Full disclosure: It was difficult catching Macy Gray on Monday.
A mid-morning call was pushed to an early afternoon call, and an evening interview was put on hold about an hour. Of course, I knew she was busy, and I didn’t want to miss a chance to speak to a Grammy winner, but time was running short.
But the phone did ring, and Gray’s one-of-kind raspy voice boomed through the speakers.
“Hi!! How are you??”
Gray remains happily busy these days. The award-winning singer/songwriter was preparing for her Tuesday show at Maryland Live! Casino in Hanover, the first in a series of special engagement concerts to celebrate the 14th anniversary of her smash debut album On How Life Is. The record featured the huge single, “I Try,” a song you can probably still hum in your head today. Gray will perform the entire album, which launched her thriving singing and acting career.
The Baltimore Post-Examiner eventually caught up with Gray between sound checks and, yes, Blackjack flops.
So, you’re playing at the new Rams Head Center Stage at Maryland Live! Casino on Tuesday night. Are you excited to check out the new venue?
I went to [Maryland Live!] last night, and it was like crackin’ at 4 in the morning! I’ve never seen anything like it, other than Vegas, of course. I was thinking, “Oh, I’m going to get a table by myself, sit and play some blackjack, have some peace and quiet,” but every table was full, and it was crazy, and it was like 3:30 in the morning on a Sunday night! So that casino was rockin’.
It was like every table was packed, and I had a really good time. It was something I wasn’t expecting, because outside of Vegas, most of the small casinos are empty after 1 in the morning or something. This was off the chain.
That doesn’t sound fun at all… On to the tour itself, what was the motivation and idea behind doing this type of special engagement, small-venue run?
It’s the 14th anniversary of On How Life Is, coming up in August, so it was really something for the fans. They’re the ones who have been celebrating it every year, so we wanted to do it, like, officially. We’re doing it low key to see how it goes. [Tuesday at Maryland Live!] is actually the first time we’re doing it, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m a little nervous—I haven’t done some of those songs in ages, and the album was produced in 1999, so it’s going to be wild to do some of those songs again.
I’m sure going though these songs brings back a lot of memories about first working on this album and debuting it 14 or 15 years ago?
Oh yeah, back then we always had a really organic, unique show, so this is kind of a throwback show. It’s a different band, but I’m excited, it’s going to be pretty wild. We’re doing smaller venues, keeping it a small show.
Your tour will take you to Alexandria, Va., New York and Chicago, and I know you’ll have some West Coast dates later in the summer. Do you have time to work on new music?
Yes, I have a record coming out in September that you’ll start hearing about pretty soon. It’s pretty amazing, it’s real raw, it’s got a lot of phat beats and it’s kind of psychedelic. It’s not the kind of thing I’ve ever done before—it’s very different. We’re actually playing one of the news songs on “Fox in the Morning” on Tuesday, so that will be cool.
Fourteen years and counting is a long run for any entertainer. What does On How Life Is and its support mean to you?
I’m just so grateful for that record, and the fans’ support changed my whole life. This took me around the world. I’d never thought about traveling and going to all the places I’ve been to. It’s introduced me to all kinds of people I’d never though I’d meet. So it’s a very nice surprise, and it definitely wouldn’t have happened if not for all the people who came out to my shows, put my songs on radio, and all that other stuff.
So, with all that’s going on, will you make it back to the casino floor?
Yeah, I’m going to go. I’m here, so… (Laughs) Last night was enough, oh well. But I have fun though. It’s if you’re going to get your money back, that’s how the casino will get you!
Rams Head Center Stage, Maryland Live! Casino
8 p.m. (Doors open 6 p.m.)
Andrew Cannarsa has been writing professionally for almost 10 years, first as a crime and safety reporter at a community daily newspaper outside Philadelphia, and then as a business reporter at Baltimore Examiner. He graduated with a journalism degree from Boston University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @cannarsa.