Lenny Kravitz Spreads Love Through Music
By Allison Kugel
Twenty-nine years after releasing his debut album, Lenny Kravitz is still letting love rule. The multi-Grammy award winning musician brings forth a conscious body of work with his latest album, Raise Vibration, out September 7th.
Musically, Raise Vibration is an eclectic blend of the kind of stylistic rock n’ roll-funk sound that Kravitz is known for, with subtle nods to vintage R&B and choruses that sway towards pop appeal. His music puts you in a trance-like groove and defies all genre.
Allison Kugel: You’ve said you were born to make music. Can you share your earliest memory where you became aware that music was going to be your life?
Lenny Kravitz: For me the pivotal moment was going to see The Jackson 5, live at Madison Square Garden, when I was six years old. I was in the first grade. I had already been intently listening to their record. But I went to the show, and the next morning that was it! I was completely sold. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Allison Kugel: What was it about The Jackson 5 that resonated with you?
Lenny Kravitz: The music that was made by these kids was not elementary; it wasn’t bubble gum, as they used to say back then about young artists. This was sophisticated, high-level music with the best musicians, the best producers, and [Michael] was one of the best singers who ever lived and who ever will live. It was a perfect storm for me, the way everything came together. On top of the music, the presentation and showmanship were top level and soulful, and these were people that I could identify with. They looked like me. I had the same hair… there were so many things that came together in my mind.
Allison Kugel: It’s interesting to hear you say that. My son is half Jewish and half Jamaican, and he does the same thing. He tends to gravitate towards people he sees on television, in film, and with music, who have his skin tone and his hair.
Lenny Kravitz: Yup! I have the same background, except I’m Jewish and Bahamian.
Allison Kugel: When and where do you feel most creative and musical?
Lenny Kravitz: It could be anywhere, but it’s [typically] in the studio. My studio is in the Bahamas. It’s my favorite place to work; it’s my workshop. When I’m in the studio and I’ve got my equipment and all my instruments and everything is set up, that’s the magical place for me. It’s where I can flow. I jump around from instrument to instrument, and it’s wonderful.
Allison Kugel: Do you record all of your instrumentals in addition to doing your vocals and producing?
Lenny Kravitz: Yes. I start on drums and then I go to a guitar, a bass, another guitar, keyboard, percussion… I keep layering as though I was painting, until my picture is complete.
Allison Kugel: Your upcoming album is called Raise Vibration and the first single, It’s Enough, is a call-to-action anthem about political corruption and social and racial injustice. Was writing It’s Enough a form of therapy for you, and a way of turning hopelessness into empowerment?
Lenny Kravitz: I react to the world. I actually recorded the song twice. I was trying to find the direction for the record. The way the song started, the first version of It’s Enough was a full-on guitar, bass, drum, punk rock song. It had an angry tone, because that felt like the proper reaction. And then I thought about it and ended up changing it and finding this groove, which is the polar opposite of how it started. I found that by being calm and centered, and by being quiet, it was more effective. It brought out a whole new feeling in the song, and I think it enables the listener to hear the lyrics even better.
Allison Kugel: What does the title of your album, Raise Vibration, mean to you? And how do you raise your vibration? Do you meditate or pray?
Lenny Kravitz: It means exactly that; waking up. I meditate, I pray, I try to be still, I try to be quiet… and listen. It means having the desire to learn, to improve, and to face my faults and learn from them. I’m always looking to go higher. And taking as much ego out of myself as possible.
Allison Kugel: How do you define God?
Lenny Kravitz: I believe that God is my creator, our creator. Whether we realize it or not, I believe we are all created by the same God. I believe we are all one creation, we are all connected, and I believe that God is the ultimate source of love and all we are looking for.
Allison Kugel: I always say that when I enter a room, I never walk alone because I can feel the presence of God beside me; as well as my great grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, siblings and my son. I walk into a space with the energy of those who made me who I am. When you enter a space, who walks beside you?
Lenny Kravitz: God is with me at all times which I am always aware of. And the energy of my mother, of my grandmother, of my grandfather. My daughter (actress, Zoe Kravitz), who is here with me on this earth, is always with me. Like you said, knowing that and knowing that spirit is far superior to anything here. The physical presence is wonderful, and something that we require and crave as human beings. We’re spiritual beings living a physical experience, but as you say, you recognize that you have these people with you and it just shows how strong spirit is and how strong energy is. My mother’s (the late actress, Roxie Roker) been gone for twenty plus years, and I can still feel her every day.
Allison Kugel: Your music transcends genre. It’s a blend of rock, punk, blues, soul, pop; it’s everything. You can’t categorize it. I remember seeing a television clip of you from Oprah’s Master Class, where you tell the story of sitting in class as a young boy and you didn’t know which box to check off on a piece of paper asking you to identify your race. Everyone’s life has a spiritual theme. In your case it seems to be an ongoing theme where people want to put you in a box and label you, and you railing against that.
Lenny Kravitz: People love a box (laughs)! They want to put you right in it, so they can easily define, for their own comfort, what you are. I’ve been fighting against that from day one in my life, and in my musical life. Going back to that time in school, I knew I was black, but I knew that wasn’t all I was. I knew I was also Russian Jewish, and I knew that my great grandmother was full-blooded Cherokee Indian. My mother always taught me, “Yes, you’re black, but you’re just as much this and you’re just as much that. Don’t discount that.” If you’re mixed, like me and like your son, you don’t discount one of your parents. You’re just as much one as the other. But, what my mother did say to me when I was a child that I think was very smart, and I didn’t realize it until I got older, was, “Even though you’re mixed, society only wants to see you as black.” I didn’t understand that at age seven.
Allison Kugel: Did you feel diminished by it at the age of seven?
Lenny Kravitz: From what I recall, I remember thinking, “What does that mean?” Of course, as I grew and went through life, I understood what that meant. People aren’t going to see all the complexities and differences. People are going to see what they see, and that is the color of your skin. That was a very good lesson once it kicked in. I was like, “Okay, people don’t see everything for what it is.”
Allison Kugel: Speaking of kids, how would your daughter Zoe describe you, both as a man and as an artist?
Lenny Kravitz: Oh wow! We’re very, very close. I think she would say that I have respect and integrity, and love in my heart. I think as a musician, she respects what I do. She’s grown up around it. She grew up seeing it her whole life. She respects the craft, what it takes, and what I put into it, which is everything.
Allison Kugel: On September 7th, the day your new, Raise Vibration, is released, what will that day be like for you?
Lenny Kravitz: When I’m finished with an album, I’m at that place where I let go and I’m excited that I’m finished. It’s always exciting getting a new project out. I hope the people who enjoy my music will get something beautiful from it and will relate to it. The main thing for me is that I expressed myself authentically to who I am, who I was at that moment in time, and that it represents me well. That to me is everything. That’s a success.
Photo Credits: Mathieu Bitton,
Allison Kugel is an entertainment columnist, and author of the book, Journaling Fame: A memoir of a life unhinged and on the record. Follow her on Instagram @theallisonkugel and visit AllisonKugel.com.
Lenny Kravitz’s 11th studio album Raise Vibration is set for release September 7th.