10A - The Michigan Daily - Monday, September 20, 1999
Macy Gray grabs second chance with new album
Los Angeles Times
The first thing you notice about Macy Gray in concert
is her voice - a quirky, high-pitched sound that has been
described as everything from a cross between James
Brown and Minnie Mouse to Tina Turner on helium.
Equally engaging is Gray's novel - at least these days -
There's a trace of contemporary hip-hop in the textures
supplied by her nine-piece band and two female backup
singers, but the heart of the style is drawn from the clas-
sic Memphis soul and Motown traditions of Al Green and
And finally, your attention turns to the range and depth
of her songs - which alternate between playful, opti-
mistic ones and dark accounts of obsessive relationships.
It all makes Gray a striking new arrival.
The positive response is especially sweet for Gray, who
gave up her pop dreams in Los Angeles a couple of years
ago and headed home to her native Canton, Ohio.
Pregnant at the time, the now-divorced mother of three
needed the financial and emotional support of her family
after being dropped by Atlantic Records, which never
released an album she had made for the label.
The response is equally welcome to her new record
company, Epic, and her manager Andrew Slater, whose
other acts include the Wallflowers and Fiona Apple. Even
though Gray is superbly gifted, she is having a hard time
getting airplay in today's highly fragmented radio mar-
Thanks to video exposure on MTV and BET as well as
scores of glowing reviews, Gray's debut album, "On How
Life Is," got off to an encouraging start in late July, enter-
ing the charts at No. 171 and climbing to No. 97 before
losing momentum and dropping to No. 124 last week.
(Sales to date in the United States: an estimated 60,000
The problem is the lack of radio airplay, still the key to
a hit. Programmers feel Gray's music is a bit too soul-ori-
ented for stations with a hip-hop-based urban format, and
that it doesn't fit the novelty demands of mainstream pop
The game plan at Epic is to keep building word of
mouth through touring and videos, trying to generate
enough buzz to convince programmers that Gray's music
will appeal to a wide audience.
Gray and her advisers know that it may take months to
achieve a breakthrough, but they are committed to hard
work. She's just thrilled that she's getting a second
chance to live out her dreams.
"When I left Los Angeles (in 1996), I thought it was
for good," Gray, 30, said.
"I never really stopped making music when I went
home. I still had songs going through my head all the
time, but I thought I was through with the record busi-
ness because I didn't want to put myself through the (dis-
appointments) again. I was getting older, and I had to be
practical about my life.
"My mother talked to me about going back to school
for another year to get a teacher's degree, but I finally
started my own typing business. We lived right next to a
college, and I started typing papers for students."
It was in Canton that young Natalie McIntyre (she took
her stage name from a male neighbor) first got turned on
to music, listening to the '60s soul records that dominat-
ed her parents' album collection. Though she cites every-
one from Stevie Wonder to Sly & the Family Stone as
influences, she didn't become passionate about music
until she got into her teens and heard Prince and, espe-
She had a knack for words and thought vaguely of
writing songs someday, but she couldn't picture herself
ever becoming a singer. Who would ever want to listen to
that squeaky little voice?
"I was so quiet when I was growing up because my
voice was so funny," she said. "Every time I would talk,
the kids in school would start laughing."
Believing her future was in writing, she came to Los
Angeles in the late '80s to study screenwriting at the
University of Southern California. She was a big fan of
the gritty realism in the films of such directors as John
Cassavetes, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee - and many
of her songs, including "Still," a stark account of physi-
cal abuse, are in that tradition.
While at USC, she wrote lyrics for a fellow student's
composition, and through other students she got a job
singing with a jazz band. After college, she worked a few
years in low-level jobs in the TV and film worlds until
deciding her career might progress faster in the music
She landed a contract in the mid-'90s with Atlantic
Records and made the ill-fated album - which was
shelved when the executive who signed her left the com-
Unlike the soul strains of her Epic collection, the
Atlantic one had some rock touches and by some
accounts was ragged, indeed.
She was back in Canton, typing term papers and think-
ing about her future, when she got a call in 1997 from
Jeff Blue, who is now vice president of Zomba Music
Publishing. He had heard the unreleased Atlantic tape
7 a y
After a long departure, Macy Gray is returning to the music business.
and loved her voice.
He persuaded Gray to give music another try, and she
returned to Los Angeles. A demo tape led to a contract at
Epic, where Polly Anthony, the label president, put her
together with Slater.
Both Gray and Slater acknowledge that the recording
process was often difficult, partly because they had to
find a middle ground between Gray's hip-hop instincts
and Slater's '70s soul vision.
Their work paid off. "On How Life Is" sounds like a
lost soul treasure, but with '90s sensibilities.
Gray's smart, soulful style has already struck a nerve
in England, where her show Friday at a 2,000-seat hall in
London is nearly sold out. She'll then make a video with
acclaimed director Mark Romanek (Nine Inch Nail.
Janet Jackson), on "I Try," perhaps the most commercial''
track on her album.
"I guess I'm just a late bloomer," she said.
"I love being onstage, performing in front of an audi-
ence. That's what broke my heart the most when I thought
I had given up on music. When other things get you
down, that's one thing you can always look forward to ..
stepping onstage and hearing the band start to play one of
D brought musical comedy to St. Andrew's
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Across from Ulrich's
By Gabe FaJuri
Daily Music Editor
"Some came for the music. Some came to get rocked. Others came because they
new some serious shit was going down."
So spoke J.B., lead singer and rhythm guitar player of the infamous pseudo-rock
duo Tenacious D. To a crowded St. Andrew's Hall, J.B. and
K.G., "The D," as their fans call them, took the stage to riotous
applause, chanting and a general ruckus.
The nearly sold out crowd had assembled not for a tradi-
TenaCiOuS tional rock show, but to hear two overweight men from
D Hollywood serenade them with acoustic guitar driven tunes
St. Andrew's Hall covering a wide range of topics. The band's harmonies touched
Sept. 16, 1999 on a mystical substance known only as "Rocket Sauce," and
more elementary subjects like back stage orgies and "The ass-
holes in city hall."
From the moment the band was introduced, it was obvious
to the uninitiated that this was going to be a night of comedy
as much as it was going to be about music. And the crowd lay
in the palm of The D's hand from the get-go.
Read by an unsuspecting stagehand, the band's introduction
went something like this: "The band you are about to see is on
the last leg of its world tour. They've seen a lot of faces on that tour. And they've
kicked all those faces asses. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Tenacious D!"
Comic genius in the guise of honest to goodness rock 'n' roll followed. Until
recently, the band has never toured, aside from one "road gig" they worked on an
episode of "Tenacious D," its self-titled HBO series starring none other than J.B. and
Based on the popularity of a miniscule number of these late-night hour-long pro-
grams on the recently Emmy-endowed Home Box Office network, The D had no
trouble bringing a nearly sold out crowd in Detroit last Thursday to its knees with
laughter and balls-out musicianship.
Their set, which lasted well over an hour, included audience participation in the
form of a "psycho fan," K.G. quitting the band and joining up again nearly a mimnut
after his departure, and countless gratuitous sexual gestures.
The mostly male audience seemed thrilled when The D cranked out "hits" recog-
nizable from its television forays. "Rocket Sauce" a re-working of the Beatles
"Blackbird," drew especially loud cheers, as did The D's cover of Gene
Roodenberry's "Star Trek Theme,' complete with not often heard lyrics. The latter
song opened The D's encore.
More thrilling to the assembled herd were J.B.'s countless references to the "hot-
ties" in the front row and the comments he made about "all the backstage betty's in
the crowd. The more perverse and debauched the remark, the louder the crowd
Tenacious D, in effect, is not 100 percent musical, nor is it 100 percent comed ,
The combined comedic talents of J.B. and K.G. are formidable. But add to the mix
a monstrous helping of musicianship and all around talent, not only on guitar, but
vocally as well, and you've got the recipe for something fresh, unique and engaging,
if not raunchy. Thursday night, The D proved itself to be that perfect "different" dish
in a rock 'n' roll world full of bland and boring characters In Detroit, they came, they
saw and they kicked the asses of many, many faces.
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