We’ve Got A File On You: Lenny Kravitz

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We’ve Got A File On You: Lenny Kravitz


We’ve Got A File On You features interviews in which artists share the stories behind the extracurricular activities that dot their careers: acting gigs, guest appearances, random internet ephemera, etc.

“I love life.”

Rarely has there been a more self-evident statement spoken by a musician. But to refer to Lenny Kravitz as merely “a musician” would be to seriously undersell him. 

Yes, he’s spent four decades putting a modern spin on fuzzed-out, psychedelic classic rock, disco funk, and smooth soul, unleashing a trove of hits such as “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” “Fly Away,” and “It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” On top of a masterful music journey, Kravitz was diversifying his work portfolio long before it occurred to celebrities to do so, stepping into the realms of acting, modeling, producing, photography, interior design — and falafel.

“I’m not jaded, and I’m still inspired,” Kravitz tells me over Zoom, where he’s pictured wearing a tight, black mock turtleneck and bug-eyed shades. In person, he’s a thoughtful, warm speaker — he appears so characteristically mellow that it’s hard to believe someone so nonchalant could ever be that ambitious. “I’m hungrier than I’ve ever been. I just thank God for that because it makes life exciting,” he continues. “I’ll probably tour for a couple of years on this record and then put out the next one and keep going.”

Kravitz might be dropping his 12th studio album, Blue Electric Light (featuring the zestful ass-shaker “TK421”), on May 24, but he’s already looking ahead to the next thing, which includes his 60th birthday next week — to be spent in Paris, naturally.

I sat down with Kravitz to look back at his exemplary career, one filled with unexpected collaborations, Nic Cage run-ins, and, of course, giant blanket scarves. Below, hear new single “Human,” out today, and read our interview.

New Album Blue Electric Light (2024)

Since this is your 12th studio album, Lenny — what did you set out to achieve as you started the creative and recording process?

LENNY KRAVITZ: I always just hope to make music that moves me. I’m making this music for myself first, but I don’t ever have any preconceived ideas when I’m going into the studio to start a new project. I’m just hoping to hear something, to continue to hear something. I’m just an antenna. I’m going to pick up what I hear floating around me. So, it just started on its own. It just started happening.

This record’s been great because it’s celebration, it’s fun, and it’s got a lot of energy. It’s spiritual and sensual. Production-wise, I had a lot of fun with it. It’s the record I didn’t make in high school before I made Let Love Rule. Let Love Rule is when I really found my sound and found myself after searching for years. I was doing some cool stuff before that, it’s just that I switched when I got that download. So, this just reminds me of that time before and what I was doing.

Your next single is called “Human” — how does “Human” embody the type of record you didn’t make in high school?

KRAVITZ: Production-wise, as you know, at that time, I would’ve been not only using drums, but I’d be using drum machines. That track, it’s an old DMX drum machine with Fender Rhodes and an ARP Odyssey bass. So, synth bass, guitars, chimes, and percussion. I’m playing all these cowbells. But basically, the synthesizer drum machine part of it, I was doing a lot of that at that time and mixing real instruments with that and making my own kind of funk pop out of it.

In the ’80s some established musicians were wary of drum machines.

KRAVITZ: The first thing was that the studio musicians were not happy with it because it was taking gigs away from the studio musicians making their livings from playing on record dates. Then, it became more about producers [planning] where they could play the instruments and program things. They were using less studio musicians, but [drum machines] were used in such an incredible way when they were used correctly.

I saw you have a birthday on the horizon.

KRAVITZ: Yeah. They’re all kind of big. But yeah, this is one of the monumental ones. I celebrate every 10 years.

Do you have anything special planned for the big 6-0?

KRAVITZ: No. Well, I know I’m going to be in Paris because I’m going to be rehearsing, so I’ll be home in Paris. I just want to be around my people, the people that really mean something to my life and that have been there, and just celebrate… Paris in the end of May is normally very beautiful.

Early Days Recording As Romeo Blue (1985)

You started under the name Romeo Blue but were encouraged, ultimately, to perform under your own name. What did that mean to you at the time, to launch a career under the name Lenny Kravitz?

KRAVITZ: [Romeo Blue] was a wonderful education for me to go away from myself, in a way, [to] create this alter ego, this persona. Because I wasn’t yet comfortable with just being myself, I thought I had to be more than myself, whatever that means when you’re a teenager. Even down to my name, I was like, “Lenny Kravitz? That’s not a rock and roll name.” So silly, right? But I was looking at that time in the ’80s — Madonna, Prince, and Bowie — and I thought, “Okay, well, I’ll come up with this thing and blah, blah, blah.”

But then, as much fun as it was and as interesting as it was, it was too much effort — or the wrong kind of effort for me. One day I said, “I have to be me. I can’t continue doing this.” I think it was a beautiful step in acceptance, accepting who you are, what you are, and working with that. You can go to beautiful places when you accept who you are. That’s a lifelong journey. I’m continually accepting who I am and working with that, but that was the first major step, and I’m glad I did.

You made “Lenny Kravitz” into such a rock and roll name, it’s almost laughable now to think of it as not being a rock and roll name.

KRAVITZ: That’s a good name for a doctor or a lawyer.

Attending A Star-Studded Beverly Hills High School (1979)

You famously went to high school with the likes of Slash, Gina Gershon…

KRAVITZ: Yeah, I saw one of my classmates a couple of weeks ago at one of the award shows, Nicolas Cage. He was ahead of me, but we did do a play together. I believe it was Oklahoma. Gina Gershon was also in it, and I was in the pit with the orchestra playing drums.

I don’t see him that often, but I saw him. We got to say hello and have a laugh. But yeah, there was a lot of folks at that school, either kids of famous [people] … This was so surreal to me. I was friends with Florence Henderson’s son, and I was friends with David Cassidy, Shaun Cassidy, and Pat Cassidy. Pat went to school with me at the time. He was the quarterback on the football team. So, after school, I’d be going to the Brady Bunch house and I’d be going to the Partridge Family house. It was all very surreal and crazy.

Did it feel “normal” at the time? In the way that everything feels “normal” as a kid, and then you grow up, only to realize, wait, this was wildly unique?

KRAVITZ: I thought it was odd [at the time], because those were two programs that I watched as a kid a lot growing up. Everyone in that era watched The Brady Bunch, or watched The Partridge Family, and there I was with each of the mothers making me some food or doing after school stuff, hanging out. “You want something to eat?” Florence Henderson’s making me something, and Shirley Jones is making me something and sitting at the table. It was just like, what is going on?

Making Two Versions Of The “Let Love Rule” Video (1988)

You have a pattern of creating multiple music videos, like “Heaven Help,” “Circus,” and “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” not to mention “Let Love Rule.” Why were there two versions of “Let Love Rule,” and what was the first version like?

KRAVITZ: The first video was done by an amazing filmmaker by the name of Matt Mahurin. He did the “Fast Car” video for Tracy Chapman. Very moody, dark shadows, gorgeous color. But when [the first version of “Let Love Rule”] was done, as brilliant as it was, we felt that it was a little dark for the expression I was trying to do.

So, then Zoë’s mom [Lisa Bonet] directed the video. We got a bunch of Super 8 cameras, went out to Central Park, went up to Woodstock, and actually New Paltz, and made this very sunshiny, open video playing with the band out in the park and all these children. May he rest in peace — our main cameraman was a gentleman by the name of Harris Savides, who ended up being a very, very, very great DP and a very famous one — [he] worked with David Fincher and everybody.

He also shot the “Are You Gonna Go My Way” video. He was DP for Mark Romanek. But that was us just running around making a homemade video. I haven’t seen the Matt Mahurin one in ages. I’d love to see it.

Co-Writing & Co-Producing “Justify My Love” (1990)

Speaking of music videos, since you had so much creative involvement in “Justify My Love,” what did you make of what Madonna famously did with that music video? And what did you make of the public reaction?

KRAVITZ: Isn’t it a trip how people freaked out on that? And you look at it now and you’re like, what are they talking about? The envelope has been moved and pushed so far from that time. But at that time, yes, that was risqué. I remember, a friend of mine made the video, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, who is a dear friend of mine and I’ve worked with for many years. He shot the Are You Gonna Go My Way album cover, and Vanessa Paradis’ cover, the album I did for her.

But anyway, I’ve been working with him since my first album. It was brilliant, because I remember they made the video and then MTV banned it, and then [fans] just jumped on. Madonna was so smart. They made all these video cassettes, and they sold them individually. Each video cassette counted as a single, so it was just like buying a single. I remember, I don’t know, I think I was at Keith Richards’ apartment, because Keith had an apartment right there by Tower Records off of Broadway and Fourth. I remember looking out of Keith’s window — I’m pretty sure it was at Keith’s apartment.

Anyway, people were lined up around the block to buy this video. She sold, I don’t remember how many copies, but the song went #1 and stayed #1 for a very long time. It was her biggest hit record for many years. 

The video is really beautiful. Black and white, shot in Paris in the hotel with all these beautiful images. But it’s a trip that they bugged out as hard as they did, because compared to what’s going on today, it’s nothing… You had to own your physical copy [of the video]. To see the reaction and how people were lining up to get it and take it home and they’re watching this thing that they weren’t supposed to watch. Interesting times.

The Viral Scarf (2012)

I know you’ve been asked to death about the scarf…

KRAVITZ: What would you like to know about that scarf?

Well, I saw that it was made especially for you. Who made it?

KRAVITZ: It was. It was hand-knit by a friend of mine who made clothes for me. Why we felt it had to be that big, I’m not sure.

Did you give them dimensions?

KRAVITZ: That’s the mood we were in, to have this big-ass scarf, so when I’m in the cold, I could just wrap it and wrap it. Now, of course, the internet has … You have to know which one is the real one because the scarf has gone 10 times bigger from the [original] size. But it is big. I wore it recently.

For TikTok, right?

KRAVITZ: Right. I pulled it out, found it. I know where it is now. And anyway, it was cold. It was crazy cold one day in New York, and I was going to the market to get some groceries. I did not care. I wasn’t thinking about how I looked or what. I had a hat on, I had a sweater on, I had a scarf, and I was cold. I didn’t think I’d be bumping into paparazzi, but I did.

That’s the mark of a truly cool person, though. Just getting on with it and wearing what you like. Or in this case, what keeps you warm.

KRAVITZ: No, I didn’t care. And then, there was that moment. Who knew that it was going to become the representation of “cold weather is coming”? It’s hysterical.

The… Pants Moment (2015)

I also don’t want to embarrass you by asking this question, so I’ll just ask it adjacently. After what I will only refer to as “the pants moment,” Lena Dunham told Hillary Clinton in a campaign video about the pants and that she could look it up on YouTube if she wanted. You do seem pretty immune to feeling bashful but does the idea of Hillary Clinton looking that up feel…. I don’t know… odd?

KRAVITZ: It’s out there. It’s out there, right? It’s out there for all. I just think that’s funny, because when the Clintons were in office, I spent a good amount of time visiting the White House, and they were very nice to not only me, but my grandfather who was in his 90s. They were taken by him. So that’s what I think about when I think about them. Not so much the pants.

Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Nomination (2024)

Jann Wenner, a figure you go far back with, was kicked off the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame board of directors for making some pretty heinous, racist comments during book promotion — comments that you publicly denounced. All of that being said, how does your Rock Hall nomination sit with you today?

KRAVITZ: Well, I’d rather get in than not. But look, I’m extremely honored to be nominated. I’ve been eligible for the last 10 years. There’s a lot of great folks, pioneers that aren’t in yet either. You know what I mean? 

Anything positive that happens to me at this point in my life, I take the moment and I’m grateful. I spent a lot of time in my years of doing this where I didn’t stop and smell the flowers because I was just moving forward, always trying to get to the next place and the next expression. So now, something like that happens — and a lot of great things have been happening — I’m honored.

As far as what Jann said, to me, that has nothing to do with this. I just think that was a bit of an off moment. I don’t understand it. That’s not the human being that I knew. Look, maybe it was some kind of off moment. We don’t know what he’s going through. We don’t know, health-wise or mental [health-wise]. We don’t know what people are going through. It was very odd, but I judge no one.

Still on the topic of Rock Hall, your fellow nominee Peter Frampton told New York Magazine that he’s in favor of the also-nominated Oasis reuniting. He said, “Oh, come on, boys. Life’s too short. Get back together.” As someone who was once in an Oasis charity cover band, how badly would you like to see Oasis reunite?

KRAVITZ: I always loved their records. We knew them. They used to come to our shows. I’d go to their shows. They’d come backstage. I never had a problem with those guys. I know they’ve always been somewhat controversial with things they say or how they act, whatever. But they make great music, and an Oasis reunion would be … I’d go see that. I’d go to hear some “Champagne Supernova.”

Collaborating With Peggy Gou (2023)

How did you end up connecting with Peggy Gou? That seems like an unexpected collaboration from you.

KRAVITZ: Very, very unexpected.

We met in Miami at a Thanksgiving dinner of a mutual friend of ours. His name is Dave Grutman. He runs all the nightlife stuff in Miami: clubs, restaurants, hotels. I’ve known him since way back when I was living in Miami, and he was just getting going. Anyway, [I] went to Thanksgiving dinner, sitting next to Peggy Gou. I didn’t know who she was at that moment. Dave said, “You guys should do something together. It’d be really cool.”
She and I were just talking, having a good time. I went home that night, and I looked her up, watching some of her DJ sets and listening to her music, and I thought, why not do something that I would never ordinarily do? It was just a moment where I was just open. She came down to the Bahamas to [my] studio and we put it together and wrote the song together.

Acting In Tony Kaye’s The Trainer (2022)

I have yet to see a release date for The Trainer, but it’s got quite a cast, including your former high school classmate Gina Gershon, Finneas, Gavin Rossdale, Gayle King, Julia Fox, and Steven Van Zandt, just to name a few. What can you tell us about that filming experience?

KRAVITZ: I’m playing myself. I worked with Vito Schnabel, who’s the lead in the film. It’s his movie. I have a little scene with John McEnroe and also one with Gayle King. But it’s a zany movie. It’s a trip. It’s quite different. I haven’t seen the final version yet, but it’s just a bunch of fun people hanging out, making a film.

Lil Wayne (As The Robot) Performing “Are You Gonna Go My Way” On The Masked Singer (2020)

Did you happen to see Lil Wayne dressed as a robot singing “Are You Gonna Go My Way” on The Masked Singer?

KRAVITZ: Oh, I did not see that. But you know that when I hang up with you, I’m going to go look at it.

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