Lenny Kravitz on Idolizing the Stones, Owning Bob Dylan's Harmonica

"Love has to be the final outcome of every situation," says seasoned singer-songwriter

Lenny Kravitz opens up about his chill lifestyle, his rock & roll heroes and the advice he got from his grandfather in a revealing interview. Credit: Illustration by Mark Summers

Rolling Stone recently touched base with enduring rock star (and actor) Lenny Kravitz, who weighed in on his ultrachill lifestyle, his musical heroes and some crucial advice he received from his grandpa.

You live part-time on Eleuthera, an island in the Bahamas. What's a day like there?
Last night, my sax player caught a 15-pound snapper that we just threw on the grill. That's the quality of living here: Pick vegetables out of the garden and fish out of the sea. My big decision is: Which beach are we going to hang out on? When we get to the water, am I going to paddleboard or swim? I don't surf, and I'm not even the best swimmer, but that's part of my New Year's resolution. I made a plan a month ago: Surfing is going to change my music. It's going to offer me something I don't have that I need to move toward. Lately I've been listening to "God Only Knows" over and over. A Brian Wilson phase wouldn't be bad!

How about in your other home, in Paris?
My house there was actually built to be the U.S. Embassy. Kind of crazy. It's a four-story townhouse that I bought 10 years ago. I had been spending a lot of time in Paris, and I just wanted to get a little apartment there. And somehow I got this! In the mornings it's about going to the boulangerie and picking out your pastries. I love that whole provincial way of living: You've got your butcher and your cheese guy and wine guy, and they all know what you like. I love walking the streets, stopping in a cafe and having a little lunch and a bottle of wine and looking at people.

You may be the first-ever rock star to have his own interior-design company. Why?
Creating something out of nothing — whether it's a space or a song, it's the same thing to me. When I was a kid, I was always into how my room looked, and I'd bring in lights and posters. I had some cool strobe lights; I'd break mirrors and use the glass and make mosaics. As an adult, I'd have a place for a couple of years and redo it and find another place and sell that one and redo it again. It got ridiculous, so I decided to start a company to do it for other people.

Who are your heroes?
Bob and Mick and McCartney — it's wonderful to see how they've become like the jazz cats. I saw the Stones on the last tour, the last show of the American leg. They were as hardcore as I've ever seen them — their aggression and precision were unbelievable. I look at them and say, "That's what I want to be doing when I'm in my seventies."

Bob Dylan gave you a harmonica after you saw one of his shows in Atlanta recently. What did you do with it?
It's on the mantel in my bedroom in Paris. I see it when I wake up. I've picked it up a few times and looked at it. It has a piece of tape on it with the keys written on it. I'll play it someday. I've put special things from my life on that mantel: the plastic cast of my hand that my uncle made when I was six; a ceramic mask I made in art class when I was about seven; a Cartier watch that belonged to [cabaret singer] Bobby Short; the handwritten set list to Woodstock that Hendrix wrote right before doing the gig. I bought those years ago.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
Kafka's Metamorphosis. As a small kid in the schoolyard, there were all these caterpillars, and I would sit and play with them for hours. I was into the cocoons and the whole metamorphosis. It always fascinated me — that something could be one thing at one moment and change into something else completely different the next moment. It meant I didn't have to be one thing, and I don't live my life like that. I'm always looking for change.

What's the best advice you have ever received?
My grandfather on my mom's side taught me to be authentic and follow my instincts. In 1982, I graduated high school and tried to get a record deal. But I was playing rock-based music and they said it wasn't commercial, that I should emulate whatever "black music" was happening at the time. I said no to about three major deals. One of them was to join a group of other African-American guys. Had I taken any of those deals, I wouldn't be talking with you right now. It might have lasted a record or two, and it would have been over.

What rule do you live by?
Not to sound corny quoting my own song, but the main idea is "let love rule." Love has to be the final outcome of every situation. If somebody works for you and they feel they deserve more money than they're getting, you have to respect it and say, "This might be more than I was prepared to give, but it's really fair to this person." At the end of a project, my longtime guitarist and collaborator Craig Ross will say, "Boom — this is what I need," and I never think about it. I never haggle with it.