A GoPride Interview

Levi Kreis

Tony Award Winner Levi Kreis returns to LGBT music roots

Thu. February 28, 2013  by Jerry Nunn

Some of the songs inspired me to educate myself more as a gay man to understand what we fought for.
Levi Kreis
Singer-songwriter Levi Kreis became a Broadway star overnight with his performance as Jerry Lee Lewis in the Tony nominated musical Million Dollar Quartet. The role won him a 2010 Tony Award, an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Drama League nomination.

Before joining the cast of Million Dollar Quartet, Kreis had already released two solo albums. His music has been featured on NBC, CBS, CW, and FX, with most prominent features on The Vampire Diaries and The Apprentice.

It was the LGBT media that first introduced Kreis to the world, a fact not lost on the Nashville-native. In his latest effort Kreis returns to those roots. He begins his Flying Solo Tour on March 2.

Jerry Nunn caught up with Kreis, who now calls the Windy City home.

JN: (Jerry Nunn) Hi, Levi. How often do you go back to our hometown in Tennessee?

LK: (Levi Kreis) Not enough. I am starting to tour more in Knoxville. My new tour is beginning March 2 in Chicago. This is a solo tour with just me and my piano. It is very economical I might add. This is the first time I am performing in Knoxvile as an adult singer songwriter. Ever since writing music and targeting the LGBT community that was something that didn't necessarily agree with my fundamentalist Baptist roots. I was from a small town so it is really nice because my parents are receptive to me building a show there. It is really sweet.

JN: You are from Oliver Springs?

LK: Yes, just a stones throw from Dolly Parton.

JN: I finally went to Dollywood.

LK: You did? Did you ride the log flume?

JN: I did. I was scared I might fall out! Do you want people to know that you now live in Andersonville?

LK: Yes, sweet home Chicago.

JN: People might start stalking you. What prompted you to live here?

LK: Being here with Million Dollar Quartet in 2008 and 2009. We moved the show to New York but I had fallen in love with this city. I guess I am at a place in my life where I want more of a sense of community. I lived in Los Angeles for ten years. It was fine but I didn't get a sense of community there like I do in Chicago and New York. I love it. I think if you can brave the winters it is the most beautiful city in the country.

JN: It has not been too bad weather wise this year.

LK: It is breaking me in. It's reminding me of how it can be.

JN: Do you want to be involved in the Chicago community to do benefits and fundraisers?

LK: I have been reading about organizations and AIDS foundations in Chicago and taking my time to decide where I want to put my time. I would really like to reach out to the AIDS/HIV organizations that bring medications to people and promote safe sex. This may be something that I incorporate into my new album coming out in June. With statistics about things increasing in younger men for HIV I think we should all do our part to help out.

JN: I thought you new album is coming out in March but it's June?

LK: The first single comes out March 4. It is really doing well in the UK right now.

JN: It sounds very Jamiroquai so a good market for Europe.

LK: I do feel that overseas markets are going to get this album perhaps more than American mainstream markets and I am talking like corporate pop music is not necessarily what this album is. It lives in a world where Australian and European markets get it. Maybe that is where it will end up landing.

JN: This has been a very grass roots project from what I've heard.

LK: It is the reason that I have loved this whole process as much as I do. Billboard Magazine put it in the top three most successful funded music campaigns in August. Each song is a customized song written for all of the fans. So I was able to get on the phone with them and hang out for over an hour, listen to what is going on in their life, try to find out what we have common in our lives, then create a song that speaks of their experience in an authentic way was a really interesting challenge. This was the first time I had ever done that. All 12 songs on the album are actually other people's theme songs.

JN: What do the stories range from?

LK: I have everything from a guy wanting to write his partner articulating his need for more intimacy to a soldier dealing firsthand with Don't Ask, Don't Tell prior to the ending of that. To explain to other people about they went through was a really big honor. Some of the songs inspired me to educate myself more as a gay man to understand what we fought for. I believe the experience of this album coming out in June made me more committed to that than ever before. When you know where you are coming from you see more clearly where you still need to go. That was my reward because these people are just brilliant gifts to me. Not only have they have supported me in buying my product and giving me a chance to give them the best costumer service experience I can but they shared their life. How cool is that?

JN: I wonder why more people aren't doing things like this?

LK: I don't know. A kickstarter is becoming more popular. Back when I left Million Dollar Quartet I didn't even want to do music again. When my friend came to me and suggested I do a kickstarter then the fans wanted to hear new music, I knew it had to be a gift. I had to find ways to make this a really unique experience for me to give. If I don't then it would feel vapid and meaningless to me. I didn't want to go through all of that. It is 20% music and 80% self promotion to be an independent artist. Unless you are really finding a reason to do it then it is just not worth it or at least not to me. I needed a sense of purpose.

JN: Why is it called Imagine Paradise?

LK: Because Paradise is yours to the degree that you can Imagine it. Change your thinking change your life. It goes back to the idea that our thoughts become things. Many people know the concept of The Secret and books like that. I don't think it is so bizarre to understand the medical principal. Where we spend out way of thinking becomes our life. Because I was putting other people's stories on the record I wanted to put a positive spin on things. It was my job to take the story and give the spiritual truth to it. Life is all about perspective and if I can choose a positive perspective then that is the gift that will last longer.

JN: What types of music were covered on the record?

LK: Before I made my decisions on what they sound like based on what was hot on the radio. I never was being true to myself. I wanted to make an album that I would listen to on my iPod. I want to do the stuff that I take to the gym with me or put on repeat. I can't stand to listen to my other albums and touring it gets incredibly drippy because it is not the stuff that I listen to. I am in a happier place now. I wanted something that felt celebratory. With a combination of the other elements, the backers, the gay community coming together in ‘70s and expressing themselves through music made the album what it is.

JN: What inspired this naked sharpie photo shoot?

LK: [laughs] I wanted all of the names of the financial backers on the artwork. Rather than putting it on the background, it had been two years recording this album so I had a lot of different ideas. I had already mocked up an album cover that was completely different. At the last minute I felt it wasn't complimentary enough. I wanted to wear nothing but my backers!

JN: Who wrote all the names on you?

LK: I work with a friend of mine who is also a photographer that lives in San Antonio, Texas so we carved out a weekend and we just figured out how to do it.

JN: How long did it take?

LK: We did the whole shoot in an eight-hour day and then looked at the product and didn't like it. So I washed all of the names off and reapplied them. We did it all again the second day of eight hours because it didn't look right.

JN: Wow, that is dedication.

LK: It is craziness is what it is!

Look for Levi at Davenport's Piano Bar and Cabaret on March 2 at 8 p.m. There is as two drink minimum after the $25 ticket price that may be purchased by calling 773-278-1830 or davenportspianobar.com.

Interviewed by Jerry Nunn. Jerry Nunn is a contributing writer to the GoPride Network. His work is also featured in Windy City Times, Nightspots Magazine and syndicated nationally.