Twenty-five years ago, Lenny Kravitz made his debut with an album that was also a command — Let Love Rule. This year, he’s back with his tenth studio effort and yet another dictate — Strut. In between those markers, Kravitz has maintained a level of cool and creativity that few others have matched.
Everything he touches seems to shimmer, if not shine. He’s stepped out of music to appear in a handful of highly acclaimed films, including the first two installments of The Hunger Games; he’s more than established his footing in the realm of interior design with projects all over the world; and, next year, he’ll publish a photography book that includes luminaries such as Mark Seliger, Ellen von Unwerth, Albert Watson, Matthew Rolston, and Roxanne Lowit. How does he do it? He just feels and follows.
Many of us who’ve been with you from the start will always associate you with tube amps and vintage gear. But you’ve evolved over the decades. How did an analog guy like you adapt to a digital world?
I still pretty much use mostly analog gear. In a lot of cases, I do use ProTools instead of tape, but I still use tape in many instances. How I adapt to the digital world is, after I work hard to make a great-sounding, wide-supporting depth in a great stereo field, then they wash it down to 16-bit and completely fuck it up. That’s how I deal with it. [Laughs]
[Laughs] You just tolerate the digital world.
I mean, it’s weird that you go through all this work to make a great field recording and then it’s turned into mp3s. It’s kind of a joke. It is a joke. But that’s the way people buy music or take music or however they acquire their music. But you have people that still dig vinyl. There are a lot of kids that still listen to vinyl. They want to hear better quality.
You always have the best sounds on your records, which has to be the gear, especially the guitars. They always feel both familiar and fresh. The guitar at the top of “Sex” is a really good example. It feels like the Fixx, Duran Duran, Bowie, and INXS, but it’s still you. How do you find the perfect vibe?
Actually, on this album, I kept everything really simple. Craig [Ross] and I are both playing guitars on the record. I think he’s not playing on maybe one track, but he’s on the whole album with me. We kept it really simple. I used one amp for the entire album. If there is an effect, it’s a pedal. And it’s really simple. Like on the song you’re talking about, I can’t remember which phase pedal it is — I think it’s the MXR — but you get a bigger effect if you keep it simple and bold than over-processing. A lot of people over-process and that’s one thing I’m not into.
For some people, there’s also a risk to recreating sounds and vibes. Imitation is flattery and all, but you don’t want to come off as sounding derivative to the point of unoriginal… which you never do. How slippery is that slope?
Every great artist has their influences. You can hear it. Whether I listen to Miles Davis or Curtis Mayfield or Jimi Hendrix or the Rolling Stones or whomever, I can hear their influences. You know where they got it from and you hear it in there. But it’s what they do to twist it, to make it completely original. That’s where the talent comes, as well as playing and all that.
And that’s with any art. This great painter was observing that great painter. Or this novelist was reading these books. It’s in any art form. But it’s how you take your influences and put it together in a way that nobody else would.
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Unlike the Sexy Sax Man on YouTube, you even make saxophone sexy. Is there anything you can’t cool? Maybe you should do a PSA for broccoli to test your mojo.
[Laughs] I just do what I feel. The music tells me what to do. It’s not my idea. It’s the music’s.
It definitely seems like your creative muse just pushes and pulls you in whatever direction she needs to go in order to be expressed properly. Is it ever hard for you to keep up?
I have a really crazy schedule, yeah. But I love doing what I do. So, therefore, I put the time in.
If you had to choose just one creative outlets — artist, producer, actor, designer — does one feel more truly you or is it a total Sophie’s choice?
It’s all me. If I do something, it’s all me.
Musically, you’ve worked with everyone from Al Green to Jay-Z. What’s your favorite collaboration you’ve ever done? Or would still like to do?
No. They’re all good. One of the most special was Michael Jackson, just because he was the first thing that made me want to play music. The Jackson 5 was monumental to me — in my development, in my music, in my childhood, in my adult life. Working with Michael — producing him and writing songs with him — was pretty great.
You saw him as a kid, right? Did that just set the stage for everything after?
It was magical. He was six or seven years old. It was crazy. I had a picture in my bedroom that my father took of them that night on stage. It was my earliest memory of what changed my life.
Is it still a touchstone for you?
There are so many. People like Miles Davis, as well. Duke Ellington and so forth. But the Jackson 5… that really did it. Yeah.
Your uncle — and namesake — was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor earlier this year for his service in the Korean War. He’d been previously overlooked because of his Jewish heritage. That must have been bittersweet because it took more than 60 years for the oversight to be corrected. How does it feel to carry his name forward?
It’s great. He always should’ve had the honor. He didn’t get it at the time due to him being Jewish. It was great — all 25 of those gentlemen that day — got their honor, got their due. And I know that my father, who unfortunately passed before this happened, is satisfied because he always wanted to see that.
The prejudice that caused his delayed honor are still very much with us, as you’ve documented in songs from “Mr. Cab Driver” to “Bank Robber Man.” Do you think we will ever get over ourselves and move past these sorts of things?
As a whole? As the earth?
Yeah… collectively.
No. No. Doesn’t look like it’s headed that direction, does it? It’s easy to talk about, those of us in our circles, that we don’t even think about that kind of stuff. But the world is so divided. It’s really sad — the way we treat each other, the way we treat the planet. Looks like we’re going to need to hit the wall to learn. When we hit the wall, will we even be able to bounce back?
That rock bottom is going to be, quite literally, a rock bottom.
Yeah. The earth is not happy.

You always bring it back to the whole love revolution notion. Is that our way out of this mess? Is letting love rule enough, at this point?
Love… I mean, God… our Creator… it’s a big conversation. We have to do the best we can in our little universes, in our little lives. There’s all kinds of destruction going on right now, as we speak, in many arenas. But, within my little life and your little life, we have to express love. That’s one of the main things — how we work in our little tiny universes.
And how all the small actions ripple out… Is music your primary way of spreading the good, at this point? Your main activism?
I’d say it’s the one that most people know about, yes. I do things in my personal life that people don’t know about. It’s not about always calling attention when you do something that’s… correct. You know? But, yeah, I use my music to live that. A lot of my music, a lot of the subjects that I’ve written, have been about that.
What other creative projects do you have going right now, or are you just focused on music for this next year?
Well, there are more films next year, but I’m taking a little break right now. I have a photography book of my photos that’s coming out at the beginning of the year [via Rizzoli]. And I have Kravitz Design, my company. We have a lot of projects going on right now in the world of interiors and design. There’s a lot going on.
There’s a great story you tell about Stevie Wonder visiting your house in Miami and telling you it was beautiful.
Yeah. He did. He got it.
This article originally appeared on Cuepoint.