In this interview, conducted at the fancy Malibu Inn, CA, the 47- year-old rockstar talks about his album “Black And White America”, his new deal with Roadrunner Records and his movie ambitions.
Q: When we talked in 2009 you mentioned an album that you’ve been working on since 1997 and that you were almost done with. Is this it? Is this the legendary “Funk” album but under a different name?
A: No! I screwed you again. No, this is “Black And White America”. I ended up going into the studio thinking that I was going to be finishing something else ´cause that, truly, was my my intention. But I just booked the studio in the Bahamas, incredible dream studio in the most beautiful location – isolated, very few people, small town. I was finishing that thing, but at the same time I started hearing all this new music, So I said: ‘OK, let me go record…I’m supposed to be finishing this, but let me go record one of these things I’m hearing in my head.’ And this is the album, “Black And White America” that came out fresh and wonderful and really very satisfying to me.
Q: Is this going to be a double album?
A: Well, you know, I still think in terms of vinyl. Every time I made a CD I think of side 1 and side 2, how much space between the songs, the whole thing. I was like: ‘You know, it’s time for a double record; I need the space in which to paint this picture.’ So, it’s 16 tracks, which obviously would be 4 tracks per side, 2 pieces of vinyl, and we’re making a beautiful gatefold vinyl version. That’s really important to me, even though there are three people that have record players. Actually that’s not true, a lot of kids [have] record players now and digging the whole vinyl thing. It fits nicely on one CD, but I do view this as a double album.
Q: How does this fit into your body of work? Is this like a show of strength, representing your full spectrum?
A: I like that. You hear what the man said? But that’s what it is…and that’s why I thought I needed the space. It couldn’t be done in 10 songs. It needed to be a larger canvas so I could really go into all the areas that I ended up going in; to show the full spectrum. And it really represents my musical tastes.
Q: Including some electronics? Like there´s a hint of Romeo Blue in there, too?
A: You know he has to get out sometime. He never got a record deal, so… (laughs)
Q: Same goes for the lyrics. There’s some really aggressive stuff in there like “Come On, Get It”, which is about sex I assume.
Q: Then there’s “Superlove” which is you being on a quest for the ultimate love…
A: Yes – mentally, spiritually, sexually!
Q: And then you’re totally trashed in “I Can’t Be Without You”, so the album as a whole is like an emotional rollercoaster – the ups and downs that we all go through? Is Lenny one of us?
A: Always, always!
Q: And he has a weak side, too?
A: Of course, of course. It’s just life, and it’s a rollercoaster. And I enjoy the ride, the ups and the downs. If you can learn from the so called downs then, you know, great.
Q: Though, like me, you haven’t found your soul mate yet?
A: Well, you haven’t found it yet?
Q: No, but you’re 5 years ahead of me.
A: You know what? We attract it, we have to be ready for it and really want it. Sometimes we say we want it, and think we want it, but maybe we’re not ready. Are you ready?
A: You’re not ready. He’s not ready ladies and gentlemen.
Q: That´s what comes with the lifestyle. If you’re never home, but always travelling…
A: Well that part makes it difficult, no doubt. You don’t get to nurture something [as] if you work at the post office and your wife works as the nurse or at the school or she’s a real estate agent or whatever, and you come home every day and you can actually court properly. You meet somebody and you court and then it’s: “Well, gotta go!” (laughs). You know, but it can still happen. Look at all the people that travel like we do and they’ve got families and, you know, it’s all good. I have faith in you brother! Next time I see you, you’re going to tell me: “Man, it happened!”
Q: I’ll take your word. But how does “Rock Star City Life” fit in there – about some glamorous older woman? Who are you referring to?
A: Ah, well not older. I mean…she’s young actually. Cause it says: “she’s underage, a real Lolita” [in] one of the lines. But…oh, cause the first line says: “walks like man, you’d think she’s older.” You’d think she’s older, yeah. And actually that’s a song about…I was watching the movie about the Runaways. And I started listening to their music again. And it was really inspired by Cherie Curry, that song, by her character.
Q: What do [you] find attractive in a woman? Who would make you go through such an emotional rollercoaster?
A: [You] mean what kind of woman?
Q: What are you looking for in a woman? What makes a woman attractive? What are you attracted to?
A: Ah… strength! Strength, humor…no drama. I grew up around a lot of strong women. I was raised by a lot of women; my mom, my aunts, my grandmother. There were a lot of women present. And humor is important. Beauty in and out.
Q: But “Stand” is like a call to arms, isn’t it?
A: Yeah….it’s an uplifting song about no matter what life throws you, you get right back up and you keep moving. And you don’t give up hope, you persevere and so forth. The truth of the matter is: it was written personally to a friend who became paralyzed from the waist down. And I wasn’t in the country, and I felt like: “What can I do? I just want to give this person a feeling, what little can I do.” So I wrote this song for this person. And the person now is running again. Learned to walk again, learned to run again, back on their feet. So it’s interesting, it works in this sort of worldly way. But, it’s, it’s really about a person that I was writing to.
Q: And what made you work with Jay-Z again – for the second time since “Baptism”? Are you longtime friends?
A: Yeah, he’s a great artist and a very interesting human being. It wasn’t that I was trying to make a repeat, but when I was doing “Boongie Drop” I kept hearing his voice. And so I called him and he hooked it up. And then you also have the local DJ from, from my area in the Bahamas, DJ Military, on the track. I like that track a lot – quite different.
Q: It’s almost like a Gorillaz track – it´s got a strong reggae vibe to it, and some electronics, too, so it really stands out.
A: And boongie in the Bahamas by the way means ass. So it’s about how these women dance. It’s about the whole vibe of the culture of these women – the dancing, the whole Bahamian thing – just so you know.
Q: So the Bahamas to record? What does Gregory Town Sounds look like?
A: It’s a beautiful studio. It’s a beautiful concrete structure, very modern, in the middle of the jungle, and then inside is beautiful wood. It looks almost like something you’d expect, like a studio you would find, in the mid to late 70s that was just preserved. Classic wood strips and beautiful wood floors. And cork and ah… it’s great, it’s great, and it´s just the most amazing equipment for my taste.
Q: Lots of old vintage stuff?
A: Yes, yes. In abundance, yes sir.
Q: So you got a good vibe down there?
A: Yeah, and it’s just the best place to work.
Q: You love those remote places, don´t you?
A: I do
Q: If we talk about guitars: What are you playing on this one – what are you using when it comes to amps, guitars, and effects?
A: Ah… I have my studio guitars that don’t leave the studio. I have a Les Paul Standard, I’ve got a couple of Strats. I have an SG, I have my Everly Brothers Acoustics and my amp collection: Marshalls, Fenders, you know, Black Face, Silver Face Tweeds, Parks, Vox. Little amps like little Gibson amps, you know, little amps like this big. They are very eclectic and make interesting sounds. And my 2 or 3 basses, my Fender Jazz, my Fender P., different bass heads, acoustic, 360 acoustics Fenders. My drums: a mix of Ludwig, mostly Ludwig and some Gretsch pieces. And then my keyboards: my piano, my Steinway, my Hammond B3, my Clavinet [and] my synth collection, which is growing, and is [full of] incredible, great synthesizers from the 70s.
Q: Is that what you’re collecting right now?
A: Yeah, yeah. You hear a bit of synthesizers on this album which was fun because that’s not a normal thing that I have a lot of, but I felt it on this record.
Q: So you basically got everything at your disposal?
A: Right there in the jungle!
Q: All in the Bahamas, in that studio?
A: Yes sir.
Q: And how serious are you taking acting in movies?
A: Well, I’m doing a film called “Hunger Games”, which is going to be really fantastic. Big film.
Q: A sci-fi film?
Q: Like “Gladiator” goes sci-fi?
A: Well, it’s about these groups of kids that live in these districts and they get picked, like in a lottery, to go to these “Hunger Games” – to this place like an arena. But it’s like a world, and the objective is to be the last one standing.
Q: What’s your part in there?
A: The character´s name is Cinna. He’s the stylist of the lead girl, who’s the lead character, whose name is Katniss Evergreen [played by Jennifer Lawrence]. Basically what that means when you say “stylist”: each kid that enters this “Hunger Game” has a stylist that puts them in all these getups and costumes, and presents them ´cause they have all these ceremonies before they actually go to the games. And it’s the person that builds up their image. It’s an interesting role. It’s like the guy behind her.
Q: Like in wrestling where they create these characters?
A: Well, they’re not like that.
Q: But they create characters for competition?
A: Yes. Because… the people that are watching these games they’re watching everything that is happening. And the people don’t have a lot of money. It’s a time when money and food is difficult, and the people actually put money together to buy…like say, you get hurt and you need something. So, the more character you have and the more image and the style and how you act in the whole thing, has something to do with it as well.
Q: How does Lenny Kravitz stay in shape?
A: I eat this stuff you just saw me eating here. Eating a lot of vegetables and healthy stuff, and fruits, and keeping it very organic.
Q: Lots of sports as well?
A: Oh yeah, I’ve been running on the beach here, which is great. Oh look at that man, the sun’s coming out – it’s getting blue, nice.