With a new album and tour, Lenny Kravitz rocks into the future.
“Glamour and grit—that’s what this is all about, man,” says Lenny Kravitz about Strut, his newly released 10th studio album—and one that marks his 25th year as a recording artist. With song titles like “Sex,” “Dirty White Boots” and “She’s a Beast,” it should come as no surprise that Strut is a raw, stripped-down, erotically charged rhythmic juggernaut. “This is a rock ’n’ roll record,” Kravitz adds proudly, showing no patience for anyone who believes that style of music has run its course. “In the world I live in, people still want to rock.”
Strut began to take shape while Kravitz was in Atlanta filming his role as the stylist and provocateur Cinna in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The long days on set left Kravitz with a ravenous urge to create music. Ideas for songs came to him like an avalanche, and once he got into the studio he was determined not to lose the immediacy and inspiration of his original conceptions. “I was so energized,” he recalls. “I’d finish a track and try to go home and get some sleep. But in the parking lot I’d have another idea, and I’d make everybody go back in and start again. This music was coming out and I had no time to think about it.”
When he finished recording in the Bahamas, where he lives, Kravitz flew to Los Angeles to mix the tracks with renowned producer and engineer Bob Clearmountain. His groundbreaking work with artists including the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen generated precisely the sound Kravitz wanted—bold, cinematic and hard-hitting. He got it, along with something more. “I sat there watching him mix, I heard all the great stories and I made a wonderful friend,” Kravitz says. “I was in L.A. recently, and he invited me over on a Sunday for a barbecue with his family. There’s nothing pretentious or egotistical about the man, and he’s such a genius. I told him, ‘You brought this record to life!’”
It’s hard to believe that Kravitz, who turned 50 this year, is now a veteran artist, and not just because he looks like a man half his age. He retains the creative range and enthusiasm of his youth—a childhood in New York as the interracial son of actress Roxie Roker, who played Helen Willis on the ’70s TV series “The Jeffersons,” and Sy Kravitz, a producer. His parents socialized with the likes of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Sarah Vaughan, and, after his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 11, he was accepted into the prestigious California Boys’ Choir and enrolled in the music program at Beverly Hills High School, where Slash was a classmate.
By the time he began working on his debut album, Let Love Rule (1989), Kravitz was capable of playing virtually all the record’s drum, keyboard, bass and guitar segments. Though it was not a huge seller in the U.S., the LP called him to the world’s attention as much for his look as his music, both of which were conscious evocations of hippie psychedelia, an approach that boldly countered the ultra-modern trends of that time. Eventually, multiplatinum albums like Are You Gonna Go My Way (1993) and 5 (1998), along with hit singles like “It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over” and “Fly Away,” established Kravitz as a superstar. His Greatest Hits collection (2000) has sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.
For all that history, Kravitz has little interest in looking back. “I was with Mick Jagger at a club in Paris recently,” he says, “and he was telling me about a show the Stones just did in Barcelona that he thought was one of the best gigs he ever did. He’s 71 and he was out promoting the James Brown movie he just produced. He wasn’t talking about what he did in 1972. That’s the way I feel. I feel like I’m just getting started.”
Good thing, because he is about to launch an extensive world tour in Moscow this month. An admitted “control freak,” he didn’t always find the spontaneity of live performance to his taste. He preferred the much more manageable environment of the studio—until another one of his idols, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, joined him on the road in the early ’90s as his opening act. “He cursed me out,” Kravitz recalls, laughing. “He knew I was picking my shows apart, being much too self-critical, and he told me that playing on stage was not about control—it was about letting go. I really took that to heart, and appreciate that he cared enough about me to set me straight.”
More than two decades in, the magic has yet to wear off. “People sometimes ask me, ‘What keeps you going? What’s the motivation?’” he says. “Well, I’m as excited about making music now as I’ve ever been. I go back to being in my bedroom as a kid listening to Stevie Wonder and Al Green and all the other artists who meant so much to me. It’s what I love to do. It’s why I get up in the morning.”
By Anthony DeCurtis.
Photographed by Richard Phibbs.
Fashion Editor: Julie Ragolia.