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Unknown Artist + Well-Known Manager = Buzz

May 30, 1999|STEVE HOCHMAN

Squiring two of the biggest breakthrough acts of the last few years means that whatever you do next is sure to draw a lot of interest.

That's the case with the latest project from Andy Slater, who manages Jakob Dylan's Wallflowers and Fiona Apple and produced Apple's debut album, "Tidal," which was released on his Sony Music imprint Clean Slate.

His new act: Macy Gray, a Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter whose "On How Life Is," due July 27 from Clean Slate, showcases an enticing style crossing R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock boundaries as well as a captivatingly raw voice. She'll do pre-release concerts June 22 and 23 at the Viper Room.

The buzz is so strong that Sheila Rodgers, music booker for "Late Show With David Letterman," has already signed Gray for the show airing the night the album is released.

"It's pretty rare for us to book an unknown artist like that," says Rodgers. "But I decided it was worth taking a risk. There was a big buzz, word-of-mouth kind of thing. And when I got [an advance copy of] the CD, I knew it was something we should do. Then I saw her perform [at a New York club] and was reassured--she takes command of the stage, just draws you right in."

Slater was introduced to Gray by Epic Records/550 Music President Polly Anthony, who won the competition among several labels to sign the performer in early 1998. Gray, who had an Atlantic Records deal four years ago and made an album that was never released, had been working on new music while also overseeing the hot open-mic club the Wee Hours, which drew such notables as the Roots and Tricky.

"I went to the studio where she was working on demos, and it was a completely different world for me from the other artists I'd been working with, which I thought would be fun," Slater says.

At the time, Slater had been listening to a lot of old funk and soul records and urban oldies radio station KACE-FM (103.9), which meshed perfectly with Gray's approach. To that end, he brought in a cast ranging from Jon Brion (who arranged much of Apple's album) to former Red Hot Chili Peppers' guitarist Arik Marshall and ex-P-Funkster Blackbyrd McKnight.

"She was pretty much together in terms of the soul thing," Slater says. "And I just wanted to find a way to do it that wouldn't be a tracing-paper way of making a soul record."

Gray was amenable.

"His ideas were all fresh, had a whole different approach to making a record," says Gray, 29. "The Fiona record is completely different than mine. He makes records for the artist. The demos were more street, more hip-hop. The thing I liked is he didn't want to change that, but take it to another level."

The two clicked so well that when the album was finished, Gray asked Slater to manage her as well.

"David Geffen once said that he'd rather be lucky than smart," Slater says. "And to work with Jakob and Fiona and Macy, I'm lucky."

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