cut/ Levi Kreis channels Madonna’s “Confessions On a Dance Floor” for a more upbeat offering.
cut/ Levi Kreis followed an “ex-gay” regimen before realizing that God doesn’t discriminate, he says.
ÒThe Gospel According to LeviÓ
In stores Jan. 30
Levi Kreis takes another puff of nicotine.
“For those who really want a Janis Joplin sound, pick up smoking and drink like a fish,” laughs Kreis, as he lounges on his patio in a sleeveless shirt sipping a cocktail.
The out musician, who gained momentum through musical exposure on “The Apprentice,” has a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking. Mind you, it’s several days past the beginning of 2007.
“I wanted to finish this pack!” he pleads in a whiney Southern drawl.
Though he’s a casual smoker, the potty-mouthed artist insists he’ll stop once he begins touring soon. Unusually, his addiction didn’t feed from peer pressure, but rather a character he played in an indie film.
“I never had a cigarette in my fucking mouth and he (the character) was a really cool fucker — all tatted out and (he) had a language with it,” Kreis cackles. “I’m not gonna look like a rookie on camera smoking. So I picked it up a month or two before (shooting).”
NicotineÕs been more of a blessing. Or at least for now. His once pure vocals developed a distinct gravel — evident on Kreis’ sophomore album “The Gospel According to Levi.”
“It was like Josh Groban,” he says as he mimics the operatic crooner. “I always wanted to … make it a little more raw sounding. So I was like, ‘I’ll just keep smoking.'”
The back wall was lined with cowboy boots and at the end there was an eight-track recorder. Kreis’ buddy Travis Howard’s air-condition-less apartment was sweltering over the summer as the two worked on “Gospel.”
“I said, ‘Dude, let’s just do one song to see if we can possibly get enough of a quality (recording with the eight-track).'”
Howard shot back: “You’re fucking crazy, Levi!”
But the musicians cut “In The Name of God,” which Kreis now calls the weakest song sonically. Before recording, Kreis knew what he wanted — and needed — to say. So, his typical album-crafting routine was disheveled. The accessible music came second to the reflective lyrics — sometimes political and often spiritual.
The songwriting process became therapeutic as he reflected on his personal struggle to accept himself while serving God. As a Tennessee teen he stopped attending his parent’s Southern Baptist congregation, where he sang and preached, and enrolled in an ex-gay program at a nearby church. No one knew. Not his parents. Not his friends.
“I felt like it was my duty personally — as a very sincere boy — to rid myself of what (Apostle) Paul calls ‘this thorn in my side.'”
With workbooks and tapes supplied by Exodus International, a religious group focused on converting gay people back to heterosexuality, Kreis committed to the program for six years. As he considered their tactics — and noticed “ex-gays” practicing suppression — he realized their explanation of the development of homosexuality was ludicrous.
He took on the word of God himself.
Kreis thought, “Maybe God doesn’t have an issue with this.”
On “Bittersweet Salvation” Kreis refers to his eventual resistance to converting himself: “I held a standard any saint had ever set/Three hours of daily prayer didn’t even clear my head.”
Though he testifies to a personal truth on “Gospel,” Kreis’ word channels a universal message: embracing all belief systems. “I really think it’s the first step toward evolving as a human race and the first step toward … even understanding the essence of the greatest commandment in the Bible: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
The religious intolerance overseas serves as a prime example, he notes. “Why don’t we just realize that everybody’s journey is different? And maybe our way is not the right way, but our way is another way. When we begin to realize that, a lot of opportunities for unity begin to open up that we would never have fathomed before.”
Though “Gospel” pushes serious images like Kreis throwing himself onto Christ, it ultimately lures listeners through its inviting beats, which were inspired by Madonna’s latest dance offering. After Kreis attended a show from her summer “Confessions Tour,” he considered her ability to smack listeners with spiritual metaphors packaged in an accessible way. Compared to his under-produced debut, “One of the Ones,” Kreis did a 180.
“It needed to be listenable in order to, I think, say the things I wanted to say … .”
Kreis puts his cigarette out. He’s considering leaving L.A.
“I’m always on the road so there’s no reason for me to live here anymore,” he admits. “I’d rather have a small, quaint kind of town … with a smaller gay community.”
He’s lived with his significant other, who’s originally from Michigan, in a condo since May and, just two weeks ago, they tied the knot.
“I’m fucking married!” he shouts. “I can’t believe it.”
Kreis, while living two blocks from his now hubby, met him when he pretended to be smitten with his pooch.
“I’m not even really a dog lover,” he laughs.
On “Gospel” Kreis dedicates the gushing “You Found Me” to him. He laughs, “He better get used to being a muse for a while.Ó