If you head over to Levi Kreis‘ website, you will find yourself quite impressed. Levi had one of the TOP 3 most successful Kickstarter campaigns according to the August 2011 issue of Billboard Magazine, has won multiple awards, has been on Broadway, and has had his music featured on NBC, CBS, FX, AND The CW networks. In fact, in 2010, Levi was presented with the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a musical for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet. Follow Levi on Twitter or have a conversation with him and you find yourself equally impressed. This is someone who is down to earth, honest, sometimes vulnerable, and admittedly, not perfect. He is a combination of dreams, talent, and heart with the drive to go along with it.
I have wanted to interview Levi Kreis for a while now and have been a fan of his for even longer. I believe in him so much that I am actually one of the backers of his Kickstarter project. I am very proud to present you with this interview and I hope you take away lots from it.
Q: Were you always interested in Music and entertainment? How did you get your start in the business?
A: Oh my. It’s all that I remember. I started performing for audiences by eight years of age. My mother was very responsive to my talent. She started taking me to songwriting seminars, industry functions, and music conferences at a very early age. It’s really all I’ve ever known.
Q: Your list of people who have influenced you is so diverse. Luther Vandros, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Patti LaBelle, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and The S.O.S. Band, just to name a few. Do you think this combination is what gives you that unique quality your fans seem to love you for?
A: I have always admired artists that knew what it was about themselves and their product that appealed to audiences. I, for one, have never had that gift of insight. I think if I did, it may assist me in playing more intentionally into the elements that appeal to the broadest number of my fans. I know my favorite artists have conveyed a remarkable vocal sensibility. As I mature in my craft I find myself going more towards the R&B instincts that are so natural to me. These vocalists continue to teach me how to give special attention to making a vocal performance unique, not just good. Only now do I feel I’ve started to understand that and shape that for my own recordings. It’s one thing I know will be immediately noticeable about my 2013 release.
Q: You won a Tony Award for your portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis in the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet. What does Broadway mean to you? Any plans to return to the stage?
A: I never say never. I never know what will attract me about a role. By the way, the Broadway community is so inspiring: so many talented people.
Q: You haven’t been shy about your struggles. What advice could you offer to someone who is going through a tough time and also to anyone who is watching a loved one go through those times?
A: Yes, I have been open about many of my struggles. There are some battle scars too fresh to discuss. There are some I will never speak of. After wearing my heart on my sleeve for six years, I’m learning the elegance of honoring my own privacy: another topic of discussion I suppose. In regards to your question, I think I’m learning to not have judgements about peoples struggles or life situations. Everyone has a right to experience life’s challenges the way they want to. Some people fall apart, and some people find strength they never knew they had. One is no “better” than the other. It’s a choice, plain and simple. That’s a hard pill to swallow. People get it when they get it. It’s egotistical for me to expect any more from others than what they are choosing for themselves. Who am I to say? It’s really none of my business. I know sometimes I sound like that old grandpa whose been through so much that he’s intolerant of others inability to overcome painful situations. But then again, to say I should learn sympathy is to say that I should see you for less than who you are. Let me tell you my friend, YOU are the fullness of God right where you are, with infinite, limitless capabilities. To offer sympathy is to support the illusion of your limitations. Get up and know your power! That’s what I want my friends to say to me! As far as those of us watching a loved one go through pain, simply being present with them says so much more than we probably know.
Q: Your new CD is due out in 2013 but there is already lots of fan buzz. You actually went to your fans for support on this one. I know the response was tremendous. How did that feel for you? Were you surprised at the reaction?
A: I was extremely surprised, and I feel an overwhelming responsibility to not only give my best effort, but to use this opportunity to build a business structure that doesn’t have to rely on Kickstarter again. That’s hella tricky, and requires a bit of administrative and financial planning that many artists don’t want to take time to figure out. The entire Kickstarter budget went to the recording of the album; 100% of it. I can say that every morning I got out of bed I gave my very best effort without fail. Now, whether it speaks to people like other albums of mine, I cannot predict. I’m horrible at predicting peoples responses and I don’t like to as it sends me down the rabbit hole of approval seeking. I can only do my very best, and hope it translates to the heart. I’m zeroing in on a release date. I’m leaning towards April 2013, with the first release coming out this October (UK) and January (domestically).
Q: Speaking of going to the fans for support, the music business has changed so much. What do you think is the key to success today?
A: I just moved to Chicago for many reasons, the main one being that it plants me right in the heart of my fan base. It will significantly increase my touring schedule. I think we all used to think that moving to L.A. or NYC was necessary to “get discovered” and break. Today, you either do your music or you don’t. There is no “waiting to be discovered”. Labels aren’t interested in that. They want artists who have a thriving fan base and a significant tour schedule. I think this is great news because I don’t have to depend on anyone but my hard work to make a thriving business for myself. If the industry discovers me eventually, that is wonderful. I’m very much open to that. But there are so many options for artists these days. Our career really can look however we want it to if we are willing to persist and commit to the 24/7 work load that it requires. Again, it’s an overwhelming amount of work for one person to do, and years of persistence is what success is made of. My day starts at 5:30am and I work on my business until about 7pm. I work most Saturdays and Sundays. I don’t have a social life, and my interaction is mostly with my partner, one or two of my closest friends, and my fan base. With that said, I think any entrepreneur should recognize when it’s time to expand. I have no doubt that it’s time for a manager to enter the equation and capitalize on the success I’ve had over the last two years. I am very clear that my forte is not managing myself. I see that clearly, and while I’ll continue to do what occurs to me to do, I’m ready to trust an additional team member.
Q: Social media plays a large role in today’s Entertainment business. How do you balance that into your work? Where can we find you online?
A: Ha! I love that you ask this question as I just went through a good 3 month rebellion of everything social media! I doubt many people heard a peep out of me over the summer except to promote a show. I can’t begin to tell you how much I hate Facebook! It’s a necessary evil to keep my friends and supporters informed, but I’m not sure how much it even does that anymore. Pages act differently than they did when I was promoting my Kickstarter campaign. Now that Facebook has gone public, I promise you it will get more costly for indie artists to reach their fan base. (Can anyone say “promote a post”?) Aside from that, I think social media can be a kiss of death too. I fell prey to focusing 95% of my attention on social media rather than pitching myself to radio, podcasts, blogs, and wider spread efforts. It can definitely keep an artist lazy and not thinking more constructively but as long as everyone else loves it, artists will have to have a presence there. My favorite thing right now is instagram. It’s not a big commitment, seems less saturated, and frankly, more personal. People on facebook are more like voyeurs now anyway. They read their friends posts like news updates with little or no interaction.
Q: What artists would you like to work with in the future?
A: Anastasia. Please, Anastasia, make my dreams come true and do a duet with me!! I have loved you for years! My ideal career is described by describing yours. Make a boys wish come true! (Am I groveling enough?) LOL. I really do adore that woman! Crazy talented!
Q: Your song, “I Should Go”, was featured on the CW’s Vampire Diaries and you have had your music used on shows like Fox’s “Sons of Anarchy.” Is that something you would like to continue doing?
A: Always. I have really enjoyed those opportunities!
Q: What are some of your guilty pleasures? Reality TV? Sweets?
A: I have been obsessed with working out and weight training for years. Perhaps since I’m feeling less modest these days, maybe the ol publicity shots could use a little reveal of some hard work. LOL. T.V shows would be Big Brother, Million Dollar Listing, anything OWN, and Shark Tank. I store them all on Tivo until I finally take a Sunday off and lay in front of the tv and catch up on everything I’ve missed. Oh…and anytime I’m flying, thats time for me to catch up on Merlin. I LOVE that show! Disco music. I should have lived in the 70′s. Deep down I’m secretly a Tom of Finland model, dawned in leather, mustache, and hanging out in some leather bar in New York City in 1979. What I would give to have been there. I love documentaries about the gay community in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s. I love learning gay history in general. I think it’s something more LGBT kids should do. Maybe they would have a greater sense of community if they did!
Q: You have called many places home, Chicago, NY, LA, and you are originally from East Tennessee. Do you have a favorite place? A place where you truly feel most at home?
A: I’m so grateful to discover how deadening Los Angeles is to my soul. My time there has passed. East Tennessee will always be where family resides. NY will always be incredibly exciting to me, but Chicago is home. I instantly felt at home the moment I moved back here. I feel like I am able to flourish. Something about it gives me a fresh, exhilarating creative spirit. I feel like I will have my greatest successes from here.
Q: Going back to the new CD, the 12 songs are very special. They are based on stories told to you by some of the fans who backed the project. What did you learn about them and about yourself during this process?
A: I learned that our stories are all very different, but a spirit of resilience, the desire to love and be loved, and a dreamers heart are all things that connect us. Whether I’m telling Lewis’s story, Janine’s story, Richard’s story, or so on and so forth, I”m telling my story as well. I find me in them. And as a songwriter, I hope they find themselves in me. It was a one of a kind experience, and I have to thank everyone for taking that journey with me. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.
Q: We share a mutual friend, Jason Dottley. Any plans for the two of you to work together?
A: Not in the foreseeable future. Never say never.
Q: Besides the move to Chicago and the album, what’s up next for Levi Kreis?
A: Million Dollar Quartet in Japan!! 3 week run, and I’m leaving in one week. Maybe I’ll get to unpack a few boxes between now and then?