Macy Gray at The Vogue in Indianapolis on Friday, December 15, 2023!
Forever full of ear-tugging/eye-popping surprises, ever-eclectic singer/songwriter and actress Macy Gray returns in top form with an inspired new 11-song Moonslice Records album – The Reset – and within a fresh new presentation – fronting her own band, The California Jet Club. Produced by Tommy Parker, The Reset reveals 360 degrees of Macy Gray at her lyrically introspective and vocally exuberant best. The songs move from Macy’s signature vulnerable intimacy on the lead single, “Thinking of You,” the epic orchestral ballad “You Got Away” and the festive, sexy circus of “Bottom to the Top” to the resoundingly rebounding singalong uplift of “Every Night” featuring special guest, rapper Maino.
Making this album a separate piece from the previous 10 studio projects in the 5x-Grammy-nominated (with one win) artist’s exquisite catalog is the full involvement of road band members drummer Tamir Barzilay, keyboardist Billy Wes and bassist Alex Kyhn. While all three specialize in specific instruments, they are all multi-instrumentalists, co-writers and sing background. On the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” broadcast from June 2021, Tamir is seen playing guitar and drums simultaneously. The trio wraps its sound around Macy like a glove. And she, in turn, provides them full license to shine as bright as front-of-stage spotlights.
Memphis-born Billy Wes is the son of a Pentecostal minister whose music life began in church on organ and piano. He went on to study classical piano at the University of Memphis, adding Jazz and R&B. A move to Los Angeles resulted in writing with artists such as Chrisette Michele and Ciara as well as touring with Rock legend Chris Cornell and his Symphonic Soul mentor Isaac Hayes.
Tamir Barzilay is a drummer/percussionist/producer who dug out a dusty guitar from his mom’s closet at 10 years old and went on to be profoundly influenced by the trifecta of The Police, Led Zeppelin, and Bjork. His credits include Jason Mraz and Adam Lambert. He sees the California Jet Club as “a genuine thumbprint of racial/cultural blend defined by sound and music.”
Alex Kyhn is the son of two musicians who started out studying piano and trombone as a child and then switched to bass in middle school. Alex spent his teenage years writing music and forming bands ranging from gritty punk rock to free jazz to country. Now living in L.A., he views California Jet Club and their debut project The Reset as truly representing the convergence of styles that denote his career.
“This was my first time writing with them and I was really pleasantly surprised,” Macy shares. “Everyone would plug in and we’d just start playing. If I heard something I could put a melody to, we’d try it. We were really open to listening to each other’s ideas…and they had some great ideas. This was one of my best collaborations ever.” On the band’s name, Macy continues, “We had been talking for years about my touring band becoming their own group. One day we were all on a group text throwing out names. Everyone that I would say, they blocked like, ‘Absolutely not!’ Then my production manager Drew Hurt came up with California Jet Club…I don’t know how. Everybody liked it so we went with that.”
Considering the subtle shift from solo artist to lead singer of a band, Macy reflects, “That’s where I come from. I remember Janis Joplin started out leading the band, Big Brother and The Holding Company. And when I was coming up, I was in a band. I thought we were all going to be signed when I got my first recording contract…but they only wanted a solo singer.”
What the company and, indeed, the world received upon the release of Macy’s debut album, On How Life Is (Clean Slate/Epic – 1999), was one of the most unique and universally appealing voices in modern pop that bent ears to the left, hearts to the right and spirits to a delicious, cream-filled center. That rich tradition continues with hers and the trio’s phenomenal The Reset, which they began recording in June 2020– smack in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a little crazy,” Macy admits. “Usually when you’re in the studio, you call all your friends and people come to hang out. But the studios had rules like you couldn’t have more than 4 people, all guests had to be o.k.’d, they had to take your temperature… People wearing masks while we were recording was quite odd. And in one studio, they sprayed Lysol on your feet as you were walking in because the owner heard that you could catch COVID thru your shoes.” When queried why she didn’t have everyone record from home like so many other artists did, Macy stresses, “I can’t work like that. The way that we write and record, we would never get anything done. I have to be in the studio to get into that creative mode.”
The album is titled The Reset because Macy, like so many of us, feels like that’s what this awkward, often painful period is like to live through. “God is telling us to rethink the things that we are doing… How we’re livin’. Like Pandora’s Box, a lot of things have sprung out that people had stopped paying attention to. The world is having a reset. Whether it’s a good one or a bad one, we’ll find out. I use to believe everything happens for a reason. Now…I just don’t know.”
Among the most striking of the new songs is “America,” a song like all of Macy’s lyrics, that came to her while she was on the mic, spontaneously inspired by music from her band. “I just remember feeling really let down by my country. I don’t know if I’d ever felt that before… like, walking around telling everybody. ‘I live in the greatest country in the world’ then being hit with the thought, ‘Maybe I don’t.’ Having a president that was really negative and very divisive, and that being o.k. with so many people. Your neighbors revealing where they’re really coming from. I know America has flaws and we have a long way to go. But I don’t remember ever feeling this disappointed. Putting all of that into words didn’t come to me until I was on the mic and my drummer started playing that beat. I started singing then Billy and Alex started working on it. That song was written pretty fast.”
For a cover tune, the band landed on the minefield “Cop Killer,” a controversial heavy metal song remembered from that time when rap star Ice-T decided he wanted to front a band – the Black Rock septet Body Count. Macy was there. That was 1992. Thanks to the need for a Black Lives Matter movement today, it’s still hella relevant 30 years later. “Wildly enough, my first manager had me on the road with Body Count way before I got discovered,” Macy confesses. “He took me on tour with them, so, I heard that song all the time. What everybody misses about that song is that it is beautifully written. Ice (Tracy Marrow) covered so many perspectives regarding people’s relationships with cops. He was so good at exposing the range of emotions beneath the surface. It’s eloquent in the weirdest way. I love our version better simply because I’m not a huge thrash metal fan. I hope ours introduces the lyrics to a wider audience.”
Escapism as a theme shows up in two key songs on The Reset. The moodier one is “Alien” which poses the intergalactic inquiry, “Where can you go where you can just live?” Macy muses, “Sometimes I feel like we all got bamboozled into working our whole lives – struggling past 60 to pay your dues! I just wonder, ‘Was that really the master plan?’ If so, why can’t I just ride off into the sunset without all that?”
For those that don’t have Jeff Bezo bucks for space travel, the next best place to land is at da club - offered up retro style by The California Jet Club via “Disco Song.” Macy brightens, “2 Chainz posted a clip on Instagram of a girl playing classical piano while twerking. It was Jhonni Blaze (from the “Love and Hip Hop” TV show). I reposted it, tagged her and she DM’d me like, ‘Oh, My God, I would love it if we could just meet one day!’ I was so down to meet her, too, so she came to Cali from Atlanta. I had this song ‘Disco’ that I liked the track but thought my lyrics were awful! I asked her, ‘Do you hear anything for this?’ She totally saved me from sounding like an old person on my own song! Tommy came up with the vamp hook (‘All I need is / A little bit of bump and grind / Do me `til I’m satisfied / F’ around and do a line’). I wrote the verse and chorus.”
Another song with a colorful twist is the second single, “Undone,” a celestial pop-blues ballad of Shirley Bassey proportions penned for Macy by producer Tommy Parker (a.k.a. Thomas Lumpkins) and his niece, Nakiesha Marie Pick. “He had never produced a live band, so it was a situation that we could all learn from,” Macy states. “Tommy’s mainstream vibe (Ariana Grande) mixed with what we do came out really nice. He already had the song tricked out at his house. I went in and did the vocals on my own. I felt like it needed strings but it was too late (11pm) to call in any players. So, I called my friends Maiya Sykes and Whitey to see if they could sound like strings. They did the big opera backgrounds.”
The cherry on top of “Undone” is the video (premiered at trendy Soho House in West Hollywood) starring drag performer Frankie J. Grande. “The video came about by default,” Macy explains. “I was scheduled to be in Australia to do ‘The Masked Singer.’ I had been following Frankie on Instagram. During the pandemic, he was doing this series where he would be in his bathroom, get out of his tub, and sing songs. He’d have on makeup and be topless – some very strange theater. I thought, ‘What about Frankie in a bathroom, taking his clothes off (chuckles) and singing?’ The director, Guido, brought the choreography and lighting. And we got this amazing editor I went to USC with – T. David Binns. The edit is incredible and what really makes the video work.”
All in All, Macy Gray & The California Jet Club’s The Reset just might be the world’s antidote for all that is worrisome, hopeless, and mundane. One giant step for Macy…one ginormous step for all.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2023
THE VOGUE THEATRE
TICKETS AT THEVOGUE.COM
THIS SHOW IS GENERAL ADMISSION AND SEATING IS NOT PROVIDED. YOU MUST BE 21+ TO ENTER THE VENUE WITH A VALID FORM OF IDENTIFICATION. ALL TICKETS ARE NON-TRANSFERABLE AND NON-REFUNDABLE. TWO FORMS OF IDENTIFICATION MAY BE REQUIRED FOR ENTRY.