After thirty years of writing, recording, producing, and performing, Lenny Kravitz is one of the most recognized and beloved performers in the world. His latest album, Raise Vibration—his eleventh—is a socially thematic and groove-infused triumph, and the tour in support of the album, which began in early 2018, has been extended through late September of 2019.
On break between playing shows in Europe and gearing up for this last leg of performances in the United States and Canada, Kravitz graciously took some time from his busy schedule to chat with AQ about performing, making videos, his relationship with guitarist and creative collaborator Craig Ross, and reflected on his incredibly prolific career.
Lenny, you’re about to head out on the road again as part of the Raise Vibration tour, which began last year. How has the fan reaction been to the new tunes so far?
Oh, incredible, which is so beautiful. You know, we’ve been playing a good amount of new music. We changed songs around over the last year, and they’re reacting to them as they do the classic songs. That’s really encouraging—it really is—because there’s a lot of cases where you see that fans aren’t as much into the new music as they are the old music, perhaps because they don’t have the time and the relationship as they do with the old stuff. But, it’s just been fantastic, so I’m very grateful that my supporters have really taken to it.
That’s great. “Who Really Are The Monsters?” seems like a fun song to play live, with its different effects and that cool percussion breakdown. Would you say that is one of your favorites from the current set list?
Oh, absolutely—and we just started playing that on tour this summer because we swapped out “It’s Enough” for that one… it’s been really fun to play.
I was watching a few videos of it from when you were over in Europe earlier this summer. The crowds really fed off the energy and it looked like you were having a blast performing that song.
Oh yeah, absolutely.
I also noticed that you’ve been revisiting some material from the Circus album—most notably “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” and even “Tunnel Vision” at a few shows last year. I know that was a tough album for you to make at the time, and one could say that you typically shy away from those songs in concert. So, was there anything that prompted you to revisit that album or those songs on this tour?
I love that record. It was a difficult time, you know, with my mother’s illness and her passing—and my life was just getting crazy at that point. But, I love the songs on that record, and with each tour, you just got to vibe it out. I don’t really think about ‘Well, I haven’t done this, or I haven’t done that.’ I just kind of vibe it out. [It’s] what feels right to play now, and a couple of those songs got in [the set list] this time.
With 11 studio albums under your belt, too many hits singles to mention, and a plethora of incredible album cuts, I was actually curious: you spoke about vibing it out—how do you go about choosing your set list? It seems as though you like to mix it up with each tour.
Yeah. For me, it’s a message. It’s what I want to express now, and what do I think people need to hear now. I mean, that is the main thing, and of course making sure there’s enough hits for folks.
Someone who’s been by your side for a very long time as a performer and a collaborator is [guitarist] Craig Ross.
Yeah, that’s my brother.
He’s someone who I think is one of the most criminally underrated guitarists ever. He’s so good, yet too often, for whatever reason, he doesn’t get into the mix when it comes to conversations about the great guitarists of our time. But, what I wanted to ask you was: what makes the bond between you two so special, and how has it sustained itself for so many decades?
We are musical partners. We understand each other musically without having to speak, which is such a beautiful thing. We have a very special bond and relationship. He’s also my best friend. It goes very, very deep…. He and I have been working together, living in the same places, being on the same tour bus, the same plane… you know, being together every day—year in, year out—for almost 30 years, and he and I have never had an argument, which is very deep when you’re being creative with somebody. You know, it’s a very odd relationship—and beautiful. But just speaking about his guitar playing, he’s as good as the best. And those people know—I mean, Prince knew, Jimmy Page knows. The masters know. You know what I mean? And I know, and that’s all that matters. I think that over time he’ll get the appreciation he deserves.
You just released a new video for “5 More Days ‘Til Summer” and it’s a great video. You rose to fame, arguably, during the halcyon days of MTV—the “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” video being a perfect example of the power of the music video. I was curious, do you still enjoy making videos today knowing that the Internet and social media is primarily the platform for that medium now?
Yeah, I don’t even think about where it goes really, I just have fun making them. Sometimes you make some good ones or great ones, and sometimes you make one that’s not so great! [Laughs] You never know how it’s going to come out. You may have something in your mind, and it comes out and it looks a little different. This was a fun video to make, and I made it with my godson, Noah Becker—he directed it, and I think it tells a story.
It was written about a gentleman that I met who was, you know, in the system of life and had been working his whole life—didn’t have a family or much of a life outside of his work. He worked in the night, slept all day, and finally, after saving his money for years and years and years, he was finally going to take his first real vacation. That’s really the plot [of the video], about breaking free from the life that you have to live, and so many people have to live. The video told the story very well and it’s fun and colorful. It has a beautiful summer vibe.
Indeed. Can creating short films or music videos be equally as rewarding as writing songs?
Sometimes. I mean, when you do something extraordinary—you talked about the “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” video, which was directed by Mark Romanek—things like that are monumental, where the song and the video together work stronger and leave a deep impact on popular culture.
It’s as if the image and the song both reinforce each other.
Absolutely, absolutely… the image really matches or enhances what is happening with the audio. It makes people even listen to a song differently. My video for (Raise Vibration’s) “Low,” for example, got nominated for Best Rock Video for [this year’s] VMAs, and it’s such a simple concept… directed by the legendary director, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who has worked with everybody from the eighties on up to now. He helped to create that revolution of videos on MTV, and just that made people see a song and hear it differently, as well. So when that happens, it’s a beautiful thing.
This September marks the 30th anniversary of the release of your debut LP, Let Love Rule. For the 20th anniversary, the album itself was reissued as a deluxe edition. But, I was wondering if you had any plans this year to celebrate the 30th anniversary in a live setting.
You know, I’ve talked about that. I don’t know what is going to happen, but it is something that I’m thinking about, most definitely.
Could you see yourself possibly performing the album in its entirety?
I could. I mean, I’ve never done it. It would be beautiful. It would be different.
What’s the most striking difference, in your opinion, between the artist that wrote Let Love Rule and the artist who’s now just written Raise Vibration?
Same guy on two different ends of the spectrum. I mean, you know, [Let Love Rule] was the beginning of where I was, and this is where I am now. There’s a thread that connects the two. I believe that I’m a bit wiser and more seasoned. But there was an incredible, beautiful rawness in the beginning that you can’t even emulate now. So, you know, life is beautiful, and it keeps moving and evolving.
On that note, beyond being an incredible songwriter, you’re widely recognized as an international icon—not just through music, but in the world of fashion, and in the arena of social justice. So my question to you is, after three decades in the limelight—in relation to your spirit and your soul—how do you keep yourself grounded as you create and put your art forward for the masses?
I’m in a constant state of gratitude. I was raised by a very humble mother, and I do my best to keep my feet on the ground, man. That’s where I’m most comfortable. And, you know, when you have gratitude and you know that it’s a gift—and it’s not just by your work and your energy, but a blessing—it’s very grounding.
Be sure to catch Lenny Kravitz at The Met in Philadelphia on August 22 and Radio City Music Hall in NYC on August 27!