Lenny Kravitz on Piano Collab, Quarantine & Rock 'n Roll's Future

Matt Medved | October 29, 2020 | People Features Culture

Lenny Kravitz's Steinway Piano collaboration

Lenny Kravitz never really stops. In a year where nearly nothing has gone according to plan, the 56-year-old rocker has managed to remain as active as ever.

Fresh off Paris Fashion Week, Kravitz flew to the Bahamas in March for a five-day stay ahead of his scheduled summer tour legs in Australia and New Zealand. As the coronavirus pandemic forced the world to pause, Kravitz's quick trip became a seven-plus-month sabbatical that afforded the jetsetting artist an invaluable opportunity to lie low and hone in. "Just living in the present is so good for me creatively," he gushes. "I do my thing."

Since then, the New York native has released a bestselling memoir, started working on his next album, and most recently, unveiled a grand piano collaboration with renowned partner Steinway & Sons. Built with fifteen layers of hard rock maple, Macassar ebony and more than 200 hours of hand-carving, the limited-edition piano reflects Kravitz's trademark attention to detail.

We caught up with Lenny to discuss the Kravitz Grand collaboration, as well as his thoughts on creativity, fashion and the future of rock music.

You’ve said piano was the first instrument that you fell in love with. Do you remember the first time you played?

The first time I played, I was banging on it. I was a toddler living in my parents’ apartment in New York. They had a little one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side where I lived. I had the bedroom and they lived in the living room on a couch that pulled out to a bed at night, and in the corner of this room was a little spinet piano. That’s when my curiosity began.

Lenny Kravitz's Steinway Piano collaboration

How did the Steinway & Sons partnership come together?

I was thinking, "How can I make a piano that really defines me and my aesthetics?" I quickly knew what it was... but I had never seen it, so I put together a mood board. I’m very much into African art, brutalist art and furniture. That was the combination I wanted. When I presented to Steinway, they looked at me very studiously. I think they thought, “this is… I don’t know about this.” But they saw that I was extremely passionate, and I didn’t want to compromise. They did their best to support my vision and gave me nothing but positive energy.

Anytime I was in New York City, I went to the factory. It’s wonderful when you have a vision in your mind... could be a song, a piece of furniture or architecture, anything creative. If you get close to what you'd envisioned in your mind’s eye, that's great. If you achieve exactly what you had envisioned, then you hit the jackpot. But it’s very seldom when you exceed what you saw. And I have to tell you… it came out better than I had imagined. I was very serious about my details… picking the different metals, how the brass was going to be molded, and how the markings were going to be applied to the piano. The carvings on the side didn’t feel perfect, they felt like they were done by somebody — that was an imperfection, as well as perfection. When I saw this thing in the end, I couldn’t believe it. It looked better than I thought it was going to. So I’m really honored that they would work with me like that, and that we did this thing together that seemed like it was going to be quite a challenge.

Lenny Kravit's Steinway Piano collaboration

How have you managed to stay creative and grounded over the past year?

Creatively, it’s something that I do no matter where I am. Funny enough, being here in the Bahamas and being under lockdown, I realized that I kind of live quarantine a lot in my life. I pretty much stay on my property when I’m recording here, so it’s not something that took a lot to change. So it’s been a very creative time, just by virtue of being quiet and being here... I work out. I work in the garden. I make music. I design. I practice my instruments. I do whatever I have to do.

Are you currently working on any new music?

Yes I am. I’ve been here for seven-and-a-half months since I left Paris. My studio was not up for six months, it had been down for a while and needed to be repaired. Getting people to come here and do the repair work was very difficult during quarantine. But that was really good, because when I couldn't record, it just forced me to listen to the music in my head. So for the last three weeks or so, I’ve been back in the studio and I have an abundance of material that's been floating around my head. I’m really digging it. It’s definitely a different sound on this record. I’m looking forward to finishing it and putting something out as soon as I can.

Where did you find the motivation to write your Let Love Rule memoir?

I met David Ritz through a mutual friend at a dinner and he said, ”You need to write a book.” And I thought, "Absolutely not." I’ve never thought about it or wanted to, but he'd convinced me by the end of the dinner. He said “I want to help you write it, but you know, you have to write it” and I began on that journey. For something I never thought of doing, I am so pleased that I did it. It brought so much to my life. It's been a really cathartic experience with things in my past and my relationship with my father. It entered the New York Times’ Best Seller list yesterday, which I’m blown away by.

Lenny Kravitz's Steinway Piano collaboration

Anything inspiring you in the fashion world right now?

Just before I came here, I did the Saint Laurent campaigns for the clothes and the fragrance. I’ve been a long time fan of Monsieur Saint Laurent, and after him, Hedi Slimane and now Anthony Vaccarello. It's my favorite house. So I was in Paris doing all these things in the fashion world, and I came to the Bahamas with a bag that had five days' worth of clothes because I was then going to New Zealand and Australia to start another leg of my world tour. (laughs) I've been living out of a bag that has five days’ worth of clothes, and I’ve been here for seven-and-a-half months. So it’s been very interesting to not think about any of that in this time. I did do one photoshoot for Saint Laurent where the clothes were actually brought down. But other than that, the fashion has been pretty laid back.

What are your thoughts on the future of rock music in the streaming era?

For some years now, rock 'n roll has not gotten the attention from radio because of the styles they want to play. They want to play the same fifteen songs over and over again and that’s it. I remember when it got to the point where the radio was telling me, “We don’t play guitars anymore. It doesn’t matter how great the song is.” And that was just quite ridiculous. But that’s the way it is and things change, but what’s great about streaming and the internet is that kids who want to know about music can find anything that they’re looking for. I've found that so many young people now know so much about music history and the past. Rock, blues, funk and soul, and they’re making really eclectic playlists. I think if you look on Instagram, you’ll see so many young kids now playing instruments, playing guitars, bass, drums, keyboard, horns, singing, you know, but with an old-school vibe. That’s what they’re learning. I mentor a couple of these kids, and I watch a bunch of them. They're like 8 to 12 years old and they’re virtuosos. Bass players playing like Jaco Pastorious. It’s wonderful. So I think that our future is going to have that element again where people are expressing themselves with actual instruments.

Photography by: Photos by Mark Seliger and courtesy of Steinway & Sons.