Lenny Kravitz has a new album out called “Black and White In America.” As you can probably imagine, the bi-racial actor/musician/interior designer has a lot to say on the subject, including some personal recollections about his childhood as the son of Roxie Roker and Sy Kravitz. He also talks about his affinity for President Barack Obama, collaborating with Jay-Z and how cool his lil bangin’ celeb daughter Zoe Kravitz is. Check out some excerpts below from his recent interview with The Daily Beast:
On this album, it seems like you’ve come full circle—back to your ‘Romeo Blue’ persona in your high school days where Prince heavily influenced you.
In a sense it seems that a lot of vibe I had in high school came out in this album. You may be right to say that. I built this new studio in the Bahamas and the whole vibe, the room, the way I felt, it just came out. Obviously, the album is still very well rounded and I wanted to have a large landscape to work sonically so I could travel around all these different styles I want to play—a lot of funk, soul, and R&B came out. They’ve always been my roots, even all these years. There’s always that soul in my rock. It’s funny that I ended up going the rock direction because anybody who knew me from school knew me as a funker. But with Let Love Rule I stumbled upon this style that came out which was a blend of all of that.
Some of your earlier albums seemed more angst-ridden and angrier, but Black and White America comes off as more of a happier album.
Baptism (2004) was an album that was a little dark. There are periods where I definitely go through that. It seems to me that this album is the answer to Baptism. In that album I had a lot of questions about my life, where I’m going, how I don’t want to be a star, thinking about the other side, and what did I do with my life. Because I went to the Bahamas and isolated myself, just dealing with myself, I came to a place of great peace and acceptance.
Has it also been a lifelong struggle of sorts being half Jewish and half black?
I accepted it as a young child. I didn’t know about racism or prejudice or any of that stuff until I was about 6, because I grew up in a family that was half black and Christian and half Jewish/Russian. My parents’ friends were all journalists, artists of all kinds. This was the late ‘60s in New York City and to me, I knew that my father looked different than my mother. We’d go to church, we’d go to temple, we’d go to my grandmother’s in Brooklyn and eat soul and Caribbean food, and we’d go to my grandmother’s in Sheepshead Bay and eat Jewish food. I had it all and I was taught to embrace it all.
Was it particularly difficult when you were younger?
When I went to first grade, people would be asking me and my family—people would kind of bug out on this. I went to school the first day and this kid ran out in the hallway and yelled at us and said, “Your father is white!” I was like, “Why is somebody making a big deal out of this?” It was a great upbringing. I didn’t have to choose. That was one of the beautiful things about when Obama became president, for me. The fact that he got up there and gave that speech on race, that was such a moment for me that this guy could get up there and break it down the way I knew it. It’s like, wow. This guy has both sides just like I do.
At some point for you, the pendulum swung away from Judaism and toward Christianity, and you now have “My Heart Belongs to Jesus Christ” tattooed on your back.
I still associate with both sides and I feel just as Jewish, culturally especially, but I’ve chosen personally to follow the teachings of Christ, who was a Jew. For me, I put that all together. People that know me, and if you hang out with me, I pop back and forth. I feel like I grew up in between a Woody Allen movie and a Spike Lee movie.
Your debut feature film performance as the sympathetic nurse in Precious really turned heads. Why did you decide to get into movie acting?
I was an actor as a child and a young teenager. I did theater, commercials, and TV. I was really into theater and I gave it up for music. But it’s something that I loved and it’s funny how it’s come back. I wasn’t looking for it. I met Lee Daniels one night at Mr. Chow’s in New York and my friend Julian Schnabel brought him up to me, and he said he wanted to work with me. I only had a day to work on Precious and he’s only in there for a few moments, but it was a great start. And I’m doing The Hunger Games, which I’m shooting now in North Carolina. I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to doing more. My music is very self-indulgent: I make it, produce it, arrange it. The thing about acting is, it’s like a service. It’s not about me, it’s about a character, and it’s not about my vision, it’s about a director’s vision.
Your daughter Zoë is also an accomplished actress in her own right, recently starring in X-Men: First Class. Do you two critique each other’s performances or share acting tips?
We really don’t talk about work very much. We talk about being creative, life, and family. I leave her to be who she is and she left me to be who I am, and we just support each other. I think we’re just fans of each other, as people. She’s my best friend and I love her very much and I think she’s very talented.
Did you ever get all fatherly and give Michael Fassbender or any of her other boyfriends a hard time?
They give the respect, but I also treat them as well as I would from the moment I meet them because I have to trust my daughter and the person that she is. So if she’s bringing someone home it’s someone worthy of bringing home. Everyone she’s brought home has been a quality person that I still respect and I’m friendly with if I see them. The few boyfriends that she’s had—she’s friends with every one of her exes. That’s very mature for a 22-year-old.
Do you still keep friends with some of your famous exes like your daughter does? And has seeing Nicole Kidman and Vanessa Paradis settle down given you the urge to follow suit?
Not everyone, but most. I have no problem with anybody, yeah. Some you just don’t see. But things come in the time that they should.
I know you’ve collaborated with Jay-Z a few times before. What was it like this time working on “Boongie Drop” together?
I just heard his voice on the track after I cut it. I knew it wasn’t a guitar solo that was supposed to be there and I heard a rap—I heard his voice. I went up to New York and we recorded it. I get in there, play the track, [Jay-Z] listens to it a few times, puts his head down, blasts it, then walks into the vocal booth and he just does it—blam. No paper, he just takes it in and knows where to go. It’s quite wonderful to watch. It’s like watching a guitar solo.
You famously became celibate for four years and have talked about struggling with it. Have you remained celibate?
I’m off that subject. It was too much. But it’s all good!
Damn we would have hated to be any of the ladies that bumped into Lenny during that darn celibacy period. Anyway, Lenny is looking great at 47 we’re looking forward to hearing and seeing more from him.