Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tonys to iTunes: A Chat with Levi Kreis

Levi Kreis
Photobucket Levi Kreis

I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to ask some questions of Tony Award-winning actor/singer Levi Kreis. Well, I was understandably excited, as I am a fan of his work, having purchased my first Levi CD after his appearance on the very first season of The Apprentice. I was intrigued by the handsome singer/songwriter, and searched for information about him. It paid off, and I was able to order One of the Ones, and I have been hooked since. My Kreis collection runeth over, including an autographed Playbill from Million Dollar Quartet, which I saw in previews. His performance of Jerry Lee Lewis was just remarkable, and not only brought him a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor In A Musical, it also earned him the trophy. So I shall start out with my questions about his Broadway run before moving on to the music.

Which is the strongest aphrodisiac: touring with the new album or playing in a hit on Broadway? Touring my own music hands down. I have acted roles on stage though that were such a ride over the course of the night that it was exhilarating. I will definitely do theatre again, but the thing that makes my music main focus is that I love to be the muscle behind the product, from writing, arranging, marketing, promoting, to being the boss across the board. I think it's one of my fortes. I'm only good at being a "hired gun" for so long, then I start getting antsy.

After so many years with Million Dollar Quartet, how does it feel to be away from it? Wonderful. I am so grateful for the experience, but truthfully, musical theatre has never been a primary pursuit of mine, but rather something that seems to find me. And as you know, I never stopped turning music out and touring, so I've been working two really exhausting jobs for nearly three years. I prefer being a recording artist though. I am definitely more fulfilled expressing what is in my soul rather than molding the expression of someone else's. It's the writer in me.

What did playing on Broadway teach you about yourself? Did it change your thoughts on performing? Gosh, it taught me so much. It first taught me that every community has its own tendency towards self-importance, whether you identify as a recognizable member of your local gay community, theatre community, church community, sports team, whatever you are into. My challenge is to say, "how can I be within a community, yet not conform to the idiosyncrasies that define and drive that community." I know it's human nature to desire to belong to a social group of some kind, but it's always been a challenge for me to not get lost in the world of others and forget who Levi Kreis really is. I’ve become much better at it, but in an all-consuming world like Broadway, remembering "who Levi Kreis is" was a daily commitment. It also taught me how to give up control and be a team player. I’ve toured nearly 400 cities as my own boss, so to release control of everything from sound, music, arrangements, players, etc, was a real challenge at first. I had to realize that while I was there from the beginning with this show, ultimately, it was not my baby, and I was there to be of service. I don't think enough performers realize that when you are an actor, or a musical theatre performer, or a recording artist, you are in the service industry. There is absolutely no logic to an inflated ego. You are there to provide a service on demand, an experience for patrons who are laying their hard earned money on the table. I've always had that attitude about performing, but it really solidified it after being on Broadway. I could go on and on with this question.

With Million Dollar Quartet and Broadway covered, I think it is time to move on to the next topic: The Music. What tends to come first, the music or the lyric? The lyrics come first. I have developed a habit of listening attentively to the world around me, and most of the time my best ideas come from hearing the conversations of others. I start with the idea and fashion a chorus, usually lyrics and melody together as the chorus is so instrumental in the successful deliver of the song. Once the chorus is positioned, I write lyrics to a first verse, then melody to the rest of the song, followed by lyrics to complete the song. It's the same method most every time.

Are there any authors or playwrights who have inspired you? Country music inspires me in that most country songwriters are good at tapping into the common experiences we all share yet wording it in a very simple, yet unique way.

Levi Kreis Levi Kreis

What is the better muse for your music: Love, or the lack thereof? GREAT question. I think any emotion that is paramount enough for me to express. Writing has always been like journaling for me, so the tone of an album is pretty telling as to where I was in life while creating it.

I have seen an evolution in the music through the first four albums. What can we expect 'new or different' in the album you are working on now? Another great question. I previously mentioned that so much of my music is a out-picturing of my own life experiences. In 2009, I hit a personal all-time low in my life, and it forced me to re-evaluate every aspect of my life. These last two years have made clear to me so much that I couldn't see before. In so many ways, my life has been lived seeking the approval of others, wanting to be good enough, and never feeling worthy. This was not lost on the musical endeavors of my past. With each album, there was some thing that I was seeking to be equal to, and chasing the current notion of "where I belonged" in the broader music scene. It led me to many genres and musical places that, while I would like to believe are solid, and still valid, still didn't invite me to the party. In the past, I've been more concerned about creating what would "get me farther" than what was simply the most fun for me to create. "Where I Belong", ironic title, is a great example of that. I was following the impressions that I belonged in a rootsy-pop Adult Contemporary market, so that's what I created. I was being authentic about what I expressed contextually, but from the musical perspective, it wasn't anything I would listen to. I would compare that album to Gavin Degraw or John Mayer, in that niche, but I don't own any of their albums. I don't really like ‘em. So, for me, this new album, first and foremost, stays true to what my supporters love the most: me, a piano, and some insightful lyrics. My debut album, "One of the Ones" is a perfect example of this, and is the fan favorite to date. The only thing I'm adding to this equation is finally, a style of music that I listen to on repeat, that I never get enough of, and allows me to enjoy my own music fully. Just to give you a little hint, I am framing my piano/vocal vibe with a slight "chill" framework, giving it a hint of electronic texture, but never too overbearing. We started the first song this week, and I'm beside myself. I'm finally having the fun I should have been having all along.

With the music just about covered, I have a few random thoughts I just want to know about! Is there any music that makes you a fanboi? Ricky Martin, mostly when I watch him perform on video. He has a charisma that few artists these days have. I forget that I'm an artist and I become entirely captivated by his craft.

Is there any place you'd like to travel to, for business or pleasure, where you haven't been? Australia. If I dream without limits, I envision this new album having the perfect appeal to an overseas market, particularly Australia, and I find myself getting paid to travel, see the world, and share my heart with others.

What guilty pleasure would my readers be surprised to hear about? Jersey Shore, but again, maybe that is not too surprising. I secretly want to be a Gorilla juice-head.

Currently, Levi is working on his next album, and you can be a part of it. He opened up a Kickstarter page to get the funding together, with some great perks, including a phone call from the man himself. You should check that out! And you can find his music on iTunes,, and other retail outlets. It is all well-worth listening to. I should know, I have it all in my collection! And, of course, you can check out his official website to find out more about the man and his music.


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