Lenny Kravitz
Photo: Mathieu Bitton

Forever Iconic, Always Cool Lenny Kravitz

It’s been 25 years since Lenny Kravitz first exploded onto the American rock scene with his debut album “Let Love Rule.”

In the time since, Kravitz has established himself as a top-tier rock star, moving millions of records, selling out arenas around the world – even picking up four straight GRAMMYs for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. While rock music is Kravitz’s first love, the New York City native isn’t content just making records. Kravitz’s convincing portrayal of a compassionate nurse in the breakout indie film “Precious” and his role as the revolutionary artist Cinna in the blockbuster “Hunger Games” series have demonstrated he has serious acting chops too.

The multi-dimensional musician is also spending a lot of time behind the lens of a camera and has produced a new book of photography, “Flash,” that turns the lens on the paparazzi that have stalked him for years.

With a new record, “Strut,” released this year and a concert at Wolf Trap scheduled for Sept. 1, On Tap caught up with Kravitz to talk about his newest projects, the state of rock-n-roll, jamming with President Obama and more.

On Tap: Congratulations on your latest record, “Strut.” It’s definitely a Lenny Kravitz record with big guitars and a rocking sound, but it’s also more danceable than some of your previous work. What were the influences here?
Lenny Kravitz: While I was making the record, I found that I was channeling music that I was listening to in high school – things like David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, the Rolling Stones’ “Tattoo You” – these kinds of records, which are rock ‘n’ roll records, but they also have dance grooves.

OT: Is there any fresh, new music that you’re listening to these days that you’d suggest our readers check out?
LK: My daughter’s band, Lolawolf – I’m a huge fan. I listen to them a lot and try and catch their shows whenever I can. There’s also a band that is opening for me in Europe who I really like, called London Souls, and they’re out of New York.

OT: What do you have to say about the state of rock ‘n’ roll? Is rock ‘n’ roll – at least as we have long known it – dead as you once even proclaimed yourself in a song? Some have even said the electric guitar could become obsolete in the digital age. Say it isn’t so!
LK: No, I think that rock ‘n’ roll will always be here, always have a presence. Electric guitar is a powerful instrument and it will never be obsolete. There are so many young bands that are getting back to playing live, playing real instruments. I think it’s very hopeful.

OT: Tell us about your photography project “Flash” that turned the lens on the paparazzi.
LK: For many years, I’ve been fascinated with the art of photography. I’ve been around a lot of great photographers, because I’ve been shot by a lot of them, and it’s always been something that has intrigued me. I started to shoot a few years ago while I was on the road, and as I was going out to shoot on my days off, I was always bombarded with people – fans, paparazzi – and it made it very difficult for me to shoot. Eventually, I just embraced it, because everyone is giving what they’re giving, and that’s also what I was doing. So I began to shoot the people who were shooting me, who were chasing me. I thought it was an interesting exercise but I didn’t think much about it. Then Jean-Baptiste Mondino, the photographer, saw the pictures and thought it should be their first exhibition. He thought that the idea had never been done, and he did some research and found that it hadn’t. I put this group of photographs together and it ended up being an exhibition in Paris, Germany, Los Angeles, and now we’re getting ready to do Vienna in a couple of weeks. I’m going to continue the exhibition tour around the world and also put a book out called “Flash” – which is photographs from the exhibition.  I love it. I shoot all the time and it’s something that I will continue to do.

OT: As a veteran musician who has operated at the highest levels of the business, what advice would you give to a young Lenny Kravitz setting out today given the seismic changes in the industry?
LK:  I would just say to be yourself. That’s the only thing that I’ve consistently stuck to and somehow I’m still here. I think it’s important to be original, listen to your creative spirit, and be you. There’s a lot of people out there in the record industry who want you to do what’s happening – follow what the hits are – but I think it’s more important to be original.

OT: You’ve toured the world many times. Any specific recollections or observations about playing Washington, DC – the nation’s capital?
LK: I have played there many, many times – from the 9:30 Club and up, from the beginning of my career. I always loved playing there because it was really great energy. The last time I played in DC was for the Kennedy Center Honors, for the induction of Led Zeppelin, which was a great honor. We got Barack Obama rocking, so that was fun.

OT: Finally, congratulations on a film career that is gaining steam, especially with the success of the “Hunger Games” series.  Do you plan to continue developing your acting career and does that eventually come at the expense of a thriving music career or is it really possible to both at the highest levels?
LK: I think it’s possible to do both, and I love using different mediums to express myself. Music is the nucleus of my creativity, but I will continue to grow and eventually make my own films.

Lenny’s September show at Wolf Trap is sold out, but On Tap will be giving away a free pair of tickets to one lucky winner. Visit www.ontaponline.com for details. In the meantime, check out his new album “Strut”. To learn more about Lenny visitwww.lennykravitz.com

Photo: Lenny Kravitz by MathieuBitton