CHRISTINA LESSA: Your mother was the groundbreaking actress Roxie Roker, who among other things, was famous for her role as Helen Willis on the The Jeffersons, half of the first interracial couple to be shown on regular prime time television. I understand that you come from humble, grounded beginnings despite your mom being in the spotlight, and being raised a New York City kid with all these influences, like Duke Ellington. You were playing the piano at age five, singing with the Met Opera…
LENNY KRAVITZ: I mean, she wasn’t exactly in the spotlight. When I was a little boy in New York, she was doing off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway and, you know, Poetry in the Park. It wasn’t like that; television stardom came later. But we were around a lot of great artists of all kinds: writers, musicians, painters, sculptors, architects. And it was wonderful because it was just so creative and vibrant. But I was by no means spoiled. My mom still kept her really hardcore upbringing with me.
Then, when I moved to LA, I had no car, and I had to find my way around and get around. Everyone else had cars and all that. Eventually I moved out when I was fifteen and then I hit the streets.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Is it true you lived in your car for a while?
LENNY KRAVITZ: I lived in a Ford Escort. I used to live in that thing, yeah. It was my own choice. I chose to leave home at fifteen. I didn’t need to leave home at fifteen. Nobody was pushing me out. I just thought it was my time to get on my own, to find my way, to get on my path, because I knew that I wanted to play music since I was five. For ten years there I was like, “I know what I want to do. What am I waiting for?”
CHRISTINA LESSA: “I am not trying to change the world. I am just offering my gift that God gave me, and if somebody is moved by it, that`s beautiful.”
You’re often saying that all genres of art are an expression of our inner soul. It’s all about the way that we view artistic exploration and how art reflects humanity.
LENNY KRAVITZ: Art does reflect humanity. It’s a beautiful thing. I personally do believe in God. I believe we are all given gifts of all different kinds. We all have a special, unique gift. Some of us don’t like to use our gifts or don’t recognize them and sometimes we miss it. My gift has been music and art and creativity in general, and I’m humbled by it. I don’t take credit for it I’m just grateful I get to do the things that I do with that gift, whether it be music, whether it be photography, whether it be design, whether it be acting—whatever it may be. It’s given me a way to express myself. It’s given me an outlet. It’s given me a way to talk. It releases the feelings and energy I wouldn’t want to keep bottled up inside.
CHRISTINA LESSA: I’d love to hear your opinion on the artist’s current role in society as the world is evolving in the 21st century.
LENNY KRAVITZ: The artist’s role in society is to keep reflecting what’s happening, to keep reporting, as it were. Because with the way that things are going, art is getting pushed into the bottom level, unless it’s something that’s for great gain. You know, art that goes for ridiculous prices, I mean, incredibly ridiculous prices, because that’s the business. So on that level, people are going to keep art going because there’s money in it. But where there’s not necessarily money in it and it’s about expression and it’s raw, those outlets are diminishing. If they’re not part of the “club” then it’s going to be very difficult. Where does the artist work? Where does the artist live? How does the artist make a living off of what they do? How can they even have a space to work in?
When I was in SoHo, back in ’88 when I was making my first record, you know, Broome St. was somewhat “ghetto.” You had to watch your ass coming out of my place late at night. People were getting stuck up and guys were waiting behind corners. And artists were squatting in these big lofts and painting and sculpting and working, and they weren’t making money. But they had a place to work, they had some kind of outlet, so they could keep doing what they were doing. Where do people go now? How do they work? How do they produce? It’s important for those that can’t help folks continue to be creative or give them the opportunity.
I have a farm in Rio, about a five-hour drive, near the canal, and I’ve wanted to have artists come from different places around the world and give them a place to work. You know, come for free and work and live and eat off the farm. Be creative, rub shoulders with othe artists, and figure out some kind of outlet.
CHRISTINA LESSA: It’s an amazing thing. Part of our core mission at FLATT is to create housing for artists, and we actually have our first residency running at the National Arts Club. We have an artist there now who was sent from Costa Rica to stay for six months on a full stipend. My goal is to continue to administrate and create these quality cultural exchanges for housing because housing is the biggest problem now for artists.
LENNY KRAVITZ: That, and also in general, keeping instruments in kid’s hands and keeping these programs running. When I was a kid I had so many art and music classes. Now all the money is going to other things and not to that and it’s getting more difficult. So it’s an artist’s job to keep reporting, to keep letting things out of their souls.
CHRISTINA LESSA: We have “Made in America” stamped on the book for a particular reason, and part of that reason is that when I was growing up everybody looked to Europe. Europe was the place to be. Now, in my experience, particularly in the visual arts, everyone wants to come here. We want people to reexamine America and the possibilities here. And although this country is definitely in a state of confusion, I believe from an optimistic standpoint that we’re in one of transition, and that the creatively aware that are here who are not in the spotlight are in great need of representation. Who do you think the great intellectual creative voices are right now in America? Could you name a few that you’re inspired by?
LENNY KRAVITZ: Wow, that’s a hard one. I don’t really feel there is a distinct voice for this generation so I stick with the classic voices still speak to me like Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
CHRISTINA LESSA: When I Google Lenny quotes, you have many quotes about creativity, but this one always comes up at the same time. You say: “It’s very important to vote. People died for this right.” So, I’m assuming it’s something that you place in high priority. I actually interviewed Cher not that long ago, who’s very political, and had a lot to say about this. Do you think that there’s some positivity happening right now with younger politicians taking hold that can come to some sort of balance now?
LENNY KRAVITZ: I do and I hope that more change is coming. I mean, this whole club who has been running the country…it’s just tired, you know? And I hope that we can get people in with new ideas and a new way to go. I’m all for people living in a beautiful, spiritual, godly manner—I’m down for all that. But we’re so into this moral sort of bullshit. Like, if a person has done something, if they did something typical and silly, like smoke weed, that’s used against them in their campaign, in their running—like, “this person did this,” and “this person did this,” and “when this person was in college they did that”. So therefore, they are not worthy to run or be in a position of power. First of all, they miss a great talent. It’s not based on that. It’s based on the ability to be smart and get the job done and be resourceful. This whole system is all based on this façade, this misrepresentation. We want to have this beautifully manicured nail that’s polished and gorgeous, but underneath, it’s just a dirty old nail. But we want them to see the veneer. We are all human beings. We all make mistakes. We all sin and do things that are wrong or whatever, and it’s like, okay, that’s that you’re finished. I’m just saying everybody has their way of doing things.
CHRISTINA LESSA: So just to go back to philanthropy, because it is such a big thing with us, I was recently talking to Harry Belafonte.
LENNY KRAVITZ: He was amazing. I got the opportunity to hang out with him a bit.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Isn’t he fantastic?
LENNY KRAVITZ: He’s beyond.
CHRISTINA LESSA: He said, “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth, and they inspire us, and they keep history.” His whole mission is to use that fame currency of being in the public eye to engage with the public, create enlightenment. I know that you work with UNICEF, and Harry has been an ambassador for them for some time. I’m wondering if there is something that you’re doing right now in terms of philanthropy that you want to talk about.
LENNY KRAVITZ: What I’m doing is figuring out what I want to do and how I want to do that the next couple of years. You know, I don’t decide doing work, I mean, I do on a personal level that I don’t talk about, and they’re just things that I do and I know—and that’s that. But in the next couple of months I’m going to figure out what my direction is going to be again in regards to giving. There are so many things, so many problems, and it’s so hard to pick. You can have a conversation with yourself and five or twenty things are as equally important that you can be passionate about.
CHRISTINA LESSA: But you’re thinking about it, which is great. And you’ve got the farm in South America…
LENNY KRAVITZ: Yeah, yeah. So, I don’t have an answer for you right now. There must be a few things that I accomplish in this two-year cycle that I will be able to piggyback on, all the press that I do and all the appearances. As Harry said, use the fame game, or the fame card, to push your cause.
CHRISTINA LESSA: So, not to harp on Harry.
LENNY KRAVITZ: You can talk about him all day long. I just watched his documentary.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Wasn’t it great!?
LENNY KRAVITZ: You’re so re-inspired when you watch it and it makes you feel like you’re not doing enough!
CHRISTINA LESSA: I had the great honor of sitting with him for a couple of hours, talking in his office in New York, and it was really one of the highlights of my life. Often, because of your bi-racial background a discussion comes up about race, and I don’t want to harp on that, because I hope we’re on the precipice of racial barriers falling away. Harry was of course a pivotal character during the Civil Rights movement. One of the things that Harry says now is that that it’s not his cause anymore; his cause is really about women. You, as a self-professed lover of women, and I don’t mean that in a sexual way….women’s issues are at the forefront, but it’s just an impossible struggle. I’ve been reading Jimmy Carter’s book Call to Action and it’s all about women and religion and power. I was just wondering if you had any thoughts on that subject.
LENNY KRAVITZ: I personally think women should be running the world. I know that’s such a funny, easy thing to say. My first experience with women would be my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. They were the women that raised me. At an early age, I understood it in my spirit the strength of women, the loyalty of women, the fact that women do whatever they need to do to take care of their families or loved ones. Women’s dedication, hard work, honor. These women were the rocks of my life, the pillars of my life. Without these women, life for our families would not be what they are. I believe women are so much more sensible, have so much better intuition, and ultimately are stronger. For me, I’ve always gotten along better with women. I’ve always related to them better. I’m glad that that feminine side is a big part of my upbringing. To answer our question, I think that there should be a lot better representation by women in the running of this planet in so many ways.
CHRISTINA LESSA: So how do we do this? What do we do? These girls are still missing in Africa. Even women here in this country are still so oppressed through various labor practices such as unequal pay scale and religion. I guess that’s the greater conversation. How do we step up to the plate now?
LENNY KRAVITZ: I would say it’s the same steps that we’ve all taken, you know, whether it be African Americans, or whom or what. Unfortunately those steps are steps, so anything in steps is going to take time. Even the fact that Obama is President, forget the politics right now, just the fact that that man with his color skin is President. How long that took, how much we’re still dealing with it, how far we have left to go, and it’s like, you know, that cause and those steps have been going on for a long time. The women’s cause is going to take time. There are so many brilliant women and people. So many brilliant souls that would help this world be such a better place. I think the biggest thing we have to get out of our system is this whole thing of power and greed because there are so many smart people on this planet. There are so many great minds. Look at what we can do with technology, look at the things we’re doing–we’re living in this time with all this phenomenal progress. Because of greed and power and wanting to keep things traditional, we just keep things stuck. We’re willing to fuck over ourselves, each other, and the planet because this is the way it’s been done. We have made money for so long doing this, even though its harmful, backwards, and making us all sick. We’re not going to give it up because those in charge that run this world want to continue making the money that they’ve been making. When you have cancer or some disease and something needs to be removed, you go and have surgery and remove it. That is your best chance at surviving. If certain things are bad for us, bad for the environment, bad for our progress, going to destroy our ecosystem, you would think that despite the monetary ramifications, you would cut it out. You would stop. But for some reason we don’t have the strength to do that; we’re going to wait until nature turns its back on us. Things will have to be destroyed, you know, catastrophes, for us to go, “Oh, wow. We should have turned around.
CHRISTINA LESSA: It’s tough.
LENNY KRAVITZ: It’s ridiculous.
CHRISTINA LESSA: So you’ve had a really great history in terms of the organic growth of your career and all these brilliant choice that you’ve made. You’ve been really careful, and it doesn’t feel like you’ve lost your original intention at all. And that’s one of the hardest things as a creative. How do we as artists remain true to that original intention?
LENNY KRAVITZ: Wow, that’s a good question. I somehow never lost sight of that.
You can be successful and do well without selling out–by sold out I mean money–but when you sell out from being yourself, that’s the thing that’s a problem. Before I even made my first record and people didn’t necessarily understand what I was doing because I wasn’t black enough or I wasn’t white enough, I was offered big money once—here I am living in that Ford Escort, I’m showering in friend’s houses, I’m eating whatever I can get for food. I got my guitar in the back of the car and some clothes and I’m sleeping parked in places. Police are knocking on my window to move the car. Then I was offered one of those big record contracts in the eighties when I was a teenager to sign. That was my dream, to have a record deal, and here it was! But they said, you can’t do what you’re doing, we think you’re talented and all, but what you’re doing is not what we’re going to let you do. You have to do this, whatever that was, to conform to whatever was happening that time on the radio, especially with African American artists. I had to conform to the African American radio success program. And there I was at the record company and the guy is offering it to me and they’re pulling out the letter of intent. Sign here! We’re going to give you lots of money and you’re going to travel the world and you’re going to go to Europe and you’re going to be hanging out with all these artists and people who are going to make you famous. All that talk, right? And I stood there and I looked at them and I honestly can’t tell you what made me not do it. There was something inside of me. Because you’re offering a sixteen or seventeen year old kid their dream, and because I couldn’t do what actually came to me and what was authentic to me. I turned it down and walked out of that office. And everyone told me what a fucking idiot I was. The guy at the record label got so angry at me that he wanted to fight me because he wanted me to sign so badly. He got so pissed off at me, he was pushing on me, kicking me out of the office. I guess his ego was hurt. The only reason I believe that I’m still here is because I’ve always been authentic. I’ve always done what I have felt, whether it worked, whether it didn’t work, whether I had a hit or didn’t have a hit, whether people liked the record or they didn’t like the record. I never worried about that. As long as you’re moving upward. It doesn’t mean you’re moving upwards. You go up, you go down, you go straight, you go up a lot, you go down a little, you go up again. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the journey. And here I am twenty-five years in. I’ve never felt more inspired. I’ve never felt hungrier, not even when
I was that teenage kid in the car who was hungry and desperate to do music and art. How blessed am I to be at this place where I have so much behind me but I feel the best is yet to come; I can use the knowledge that I’ve gained and the experiences I’ve been blessed to have throughout my career to propel me to greater heights and creativity, while being in a place where I makes smarter decisions about where I can help others.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Absolutely. It’s definitely a growth process, and you’ve done a great job maintaining that passion to evolve. You’re work is also a lot about love. This love, this music—they’re universal languages, so I think it would be a nice ender for you to share a favorite story of being a global artist, and that kind of relationship between the artistic process and an international acceptance.
LENNY KRAVITZ: I’ve been blessed to have that wherever I go. There’s no ego in that, it’s the people. I started out determined and I meant that and that’s my life. That’s how I was raised. I was taught to have a positive optimistic view on life, thank God, by the people that raised me. This new record is really great. It deals with lots of different aspects of relationships like love, lust, sex, desire, expectations, and heartbreak. A lot of my records have delved deeply into all kinds of spiritual love and God. And that love has stuck throughout that entire time. And I think people see that I mean it, and wherever I go…I like to venture out, I like to walk the streets, I like to be in the streets. That hasn’t changed. I come from the city and it’s still my favorite place to be. I went out to South America a few years ago, and I ended up in the homes of people that would invite me in, not just because I’m some famous person, but because they were into the vibe of what I am. They would invite me in just to talk or have tea. It’s just the simple stuff of going around the world and having connections with people from all walks of life. I don’t have one particular story, I’m just glad that I can connect with people like that. You learn so much when you sit with people and have exchanges. I guess, the old cliché that your grandfather tells you is true–that if you put a lot out there, then you get it back.