Lenny Kravitz's 1989 debut, Let Love Rule, was an artful blend of musical tastes that tasted great together -- rock, R&B, soul, gospel and just enough of a post-punk edge to keep the tunes in the here-and-now. Though many critics questioned the long term potential of Kravitz's retro-vibe, four albums later, he's still going strong thanks largely to his strong songwriting skills and his multi-faceted musicianship. He still likes to work solo in the studio, writing, producing and playing most of the instruments himself, but when it comes to touring he knows that taking the music to the streets is a team effort.
The charismatic frontman has been on the road for the past year in support of his latest album, Five, backed by the same group of musicians who have been with him since the beginning -- drummer Cindy Blackman, bassist Jack Daley, keyboardist George Laks, guitarist Craig Ross, trumpeter Michael Hunter, saxophonist Harold Todd and backing vocalist Nehemiah Hield. Actions speak louder than words, and when it comes to music Kravitz is a man of action, but he took a few moments during a break in his busy tour schedule to talk about his craft.
Guitar.com: Have you used the same live set up over the years?
Lenny Kravitz: We change things here and there, but it's technically guitar, bass, drums, different keyboards and horns. We might change amps around or things here and there but it's pretty much the same.
Guitar.com: Do you still collect a lot of guitars?
Kravitz: I stopped. I have about a hundred guitars now. It's like a drug. I went crazy for it and the actual 100 pieces I own are all vintage, gorgeous guitars. I got rid of all the sort of in-between stuff, so all the pieces I have are absolutely beautiful specimens. You know they're never gonna make them again so I've got them.
Guitar.com: What's yer most bitchin' guitar?
Kravitz: Oh, there's too many. I've got some beautiful, beautiful guitars. I wouldn't know which one to pick. I really wouldn't. Some of my favorites are the custom color Strats.
Guitar.com: Do you take them out on the road?
Kravitz: In some cases, and also Fender's been making me some new guitars that have come out quite nice, so I got some newer Fenders and I have a bunch of my old Gibson Les Pauls and some old Strats as well and my old Epiphone, which I've been using since Let Love Rule.
Guitar.com: You seem to play just about everything. Do you collect other instruments as well?
Kravitz: I collect drum kits. I collect keyboards. I collect all kinds of stuff.
Guitar.com: Do you write most of your music and keep your equipment at one of your four homes?
Kravitz: No. My guitars are kept in a museum-type place that holds fine art. I keep them locked up and when I need to use them one of my assistants goes and gets what I need and brings it to whatever location.
Guitar.com: Was guitar the first instrument you learned to play?
Kravitz: Yeah, but since I was a little kid up to high school I just played different instruments.
Guitar.com: But you feel most comfortable with guitar?
Kravitz: No. All of them. I consider myself a drummer, a bass player, a guitarist, keyboardist, singer, whatever.
Guitar.com: And when you're writing, what comes to you first? Melodies? Rhythms? Words?
Kravitz: It's always different. There's no rules whatsoever. They come completed, they come in fragments, they come in all kinda ways.
Guitar.com: Do you write new material all at once as part of the process of making an album or do you write all the time and then cull the best when you're prepared to record?
Kravitz: Yeah, [I write] a little less on the road 'cause I'm really focused on that, but then it'll still happen, just less.
Guitar.com: Was there one significant event that made you decide to be a musician?
Kravitz: Just hearing music from the beginning -- listening to the Jackson Five, listening to Motown. I knew I wanted to do it from then. I'd say the Jackson 5 probably turned me on and then later on with rock it was Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and then believe it or not, Kiss.
Guitar.com: Did you see Kiss the first time around?
Kravitz: I didn't see them the first time around. I didn't see them in concert until the Dynasty tour. I kept not being able to see them, but I was a fan.
Guitar.com: How have you grown most as a musician over the past 10 years?
Kravitz: It's hard to say. I just do what I do. I think I've continued to explore music and do different things. I've grown as a playerboth a studio player and a live performer etcetera. But I still have miles to go.
Guitar.com: Are you ever afraid that one day you'll just run out of inspiration?
Kravitz: When things slow down you've just gotta slow down and it'll come when it comes. You have to trust it.
Guitar.com: In the past you've talked about the importance of faith in your life and music. Is it hard being a spiritual person in the rock world?
Kravitz: No, it's hard being a spiritual person in any world.
Guitar.com: Is it hard because it's difficult to hang onto spiritual ideals because the world can be so disillusioning or because it's not very hip?
Kravitz: When I said it was difficult I meant difficult in the sense that this world is quite corrupt and there's a lot of shit going on. A lot of negativity. But you have to face a lot of negativity when you're trying to be positive, so what I'm saying is no matter what you do in life -- whether you're in rock 'n' roll, you're on Wall Street -- you're gonna face these type of things. Negativity wherever you go.
Guitar.com: Does your working environment -- the ambiance of it -- have any impact on how you work?
Kravitz: No. I mean, hopefully the ambiance is great but when I get caught up in work that room could be anywhere. My environment is important to me and my environment is set up so that I'm comfortable, but that doesn't mean I can't make music in a damp basement somewhere. You bring your vibe with you.