Lenny Kravitz: High 5
On his hit album, 5, Lenny Kravitz looks to the future by getting comfortable with the present.
We find Lenny Kravitz today in New York City. “The nucleus of planet Earth,” he says with laugh. Kravitz is riding high on the success of 5 (yes, it’s his fifth album), a million-seller and a recent No. 1 in the U.K. It also earned him his first-ever Grammy Award with the ubiquitous radio hit “Fly Away.” All that momentum set him up beautifully for a busy 1999, his itinerary including a track on Disney’s Elton John-Tim Rice adaptation of the opera Aida, a package tour with the Black Crowes, Everlast and Cree Summer (whose album he co-produced), a full spate of festival dates in England and the launch of his own Roxie Records label, named after his late mother, actress Roxie Roker, best known for her supporting role in The Jeffersons. Meanwhile, a new album—perhaps a double CD—looms somewhere on the horizon.
So the guy who started 5 with the call “Get me straight in ’98, y’all!” is, indeed, getting his due. And that’s perhaps overdue. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that the rock cognescenti looked askance at Kravitz, whose love affair with vintage gear and peace ’n’ love lyrics made him sound like 1969 in a Sly-meets-Zeppelin kind of way. But over time he’s developed, and rock listeners have discovered the subtle distinctions in Kravtiz’s music.
And 5 went a long way towards establishing Kravitz’s own sound. By bringing a decidedly digital vibe to his music, he brought himself nicely up to date without sacrificing his stylistic trademarks and organic sensibilities—like using beer bottles for percussion. All told, it’s Kravitz’s most personal and distinctive musical statement to date, and a powerful reason to get excited about what’s coming next.
GUITAR WORLD I can’t remember a day during the past eight months or so that I didn’t hear “Fly Away” on the radio.
LENNY KRAVITZ [laughs] I’m sorry.
GW When you finished that song, did you know it was a hit?
KRAVITZ I never know what to expect, man. I don’t know what people like—I really don’t. I’ve had songs I thought were slam-dunk hits, and they weren’t, and the ones you never think will be, are.
GW How did “Fly Away” come about?
KRAVITZ I was riding around in the Bahamas in my Jeep on the beach, kinda speeding down the beach, feeling the wind and the sun and the ocean. Then I went into the studio and was playing around with an amp and a guitar, just trying to get a little sound out of it. And I played that riff, and it just kind of…you know when you’re checking out an amp sometimes, and the sound makes you play a certain thing? That’s what happened here. “Fly Away” came out instantly.
GW You’ve always prided yourself for being able to re-create a classic Seventies sound on your previous recordings. 5, however, is the least retro-sounding album you’ve ever produced. Was the move to a more modern sound intentional?
KRAVITZ Yeah, basically I got bored with a completely retro thing. But it’s not like I got rid of all my vintage analog equipment. I simply mixed it in with the digital technology for a new way of doing things.
It’s a bit of a schizophrenic record, which is what I’m good at. My whole life has been about that—growing up between two different cultures and being reared on all kinds of music. I can’t seem to make a record that’s straight one thing or another; I’ve tried it, but it never happens.
GW Having a white father and black mother has obviously had an impact on you, both personally and artistically.
KRAVITZ I didn’t know my father was “white” until I went to first grade. I knew he looked different from my mother, but I never thought about it. Then, on the first day of school, my parents walked me to class, and I noticed everybody else’s parents matched. Then some kid said, “Your father’s white!” It was like this major statement, and I was like, “What? What are you talking about?” It made me feel weird for a minute, but it didn’t bother me. I got over that aspect of it very quickly.
GW What were some of the records that affected you while growing up?
KRAVITZ The Jackson 5 was the first band that blew me away. Michael, the singing, the arranging, the best Detroit musicians, Berry Gordy, the engineers—the whole production style was so brilliant. I just couldn’t believe how much music they crammed onto that tape—strings, two guitar parts, sitars, tambourines, background vocals and horns. What they did was so amazing. And it’s amazing that people back then considered it bubblegum music, when, in fact, it’s some of the most sophisticated pop music ever recorded. And Michael at that age was the equivalent of a James Brown or an Aretha Franklin. He was that good; it’s scary how good he was.
GW You’ve talked in the past about doing an album of straight-on funk, some of which has already been recorded.
KRAVITZ It’s still in the vault, man. Everybody’s like, “Please put that album out!” A double album is really an exciting idea, because it would give me the freedom to just throw a whole bunch of weird shit and funk and stuff on there, while at the same time giving me some space to put a few singles on as well.