Music

Macy Gray On Ferguson, Chris Rock, And Racism In America

"It’s difficult to keep your head up about our justice system. It’s hard to maintain hope.”

It’s an interesting time to be an American at the moment, if by “interesting” you mean “gut-wrenchingly horrific and sad”. With the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and New York over the miscarriages of justice in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases, the lives of black Americans have been placed front and centre of what has become an international debate on racism and police brutality. It’s a particularly tough time for African-American parents; shortly after the grand jury decision not to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown, rapper Killer Mike told a crowd of fans how he broke down upon hearing the decision because he is so scared for his two sons.

Macy Gray is one of those parents. Yes, that Macy Gray. The 45-year-old singer and actress first came to prominence in the mid-nineties, but it was her colossal hit ‘I Try’ that really cemented her status in 1999. With her characteristic gravelly vocals and ability to transcend the conventions of the urban genre, she was quickly compared to the likes of Erykah Badu and India Arie. The Grammy Award-winner has pumped out some seven albums since then and in the past 15 years established herself as performer on the small and big screen, scoring roles in Training Day, Spider-Man, Domino, For Colored Girls and The Paperboy, among others.

 

She has also become a mother in that time, with son Tahmel and two daughters Happy and Aanisah. It’s being a mother of three that has changed her perspective on a lot of things, she says, and it’s also part of the reason she has been so invested by what’s currently happening around America. Speaking to Junkee ahead of her Australian tour in March, racism is something she offhandedly says most of her peers have experienced.

Yet it never gets any easier to deal with; back in 2001 she got into a row with famed photographer Lord Snowdon, who she says was being racist and making fun of her. It’s unsurprising that when it comes to events unfolding in Ferguson and New York, the ‘Still’ singer had opinions to express. “It’s weird,” she said over the phone as she propped herself up on a stool in her kitchen. “To have this many people protesting and have nothing happen… It’s difficult to keep your head up about our justice system. It’s hard to maintain hope”.

Gray has been closely monitoring the events as they unfold from her home in LA, where she lives with her children. Despite balancing a film and music career, she’s flexible enough with her schedule to be a hands-on mother. In fact, her youngest son interrupts the interview to ask her a question, with Gray apologising before leaving the conversation for a moment to tend to his needs; “Sorry, that was my son, he needed me for a second”. Without missing a beat she’s right back into it, breaking down what she considers one of the most important issues in modern society. “There’s not a lot people can do to change the justice system at the moment and whatever changes there can be, they’re going to take a long time to come into effect. It’s like an old boy’s club: they (the police) all look after themselves and that’s not going to change.”

Yet she does maintain some glimmer of hope. Referencing comedian Chris Rock’s comments earlier this week in an interview with Vulture, she feels strongly that the coming generations are going to be some of the most socially conscious and racially inclusive in history. “Kids are so open now,” she said. “My kids just don’t understand gay bashing or racism. They don’t even get it, it’s not a discussion for them. They just don’t even see how anyone could think that way. It’s definitely going to be a new world when they’re in their twenties and thirties”. She laughs before adding, “I mean, no one will talk to each other because they’ll all be on their phones and on Twitter, but still.”

Macy Gray is set to return to Australian shores for the first time in several years. She’s busy promoting her new album The Way, which takes her down a different musical path from previous LPs. “I wanted to make the kind of music that I felt I hadn’t heard in a while,” she says. “I wanted to make something that was different for me, but also a different sound.”

Gray is touring throughout March 2015 with tickets for her Melbourne, Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, Lismore, Brisbane, Port Macquarie and Sydney shows available at Showtunes Productions.