In the late 1990s, when Macy Gray recorded her monster hit "I Try" she wasn't the biggest fan of the song.
"I always thought it had too many words, I thought it was too wordy," she says. "Usually hooks are short and simple, especially nowadays they're practically chants. So I always thought the chorus was too long and too complicated."
The chorus to "I Try" begins with the classic line "I try to say goodbye and I choke," and the wordy but powerful chorus helped propel the song to the top of the music world. The song was a chart topper and earned Gray the 2001 Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Gray will perform "I Try" and other hits from her career when she takes the stage at the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 8 p.m.
Even when she's not singing, the trademark rasp to Gray's voice can be heard. In a recent phone interview she says that her live shows are energetic and have a party vibe.
"It's a lot of fun. I have incredible backing musicians and it's in your face intimate. It's me and my band and it's all live, no machines, no computers."
Gray will release a new album this spring. The album follows on the heels of 2012's "Covered," a CD that saw Gray covering material written by other artists. She says the new album was recorded primarily with live takes, with minimal overdubbing.
"It is really raw, it's all live, and it's really grimy," she says. "It's really powerful musically and lyrically. It will be fun to hear what people think of it. I'm kind of on pins and needles for the day that it comes out."
A native of Canton, Ohio, Macy says that when she first started singing publically she didn't like the sound of her own voice.
"I wasn't really taking it very seriously at first," she says, but as her career in music began to pick up steam she started taking vocal lessons and painstakingly studying the work of other singers.
"I really study singers. I'm interested in different styles and different ways to communicate a song," she says. "I've always been a huge Nina Simone fan, Chaka Khan, Prince. I listened to Robert Plant (from Led Zeppelin) a lot when I was coming up. Nat King Cole, I can go on and on. Then I listened to a lot of hip-hop. What you learn from hip-hop is rhythm. Like a musician playing any other instrument, as a singer you have to hit the beat with the rest of the band. Singing in time and in rhythm is so important, and that's one thing rappers do better than anyone."
In addition she says touring has improved her singing prowess over the years.
"The more you do something the better you get at it. Touring does a lot for your voice because you play almost every night and you sing for about two hours; it's awesome exercise for your voice as long as you don't blow it out."
She adds, "My voice is definitely more technically proper than it used to be — my pitch and everything is more natural and precise and I have a lot more control."
Though "I Try" was released more than a decade ago Gray says it's gratifying that people still connect with the song.
"I was really surprised by the reaction to it and definitely grateful and surprised that it's still around today. I hear it on the radio all the time."
Gray has found that in the music industry, as in life, sometimes it's good to be surprised.
"It's good sometimes not to know something," she says. She adds that if she knew "I Try" had the potential to be a hit, "then I would have approached the song a lot differently and would have been all stressed out about it. It's good when you're doing something and you're not thinking about the consequences or what you might get out of it, or what other people are going to think. We just went in and recorded it without all that stuff around it and I think that's why it came out really good."
MACY GRAY performs Saturday, Jan.18, at 8 p.m. at the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville. Admission is free. Information: www.mohegansun.com or call 888-226-7711.