NOW HEAR THIS! LEVI KREIS: MILLION DOLLAR MAN! Levi Kreis Talks About His New Album, Playing Jerry Lee Lewis, & Twittering with Miley Cyrus!

Levi Kreis Talks About His New Album, Playing Jerry Lee Lewis, & Twittering with Miley Cyrus!

    Already an accomplished musician, Levi Kreis may be on his way to becoming The Prince of All Media.   Kreis was raised in East Tennessee and now calls L.A. his home, and he’s currently in Chicago playing Jerry Lee Lewis in the hugely successful, critically acclaimed musical “Million Dollar Quartet”.  People worldwide have seen him on TV: in “The Apprentice” in 2005, and just last June on the Tony Awards with his “Million Dollar Quartet” cast mates.  The out star also has a new movie in the works, and a new album named “Where I Belong”, in which Kreis believes he has finally found his true voice.  And what a voice it is!  Kreis’ singing is intense, and he really pours his soul into his delivery.  Just listen to the track “Nothing At All”, or the sexed-up “Ain’t Nobody” for proof.  “Stained Glass Window”, another gem, features church organ and choir-inspired vocals in the background.  A big highlight on the CD is the autobiographical, crowd-pleasing anthem “No Apologies”:
“I might be country, I might be poor,
I might have sang so long for Jesus, that you say I got soul;
I might get trashy, I might be as simple as can be,
But I got my roots, I got my pride,
And I got no apologies!”

During a brief stop in New York City, I met the man who’s equal parts good old all-American charm and Hollywood “It Boy” star quality at the trendy eatery V*nyl to talk about what he’s got in store for his fans:
JR: Congratulations on the new CD!
LK: Thank you!
JR: “One of the Ones”, your first album, was very stripped-down music: it was piano and vocals only.  But you got a lot of mileage from it!
LK: Yes, I did, and I actually recorded it here in New York City.  I had just left Atlantic Records, I had two hundred dollars in my pocket and an episode of “The Apprentice” that was going to happen in six months… and I asked myself, “Is there any way that I can make good on that moment of exposure on national television, to somehow have a product and a website, and make sure I could get that traffic there?” and then I thought, “You know, I could probably pull this off!” I talked this guy into letting me sit down and play, from start to finish, the whole album one time through.  We did it, and I borrowed money to have it manufactured.  At the end of the day, “The Apprentice” episode aired, the website got the traffic, thousands of CD’s started happening… and within days so much happened that I couldn’t keep up with it.  It was a $200 investment.  It boggles my mind because for some reason, there’s something about that album that people keep coming back to. That is the album that people have this emotional attachment to– going through their own breakups, pain, love, or whatever.  They go through it all with that CD, and I’m amazed. 
JR:  The album really affects the listener because it features just raw emotion, and raw talent; The piano and vocals are so strong, they carry the CD.
LK: I’d like to think that.  I’ve always been a firm believer in the craft of songwriting, and from the moment that my mom put me in my first songwriting seminar at twelve years old, I have always felt that if the craft was good, and the if talent was solid enough, that you can survive on a lower budget– and you could actually still translate your expressions without having to rely on other things, like big production and what not.  And I have to thank my parents for that.  They were always really supportive and gave me a fantastic musical education, and they kind of built that foundation for me. 
JR: To borrow a line from one of your songs, they said, “That boy can sing!”
LK: (Laughs) They threw me into piano lessons at six years old… tied me down to the bench and wouldn’t let me up! 
JR: Through the years, you’ve added things to your music, and incorporated new sounds and influences.  I didn’t know what to expect with the new CD, if it was going to be more experimental or not…  But I have to admit, it gave me a lot of pleasure on the opening to hear the piano sounding so lush, and then the spiritual and gospel elements followed soon afterward.  So, it was great to hear that you didn’t drift too far away from your signature sound…
LK: I love hearing that!  That’s exactly what I wanted to do.  The intro was the last thing that added, because I realized that there was something very special about “One of the Ones”… and I wanted to conjure that feeling from the beginning of the album.  Because, I knew that those who have been supportive of my music would recognized that and it would instantly feel familiar with the sound of that piano and just me, and then sex it up in an nice 30 seconds!  And, that serves me as the core of how we recorded the entire album.  We started every song with just piano and vocals and bass.  We had that core, and then tried to stay out of the way of it as we added.  I actually feel that from coming from “The Gospel According to Levi” to now, I have gone from being a songwriter to being an artist.  I really feel that this is my first endeavor that’s truly who I am.  I don’t know if it’s because I was doing “Million Dollar Quartet”, playing Jerry Lee Lewis for seven months.  Doing that in Seattle brought me back to my roots.  So whether it finds itself a little country on one album, or it finds itself a little Southern gospel on another album, it’s all “roots-y”.  It’s all Southern-based, and it all makes the most sense for me musically.  I feel like this is the first true musical representation of where I come from and who I am.  It took me this long, four albums, to get it.   
JR: Which song on the new album means the most to you?
LK: It changes.  Right now, it’s “I Surrender All”… which is a hymn that I adapted to be more inclusive of everyone’s belief system.  I took Jesus’ name out… although my mother was not proud of me for that!
JR: (Laughs)
LK: I also know that we all need to learn the art of surrender in our life.  It doesn’t matter what name you have for your god.  I wanted to leave that to the person.  I’m not here to indoctrinate, I’m here to inspire. And you know what?  I needed to be reminded of that in my life recently in the last month or two.  Just let shit go.  Let it go and just trust the universe. 
JR: Well, the basic rules are all the same, whether it’s “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” from the Bible, or The Threefold Law of Wicca … A lot of people just don’t or can’t see it that way, for some reason…
LK: You know, I still think that the statement by Christ “The greatest of these is love…” still resonates not only louder than any other statement he said in the Bible, but it’s the same foundation for so many other different belief systems.
JR: How true!   So, what are your plans with the new album?
LK: I’m going to be doing a few dates over the summer.  I’m still doing “Million Dollar Quartet” through August 21st, so I still have eight shows a week there.  So, I’m going to try to hop away once a week and do a few pride festivals and arts festivals during the summer… but I’m going to be following “Million Dollar Quartet” to London and staying with the show for a while.  The show has broadened my audience in a way that I never imagined.  I’m fortunate enough to have the support of the LGBT community, but now with this show and even with the nature of the new album– I mean, there are similarities in these two, with the Southern origins of these two pieces– the audience is just becoming broader and broader.  The people I work with are very supportive about me being able to continue my own endeavors.  If they weren’t, I don’t know that I would be able to do this.   
JR: While we’re on the subject of acting: As a working actor, what do you see is the biggest difference between acting and singing?  I would imagine that with singing and live performances, you can really let yourself go and be as big and creative and rebellious as you want to be… but with acting, you have to have a certain amount of restraint and discipline because you’re playing a specific role.
LK: Doing the role of Jerry Lee Lewis is actually my outlet to be insane and larger than life!.  I kind of got tired of touring with “One of the Ones”.  I never had an outlet to be able to play the way the way that I can play until this role– to use that level of chops and be that big… That is so my outlet right now!  But as far as acting versus singing, I’ve always felt they were the same.  Not as far as the writing or the creating standpoint is concerned, but with the performing.  I’m so autobiographical anyway, as you know, with my writing.  I’m so used to getting lost in the actual memories that created the song when I’m performing.  There’s something similar about when you’ve built a character: getting so lost in the back story of what that is that you forget what you are, and forget what you’re doing.  All you know is being true to that moment.  That’s what builds its sanctity.  I never dreamed of acting, but somehow that makes sense to me.  I have a movie coming out next year that I’m excited about– “Vega, Texas”.  Wouldn’t you know, I’m playing a Southerner! (Both laugh.)  It stars Scott Wilson and Katherine Ross, from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”.  She plays my mom.  She’s beautiful and fantastic, and angelic on film, and was so nurturing to work with.  This was my first lead role, with a six week shoot and full-on carrying a character from beginning to end.  And she was amazing.
JR: With your success over the last few years, has the mainstream media taken more notice?
LK: It’s been really slow, but yes.  It started picking up with newspapers, like all of a sudden “The Chicago Tribune” or “Seattle Times” or other papers in the country that weren’t gay media outlets per se began to see my ability and do a profile here and there… and it just sort of grew from there.  Obviously this musical has helped to take it a step further.  But it doesn’t hurt being #42 on the I-Tunes Top Pop album charts– which is unheard of for an unsigned artist!   The new album debuted at #42. I was like “What?!” It’s insane.  I mean, I know I’ve got great loyal fans!
JR: Wow!  I did not know that.  That’s amazing!  So, it seems like in the media over the last few years, there’s this streak of exhibitionism: like celebrity sex tapes, really bad voyeuristic reality TV, people making their weight loss struggles seem like important news… It seems like there’s this aura of desperation for publicity rather than trying to achieve recognition through talent.
LK: I have to be honest with you: I have absolutely no conviction about that in any way whatsoever. That is my way to be absent-minded.  I sit there watching “Jerry Springer” for the first moment in weeks that I can really think nothing; my mind’s not going, I’m on overdrive… Now, I do have my own personal judgements about it, of course.  I mean, I know I’m not necessarily thrilled about the fact that we put so much effort in our media to fuel the lowest common denominator– but at the same time, I can’t lie.  It’s noise to distract me!  And as long as the guys are shirtless, I don’t care! (Laughs)
JR: (Laughs) I agree!  Well, most of my friends are artists and musicians, and they are really talented– and they are determined to succeed on the basis of that talent.  To me it’s much more dignified than celebrities who are just struggling to maintain visibility at some kind of level.  I’m not trying to sound judgmental, but is it really national news when Valerie Bertinelli is on the cover of a magazine and declares, “I’m ready to lose weight!”?  Nothing against her, but is that really the most important story of the day?
LK: You know what?  That’s our American culture.  We’ve grown so obsessed about that kind of sensationalism…  I sort of obsess about news– i.e.  CNN.  I mean, bad news.  If I were to wax philosophical about it, then here it goes: If what we spend our time contemplating, we create in our lives– then there is value in being aware of that.  What am I spending my time contemplating, and thinking of, and feeding into me?
JR: I guess… So, a lot of kids nowadays say we live in a “post gay world”– meaning that being gay is no big deal anymore.  I personally think that’s bullshit.  What do you think?
LK: I feel it’s bullshit too because, I talk to those kids on the road.  I’ve been to over 300 cities in the last two and a half years, but I know that about every other city, there’s some kid who comes up to me who has his own story about how he struggles to accept himself, how his family doesn’t accept him, whether he’s been kicked out, whether he’s battled suicide… whatever the case may be.  “Post gay world”?  I’m not seeing it.  I’m not seeing it on a first hand basis.  I wish that were true, and I know in urban areas, it probably is.  I think it’s bad-ass that these 16-year old kids in New York or wherever can go ask their boyfriend out and be bold and proud about it, walk in and be like “Whatever!”  But, it’s just not the case in so many other areas of the country.
JR: Coming from the Bible Belt, I would guess you know a lot about that!
LK: Going into this whole career, I expected that I would hear from the Southern kids– the gay and lesbian kids in the South.  What I wasn’t prepared for was all those kids in North and South Dakota, and Illinois, and Iowa, and all these other places.  It doesn’t really matter where; it’s kind of the remoteness that tends to breed this small-mindedness.  And that’s everywhere in the country; I’ve seen it all over!  
JR: Yeah.  We have to remind ourselves, the prejudice is still out there!
LK: But I do think we’re making progress.  We’re still a young country.  We have a lot of evolving to do!
JR: Now, a very important question! MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter: Which one is the leader now, from an artist’s perspective?
LK: (Laughs) I will rate them in the order of importance:  Twitter, Facebook, MySpace!  Seriously!  Because, I’ve been amazed to find that fans want to follow their artist.  And, I know as a fan of other artists, I love… OK, I’ll admit, I give Miley Cyrus a Tweet…(JR laughs) I do!  Because I like hearing how she gets to hear how she gets whopped up for having her feet up on the dashboard of the car.  We’re all tired of MySpace now… I mean, Twitter is just the new thing.  There will always be something else…However, this where I have conviction about this whole thing: The only way I believe any artist is going to build a viable relationship with their audience is if they have a genuine desire to be one-on-one with them: to get to know them, to answer that e-mail, to engage. And to wonder what their life is like– to actually be a people person and genuinely give a shit.  It takes that.  I can remember about eight years ago, my e-mail list would have been about 150, but every 150 I would take time to answer.  And not “stock answer”, but really answer.  It may take me five hours, like it did two days ago, to go through them now– and that’s not even putting a dent in it.  You know?  But they will get answered.  You have to have that kind of commitment to the people who are spending their hard-earned money supporting what you’re doing. 
JR: What’s the hardest part about being an artist?

LK: Feeling separated so often from those you love.  That’s the hardest for me.  It can be lonely.  So, there’s your honest answer!     

Don’t let Levi Kreis get lonely!  Check out the man and his music at:

One comment

  1. I would just like to say that I adore Levi and he is a great young man in his own right. I had the opportunity to meet him and interview him for the Jerry Lee Lewis fanclub magazine, The Fireball Mail. He is loved and admired by Jerry's fans on his wonderful performances and committment to Jerry's true story.

    Love you honey,
    Miss Marla
    U.S. Representative
    Jerry Lee Lewis International Fanclub

    Liked by 1 person

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