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Lenny Kravitz shatters musical stereotypes with a wide-ranging career

This news story was published on February 25, 2012.
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By Michael Hamersly, McClatchy Newspapers –

MIAMI — His name might not scream “rock superstar” to the uninitiated, but Lenny Kravitz has quietly amassed a fairly formidable musical resume over the past couple of decades. The retro-rocker debuted in 1989 with the genre-busting album “Let Love Rule,” which combined the funky soul vibe of Sly Stone with the socially conscious rock of John Lennon. He continued to help shatter black and white musical stereotypes — all the while winning multiple Grammys — with hits such as “It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over,” “Stand By My Woman,” “Always on the Run” (with guitarist Slash), “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” “Fly Away” and his cover of The Guess Who’s anthem “American Woman.”

And on Saturday night in Miami, Kravitz winds up his first American tour in five years, in support of his new album, “Black and White America,” featuring the single “Push.”

Kravitz talked to The Miami Herald about the show, his new album and his somewhat surprising role in the highly anticipated new film “The Hunger Games.”

Q. This is your first U.S. tour in five years. Why so long a wait?

A. You know, I’ve just been touring in other places. I spent a lot of time in Europe and South America and Russia, so that’s just the way it’s been, and now I’m coming back.

Q. What can we expect from your show?

A. I’ve got a very strong band, and we’re gonna play a lot of new music and classics mixed together. It’s not choreographed; it’s very spontaneous. You’ll hear a few songs from “Black and White America.” I do about four or five new songs, and the rest classics.

Q. How would you compare the new album to the classic hits?

A. I can’t compare any of my music. They all just stand for what they stand for; they’re just individual pieces, you know what I mean? The only difference is they’re new. The songs we played on the European tour that were new, the reaction was just as strong as for the classics, so you never know how things are gonna be, but the new album is the new album, and it’s the story of my life at the time I made it, which is over the last couple of years. And it has a lot to do with my upbringing and my views on a lot of things.

Q. Your music transcends a lot of things that people use to pigeonhole artists, including rock, soul and even race. Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

A. There are so many. Starting with Motown — you know, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Marvin Gaye, Al Green. And Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd. I mean, I go on and on and on. Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin.

Q. When “Let Love Rule” came out, I heard a lot of John Lennon in there. Would you say that’s true?

A. Yeah, but interestingly enough, a lot of that was very coincidental, because I had been working on the album, and this guy that wanted to manage me said, “I listened to your tape and it’s reminiscent of certain things from the Plastic Ono Band, you know, John Lennon.” And I had never heard it. So I went out and got the Plastic Ono Band, and I was like, “Wow.” I could hear the similarities. But I honestly had never heard (the albums).

Q. What’s your role in “The Hunger Games,” and what’s the movie about?

A. It’s a movie about survival. The background is that our chosen few go and have this “hunger game” in this arena, which is like a world, or a forest. And it comes down to the last person living, and it’s a great, interesting story. I play a character called Cinna, who (protects) the lead character Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence.

Q. How was the experience for you? I’m sure it was a lot different from recording in the studio.

A. The thing I like about making films now is that when I work in the studio, it’s all me. I play all the instruments, and I produce everything by myself. And when it comes to acting, it’s got nothing to do with me. It’s about a director’s vision; it’s about a character, and I’m there to perform for someone. And I like that; I like being in that position, because it’s the complete opposite of what I do.

Q. Did you ever feel any pressure in the beginning of your career to change your name?

A. Well, I was Romeo Blue before, coming out of high school. I changed my name. And the beautiful thing about that was that it brought me back to being myself, because I couldn’t do it. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t me. I tried it and thought, “You know, I’m Lenny Kravitz.” Maybe that doesn’t sound like a very rock ‘n’ roll name, but whatever … who cares? I gotta be me. And I’m so glad that I did that.

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