|Known for his originality and breadth of influences (Hendrix to Lennon, gospel to funk), Lenny Kravitz is a writer, producer and arranger who's produced most of his own material and has also worked with other well-respected artists. Following the long-awaited release of his sixth album, Lenny, Guitar Center caught up with Kravitz to talk about his instruments, writing, and style.
GC: There has been a lot of talk about the retro sound you capture on your albums. Are there any techniques or tricks that you use to capture that old style sound?
Lenny: There's definitely an old school element to my music, but I also think it's modern as well. You know, it's funny, we were playing with some people once and they said, "Wow, how did you get that tone and that effect?" And I said, "Well, you plug an Epiphone into a tweed Deluxe and you turn it up to ten and that's it." It's just using classic pieces of gear that sound great, straight. That's what gets that sound. It is what it is.
GC: In the studio, are there specific makes and models of guitars that you use?
Lenny: I am pretty much a Gibson and Fender person. I use an assortment of Les Pauls in the studio. A Goldtop, a couple of vintage Flame tops--'58, '59 and '60s models. I use my Flying V, which I just got from Gibson. It's the model that just came out, but I've had it for a while before they came out. We used those on the record.
GC: How is that different from a normal stock Flying V?
Lenny: The neck size is the dimension that I like. The paint, the hardware, the finish, the sound, the pickup, the weight--that's basically it. I used all Gibson and Epiphone on the Lenny album. I've been using the same model since Let Love Rule.
GC: How about amplifiers?
Lenny: I'm pretty much a Fender and Marshall guy. A lot Fender Deluxes, those are my favorites--the tweed models. I use Pro reverb and Twin reverb amps. I have a couple of different Marshall heads and a Park head that I use. I have those in the studio rack so I can turn the knobs and have the heads right there in the studio with me.
GC: How about keyboards?
Lenny: On this album I used an old Mini-Moog, it covers a lot for me. I also used a Mellotron.
GC: What's in your studio?
Lenny: I have an API Legacy Console that I had custom made. It's a wrap-around board and I had it modified, so it's custom. They made the EQ and the mic pres a million times better than they come. We also use Protools. And we have an assortment of old tape machines: 24-track Studer, 4 and 8-track Studers and others. I also have my Beatles console, the EMI console that the Beatles made all their records on. I have a bunch of compressors including old Universal compressors as well as lots of different EQs and mic pres, some from Motown. A bunch of Trident "A" Range stuff and we have an assortment of the new things as well. We have our little digital corner that has the newest gear. We have a bit of everything, but a really fine collection of vintage equipment and microphones of course.
||GC: In the past you've mentioned a preference for analog, but I've heard the latest album was recorded all digitally. Is that true?
Lenny: Five was recorded digitally as well, but that just means that it ended up there. I may go from my microphone or my amp into a Fairchild compressor. Or first, into a vintage mic pre into a vintage compressor into a 3m 16-track tape machine because I like the way it bumps, I like the way the tape compresses. I get my tape sound, and then it goes to Protools.
Eventually you're going to have a digital transfer anyway when you make a CD, so it doesn't matter as long as what you're hitting first is what you want it to be. Tape machines are effects boxes as well because each tape machine has its own sound. You can overload a tape machine or you can bump it a certain way so it compresses or makes a sound, tape saturation. So all those things are effects boxes.
GC: You play most of the instruments on your albums from what I gather. Does that present any special problems with regard to capturing the energy of a performance?
Lenny: I don't think so. I mean, if you heard my records and no one told you, I don't think you'd know whether it's a band or one guy.
GC: When you sit down to write, are you waiting for inspiration to hit or is there some sort of method you use to jump-start the creative process?
Lenny: I never sit down to write. When I'm moved, I do it. I just wait for it to come. You just hear it. I can't really describe writing. It's in my head and I get it out. Sometimes I hear a groove or chord changes that I like. Then I'll come up with the melody. Sometimes I hear the melody; sometimes I hear the whole thing like a record. There have been times where I've woken up from dreams and the whole song is there. I'm listening to it in my dreams. I consciously have to wake myself up and get a tape recorder because I hear it like a record.
GC: What do you think makes a good producer?
Lenny: Somebody who obviously is technical, who is a musician, and who plays. You don't have to, but I think it helps. Also I think a good producer is someone who has a good grasp on all the different arranging and so forth. I listen to guys like Quincy Jones who I think is an incredible producer and Barry Gordy--he didn't necessarily play, but he had it all there.
GC: Do you usually have an idea of the direction you'd like to take with a band or a performer?
Lenny: Yes. You also have to be able to bring out that person's personality and bring out that person's vision without stepping all over it and making it sound like a clone project.
GC: You've collaborated with some well-respected artists. How does that typically work?
Lenny: I get hired as a writer or producer and I do the best I can to bring out that artist. If somebody calls you to do something, then obviously you go right for that vision and you're aware of that person's vibe. You're not trying to copy cat what they do, you're trying to get inside of them. You might bring out something completely different that they haven't done.
GC: Have you shopped or do you shop at Guitar Center at all? What do you think about it?
Lenny: I bought my first guitar at Guitar Center! A Fender Jazz Master. Then I traded it in for a Les Paul Deluxe. I've been shopping at Guitar Center before it was even a big chain. It was the one place.