Entertainer Levi Kreis recently made a big life decision, one that he arrived at with the help of his fans.
The openly gay singer-songwriter, who once pursued the ministry as a career, ended his service as a licensed spiritual counselor last June. The move signified an overall shift in focus from religious teachings and contemporary Christian music that were a part of Kreis’s work and life for many years to performing more inclusive, heartfelt music that resonates with listeners.
“I’ve been a part of the church for years growing up and, as I have sort of become a part of more all-inclusive communities, I know there are certain dynamics of organized religion that are not a match for me,” he says. “I’m hearing what fans have been trying to tell me all along. I have to listen to what consumers are telling me and create more of that.”
Kreis, whose musical gifts were discovered as a youth in eastern Tennessee, released his first album, “One of the Ones,” in 2005. Other music, as well as acting jobs on stage and screen, followed. In 2010, he won a Tony Award as “Best Featured Actor In A Musical” for portraying Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet.”
This month, Kreis plans to perform two shows in Palm Springs. He’ll be at the Annenberg Theater on Jan. 15 and The Copa Room on Jan. 16. He recently shared with Desert Outlook what fans can expect during the performances, his memorable meeting with Dolly Parton, and his unexpected career highlight thus far (It’s not winning the Tony).
Who were some of your musical influences growing up?
Dolly Parton, absolutely No. 1. I remember being 7 years old and winning Best Young Talent and meeting Dolly Parton. I remember looking up and not seeing her face because of her boobs.
(Her songwriting skill), I consider that a goal. I look at lyrics she creates which are so indicative of east Tennessee.
Other influences, I grew up hearing Ronnie Milsap. He was a piano-playing country singer … the really great singer-songwriters like Dolly Parton and Ronnie Milsap that came out of east Tennessee.
For anyone who hasn’t heard your music, how do you describe your style?
I know the experience of me live has always been the most consistent thing, which is very intimate and very much the story behind the songs. People get to see a side of me live that they don’t see on a record.
From a recording perspective, I have been fortunate to explore a lot of different genres. I feel like I’m settling into what my very first album was, which was me and a piano.
How important is it to your performance to engage the audience?
I just think that’s something I saw growing up. I saw that from artists who had an influence on me. Also, those old Southern gospel performers. All I know is I just want a performance to be a conversation. We live in an age where pop-rock artists are so concerned about the presentational aspect — you see that on “The Voice” — rather than let me see how authentic I can be tonight.
What are the similarities between performing as a musician and as an actor?
I’ve always thought they were so closely related because I feel like to convey a song as honestly as possible, you’re sort of lost in the moment, the experience of it. The same is true with acting. It’s really all about, How does this feel to me? That to me is where great art of all media comes from.
Are you planning to act more?
I am. I fly to New York often. There’s a lot of irons in the fire right now. After these last few tour dates, I’ll probably be involved in something for seven or eight months. But I can’t say what it is yet.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I think (winning the Tony) was a very significant experience, obviously because when you are welcomed by an incredible community — like the Broadway world — it really helps you to have more confidence in what you’re doing. We all like that, to be validated.
For me personally, I’ve been more touched by the fact that “I Should Go” being used on season two of “The Vampire Diaries” reached a huge new audience of people. It crossed the borders, into Brazil. Even to this day, it’s introducing my music to people for the very first time.
That wasn’t written for that show, right?
No, it actually was written about a straight guy crush I had. We were working together. Over a bottle of JD, I just sort of realized I was falling for this straight guy, who was a friend of mine. I wrote “I Should Go.”
What comes next?
I’ve already started actually working on new music and pairing up with a couple of writers form Nashville. My job really this year is to listen to those who have been supporting my music and what they want from me most. By November of this year, we’ll have a new album out. It will be a return to where I started.
Is there anything more you’d like readers to know about your show or you?
I just invite everyone to come and to hopefully get to know me in a way they don’t through my recordings. It’s really great to have one-on-one time with people, and get to say, OK I recognize your face from Facebook.
IF YOU GO
What: Levi Kreis at the Annenberg Theater
When: 6 p.m. Jan. 15
Where: Palm Springs Art Museum, 101 Museum Drive, Palm Springs
Info: (760) 322-4800, psmuseum.org
What: Levi Kreis at The Copa Room
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 16
Where: 244 E. Amado Road, Palm Springs
Info: (760) 866-0021, coparoomps.com