I requested an interview with Macy Gray thirty seconds into listening to her cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps.” I didn’t need to hear more. I knew the album would be good. When she agreed to the interview, I was elated — and nervous. I’m always intimidated by people I admire, but as soon as we began talking, everything changed. Her friendly, down-to-earth personality put me at ease. She’s just so damn likable. Read below, and buy her Covered album immediately. You will not regret it. Watch her “Smoke 2 Joints” video at the end of the interview.
What made you decide to make a cover album?
I wanted to do a cover album for a long time. I saw that Nina Simone did a cover album, My Way, by Frank Sinatra, and I thought it was so cool how she took it and made it her own thing. It was a challenge for me to see if I could do something like that.
How did you select the songs for the album?
There were four or five that we showed everyone, and the rest were really spontaneous [choices]. It was really off-the-cuff. I’m a fan of all the songs, but mostly it was the lyrics that I could make personal to me.
Is there less pressure on you as an artist when it’s not your original material?
The songs are completely redone. It was still really creative and challenging. We were all really nervous about whether the artists were going to like them.
Did you get any feedback from the artists you covered?
Me and Dave Stewart went back and forth on Twitter, and I said, “Did you send [“Here Comes the Rain Again”] to Annie [Lennox]? He said she loved it, and I felt better. My producer, Hal Willner, is good friends with [Metallica], and apparently they played it over and over again.
I love the Nicole Scherzinger skit on the album. Is that based on your personal experience in the industry of people telling you to change?
Oh yeah. I get suggestions all the time. People are always telling me what I should do next. Everybody’s always saying things like I need to make a dance record or change my afro — stuff like that. It’s crazy. But I’m really proud of what I do. I’m not The Beatles, but I really like the stuff that I’ve done.
Did Nicole immediately agree to do the skit?
Nicole’s a good friend of mine, and she does these impressions. She can impersonate anybody. She actually does a really good one of me. I told her the idea of what the skit would be about, and she just kind of ran with it.
I was surprised by her Britney Spears impression. It was so accurate.
I know! She should do that all day! She sang a song like Alanis Morissette, and you would swear it was her.
Some of your promotional shots for this album are so beautiful. Do you like promoting your albums, or is it a necessary evil to being in the industry?
It always depends on [my mood]. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood. I hate taking pictures, but I have this photographer that I’m really comfortable with. But if it was up to me, I’d just make music, have my label put it out, and go on with my life.
Is it true that when you first started in the industry you were not a fan of your own singing voice?
That is true. My voice has always been peculiar. When I was little they always made fun of me. But as you get older you get over stuff. When I started singing . . . it took me a long time to like it. I actually worked on it a lot to get to the point where I liked it.
You entered the industry before the social-media generation. Was it a difficult adjustment?
I actually get a kick out of Twitter. It’s crazy that you can have conversations with your fans. It’s an easy way to let people know about your record.
I had a few friends in Rio de Janeiro at the Back 2 Black Festival who said you killed it. I heard the other artists dropped out.
Prince dropped out at the last minute. That’s one of the reasons I agreed to do the festival, and then he dropped out [laughs].
Do you get nervous for big performances like that?
I still get nervous. I used to get really sick before my shows, and I got over that, but I still get butterflies.
Is it true you don’t read your own reviews?
It’s hard to get around it now, because everything is online, but [negative reviews] still affect me.
What music are you listening to now?
I really like Jack White’s The Dead Weather record, and I like Wiz Khalifa and J. Cole.
You’ve collaborated with some big-hitters in the past. Is there anyone on your wish-list for future collaborations?
I really want to collaborate with Kanye West. I’m always jealous of the people he puts on his album. That’s my big dream.