Lenny Kravitz on Recording His New Album in the Bahamas

'There was a real freedom. Being in nature was so conducive to feeling no pressure'

lenny kravitz
Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Samsung
Lenny Kravitz performs in New York City
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For much of the past two years, Lenny Kravitz has been living in a shag-carpeted Airstream trailer on a beach in the Bahamian isle of Eleuthera. "I have a few shirts and a couple pairs of pants, and all I do is hose them down, hang them up and rotate them," says Kravitz, whose late mother, actress Roxie Roker, grew up nearby. "I have no keys, no shoes and no money. I just live, and it's good." While he was chilling out, Kravitz found time to record his ninth LP – the funk-rock-soul odyssey Black and White America – in the studio he built about 500 sandy yards from his trailer. "There was a real freedom," says Kravitz, 47. "Being in nature was so conducive to feeling no pressure – just feeling."

Sounds like the less you have, the happier you are. True?
The more I do that, the more I see that is the case. Mind you, I can go completely against that – I have a big house in Paris, which fulfills the city side of me with the ballet, opera, museums, great food and fashion. But I'll tell you, living in the Bahamas is far more satisfying. My day-to-day decisions are, like, "What kind of fish do I want for dinner?"

You put DJ Military, a local guy from Eleuthera, on your new song "Boongie Drop." Did he freak out when he heard that Jay-Z is on that one too?
It's like living in Mayberry. He said, "Yeah, cool, man." That's his whole reaction! I brought Mick Jagger there once. We went to a shack to get a beer, and they asked, "So, what do you do?" He was like, "I make music." "What kind of music?" "Rock & roll." "Oh, great." Then the guy started talking about fishing.

I get a major Quincy Jones vibe from some of these songs. What are your favorite productions by him?
We could go back to his jazz days, but from that Seventies period, I'd say the Brothers Johnson record with "Strawberry Letter 23" [Right on Time]. That's the shit! And of course, Off the Wall, which is my favorite Michael Jackson solo record.

The album cover is a photo of you as a kid, with a peace sign drawn on your face. Where'd that come from?
The picture was taken by my dad when I was in the second grade, I believe, in the schoolyard of P.S. 6 on 82nd Street and Madison Avenue. There was a sort of school bazaar going on, and my mom had a little booth where she was painting kids' faces. I found that photo about six months ago, and it was reaffirming to me.

You mean because some people used to think your peace-and-love vibe was contrived?
Yeah. But I've always been that guy. In my kid pictures, I'm wearing ruffled sleeves and necklaces and bracelets and peace signs. That's me.

Did your parents talk to you much about race?
When I was five, my mother told me, "You're not one side or the other, you're both – but society is only going to view you as black." It took years to understand that. In junior high, I'd go out with a girl who was white, meet her parents, and it wasn't always a warm reception. Even if it was a Jewish girl, the fact that I'm half Russian Jew didn't matter – it was, "Oh, he's black." That's what my mom was talking about.

What kind of music did you hear through them growing up?
All over the place. I was listening to Band of Gypsys, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Harry Belafonte, classical music... They both loved music, period. We'd go see Duke Ellington at the Rainbow Room, go to Lincoln Center to see an opera, go to the Apollo to see James Brown. They loved art. That's why they were together.

I noticed the clock reads 4:20 in your new "Stand" video. Your idea?
I did that. I thought it would be funny.

Are you a big wake-and-baker?
Dude, I was probably the biggest one next to Bob Marley. To be quite truthful, it went on from when I was 11 up until maybe 12 years ago. Wake up, yawn, smoke a joint, put it down, go to bed. Now I'll smoke every now and again. Life's just too intense.

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This story is from the September 15, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 1139: September 15, 2011