‘ice grew up
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IT HAPPENS SOMETIMES. MAINSTREAM MUSICAL TASTE
coincides with that of the cognoscenti: it seems. suddenly. as if
everyone agrees. L'sually these uneasy truces don‘t last; the masses get bored (Bjork. Portishead). the artists rebel (Pulp. Sinead O‘Connor) or the hip kids realise they‘ve accidentally declared allegiance to something horribly Iowbrow and cover their tracks sharpish (Alanis Morrissette. The Cranberries). So which way will they jump with Macy Gray. whose album Macy Gray On How Life Is is currently soundtracking every cool cafe and decorating every bus shelters in town'.’
The buzz is down to songs that mingle rock. jazz. hip hop and soul inﬂuences to stunning effect. More than that. though. it's down to the voice. It's already been laden down with ineffectual adjectives. but suffice to say that Macy (iray’s voice is as rough and raw as Janis Joplin‘s after a long weekend on the sauce. as wartn and forlorn as Billie Holiday's. and as uninhibited as Aretha Franklin‘s. Macy collars the creamy-smooth. characterless R&B diva style and takes it on a trip to Disneyland with a hamper full of bourbon and fags. 'When I was little. I had a real funny voice.‘ she says. remembering days when she avoided talking in class for fear of mockery. Anyone who’s heard her speak will testify that the passage of time hasn't exactly smoothed things out: but anyone who’s heard her sing will confirm that she's turned her childhood handicap to her own spectacular advantage.
Born in Canton. Ohio. and weaned on her parents‘ soul and disco records. Macy discovered rock when she attended a predominantly white boarding school. ‘That's all they listened to.
10 THE LIST 2-16 Dec 1999
and I didn't have my own radio.‘ she recalls. ‘I was fortunate in that l was open to everything.‘
She moved to I.:\ to study screenwriting. and. though too self-conscious about her voice to attempt singing. she did write songs. During a recording session. she sang her own words to give the musicians an idea of the melody. and interest immediately stirred. The leader of a local jazz band signed her up. 'I thought he was out of his mind.‘ she says now. ‘but I did it because it was good money. Sing old jazz. standards and Sinatra songs for a hundred bucks an hour!‘
Macy got a deal and cut an album. but was dropped before it was ever released. By her own admission she was devastated: and her marriage was also in crisis. Iler former hasband‘s abusive behaviour inspired many of the most personal lyrics on . . . On How Life Is (such as the forthcoming single 'I Still'. which emulates the kind of masochistic lyrical paeans to violent. wrongdoing men that Billie Holiday made her own).
She ney er stopped singing. though. holding regular get- togethers for local musicians at her own after-hours coffee shop. A second bite at success came in I998 when she was signed up by Iipic. The summer spent recording the album was. she says 'a real big hang-out. Iiveryone just wanted to play. and it was kind of a new style for everybody to do.~
Macy‘s new style reveals a singular talent. a restless imagination and a wealth of life experience. Whether the fashion police decide to share her with the mainstream or not. she‘s here to stay.
Macy Gray plays Barrowland, Glasgow, Tue 14 Dec.