It has been a very busy year for Levi Kreis. When the out singer-songwriter and actor wasn’t on the road supporting his latest album, 2009’s “Where I Belong,” he was earning rave reviews for his Tony Award-winning role as rock legend Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet,” currently on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.
Originally from Tennessee, Kreis, 29, has been juggling music and acting since releasing his debut album “One of the Ones” in 2005, which coincided with his appearance on NBC’s reality show “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump. His songs have appeared on TV shows “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and The Restless.” His musical achievements are just as impressive. As a performer, Kreis and his brand of Americana-laced pop music have shared the stage with artists such as Herbie Hancock, Melissa Etheridge and Cyndi Lauper.
But is Kreis taking a breather at the start of the New Year?
Instead, he’s coming to Philadelphia to perform with local singer-songwriter Eric Himan. Between his many Broadway curtain calls, Kreis took a few moments to talk to PGN about the ups and downs — most of them ups — of his bustling career, and how Himan’s success as an independent artist helped light the way for the musical side of his vocation.
PGN: How did you end up joining forces with Eric Himan for this string of shows? LK: I’ve been following Eric Himan since 2004. I remember when I first released my first independent album, he was the first singer-songwriter [I heard about] that it ever occurred to me that I could do it on my own and do it successfully. I had gone through eight major record labels and had just left Atlantic Records and decided to do it on my own terms. He was just one of those guys that I found and began to watch the way that he tours and handles himself. I was very inspired by what he was doing. So when I released my first album, it was a big surprise for me for his representation to hear my album, call me and ask me to go on tour with him. It was my first time touring the country and it was sponsored by Gay.com. We hit about 65 cities in 63 days. We were road dogs for about two-and-a-half months together. It was the start of a friendship. Recently I got involved with this musical in New York City. So when I decided it was important for me to get back on the road, I thought it would be a really lovely idea to reconnect with Eric and do a few dates together.
PGN: Is it difficult to balance your acting career with your music career? LK: I’m finding the rhythm. Initially acting took me by surprise. It’s always been something I’ve sort of fallen into. I moved to L.A. and randomly went on this cattle call just for fun and ended up being cast on “Rent.” I inadvertently became cast in a couple of short films, an indie film, and then played Matthew McConaughey’s brother in “Frailty.” And I was saying to myself, “Why am I finding myself in these opportunities when it was never on my radar to grow up to be an actor?” I think this experience, especially this past year, has really let it occur to me that not only is it something that I have a talent in, but I need to nurture it and hone it and let it be a part of my life. So over the last year I’ve tried to find a way to figure out what it’s going to look like. How do I balance both an acting career and a recording-artist career? But people do it. It’s just finding what works for you.
PGN: What were some of the difficulties you had as an artist working with those major labels? LK: One of the biggest things I have to admit to is perhaps the labels didn’t know what to do with me. I wasn’t being entirely authentic with them. I had left Tennessee and might have come out of the closet, but I moved to L.A. and went straight into the entertainment closet. So oftentimes they wanted to mold me into whatever the next version of the young TV straight heartthrob kid would be. But it never felt authentic. I think at the end of the day, no one knows what to do with you if you’re spending most of your time hiding who you are. That was one of the biggest things for me getting out of Atlantic Records and watching Eric. It wasn’t just about it occurring to me that I could do it on my own. It was about me being able to do it on my own and finally honor who I am and do it authentically. I had to tell my own story. If you hide your story, you have nothing to say. For me it was really a journey of authenticity. My success didn’t even come to me until I decided to be authentically who I am.
PGN: Will any new music be seeing the light of day on these upcoming dates? LK: With Eric I’m touring the current album, “Where I Belong,” which came out in May 2009. The cool thing about it is it sort of has a second life now. The second single, “Gonna Be Alright,” is hitting [adult contemporary] radio stations across the country and, with the tour, is picking up a lot of exposure that I don’t think the album had the opportunity to have back in 2009, when most of my energy was really in being in “Million Dollar Quartet,” which was great. But it’s really nice to see that this album is being heard to the scope that I always believed that it could be. So I’m really committed to spending the next year really allowing audiences who never got a hold of this album to discover it. I’ve always had the home base of the LGBT community. What’s interesting is a lot of women are finding this album. A lot of other demographics outside of our own demographic are beginning to discover my music for the first time, which is giving fuel to “Where I Belong.”
PGN: With the success you’re currently experiencing in the realm of acting, do you feel any pressure to put music aside and focus more on theater and television work? LK: Just from the sense of exhaustion, I think so. It’s so much to do, when you’re already doing eight shows a week, to wake up and give attention to an entirely different job. Ever since I became a part of “Million Dollar Quartet” I’ve sort of seen it as working two jobs. That can get pretty exhausting because, already as a recording artist, I could easily put over 40 or 50 hours a week into my own stuff. Sometimes it’s tough to spread yourself so thin. I think that it’s tempting to put music on the backburner, but I don’t know that I have the liberty to do that because my music is the thing that feeds my soul. If I don’t continue to engage myself with my own music, I tend to lose that fulfillment. It’s crazy that we’re doing these tour dates on the only nights off when I’ve already had eight shows a week. I don’t know what I’m thinking.
PGN: What are your plans for 2011? LK: I think I’m going to start doing some writing and I’ll let “Where I Belong” continue doing what it’s doing. I’ll continue doing tour dates on it. But I’m anxious to start working on a new project.
PGN: Do you have a direction in mind for the new album? LK: I feel like it’s going to be a lot more fun. I’ve always made a concerted effort with my music to try and offer something that I hope is inspiring and uplifting. But I sort of feel like what’s coming out of me now is simpler, more fun and less introspective. So I’m interested to see where that leads me. To have an album that laughs a little and has fun, I don’t know what that looks like for me yet. But I’m about to find out.