Lenny Kravitz: Revolution of the Mind
GW It’s also interesting how you built the arrangement with overdubbed guitar parts.
KRAVITZ Once I had the main part down, I added a sliding octave figure similar to this [FIGURE 4]. It’s mixed in pretty quietly and creates a little more color. There’s also a harpsichord overdub that plays the same notes as the octaves, which gives that part a
GW The album’s opening track, “A Love Revolution,” has a heavy four-on-the-floor [accentuated quarter notes] feel.
KRAVITZ That song is really all about the bass line, and the guitar is just there to embellish the bass. The rhythm part is really simple. [FIGURE 5]
GW How do you envision and construct the arrangements for your songs?
KRAVITZ I first hear it in my head. Sometimes I write on the guitar, and sometimes I wake up with something in my head and go
to the instrument to find what it is I’m hearing. Every now and then it’ll come from just picking up a guitar, which is what happened
with “Fly Away." That song ended up becoming a major hit for me; the album was done and I happened to be in the studio trying out an amp, a Park head, that someone brought in for me to check out. I set it up, grabbed a guitar that was in the studio, and, as you know, some guitars are just juicy in certain places on the neck, depending on the instrument. You find that spot where the chord really jumps out. I started to play, and the guitar led me to those barre chords, and that was that. I was listening to the way different chords were ringing, just moving between A, C, G and D, and the next thing I knew I was telling the engineer to hook up the mics and record.
GW There are so many different influences in your music, from rock and pop to R&B and funk.
KRAVITZ I just love music, and, to me, it all goes together. I’ve never been the kind of artist that sticks to one sound. A lot of records have the exact same sounds, atmosphere and concepts throughout. I’ll go from A to Z from one track to the next. That’s because when I write a song, I’m not thinking about an overall style; I’m thinking about the song, and the style and sound have to complement the mood I’m trying to convey.
I’m basically a kid that grew up with a lot of records, and I fell in love with so many artists and styles. It’s all in me, and I just bring it all together and mush it up, man! [laughs] The key is to listen. A lot of artists from the Sixties and Seventies had so much personality, so much color, and used the guitar in a very creative way. They didn’t just bang on it, or see how loud they could get it or see how many tracks they could layer. Putting a track together is like sculpture, or like landscaping, like, “Where can I sprinkle the guitar?” “Where will this ringing chord bring out a feeling?” The great records of the Sixties are far more subtle—even if it was hard music—and expressive, than much of the stuff that’s out there today. The key for a guitar player is to listen, think and ask yourself, How can I complement this track, and not just take it over?
The bottom line is the vocal. The guitar might be amazing, but even with virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, the vocal was always right there in the middle, and the guitars were all around it, making the track even more incredible.
GW What’s the most important aspect of making records and recording new music?
KRAVITZ When it comes to production, I think character is what really matters, and it’s something that I find is missing from so many records today. When listening to people like the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Led Zeppelin or R&B/Motown records, you can hear the tone of the bass—you can hear the guy’s fingers—and this guy’s bass didn’t sound like that guy’s bass.
Today, on most records, because everything is so producer and technology driven, you can listen to 20 different rock records and you’ll hear the exact same snare drum sound, because they are all using the same trigger from some sound sample that’s the “hip” trigger to use right now. It all ends up sounding the same, and I don’t hear any personality. That’s what I feel is missing, and it’s the most important thing for me in terms of my own records. It’s my personality, my fingers, my gear.
People will come into my studio and hear a guitar part and say, “What’s that effect you’re using? That’s really dope!” I’ll say, “It’s a guitar plugged straight into a Fender Deluxe. That’s it.” We’re so into processing these days, and I feel it takes away from the player’s character. That’s the most important thing for me, so that’s why I use the gear I use. People may refer to what I do as a “throwback” to the Sixties and Seventies, but there’s nothing retro about it. I use the gear because it brings out the wholeness of the sound and therefore gives me the opportunity to have character in my sound.
If you listen closely to rock records by Zeppelin, Hendrix, AC/DC and especially the Who, the guitar sounds are a lot cleaner than you think they are. You’ll see guys turning the distortion all the way up on their amplifiers, to where there’s no tone anymore. But when you put on the Who and hear those big“stadium”-sized guitar chords, you realize that they are clean and small. By the time you put it though the [mixing] board and put the Fairchild compressor on it, and EQ it a little, it sounds like you’re in Madison Square Garden. But it’s clean, so the tone is rich.
Today, many people will overdub the rhythm part so many times in an effort to make it bigger sounding, and it actually gets smaller and smaller…as opposed to recording just one or two parts that are cleaner and whole-sounding, which makes that track become bigger in the stereo image.
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