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Interview with Lenny Kravitz

Twenty years after debuting with Let Love Rule and 15 years after coming to New Orleans for Jazz Fest and not leaving, Lenny Kravitz comes home again

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Lenny Kravitz

7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1

Voodoo Stage; www.thevoodoomusicexperience.com

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Talk about full circle. In 1994, Lenny Kravitz — then an on-top-of-the-world, 30-year-old New Orleanian — recorded a funked-up version of Gene Simmons' tongue-wagging "Deuce" for the cover album KISS My Ass: Classic KISS Regrooved. Earlier this year, the French dance duo Justice remixed Kravitz's first single, the title track of his debut album, Let Love Rule. This week, the multigenerational, seemingly unrelated musicians will all come together in New Orleans City Park, as headliners at the 11th annual Voodoo Music Experience.

  For Kravitz, it will be a homecoming of sorts. The iconic musician, interior designer and now movie star (he has a small but pivotal part in Lee Daniels' acclaimed film Precious) returns to the Crescent City for the first time since releasing his eighth studio album, It Is Time For a Love Revolution (Virgin). He's currently on tour in support of Let Love Rule, which is getting the 20th anniversary deluxe reissue treatment from Virgin, replete with a second disc of previously unreleased live material.

  Gambit called Kravitz in advance of the trip to discuss his second collaboration with Daniels (a lead role in 2010?), his fastidious studio habits (playing everything from kick drum to clavinet) and his latest musical endeavor (featuring Allen Toussaint on piano and no longer titled "Funk").

I hear you're rehearsing. What song were you playing?

We just finished working on "Blues for Sister Someone," off the first album.

You're kicking off the tour with five gigs in a row at Irving Plaza, and finishing as a headliner at Voodoo. What's it like for you, coming back to New Orleans?

I spent a lot of years there. I pass through whenever I can. But I've been over in Europe.

Do you still have a residence here?

I don't know where I live, dude. I'm all over the place. I stop by whenever I can. I was living in South America a couple years ago, three years ago, living in Brazil for a while. I flew straight from Brazil to New Orleans and got my fix for a few days.

Anything in particular you miss when you're gone?

I miss my friends that are there. I miss the vibe. The food, for sure. The music. I miss going on my second lines.

Tell me about recording parts of Funk with Allen Toussaint.

I used his studio, and he did play on one track. It doesn't have a title yet, because I haven't done the vocal to that one. But a bunch of that stuff from that time will be on the next record. I started all that stuff when I moved there, you know. That was a while ago. Must have been 15 years ago. I was working on Circus, living in the Quarter.

Is Funk finished?

Well, it's not called Funk anymore. I have about two more months' work to do on it.

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What's the new title?

It's called Negrophilia.

Necrophilia, OK.

No, Negrophilia.

(Laughs) Glad we cleared that up.

Not necrophilia, that's two different things. It's the love of black culture in general.

Are you familiar with the Justice remix of "Let Love Rule"? They're performing a DJ set at Voodoo.

Really? Yeah, it's cool. Justice is a big movement right now. I like their work. They took the track and did their thing to it. It's something else.

You're touring in support of Let Love Rule's 20th anniversary. What do you remember from that first recording session with Henry Hirsch? Was it 1988?

'88, yeah. It was the very beginning. I was in L.A. at the time because my wife was pregnant. I came out to New York, and I think I had one guitar amp, a couple guitars, a bass, a drum kit and a bass amp. I came to New York with that, and I just started recording. I didn't plan on playing all the instruments like I did, but I really didn't have any bread. I couldn't hire musicians, and I also had a hard time — even when I could find guys — I had a hard time finding guys that played with the feel that I wanted. So I ended up doing it myself.

Karl Denson was one of those guys. Do you still keep in touch?

Yeah, he played on the last tour in Europe. He took some time off from the Tiny Universe and came out with us for a while, about three months.

Listening to the album, you can hear parts of every record you've made since. It's like the building blocks of your music were showing their heads for the first time.

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Being that, on all the records, I'm still playing the instruments, I guess you can't help but to have that. It's almost like that phase when Stevie (Wonder) was playing everything on his records, and you got those four or five records in a row. And it's like, they're different, but it's Stevie. So you know — or at least I know, musicians know — his drum sound, his drum feel. His fills, the way he grooves. You know his clavinet style. It's the same kind of thing. The records are me. They all are different, in a sense, and they all have different production values. But at the end of the day, it's my hands.

Are you still multi-tracking everything yourself?

Oh yeah.

Walk me through one of those sessions. Do you always lay one track down first?

I usually start with the drums. Then I just build on top. After the drums will come a rhythm instrument, whether it be the guitar or a piano or a keyboard or clavinet or whatever. Then second guitar, if there's a second guitar, bass, percussion, vocals. Just build it up like that. There might be orchestra or horns, and then I'll bring them in. Whatever it is.

There are stories of you drumming on pots and pans in the Upper East Side. True?

Of course, in the kitchen. Pull all the shit out, put it on the floor and create a drum kit.

You wanted to be a session musician?

Yeah, but when I got to the age, sessions were pretty much done.

You've said the Jackson 5 were your earliest inspiration, and you got to work with Michael on an Invincible track that was never released. Will we ever hear it?

Whenever they end up putting out an album, the track will be on there. The track didn't end up on the record because they thought it was a little too rock for that record. But it's an amazing tune. He sings his ass off.

Was that the only time you worked together?

That I worked with him, yeah. I hung with him different times.

Did you consider him a friend?

Yeah, we got to know each other well. We spoke every now and again. I'd go see him. He called me when he was in Bahrain. We just kind of talked. It wasn't a deep, lifelong friendship. But we dug each other. I obviously had a tremendous amount of respect for him. He enjoyed working with me.

Your collaborations are so diverse: Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, John Paul Jones, then Jay-Z, Diddy, Pharrell. Did you have a special kinship with anyone in particular?

All of them. People like Robert Plant, who's a good friend. Mick Jagger. Stevie. Bob Dylan. I haven't worked with Bob, but we've become friends over the years.

How did you get involved with Precious?

The director just found me. He said he'd been wanting to work with me, and he thought that I could be a good actor. We worked it out that I could come in town for 48 hours and do the part. I play a nurse. It's a small role in the film, but it's the only male character in the film that's a positive image. It was great. We're going to be doing another film together at the beginning of next year. He's hired me to be the lead in his next film. So from seven, eight, nine minutes in a film to a lead, it's going to be a lot of work. I'm going to have to really dedicate myself to those couple of months. I'm really excited about doing it.

Does it have a title?

We don't know yet. He's working on three different scripts right now.

Tell me about Kravitz Design. Do you feel any connection between your music and designs? Looking them over, the words I wrote down are "modern" and "raw."

Thanks. Yeah, you can't help but to get it. In fact, when I'm designing, I use musical terms. I might be making a chair, and I'll say, "I need a little more Miles Davis in that chair."



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