Well, I'm always sort of reflecting on what I do on what I've done, rather, not often, but I do. Usually before I make a new album, I'll listen to the previous albums just to see where I've been. It's a trip to have a "Greatest Hits" record. I never thought about it, and I spent so much of my life just trying to get a record deal and put some music out. And, now to have a "Greatest Hits" album eleven years later it's a trip. To just see it: "Lenny Kravitz: Greatest Hits." What?
2. At this time, you've had a recording career for almost 11 years, and you're probably more popular now than you've ever been before. In this time where a lot of artists come and go quickly, why do you think you're continue to reach new high points?
The thing that I've enjoyed about my career is that it's been a gradual climb. And I think that's part of the reason why I've had longevity. I think it'd be a real nightmare to put a record out and sell 20 million copies and then after that, that's it. You know? I'm in this for the long haul. I've been making music my whole life and I'm gonna continue making it. So the rate of success has been has been really good. It's worked out well.
3. It's never been easy for each step has involved hard work.
I've had to work very hard, and the thing about my music is that I don't really have a category or fit into any niche, so each time I come out with a new record, it's like, I'm a new guy. Sort of, the loyalty rate isn't that high. You know, I could have a big hit single, and then, put out the next single, and they say, "oh yeah, who are you?" You know. "Prove it again." So, we've had to work hard.
4. Were you concerned with how the songs were sequenced on the "Greatest Hits?"
The "Greatest Hits" has their flow like any other album. So, I pretty much let Henry Hirsch, my engineer, put the sequence together. Well, I thought the record should start off rocking. That's just thought it should have a high energy start.
5. How did you decide what songs to put on and what to leave off the "Greatest Hits?"
It's pretty simple. It is a greatest hits. It's not Lenny's favorite tracks, you know? So, Virgin had all their territories write down all their tunes they wanted and then we put it together and made it work, because I have a very international career, so that means different songs were hits in different places. So, we had to make the record work around the world.
6. Did you have the riff for "Are You Gonna Go My Way"? for a while or did it happen on the spot?
We were just jamming in the studio. You know, I was jamming with Craig Ross, who I wrote the song with. It was one of those songs that happened in 5 minutes. We were jamming. I thought there was something happening. I told Henry to turn the tape machines on, and we played it. And that was it. And then I went and wrote the lyrics on a brown paper bag, I remember at my loft on Broome Street at the time. Went in and sang it the next day. And that was it.
7. Sometimes, people misunderstand your lyrics, like they did on "Are You Gonna Go My Way"? and "Rock and Roll is Dead."
A lot of people don't listen to the lyrics, really. There's a lot of my songs that deal with spirituality and deal with God, and I guess that if you're in tune with that, you'll read into it. A lot of people pretty much only listen to the chorus. So when you think of songs like "Rock & Roll is Dead,", you know, which, a lot of people didn't dig or understand. They said, "What are you talking about, Rock & Roll is Dead"? We just made this guy the rock and roll, you know, whatever, (laughs), and now he's saying "Rock and Roll is Dead," but they didn't listen to the verses to know what I was saying.
I was talking about the superficiality of it, the fact that image was taking precedence over music and talent and art. And it's also talking about people that feel they have to live that lifestyle that stereotypical lifestyle in order to be a rock star. It's like, hey, be yourself. You don't have to shoot heroin, and act a certain way in order to be a rock and roll musician, you know. It's about the music. I mean, we've learned from those that came before us. It's not healthy. You die.
8. "Fly Away" won you a Grammy in 1998 for "Best Rock Vocal Performance-Male."
"Fly Away" changed my life. There are certain songs that do. "Are You Gonna Go My Way" is one of them. "Let Love Rule" is another one. "Fly Away." And, again, "Fly Away" was a very simple song that happened very quickly. The album was completed already, and I was in the studio jamming trying how to figure out an amplifier I was playing with. And, the amplifier just had a certain sound with the guitar I was playing that made me play those chords. I thought, "This is kind of cool. It's real simple, but it's got a flow to it." So, I started to cut it. And, I cut it, finished it, again, in a day. And I thought, "Well this will make a good b-side. You know, the album's finished. I'll put it on the back of single." And, a friend of mine heard it, and said, "You have to put this on the record." I said, "Well, the record's done. It's turned in already. It's too late." And he just pleaded with me. He said, "This is the song. It's going to be a hit." At that point, I'd just finished making an album. I couldn't hear anything, you know? And so I called Virgin, stopped the whole thing, and threw the song on the record, and there it is.
9. How did you react to winning the Grammy for "Fly Away"?
When I won the Grammy, I wasn't even in the United States. I was in Paris at the time and having the time difference and doing the work I was doing, I sort of forgot about it. And I was riding around in a car, it was very late at night, going to a club. And the phone rang in the car, and it was my daughter. She had gone to the Grammy's. She said, "You won, you won, you won!" I was like, "Wow. This is cool." Nothing wrong with that. You know, I grew up in a time when Earth, Wind & Fire, Stevie Wonder, these really great musicians were winning Grammy's. Of course, you're always thinking that "One day, I'd like to get one of these." But it's nice. I have two now. I was very surprised. I didn't think they'd give me the same award twice. I didn't. But I'm thankful. I won the second Grammy for "Best rock vocal performance."
10. And what was the name of the song that won your second Grammy?
"American Woman," which again was something that happened very quickly. I was on tour at the time. And I got a call from a guy, Oseary, who runs Maverick Records, and he said, "We'd like you to cover 'American Woman' for "The Spy Who Shagged Me" soundtrack. And, uh, I had a couple days free. I was in between legs. I said, "Well, let me go in the studio first, and just cut it. And see if I like the song at all. If I like the way it comes out, because we're dealing with a classic. So I went in the studio, cut the song in a couple of hours, and I liked it. And, uh, I said, "Alright, you can have it. Take this version. I don't have to re-cut it." It came out fine. And that was it. The thing that I'm really happy about is it brought the Guess Who back. They started gigging again and got their song out on commercials their version. And it's great. Actually, I'm getting ready to go up to Canada and perform it with them on a Canadian awards show.
11. You've included a new song on the "Greatest Hits." It's called "Again."
"Again" was a song that I was recording when I got the phone call regarding "The Greatest Hits". I felt when I was recording "Again" that it wasn't for my next record, which is what I was recording at the time. It just didn't have the vibe that of the album. But I knew it was a good song, so I thought, "This would be good for the Greatest Hits." It's somewhat of a ballad. And this would be different. So, I went on to record that. But this wasn't one of the 5 minute recordings. This recording, I recorded it about 5 times. Because every time I did it, there was something about it that was really bothering me. And finally I got it the way I wanted it.
12. "Again" has a good message to it. About appreciating the moment.
When I wrote "Again," I was thinking about when a person makes contact with another person. For instance, if you're on the street, or in your car and you look over, and you see somebody in the next car, and you kind of look and there's a vibe, but you don't say anything, but you're feeling something, and then the light turns green, and you take off, and that was it. It was a moment. But, you wonder sometimes, you know, "Who was that person? That could've been my soul mate." You don't know. A lot of times, we don't act. And, in a lot of cases, I don't like to approach people that much. So, there's been times when I wanted to say something to somebody, in a quick moment, but didn't because everyone's getting approached all the time, and I don't want to be another one of those people, and so you let it go. And then you think, man, you know. Who knows?
13. The video for "Again" was produced by Paul Hunter, and looks like a slice of your life.
We wanted to make a video that looked like it was just following me around. Real. And, we wanted it to be fairly raw. Not very polished, and that's what we did. Nancy Berry came up with the basic concept of the video, and she had a really good idea. And Paul added his input and I put my couple of cents into it and the video was made. Yeah. And it was great working with Gina Gershon. Having an actress be in the video. It was good.
14. One of my personal favorites from "Mama Said" is "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over."
"It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," that song, musically was inspired by Motown and Earth Wind and Fire. In fact the horn line at the end, is the Earth Wind and Fire horns, the Phoenix horns. That song just came out one day, and I knew it had a classic vibe. And I still love that song very much today.
15. You play all of the instruments on "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over," except the strings and horns, which you arrange. Now, I hesitate to ask this question because you can answer it with "because I can," but why do you choose to work this way sometimes?
And "because I can" is usually the answer I give because people always say, "Why do you play all the instruments?" Like, "Why Not? I can. I enjoy it." But more than the fact that I can is just that I get a lot of joy from playing instruments, and I have a different personality on each instrument. I like to let that come out. I get kind of selfish. I could give the bass part to somebody else, but I would really enjoy playing that bass part. I could get a drummer to come in, but I would really like to play that groove. And it just goes like that. It's hard to gather people in the studio.
16. This is going to come out weird-sounding Lenny, but you play with yourself very well.
I had a lot of practice. (laughs) You know, I just, I started out with the guitar, and I got bored and I went to the bass, I got bored and I went to the drums, I got bored and I went to the keyboard. Not bored with the instrument, 'cause, God, I have so much to learn still. But I always wanted to play other things. I just like playing instruments.
17. The narrator in "Can't Get You Off My Mind" seems so sad because he has almost everything, except that which he wants the most.
"Can't Get you Off My Mind" was a song I wasn't sure about because, when I wrote it, I thought, "This is a country song." But, I love music. You know, I'll make any style work for me. Yeah, the song is about having everything that you've got. Being wealthy, being able to go around the world. Being able to have everything at your fingertips. But you're lacking love. Not from within, but from another individual. And it's really relevant, having all this success and everything is wonderful, but not having someone to share it with, that understands you, that really cares about you. You can share it with lots of people, but that one person who really understands who you are, when you don't have that, it there's not much of a point. The image is an image. And it looks like a constant party, and everything is fabulous, and lots of people around, and that is so, but you can be around 100 people and be completely alone. People don't realize what it's really like.
18. "Mr. Cab Driver" deals with discrimination.
"Mr. Cab Driver" was written with a sense of humor. When I wrote it, I had a sense of humor about the whole thing. But, the whole thing stems from a day of trying to get to the studio to record. I was recording out at Hoboken, New Jersey at the time and I was standing at the corner of West Broadway and Broome, trying to get a cab, and I was late for the studio, and I had a lot of work to do, and I was passed by about twenty cabs. Then, finally, a cab stopped for me. I got in, and told him where I was going, and he kicked me out of the cab. And by the end of the whole thing, we were fighting on top of the cab, and you know, he was calling me nigger. And it got really out of hand. It was horrible. So, I went back to my loft, because I couldn't get to the studio. I was pissed off at that point. I had just been in a fight the middle of the street on top of a yellow cab, and I wrote "Mr. Cab Driver" and went in the next day and cut it. And you know, the whole thing is about racism and what not, but it is written with a sense of humor.
19. The vocal in "Stand By My Woman" has so much emotion.
"Stand By My Woman" is a song that I wrote when things in my marriage were starting to go down hill. It's self-explanatory. I'm saying, "Hey, I wanna be here." I know that things are difficult and but, my heart is here. I wanna be here
20. Slash plays guitar on "Always on the Run" from "Mama Said." Did you know him when he and you were both attending Beverly Hills High School?
I knew Slash in high school, but, not very well. Just knew him as this kid that used to hang out in the hallway. Pretty much looked then the way he does now. We had seen each other at the American Music Awards and Guns n' Roses was huge and I was just coming out doing my thing. So we met backstage and started talking and, he said, "Well, yeah I'd love to jam with you." So, at the time I was working on "Fields of Joy," and I wanted him to play the solo. It was still open. And, so he came into the studio and did the solo. I had him do it in one take and I told him that was it.
He was kind of upset because he wanted to really work on it and do it again and again But, I like first takes, when the person is thinking too much. So then we enjoyed that experience and thought that it would be nice to write a song together and record another one, so "Always on the Run" was the result of that. And when we made "Always on the Run," Slash came to New York City off of tour. One early morning about 8 o'clock, he showed up at my house. And he needed some Vodka really badly. So, at 8 in the morning, I said, "Where am I gonna get some Vodka right now, man, I'm tired and just waking up." So, I started banging on neighbor's doors in the apartment building. Got a couple of nice bottles of vodka. And, we took a car out to Hoboken, and we cut the song
21. Are the verses actually things your mother said to you while growing up?
My mother gave lots of good advice and had a lot to say. And maybe at the time you don't realize it or understand everything, or you don't want to listen, but as you get older, you realize everything she said was true.
22. Aside from "American Woman," "Heaven Help" is the only other song on the "Greatest Hits" that you didn't write. Why did you choose to do the song originally?
"Heaven Help" was written by my cousin Jerry Deveaux and a writing partner, who is a great writer, Terry Brittan, who wrote a lot of songs for Tina Turner, etcetera. I remember Jerry bring the demo home one night very late. And I knew after I heard it once that I was gonna sing this song. Some other big artist wanted it and it was on hold for them, and I said, "It could be on hold for them, but I'm going into the studio right now and I'm gonna cut it. So I went right in the studio. In fact, I heard the track at about two in the morning, and I was so anxious to cut it that I stayed awake and went to the studio at about 8 in the morning. Because I didn't want to fall asleep and have my voice fall asleep. I wanted to be up. So, I went straight to the studio at about 8 a.m., cut the tune, and that other artist didn't get the song."
23. Did your producer on the record, Terry Manning, have a difficult time playing the piano on "I Belong to You"?
The piano in "I Belong to You" is a toy piano. I was just hanging out with Terry in the room, and I was cutting the tune and I said, "Why don't you play this, man"? Give it a go. I want toy piano. I want the part to sort of be like this. Just play it. And he said, "O.K." And he played it. And, there it is.
24. Before you recorded the "5" CD, you took a break. Was this period a time of growth for you, and how did you decide when you were ready to record again?
My mother passed at the end of the "Circus" tour. Towards the end of it. After that I really needed to take some time and just chill out and get my head together, and? So, I spent a little time in the Bahamas and relaxed and thought about life and got comfortable. And, uh, it was great because I came out of it with a real positive attitude and really had a yearning for life.
You know, when you see a close person you know, pass in front of your eyes like that, especially of a sickness, it's hard core, you know? But, I just realized after all that that I just wanted to enjoy every day. That was my goal. To enjoy something about each day. And to give thanks and to live fully. And, started feeling good. And I just went in and started cutting the 5 album and started off with "Live," you know? Which was the opening number of that album and the message that I thought was important.
25. Do you agree that "Believe" has one of the central messages of your music?
"Believe" deals with believing in God and believing in yourself as well. I was taught by my grandfather that anything that your mind can conceive, you can have it. It's a reality. It begins in your mind. That's the beginning of the reality. You have to work to bring it forth, but, "Believe" has always been a powerful song. There are so many people that don't believe in themselves and that don't have faith. There's been a lot of people who have said that the song has touched them and caused them to look deeper.
26. Is "Let Love Rule" one of your all-time favorites?
If I had to associate myself with one song, it would probably be "Let Love Rule." It's so simple and to the point. And, it speaks for itself.
27. Some people would say that "Black Velveteen" is every man's dream, but is it really?
"Black Velveteen" is about technology and we're getting so pulled in by computers and technology and our kids have their face in the computers all day. We have our face in computers all day and the human relationship is being diminished by this so I figured, well ok, we're so into computers, and we're so into technology and now we're also beginning to play God and get into cloning and all kinds of things. So we don't like to have relationships we like to have them but we don't like to keep them and we don't know how to keep them. We give up quickly. Divorce is an easy option. So why not just create your own mate? And synthesize a human being. You get tired of it, you turn it off and put it in the closet, you know, like the vacuum cleaner. (laughs) You pull it out when you want it. Oh you don't want this one, and then you want, you start, it's probably going to happen one day. We're going to get to a really sick point of designing fake people.
28. Now that the "Greatest Hits" is out, what's next for Lenny Kravitz?
For me, I feel like I'm only in the beginning of my career. I've only made 5 albums. It's not a lot of records. And people used to do 2 records a year. Some people did 3 records a year. And, so, I feel like the next album, the sixth album is a real new beginning. "5" was a transitional album for me, and now I have the "Greatest Hits." The sixth album's a new beginning. Record One again. I'm more hungry now than I was eleven years ago. Which is great because I see a lot of artists that have been out for a long period of time. They get kind of fat and?. Not me. I have so much do and so much to learn and so much music to make.
29. Do you want to pursue other media?
Yeah. I've always been into films. And I'm a big film fan, and I think it's a great medium to express, tell a story, and I'm getting ready to work on a film in this next year that I've been writing. I'm looking forward to it. It's just another way to tell a story. You know, I've always wanted to make a film. And I've been offered lots of films in the past eleven years. But, they've always been these very stereotypical roles. They wanted me to play some gangster or street guy, or pimp, drug addict, you know. O.K. Yeah. That's me. You know, Hollywood tends to get into that stereotypical thing. Well, I'm black. I don't comb my hair. I'm a drug addict. I'm a pimp. I'm a murderer. I got roles like murderers and I said, "What?? I'm singing "Let Love Rule" and I'm gonna go play a murderer. I don't think so. But the story that I wanna tell is pretty much about the way I grew up. Being bi-racial, growing up in a big city and being an artist. It's also about relationships within a family. And I look forward to making this film.
30. The elections are coming this November in the United States. You've played some fund raisers. The statistics claim that 49% of the people between the ages of 18 and 24 will vote this election. How important do you think it is to vote?
It's very important to vote. I mean, people died for this right. Especially my people. So, regardless, I think you must vote. Exercise that right. Nobody can take that away for you.
Interview by: Dan Neer for (Vivamusic.com )