There’s an aura of calm that’s tangible when you’re talking to Lenny Kravitz, even down a phone line.
Something about his careful, considered replies and super-mellow vocal fry immediately sets you at ease. Like listening to one of his chilled, soulful songs, it’s mesmerising.
That chill all goes out the window, however, when we somehow get onto the topic of Taika Waititi and his anti-facism satire Jojo Rabbit. Kravitz watched the Oscar winning film just two nights before we talk and from the sound of things he’s still buzzing about it.
“I thought it was incredible. I thought it was outrageous. I thought it was beautiful. I thought it was powerful. It had balls,” he says.
Kravitz, who brings his band to Aotearoa-NZ for the first time in March on the Here To Love tour, is astounded to hear the film and Waititi’s statements about racism have had their detractors here in NZ.
“A lot of people – I’m talking about the world in general – a lot of people aren’t comfortable with facing the facts. A lot of folks can’t deal with it, what their ancestors have done to people of colour,” Kravitz says.
“You have to start with the truth, ‘OK, this is the way it is. This is the way it was. It’s what happened. How are we going to move forward? How are people going to help change the situation?’
“I applaud him for standing up. I mean, that is what one should do, use your privilege and your power to make change.”
That’s what Kravitz has been doing himself, quietly, persistently, since his first album in 1989.
In 2019, he teamed up with the UN to release the single Here To Love ahead of Human Rights Day as part of the #FightRacism campaign.
“You know, it’s amazing that we’re living in a world that is still so consumed by this. It’s just incredible, just incredible. You would think that with the level of intelligence that we are supposed to have and all that we’ve been through, that we would have learned from our past.
“My message has been very consistent, from from day one. It started with the statement Let Love Rule. And here we are now 30 years later, with Raise Vibration and Here To Love and it’s been a constant thread.
“[Sharing] that has been my mission will be continue to be my mission.”
It’s confronting, the fact it’s been three decades since Kravitz, rolled onto the scene like an American Muscle car rolling up on the curb, with his brand of cruisy psych rock, blending Beatles and Byrds-infused 60s psychedelia with vintage Hendrix-style riffs. I remember at the time thinking it was devastatingly fresh and comfortingly nostalgic all at once.
Jammed with hits, 89’s Let Love Rule was a soulful antidote to the jangly Manchester pop and electronic house music coming out of Europe and a gentle answer to the US’s nascent grunge and alt scenes’ cynicism.
Mama Said, with it’s anthemic single Always On The Run, followed in 91. But it was the incendiary 1993 banger Are You Gonna Go My Way, with it’s furiously driving 70s rhythm and mesmeric call to action, that really made Kravitz a household name in New Zealand.
Listening to those early albums and singles now they’re still fresh – release Believe or My Precious Love today and you’d have a hit on your hands. It’s hard to think of them as 30-year-old songs.
“You know sometimes I have a hard time believing that as well. The time has flown. It seems like yesterday but at the same time, it seems like an eternity. Time is a very interesting thing.
“I started young and it’s been an incredible journey and thank God it’s still moving forward.”
Moving forward has lead to 2018’s Raise Vibration, with stand out tracks like Who Really Are The Monsters sounding like an 80s action movie soundtrack by Sun Ra Arkestra played through a Bootsie Collins filter. Killer stuff.
Kravitz describes the album as having been given to him “in a succession of dreams”.
“I was waking up usually between three and 5am, and I had the songs in my head, so [writing] it was a very divine organic experience.
“It wasn’t what I was looking for or wanted to do, it was what was given to me. That to me is the most beautiful way to receive it,” he says.
“It’s people, situations, life, that’s what inspires me. I’m still listening to so much old music, you know? The masters, they continually feed me. When you remain open, the possibilities are endless. I feel as though my best work is in front of me.”
Hopefully his best shows are in front of him too: Kravitz plays one show only in Auckland on March 31.
He hasn’t finalised the set list yet, but Kiwis can expect a show that “represents as many of the albums as possible”, lead by a musician who’s still fired up by performing them.
“I’m very excited. It’s wonderful to be able to go somewhere that you haven’t been after touring for so many years, you know?
“The concert experience for me is about connection. It’s about unity and love and celebration of life and about us coming together. So that is what we’re going to do. We’re going to come together.”