Kravitz's songs born whole

September 16, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Some musicians play every instrument on their albums because they want total control over the music. Others do so because they have a hard time getting other musicians to play exactly what they want.

Lenny Kravitz plays everything simply because it's faster.

Back in 1989, when Kravitz was recording his first album, "Let Love Rule," he often could not wait to get his ideas on tape. "I used to be very, very impatient," he says, over the phone from a tour stop in Chicago.

It doesn't help that there are times, when he's writing, that a song will arrive fully formed in his imagination, appearing before him like Aphrodite on the half-shell. "I hear it like a record," he says. "I hear all of the arrangement, I hear the different instruments and so forth."

Consequently, there were times when he was so intent on getting the music down on tape that he rarely stopped to do second takes. "It would pretty much always be a first take, mistakes and all," he says.

Fortunately, Kravitz likes mistakes, which he thinks of less as wrong notes than as "things I didn't intend" to play.

"I mean, some of the best things on record are mistakes," he elaborates. "They create these little moments. It may not sound like an obvious mistake, like, 'Oh, the guitar player missed a chord there.' But because he played the wrong [thing], it created a really cool color."

Kravitz wasn't really interested in instrumental perfection. What he wanted was a sense of energy, of excitement -- the same sort of vibe a hot band generates onstage. "You listen to the first album, 'Let Love Rule,' and it sounds like a band," he says, proudly. "But it's not."

Kravitz may enjoy playing the one man band in the studio, but that approach doesn't really work in the concert hall. So when he tours, he takes a full band with him and limits himself principally to vocals and guitar.

Still, translating Kravitz's albums to the stage isn't a simple task. For one thing, his musical tastes are pretty broad. On his current album, "5," the music ranges from the retro-soul of "Live" to the throbbing electropulse of "Black Velveteen" to the punchy guitar rock of "Fly Away." Add in his current single -- a grungy remake of the Guess Who oldie "American Woman" recorded for the soundtrack to "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" -- and Kravitz's crew has quite a lot of ground to cover.

"Fortunately, I have musicians who are well-versed in a lot of different styles," he says. "Therefore, we can manage it. But it would be difficult if you didn't have musicians that could handle that.

"Certain things are hard to do live or, for some reason, don't work sometimes," he adds. "But we try to make them work."

Being on the road means Kravitz has to put off work in the recording studio until the end of the tour. Nonetheless, his creative juices keep flowing. "I have some ideas collected in my head," he says. "When I get in the studio, we'll see how much I remember."

Lenny Kravitz

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia

Tickets: $37.50 pavilion seating; $25 lawn

Call: 410-730-2424 for information, 410-481-6500 for tickets

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