by Joey Amato | photos courtesy Rachel Love Photography
Although LGBT musician Levi Kreis is young, he’s had a career most musicians and actors can only dream of. The Tony Award-winning actor/singer and Belmont University graduate has performed in multiple Broadway shows and his music has appeared on numerous film and television shows including The Vampire Diaries, Sons of Anarchy and So You Think You Can Dance.
Kreis blends numerous genres to create a truly unique sound that has garnered him fans across the country. The East Tennessee native spent his youth mimicking the piano style of southern gospel music and idolizing men like Ray Charles who brought that sound to the mainstream. But Kreis confesses that everything he knows, he learned from one of Ray’s younger peers, Little Miss Dynamite, Brenda Lee.
A family friend, Lee gave Kreis the opportunity to tour with her after she discovered his talent.
“She allowed me to tour with her for a couple of summers,” recalls Kreis.
“I got to spend time with her on her bus and on stage. She was so classy and whether she was on stage or off, she was always thoughtful of people and conscious of other people’s experiences around her.”
Kreis will always be grateful to Lee and credits her for giving him the best piece of career advice he’s ever received. “Be kind to everyone you meet, because you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down.”
Traveling on her tour bus and studying her genius on stage and off, Kreis adopted Lee’s strong work ethic and classy reputation: “Anyone who works their ass off, can find success.” To this day Lee confesses, “I taught him everything he knows!”
Pioneering ‘out’ music
Kreis’ music career began in 2005 and he mentions only a handful of LGBT+ musicians were singing and writing about same-sex relationships.
“I got my start there. Nobody else was writing about those topics. Some people have told me I was one of the pioneers of the out music movement. Gratefully publications like The Advocate and Instinct were talking about us.”
Kreis notes that other pioneers performing music with LGBT-centric messages included Ari Gold, Erik Hyman and Rachael Sage.
While launching his music career, Kreis auditioned for a role in a new theatrical show called Million Dollar Quartet. He landed the role, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the show actually made its Broadway debut. His role in the musical earned him a Tony Award. “It was a huge undertaking. I’ve always had a passion for new works.”
In addition to Million Dollar Quartet, Kreis was also a cast member of Tony-nominated revival Violet, the national tour of Rent, Smokey Joe’s Café, Pump Boys & Dinettes, and the films Frailty, Don’t Let Go, Slip Tumble and Slide, A Very Sordid Wedding, and The Divide.
During that time, he also recorded seven albums, some of which achieved top 10 positions on various charts, No. 1 music videos and national tours. He made several TV appearances on The View, David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
Reconnecting to his roots
Despite his success, Kreis felt like acting took him away from music for a while. “I wanted to reconnect to my roots,” mentions Kreis. “I dove into creating new music and it took me a while to nd myself musically.”
His new album Bad Habit will be released on September 20 and took Kreis three years to complete. “I wanted to have fun with this record,” he states. “I spent some much time dissecting religion and spirituality. I needed to fall in love with music again.”
Kreis mentions the title came from years of struggling with addiction.
“I have a history of being a pretty bad boy. My story reflects a lot of personal victories that a lot of people can relate to. I had a drug, cigarette and alcohol habit. For me, I sympathize with those people who are trying to find their own victory over something people look down on. People like to judge them. I wanted to connect with my community.” Thankfully, Kreis has been sober for 10 years now.
The first single off the album, Three Words is a flirty vibe reminiscent of Raquael Saadiq’s Let’s Take A Walk and Duffy’s Mercy.
“I began to think of what aspects of attraction mean the most. I love the dance; where you know there’s a spark, but nobody wants to admit it. But you can’t fake the chemistry.”
As an openly gay musician, Kreis is used to rejection, starting his career at a time when being an LGBT+ artist was a risk for any major recording label.
“I have gone through eight major labels and when the label heard I was gay, they didn’t know what to do with me. All outlets supporting diversity now is a new thing. It wasn’t always like that. We always heard ‘no’. Gratefully things have changed a lot.”
MORE ABOUT LEVI KREIS
To learn more about Levi Kreis, visit www.levikreis.com.