When Macy Gray graces Australian shores this September it will have been 12 years since her last visit. The musician-actor-producer's shows at the time were in the midst of the madness generated by her debut album On How Life Is and it's world-dominating single 'I Try', which only served to make her visit all too brief for eager punters. The promise of a follow-up visit has been hotly anticipated by both local fans and the artist herself, but what may surprise audiences is the choice of some of the evening's tunes.
Covered, Gray's sixth studio album, sees her stride into bold new territory by throwing down her versions of personal favourites from the last 25 years. She reworks Kanye West, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, somewhat surprisingly, Metallica in a skillfully varied manner, yet never loses sight of the fact that her most recognisable, and remarkable, weapon is her distinctive voice.
It's an immense pleasure to find that Gray's speaking voice is just as recognisable and rich, although she is taking it easy prior to performing. At the halfway point of an extensive North American tour, which itself follows her successful run of dates in Europe, she's taking inspiration from her tourmate. "At the the moment I'm down in Louisiana, touring with Seal which is a lot of fun," she says with trademark rasp. "He's such a wonderful artist to be around, and I do love being on the road – but sometimes I want to go home, you know? There are ten more shows to go and then we're heading down to Australia, which is going to be great because at our shows with Seal our set is pretty short. Don't get me wrong – we don't do the same set ever, we mix and match, but when we get to Australia we'll have a bit more room to move so we're going to go crazy!"
Gray moves between modes of performance and artistic scenes with ease, with Covered being closely followed by a strong performance in Lee Daniels' (Precious) film The Paperboy. Ultimately, however, she says that she is simply trying to continue the process of learning. "I'm not nearly as good of an actress as some of the people I was around on that film," she says, with disarming self-deprecation. "It was intense to be around people like Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey, and then there was the director Lee Daniels, who made that amazing film Precious... I was around all this greatness, and think I was just really aware of wanting to step up."
Australian audiences could be treated to more new material come September, with Gray revealing her plans to do another album of covers. "We've been talking about doing something with Talking Book, the Stevie Wonder album, so we'll see... Then I've got to get busy and make another album of original tracks. I like to keep focused, because now matter how hard you go you can always learn a lot more."