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Issue 1084

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MACY GRAY: BIG TINGS!

Macy Gray
Macy Gray Macy Gray Macy Gray Macy Gray - Big

It's been four years since her last album 'The Trouble With Being Myself' and this time she's handed over the lion's share of the production to Will.i.am. The two go way back, Macy having toured with the Black Eyed Peas and featuring on their 2001 single Request Line. So when she left Sony and he set up his own imprint with Geffen, they were drawn together again. "We have a long history. He knows me really well as an artist and had a lot of good ideas about what I should do with my career," she explains. "He's a visionary, a very smart guy and wants to do new things. We're soul mates on that level."

One bright suggestion of his was to have Macy work with other singers and songwriters as well as other producers for the first time. Contributions from Fergie, Justin Timberlake, Nas, Ron Fair, Teedra Moses and Natalie Cole all ensure that it's not called BIG for nothing. "Usually I have a rule" she states firmly. "I write all my lyrics and work with one producer to make sure the songs are consistent, so this was a totally different approach. Now I'm not as narrow minded about making records so it was a good experience for me. It wasn't forced, it just happened like that."

The lead single 'Finally Made Me Happy' doesn't pull its punches. It's already been well received ahead of its release thanks to its bluesy refrains about the elation of seeing Mr Wrong walk out that door for good. "It's bold musically and not trying to please anyone or fit any kind of mould. It is what it is," she says of the song, and perhaps of herself. There's an air of defiance about it bred from her experiences as a divorcee. "It's about when you break up and rediscover yourself again."

Likewise, 'Get Out' sends the man packing with a little help from Will.I.am and Justin Timberlake's new production tag team JAWbreakers. "Justin was very focused and knew what he wanted to do. He's insanely successful as a performer but he's new and hungry as a producer so he's trying to make a good impression. He wrote the hook and played keyboards too."

Some songs raise a wry smile, such as 'Strange Behaviour'. Inspired by watching a murder mystery marathon on cable TV, it tells of a wife who kills her husband for the insurance money. And 'Treat Me Like Your Money' is her humorous comment on men who love their wallets more than the fairer sex.
"The whole album is different. Just, lyrically I've grown a lot in the last couple of years and progressed as far as my craft goes. I listen to it all the time, obsessing over it. I'm getting better."

When not making music, she has been busy creating her own fashion label called Humps, "It's really dope streetwear for voluptuous girls with hips and curves" she adds. Her acting career, roles in films to date such as 'Training Day', 'Spiderman 2', 'Around The World In 80 Days', 'Domino' and 'Shadowboxer' helped ready Gray for her most recent part playing a madam called Taffy in 'Idlewild'. "She runs a brothel, she's head of the hoochies!"she chuckles. "The OutKast guys asked me to do it, I read the script and I really liked it."

One thing that stays the same thoughout is her distinctive vocal style. The raspy voice that a young 'Natalie Renee McIntyre' used to be teased at school for has become the key to her success. Sometimes croaky, sometimes squeaky, yet always sexy, her singing perfectly suits her own outspoken persona. From her early days singing covers in a jazz band to working with Fatboy Slim and Santana, there's no one quite like the imitable Macy Gray.

'BIG' is out now on Will.i.am music group/Geffen Records.
Words Helen Jennings

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