smoke Two Joints," popularized by Sublime, "Creep," originally performed by Radiohead, and a live performance of "Teenagers," originally by My Chemical Romance.