Levi Kreis - So Much Better (2013)
This is JD Doyle with OutRadio and song is called "So Much Better." You'll hear more of that later and it's the first single off the brand new CD by Levi Kreis, and regular listeners know that I love Levi's music, so he's back to tell us about his new album.
JD: Levi, Your new CD is called "Imagine Paradise," and what is different about this project compared to your last work?
LK: Ah, the creative process was certainly different. All twelve songs are personalized customer theme songs for seven of my most generous of my Kickstarter backers. So I got to delve into the lives of some of my friends and fans I've known for years to get to hear what their story is about, find a way to speak about what their life experience is, and do it in a way that I hope all can relate to.
JD: How did you set that up, how did you make this sort of process happen?
LK: Many of them I got on the phone and sat and had conversations with them for a couple of hours. Some of the backers were okay about sending an email or two about what they might like, it varied from person to person. My goal was to try to discern something specific about it and I felt a responsibility to sort of create a glass half full experience with the song that I would write for them. Ultimately I did write about 50-something songs and paired it down to the twelve that I thought was the best representation of their story and also the best representation of what my musical vision was.
JD: And kind of the premise of your Kickstarter campaign was to solicit the stories.
LK: Yes, sir, I did, I was very excited about approaching the entire project from a more community driven kind of thing. Even all the incentives in the Kickstarter campaign I tried to think about, what would be the most interesting gift back, not just asking for fan funding, and throwing a credit in a sleeve. I really wanted to find a way to make it something very lasting, very special that they can remember forever.
JD: I know your original campaign goal was fifteen thousand, and you raised over four times that much, and that's pretty incredible.
LK: Big surprise, big surprise to me. I was just floored. I think that what it really provided me to do was, you know, every cent went to the creating of the album. It provided me the freedom to really try to approach my craft in a way that...I had the time to hone my songwriting craft. I had the time to really challenge myself to write the best songs possible. I had the opportunity and the time to challenge myself to make the best vocals I had made before and to bring a lot of personality to the recording. I think it's a rare thing for a lot of us independent artists. Often times we have our list of songs. We have a day in the studio and we have to go in and knock it out. So to have this opportunity to actually challenge myself every step of the way to strive for a level of excellence that I haven't done before was really what the experience was for me.
JD: Sounds like you could say, well, I think I should have done that song a little differently, and you could.
LK: And I did, I did, certainly, as a matter of fact the duet that I did with Sam Harris started out as a completely different song, something a little more that you would hear from Usher, on the March Madness Playoffs, you know, like a big anthem-y stadium type of song. And while it was attractive it didn't feel true to my soul as much, and so I had to rethink it and revamp it entirely. The freedom to be able to go back into the studio, reproduce it, bring Sam Harris into it, re-arrange the vocals, and redo the entire thing, that's a very rewarding process to be afforded.
JD: And while we're talking about that song, we might as well get to the questions I had for it. I've been a big fan of Sam, Sam Harris for a long time, and what a treat it must have been to do a duet, and how did that happen?
LK: I loved working with him so much on this album. He asked me to be a part of a New Year's show of his, on...I believe it was 2011, 2012 New Year's...back in Los Angeles, North Hollywood, so having the opportunity to work with him there, he then created this thing called the Leading Men of Broadway, which he directed and created, and I got to star in, along with a couple of other wonderful singers. I was currently working with him while I was recording the album, so it sort of was at first a fun suggestion to my producer. I said, wouldn't it be a blast if I was able to have Sam Harris on this album. And he goes, oh, that'd be awesome. And then we didn't really think about it again until I came back a week later and said, what would you think if I asked him? Do you think he'd say yes? Do you think he'd be into it? And I just bit the bullet, I asked him, and yeah, I was really surprised that he came to the table, and he came to the table with such joy. He brought a lot of creativity to the process.
JD: He's an old hand at this.
LK: Yes, yes, he is, and I learned a lot of things from working with him, too.
JD: You both recorded the same song.
JD: We're not going to hear that song. It's called "I Can't Make You Love Me."
LK: Oh! He recorded that song as well?
LK: Oh, I have to immediately go hear this.
JD: It's gorgeous, gorgeous, one of my favorite versions. You can't touch Bonnie Raitt, but it's a wonderful version. But I'm not going to play that. It's from an older album, and I have one more comment about the song. The song with Sam is called "It Ain't Over" and...this is an obvious comment...but the song's slow intro kind of sets you two up for a Barbra-Donna duet.
LK: Yay...yes, I had a lot of reference points in the creation of this album, and all the reference points were for things that had lived in my CD collection and in my iPod for many, many years. This is the stuff that I enjoy listening to. I never really had the opportunity to do an album that was a style of music that I listen to on repeat, that late 70's and early 80's disco-infused R&B... it felt like previous albums were created more from the aspect that were relevant at the moment to radio, relevant to press at the moment. For instance, "The Gospel According to Levi" is very reminiscent of the success that Kelly Clarkson was having at the time of "Since You Been Gone." [My album] "Where I Belong" was reminiscent of the success that Gavin McGraw was having on radio. But this album was the first time I decided to do what got me off, what actually gets me excited, the kind of genre that I listen to on repeat in the gym, at my computer, driving and everywhere that I go. So, Donna Summer, she was one of them, and to be able to envision "It Ain't Over" with Sam Harris could be that kind of dramatic introduction and that homage to Donna and Barbra. It was just so much fun.
JD: Well, my listeners will hear that immediately, and here's the song, a duet with Sam Harris, "It Ain't Over."
Levi Kreis & Sam Harris - It Ain't Over (2013)
JD: The words 'imagine paradise' appear nowhere in the lyrics on the album, so how did you pick the title?
LK: Ah, it was a by-product of a lot of metaphysical studies. You know, the quality of life is dependent on where we spend most of our mental energy. So, why not imagine paradise, and paradise can be mine to the degree that I can imagine it. It also refers to the fact that I really wanted to try to bring a hope and a positivity to every song. It's a very upbeat and joyful album, and I wanted every listener to think that regardless of whatever circumstances they're dealing with right now, that they can press through that by focusing on the positive aspects before them, rather than continuing to accentuate the negative aspects. So that's kind of what I was wanting to accomplish with that.
JD: Let's get to some more of the particular songs, and I'll share that when I listen to a new CD I like to play it in my car and deliberately not look at the liner notes or lyrics or anything, I just want it to kind of roll over me naturally. And, on several songs I got a late 70's dance music vibe, took me back to the disco days, and reminded me of...remember the song "TSOP," (The Sound of Philadelphia).
LK: Yes, yes, I love that.
JD: It took me to that place, but in an updated and I think better produced way.
LK: There could be no better compliment, JD, that is exactly what I was trying to conjure. Also I was fascinated by the most recent album by R Kelly, which came out about the time I was wrapping up my own production of this album. And I was so surprised to find that where I was living, like The Sound of Philadelphia, where you're talking, he committed his entire new album to, and I was like, holy crap, this sort of validated the ideas that I had, to have someone I respect as much as a musician come out and borrow from that Philly sound we're talking about. Yeah, I hope to learn even more about the impact that music has had, the nuances of it, and I really think that from here on out, I might stay in that space, because it feels like a really comfortable fit.
JD: Okay, well, here's one of the songs. There's this song where, if I understand it, you gave someone your boogie, and it just didn't work out, so you want to move on, but before you can, you need to take your boogie back...
LK: (laughs) "Taking Back My Boogie," yes, and that was actually written for a backer named George, who him and I had that in common. Men who have not necessarily seen the value of who we are and we extend ourselves too far and you get to a point where you're like, why am I wasting my time with somebody who does not see the value of who I am. Screw it. I'm going out to affirm the fact that I am fabulous. And that's exactly what the song is attempting to do.
Levi Kreis - Taking Back My Boogie (2013)
JD: I teased my listeners at the opening of this segment with just a bit of the song "So Much Better," and now I'll like to talk about it. One thing, I love the introduction and listening to this in the car I could swear before the lyrics started that you were going to break into "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" or "I'm Every Woman."
LK: Ah, brilliant! That's great, see, I love that parts of this album are conjuring those kind of memories for you, because that was such a huge intention of the creation of this album.
JD: Is that the first single off the album?
LK: It was the first single. It was released in March. It did really well overseas in the UK and Australia, and I had the support of you and other LGBT radio stations here in America. The great thing about it is it's still playing all across the country in cinemas and retail outlets and gyms and other places where people are continuing to discover that song. So I've been real pleased with the life that it has. People seemed to have actually listened to and then tried to hunt me up and discover my music, which is I guess the point of having a single. So, I'm grateful for that.
JD: Well, I asked you about the feeling it gave me, but what about the song itself, the lyrics?
LK: It was inspired by a backer named David McCormack, who is from Nashville, wonderful guy. He was actually one of the backers who didn't have a lot of information to offer. As matter of fact he told me that, it's okay, babe, I just wanted to support the album, you don't have to write a song about me. What I do know about David is that he and I have in common our obsessive workaholic side, which probably does not stop to release those things that are beyond our own control. I gather from him that he's much of a control freak like I am and a perfectionist, and very good at what he does because of it...
JD: Oh, I'm right there with you.
LK: Yeah, and I think it's kind of nice to remind people like David, and myself, of course that I have the courage to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference and to not worry about it if I can't.
JD: And the song, again, is "So Much Better."
Levi Kreis - So Much Better (2013)
JD: I have to ask about "Love Revolution," not only because I'm a fan of QBoy, and I've met him, but because it's likely your most political song.
LK: Yes, yes, it is, and I really am grateful for QBoy bringing a specific slant on what...as you know, I am always a more general, universal songster, so I really went to QBoy and I said, I want you to write a bridge and I want you to be as specific as possible and represent our LGBT community, especially as it refers to those of us in our community who have lived through the outbreak of AIDS, HIV and ACT-UP, and...yes, it's a song about general equality, but more importantly, and most specifically it is about what we have had to do, what we have had to face, what we have had to go through with the community. And I think that looking back on our history it is so rich with victories, and we have...we have accomplished and there is still so much to do. However I think a lot of times our young people...because they are comfortable walking down Boystown, holding hands with their partner...
JD: They don't know where we've been.
LK: They don't know where we've been, but I think they also live in a bubble and don't know that we still have somewhere to go. And just because we're comfortable does not mean that we should get complaisant. Being a Southern boy I can tell you, there's so many areas of our country that don't know the kind of freedom that our metropolitan young people do.
LK: So, "Love Revolution" says, keep it alive. Basically, young people, get off your ass. Let's get out and understand that we are still the love revolution that the world needs to see. And that's exactly what I wanted that song to be. It was initially inspired by a gentleman by the name of Richard Friend who was a teenager during Stonewall. He immediately got to work to create organizations to support our mentors, who are dealing with the outbreak of AIDS. And he continued decade after decade, poured his heart and soul, into lifting up and supporting our rights, and loving up our community. He is an incredible human being, and there was no other way to honor and represent his gift in this world, than to write a song called "Love Revolution." Richard was a love revolution to a lot of people, so that's how that song came about.
Levi Kreis & QBoy - Love Revolution (2013)
JD: We just heard "Love Revolution" with Levi and QBoy, and did you get to work with QBoy in person or was it done remotely?
LK: I so wish that I could have worked with him in person, because I kind of have an artist's crush on him.
JD: Oh, he's a cutie.
LK: And he's such a good guy.
JD: He is so under-appreciated in this country, I feel so bad about that.
LK: Oh, you know, I have been a fan of his for years. I love that this song does conjure the old school disco, but it modernizes it right away as well. He was the perfect choice for it. I think it's also a stretch for my fans, to say, yes I have a rapper on my album. So, the sound of his voice, the way that he phrases and what he does is actually the perfect step forward for me. I think it was a perfect pair-off.
JD: You know, since we've talked last you won a Tony Award. I was cheering in front of my TV when I watched you win it. I would imagine that has affected you on a lot of levels, could you share just a little of that?
LK: I think that the perception is that it probably changes life a little more than it actually does. You know, at the end of the day, it's back to basics, what's the next...
JD: Time to get groceries...
LK: Time to get groceries, yeah, so I don't think that it changes things much. I've heard from an acquaintance friend of mine who was fortunate enough to be an Oscar winner, and I really related to hearing her speak about how..."yeah, people might think I'm being an Academy Award winning actress now changes your life, but the truth of the matter is, you're back in the waiting line with other auditions, and it's just business as usual." People think the phone is going to ring off the hook after that happens, but for me the most significant thing that it did was it helped me be a little bit more confident.
JD: Does it seem kind of surreal, like...did that really happen, who was that?
LK: It did, it did, because I didn't expect it, and of course as you know my history has always been about making music, ever since I made my first little album at thirteen years old. So it wasn't a journey that I had spent a lot of mental energy sort of imagining or creating. It was a great job while I was in the middle of a divorce, while I was getting sober, and while I was just trying to clean up my life a little bit. And that little job turned into a really good payoff.
JD: Back to the album, I think "All Over Again" is just about a perfect song. And I confess when I read the lyrics I thought of my late partner and it made me a bit misty.
LK: Ah, that's so sweet. You know, I...thank you, thank you...I wrote that for a gay couple, Eric and Jason, who are in New York, and well before the album was even finished, I had finished their song. I sent it to them, and as soon as marriage was legal there, I went up and performed it for them at their wedding. And it was a very, very special memory for me, being able to bring a song that was commissioned by them, inspired by them, and actually begin to perform it for them at their wedding, after they'd been together for seven years, very special, very special song.
Levi Kreis - All Over Again (2013)
JD: I love the cover of the new CD. Could you talk about it for the listeners, and tell what was the inspiration for that.
LK: I had had several concepts for the album cover, many of which revolved around the idea of kind of putting a little montage of things that I consider to be paradise, whether it be palm trees and pelicans or whatever whatever. But then I kept looking at the concept and I think this album is not really about me, and I really wanted to find a way to honor the backers of the album in a really unique and special way. So I had this thought one day that to me personally the way that I sort of express something that means a lot to me personally is the few tattoos that I have. And I thought, oh, that's it. What if I were actually able to write onto my body four hundred backers, all of the names of everybody, just basically as a gesture to say, this album is about you, I wanted to create something visually that you can keep forever, represent them on the artwork and say I'm wearing nothing but you, nothing but you. And so albeit provocative it was more of a gesture of creating a really fun and meaningful way to honor my backers.
JD: Who got to do the lettering?
LK: My girlfriend from San Antonio, Texas, Terri Johnston, and actually we did it all day the first day, and shot everything, and realized we had made some great mistakes and it just wasn't looking good, particularly also the particular body positioning in the first day was just probably not as tasteful. So we decided to wipe it all clean and re-do it again on day two after we saw the pictures, and the next day we really got the particular look nailed down. Terri Johnson's done my photography for my entire career and she's actually going to be releasing a book soon, in October of all the portraits that document from the very beginning of my career up to that album cover.
JD: I was fantasizing that your boyfriend (Jason Antone) did the lettering.
LK: (laughs) Well, I'm sure he raised an eyebrow on the phone that night when I told him that Terri Johnson was writing in Sharpie all over my body, but you know, it all feels like business, just like, another day in the office.
JD: It's very appealing.
LK: Thank you, thank you very much
JD: And, here's another track from the album, it's called "We Are Timeless."
Levi Kreis - We Are Timeless (2013)
JD: Okay, I feel a bit guilty about saying this out loud, but this is the fifth time I've interviewed you, that's more than any other artist, and it's like I feel guilty because I'm neglecting other people, but we always have such a good time, so I can't resist.
LK: And I'm so grateful for it, because, JD, you're good at what you do and I love that you help artists tell the story of their album in a way, you're very nurturing in that regard.
JD: Good, good, that's the mission, it's not me, it's the artist, it's the music, get it out there. I have one more song I want to talk about. And I interviewed you almost a year and a half ago, about your "Live @ Joe's Pub" album and you told me that album in a way gave you a sense of closure, could you explain that and I'm wondering what the new journey has been like since then?
LK: What a great question, because it brings us full circle to where I...earlier in the interview was talking about...this is the first time that I actually created an album where my intention was to create something that I really enjoyed listening to, that wasn't about what I thought would be marketable, and wasn't about what I thought was even current. I mean, who would think disco's current, truthfully. It's not anywhere on the radar. So...yes, "Live @Joe's Pub" was a way for me to say, thank you for what I've done, I'm grateful for it, but from here on out I make music that illuminates my own being, that makes my ears just want to listen to it over and over again. And I was quite grateful to have a couple of producers who really knew the references that I was bringing to the table. They knew that 1981 Aretha Franklin album "Get It Right." They knew the Shalimar music. They knew that stuff, and I was really grateful that they were able to bring what I love the most into what I do. And that is what it feels like. Finally I feel like I can put a new tour together next year, sing this stuff for the rest of my life and actually enjoy it, because it's more in the pocket of what's true for me musically. And that's why I'm so happy about this new chapter.
JD: Okay, that sets us up perfectly for the last song. It's called "Let It Go," and that was the last song from the "Live @Joe's Pub" album, and it's the last song on the new album, so talk about it in particular.
LK: It was the first song that was written for "Imagine Paradise." Once I began to understand what I wanted from "Imagine Paradise" I actually decided not to put "Let It Go" on there. It's different. I had a wonderful producer that helped bring it into the fabric of the album, I think, pretty successfully, considering that the song is so different from the rest of them. But my backers, my fans who really fell in love with that song, were rather insistent about that being on the album. And I listened, and I'm like, okay, you know what, I wasn't going to have it on here, but I will include it. And at the end of the day I think that what it does is it gives the whole body of work just a slightly different hue, so that everybody has something on the album that they like the most. And I've seen that in the responses from friends and customers that bought the album. So I'm really grateful that I put it on there now.
JD: Kind of like a bridge between your journey?
LK: Yeah, it's a nice bridge, it's a nice bridge though, from old to new. And again, the song is called "Let It Go."
JD: Levi, thanks for the interview.
LK: My pleasure, thank you for having me.
Kreis - Let It Go (2013)
3/9/06 - Levi Kreis, JD Doyle & Eric Himan, in Houston
Starnes & Shah - Gatling Girl / 24 Million (2013)
And this is OutRadio for September, Part 2. I'm JD Doyle and that duo is called Starnes & Shah, and from their brand new CD "Shilling for Dreamtown" were the songs "Gatling Girl" and "24 Million." As usual I've got a lot of variety on this show, so up next is a Nashville all-lesbian band calling themselves The Granny Whites. From their debut and self-titled CD is the song "Can't Sleep."
Whites - Can't Sleep (2013)
After the Granny Whites I played a couple celebratory songs. First was a brand new track by Robin Renee called "All That I Am" and then a singer named Samia gave us "We Have the Right." And here's, I think, a stunning song by Suzanne Nuttall, called "Trophy Wife."
Nuttall - Trophy Wife (2013)
Very nice, that was the title track of the latest CD by Melissa Ferrick, "The Truth Is," and before it you heard "My Name Is Money," by Sonia Leigh. Okay, that was eight songs in a row by women. Let's give the guys a turn. From Austin, here's Mike Burns and his new single, called "Awful."
Burns - Awful (2013)
Daniel J Baker just gave us his debut single, called "Well." I first heard him on America's Got Talent, where he was a finalist in 2011, and later that year got to see him perform live at a gay club in Houston.
I think this next, kinda modified cover version, is pretty cool. The lyrics are different, as RuPaul's Drag Race alumni Pandora Boxx, with some help from Adam Barta, gave us their song called "I Knew You Seemed Shady To Me." You'll quickly remember the original song.
Boxx & Adam Barta - I Knew You Seemed Shady To Me (2013)
This is JD Doyle and I'm closing down Part 2 of OutRadio with, as they said on Monty Python, and now for something completely different. This act is called Well Strung - The Singing String Quartet. I played several songs by them on my April show. Here's how the New York Times described them: "a buff, gay, pop-classical hybrid of juicy boy band and staid chamber group with a vocal component." Yup, that does it, and here's a brand new concoction by them, that they call "Eine Kleine Clarkson."
Well-Strung - Eine Kliene Clarkson (2013)
Disappear Fear - Be Like You / Love Out Loud (2013)
And those two tracks, "Be Like You" and "Love Out Loud" are from the new CD by Disappear Fear, also known as Sonia & Disappear Fear. The CD is called "Broken Film" and this is JD Doyle welcoming you to Part 3 of OutRadio. You know, I delight in finding artists you likely have not heard before and on this month's show I am bringing you 13 who are new to OutRadio, like this next artist. This is in the category of local Houston talent, and from the new EP by Kara Melton called "Friends in Beds" is the song "Death Watch."
Melton - Death Watch (2013)
And that was Cat Chinn, singing "Jupiter" from her CD named "Bullet," with both of those tracks are from this year. Here's a new artist, named Doug Strahm, with the title track from his CD "Everything Has Changed."
Strahm - Everything Has Changed (2013)
In that set I went from Doug Strahm to Eli Conley and a track from his new CD "At the Seams." I picked the opening one "When God Sets His Sights on You." And then, I love songs with openly transgender lyrics, and I got it in the song "True Trans Soul Rebel." That was by the band Against Me, and their lead singer Laura Jane Grace. I can't wait to hear their upcoming album "Transgender Dysphoria Blues."
Some of you may know of the trans artist Venus Demars, of the band All the Pretty Horses. Well, she's been fighting the State of Minnesota tax people who say she is not a professional musician, and therefore cannot deduct just all kinds of business expenses, and are asking she pay many thousands of dollars. Well, since I have many albums by her band, going back to 1998 I'm on her side, and so are a bunch of her musician friends. They have released a benefit CD for her, called "White Horses," with the title taken from a song from their "Creature" CD from 2002. I hope y'all check out the album and donate to her cause. My friend Ellis got to cover the title track, and again, it's called "White Horses."
- White Horses (2013)
Yes, I'm in love with that man. Nicely done by the Paisley Fields. It's their new single called "Windows Fogged Up in Your Pickup Truck." In the middle of that set were The Cliks and "Sleeping Alone" from their CD "Black Tie Elevator."
Here comes Jeff Stults and "Dream Out Loud" from his new release "Middle of Somewhere."
Stults - Dream Out Loud (2013)
In the middle of that set was Sam Dickinson, another new artist and new to OutRadio, and from his new CD "The Stories That Occurred" were the songs "How It Used To Be" and "Learn to Wait." And then we heard McKinley Wilton, singing "In the Sun's Rays," from his new album "The Will and the Way."
I want to slip in a very short song, but I think it's a good one, by TimPermanent, from his 2011 EP named "Resident." The song is called "Busy."
TimPermanent - Busy (2011)
This is JD Doyle, and this time sure goes fast, I wish I could fit in a lot more artists, but closing us out is a singer I've been following for a while now and he seems to do everything right, from Broadway to television to CDs. His new CD is called "I'm Blue, Skies" and he's Cheyenne Jackson. And I can tell you right now that this album will make my best of the year show, as it's packed with catchy pop songs. Now, he's already released three tracks from the album during the last year, which I played, so this time I'm going to play two new ones, called "Before You" and "Don't Wanna Know." Cheyenne Jackson.
Jackson - Before You / Don't Wanna Know (2013)