QMH March 2007 Script
Automatic Pilot - Safe Living In Dangerous Times (1984)
This is Queer Voices on KPFT and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. I'm JD Doyle and this month's show will visit several acts spanning the 70s and 80s. They will include bands from San Francisco, Massachusetts and Canada, and I'll finish up with an interview with one of my favorite recent artists, Levi Kreis.
The song that started the show of course was referring to AIDS, and was called "Safe Living In Dangerous Times." It was by the group Automatic Pilot and was one of the main songs in a musical mounted by San Francisco's Theater Rhinoceros called "The AIDS Show," in September of 1984. But the group Automatic Pilot goes back a few years earlier, to 1980. In that year the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus was at a retreat and two of its members, Karl Brown and Matthew McQueen, wrote an original punk rock parody song for a skit. It went over so well, that others quickly joined to form a group, sort of an offshoot of the chorus. For a name, they turned to a quote from the testimony of a psychiatrist for Dan White's defense at his trial for killing George Moscone and Harvey Milk: "He sort of went on automatic pilot."
For the next few years the group did many performances around the city, and they were billed as San Francisco's satiric, erotic jazz wave ensemble. Along the way one of their members, Tony Kramedas, became their producer and they were working towards professionally recording an album when he died. This was 1985 and the momentum was lost. Fortunately their material was not lost, though it took twenty years to resurface. Two years ago founding member Karl Brown produced the release of two albums of their songs with the first appropriately called "Automatic Pilot: Back From The Dead." From it is the song "Are You In Love?"
Automatic Pilot - Are You In Love? (1982)
From 1982, Automatic Pilot and "Are You In Love?"
The other album that's been released is of a live show at San Francisco's On Broadway Theater in 1982, and some of the material was a bit too explicit for some audience members, like this song.
Automatic Pilot - Sit on My Face (1982)
Of course that song was not heard during the radio version of this show. It was called "Sit On My Face." The group did not shy away from subject matter containing references to sex and substance abuse. One song called "Bobbing for Apples" was about recycled beer and another was called "Rimmin' at the Baths." Much of their material was not ready for radio.
I want to mention that Karl Brown has set up a wonderful website honoring the group, one of the best I've seen in the way he's documented the history and music details, complete with song clips from almost all of their material and posters for their concerts. That's at www.automaticpilot.org.
Up next is another San Francisco act, an all women's jazz band called Alive! Lead singer Rhiannon met Carolyn Brandy and Suzanne Vicenza in 1976 at a jazz workshop and as Rhiannon described it, "The three of us fell in musical love." They were joined by Janet Small and Barbara Borden and the act was complete, and that line-up stayed the same through their ten-year history. Though they were a jazz band and did not perform only women's lyrics they were nonetheless very popular at the women's music festivals.
And, I've got a special treat, here's live recording of them at the 1979 National Women's Music Festival, singing a song called "Spirit Healer."
Alive! - Spirit Healer (live, 1979)
The group Alive! released three albums together, the self titled "Alive!" from 1979, "Call It Jazz" in 1981, and "City Life" in 1984, and a greatest hits release came out a few years ago, named "Always Alive." From their third album, "City Life," I want to share with you a track called "What Is Life"
Alive! - What Is Life (1984)
By the group Alive! that was "What Is Life."
I've got another women's band to bring you. The group was founded in 1972 by Beth Caurant and was called Lilith. Lead vocals were done by Lou Crimmins and Jannis Warner, and unfortunately they only released one album, called "Boston Ride," in 1978. I'm pleased to share with you from that album the title track, "Boston Ride."
Lilith - Boston Ride (1978)
It's always a treat for me to interview one of our pioneers, and I was able to track down the founder of Lilith, Beth Caurant, for a special interview. Of course the first thing I asked her was how the band Lilith got started.
Lilith started in around 1972. I had started looking for women to play with in 1971 because the only group, the only people who were playing were it was folk music for women. Joan Baez, which is fine but I wanted more of the pop, and I would try to get involved with playing with men and invariably they would leave to go and play with other men, and wouldn't take playing with a woman seriously. So I saw the Deadly Nightshade, which was a trio here in Western Mass, and they just kind of blew me away. I said, I knew women could do this, and I started looking for other women to do it and it was hard to find people who were as serious as I was and also not to be hung up on by some you know, when someone would call, I'd put an ad in the paper and I'd say it's an all women's band and they'd say, never mind, I'm not interested, so that's how that happened
So the Deadly Nightshade was one of your inspirations?
It was, I had been thinking it was possible before that, and when I saw them I was on a date and I saw them playing just in a restaurant in Amherst, and they were just so inspiring, yes, I give them a lot of credit.
They didn't release anything until '75, '76, I didn't know they were around that much earlier.
Well, it takes a little while.
And, was Fanny around, that you saw?
No, I didn't run into anyone from Fanny. They weren't known in the women's community so much, you know, and they were on a whole other coast. Now I have a connection with June Millington whose living right near me. But they were kind of going in a different direction. I met her around 1978, she had come to Boston for something but I think at that time Lilith was as far as I know more popular.
How about the New Haven's Women's Liberation Band?
Right, they were around. We went out there at some point, when we were, when there was just a few of us in the band, to jam with. I'm thinking they changed members often. But I don't know, they were more Conneticut. I don't know, we were kind of on different wavelengths, but they were around.
Did you consider or conceive Lilith as a feminist band, or a lesbian band, or what?
Yeah, that was a big issue. I just thought that I wanted women to play great music and I was driven by the music and I was also a big feminist from the 70s, you know, kind of a natural feminist. And there was a kind of interesting divide in the you know, there were factions, Olivia Records on the West Coast but it was music that didn't interest me, the music didn't catch me, it was more folky and I was really into the whole rhythm, whole band thing. And also, I wanted the music to make, to move people, so basically I feel that we got some flack from that. People boycotted some of our gigs, the separatists, because we played music that was written by men, you know, we played cover tunes. But actually we were a huge feminist statement, and that was part of it. It was like "you get up there and you can do it, any women can do this," and people were just blown away by it, not just lesbians, but all women, and straight people as well
What was the makeup of the band, as far as lesbian/straight?
You know that's interesting, we were all lesbians. No one straight ever came into the band and I don't think we put that out or we said that. I think there was a straight woman who tried out at one point and she just didn't fit in musically.
Just happened that way.
You know, I don't know that we did anything that consciously, but you knew and we were fighting a battle to be able to do this, and even if we didn't get along, you knew we bonded together when we were getting up to do a performance or something like that, because we had to fight to get into clubs. We had to, you know, people were always saying you're good "for girls" in the beginning and things like that so we had a bigger battle to fight, but I don't know why that was the personality of the band
What kind of gigs did you mostly perform?
Well in the beginning thank God for the gay bars and benefits, we did many of those, in colleges Mt Holyoke, Wheaton College, East Coast colleges. An earlier gig would have been the first Boston Gay Pride, in the mid-70s, and the Long Island Women's Music Festival, and eventually in the late in '78 we played the National Now Convention in Washington DC, you know I guess you had to be chosen to play and we were really popular at that time, and that was great.
How did you pick the name for the band?
Well, when we were just starting it was just three of us. Two of the women had been in a shelter. They were like street kids from Springfield, they were living on the streets in Springfield, basically they had left their homes or something. We were just 20, and a house, a lesbian house, took them in and they called the house Lilith, or something, I didn't know this but I remember the meeting where we looked it up in The Bible and it was a woman who was radical and feminist and it worked for us. And you know we often thought that maybe it curse us even. I was reading some of these old articles, because we had such a hard time getting ahead, and I just think we were ahead of our time basically.
How would you hope people remember the band.
I would like people to well, first of all to know that we broke ground, and we're not the only ones that did of course, you mentioned some of the other ones that did the same thing, ah, that we were not just women, we were good at what we did, and it wasn't just the band, it was a place where people could come, and it was a gathering place, like almost like we grew up together. If you mention Lilith to anyone who was around at the time they'd say "oh my God, what days those were." You could gather at a Lilith event and just feel so, it was so powerful, it was really empowering for lesbians, just a great place to be. I think just for people to remember their foremothers, their forefounders in this area. That's why I think the work you're doing on your radio show is so important.
Thank you. I'd like to ask that question a little differently. What do you think the role of the band Lilith is in lesbian history?
I think it's huge. I think it's the most popular women's band there was, we had the largest following, very charismatic, you know, obviously pioneers. We broke a lot of ground, we had to be very tough. And we fought for just what we were, it was natural for us to do that. I just think that we were the ground-breaking women's band, I really do.
Did you also perform at the women's music festivals?
You know, we didn't. That's interesting because when the first started we didn't fit in, because we were a rock band. It was very folky. And it was also they wanted to hear you sing lesbian-lesbian, they just didn't want to hear you be great and be a lesbian statement in and of yourself, because that's what you felt like when you saw us. It wasn't and you know I think it's almost like you're on different parts of the continent, in the middle of the country, and actually at the end we were going to go to the Michigan Womyn's Festival but we broke up before that ended up happening.
I have all the copies of "Paid My Dues," a pioneering women's magazine, and I didn't spot y'all in there.
Yeah, that's a perfect example, now, where does that come out of?
Ah, I think the Midwest.
Yeah and I think that's part of the maybe there's some elimination going on there, there's a competition thing where we didn't fit into that whole Olivia scene, so we weren't going to get in, and we weren't just doing the lesbian songs. I don't think that maybe they were ready for the people that were doing what we were doing yet. It wasn't quite that time and I don't know that we left ourselves out of it there might have been a little of that. You know, were more in mainstream, like Boston Globe and things like that.
How did the record come about?
Yeah, you know everything was from the ground up, we managed ourselves and booked ourselves, but there was this woman, Annamarie Taylor, who had just immigrated from Italy or something and hadn't been here that long, and she heard us and knew that there was something magical and she had inherited some money and decided to invest it in an album for us, which was incredible generous of her. People didn't make albums so much, and it wasn't like we had a little record company or so it was everything was independent which is why the album doesn't do the bank justice, but so we found a female engineer, Karen Kane actually, and she was doing her first album, it was she had recorded or her first band, I think, it was the first time she had recorded a band, so everything was new. She backed the album and then there was some discussion about whether to start selling it though the lesbian venues and there was some struggling within the band about whether they wanted to go totally that way. Of course I felt strongly that we should because of the gay and lesbian movement [and the networking] that's right, because we made it, because they brought it up, when we needed it, you know what I mean?
The label was Galaxia, was that the label of your producer, Annamarie Taylor?
Yeah, we were her first record on it. And I don't know that she ever did any more.
Oh, right, great, we did a gig with her, when we in the same Boston community.
Oh, that's great, can you find that on the web?
You can see an interview with her on my site.
You're kidding! Oh, with Maxine, she's great. Oh, I'd love to hear that
Yeah, very down to earth. I never met her, but we got along great on the phone.
Let's get back to the band, how long did the band last?
We lasted until the end of 1978, ah
Gee, the album came out and that was it.
Yeah, the album came out you know we were getting I think, it's just we burned ourselves out, sometimes we did six gigs a night, I mean, six sets a night, and since we were breaking ground it wasn't like and we kept wondering why we weren't getting picked up, if only we were as good as possible that was the secret, and then we were really good, accepted by straight audiences and everyone alike, but we wanted to do it our own way, we didn't want to wear mini-skirts, we didn't want to sell out, they wanted us to wear little dresses and uniforms and you know, basically the first women's band to break through were the Go-Go's and we weren't the Go-Go's. So I think that was part of it, you know, when you're in the beginning and we pushed it. And so in the end Bonnie Raitt even came to see us and said she hadn't been that blown away by a band in a long time. She booked us to warm her up but I think we were just through. We just didn't get the break we needed.
The album contained three cover songs but the rest of the material was all written by group members.
I don't think we even knew that you should play original material and I do think that this was a shortcoming, but I don't there was never any conscious talk about you would do anything but be this dance band, and play at clubs and play cover tunes, and it sounds like nothing nowadays, but then it was, it was kind of a big deal. Yeah at the end we started writing, and that had just begun, we started writing, and actually I was amazed that I could write or that we could write, so that's why there were so few originals on the album, in fact we hardly even played them.
Was there a particular song that was a big crowd pleaser
Yeah, basically we always opened with "Pick Up the Pieces" so that was a big hit, cause it was very powerful to hear a group of women play that.
Lilith - Pick Up the Pieces (1978)
Not your Average Lesbian Band. That was a little of "Pick Up the Pieces" by Lilith.
Do you have any closing comments about the place of Lilith in history?
Well, I just am so amazed now that I see all these magazine covers with girls on the covers with guitars and it's so cool. It's just amazing to me that that could even happen in my lifetime, because it was laughed at when I was trying to do it, in the early 70s, it was not a normal thing for people to do and you know, when I started to see people become famous, like Sheryl Crow and all that, and I said, "Yeah, we had something to do with that." You know, that's what I think it's important for people to know, that things just don't come out of the air, that you know, there are women before them, or men before them that have pioneered, led the way.
Very nice, and what is Beth Caurant doing these days. Well, she is currently co-hosting a radio program called Independent Muse, on Valley Free Radio, in Northhampton, Massachusetts. And, she hasn't stopped recording. Here's an unreleased song by her that speaks for a lot of artists.
Beth Caurant - Play It On the Radio (1980)
Again, that was Beth Caurant, and "Play It On the Radio."
There's another woman's band I want to share with you, and they were from Canada. Named after an Incan moon goddess they were called Mama Quilla II and were founded by Lorraine Segato, who did the lead vocals. They released just one recording, a 3-song 12" vinyl EP, and the song that caught my love for blatant lyrics was this one, "Angry Young Woman."
Mama Quilla II - Angry Young Woman (1982)
Mama Quilla II. The group was started in 1977 and they effectively disbanded in 1982 when Lorraine Segato and drummer Billy Bryans formed The Parachute Club, one of the most popular Canadian bands of the 80s.
Now you may have wondered why they called themselves Mama Quilla II. Well, it was in honor of an earlier band, Mama Quilla, founded by Sara Ellen Dunlop, who died of cancer in 1978. She was a much loved Toronto lesbian singer, bar owner and general force in Canadian women's music. Her company, Sara Ellen's Music, was one of the earliest recording companies wholly owned and operated by women. In 1975, Dunlop released In the Light, an extended-play recording of four songs, and from that EP is the song "Singing On Canada."
Sara Ellen Dunlop - Singing On Canada (1975)
Again, that was Sara Ellen Dunlop.
And remember a while back I talked about producer and engineer Karen Kane, and how the album by Lilith was one of her first projects. That was in 1978 and I have many albums from her own discography. One was in 1984 by an artist named Susan Graetz, and Karen did all the production and engineering on this one. All I know about Susan is what I read on her album jacket, so I know she's a guitar and banjo player, and the album, called "Somewhere Between," contains about half originals by her, and a number of charming reworkings of traditional songs, like this one, "More Pretty Girls Than One."
Susan Graetz - More Pretty Girls Than One (1984)
That was the old folk song "More Pretty Girls Than One" as interpreted by Susan Graetz, on her 1984 album "Somewhere Between"
I've got time for one more artist in this first hour, and her name is Miki Wagner. The album I have by her, the only one that I know of that she recorded, is called "Infatuation," and was produced in San Francisco in 1981. Of course I picked the queerest song on the album, which is one called "Normandy"
more obscure lesbian album releases: Susan Graetz and "Somewhere
Miki Wagner - Normandy (1981)
Miki Wagner and "Normandy"
And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Levi Kreis - Say It Out Loud (2007)
Now, the rest of this show will be devoted to what I think is a very fun interview with one of my favorite new artists, Levi Kreis. And in a way, this is also an unusual interview, because it's my second one with him. I've very rarely done second interviews on Queer Music Heritage. The first appeared on my January of 2006 show, and I think it was a very interesting one. I encourage you to check out that one on my site, but to kind of set the stage, in the first interview he told us about the struggles he went through being raised Southern Baptist. He was on his way to becoming a Christian artist but that nasty old homosexuality got in the way, and he ended up spending six years in an ex-gay program, before graduating as a full-fledged queer. He moved to L.A. and found opportunities in both singing and acting, and got involved in the play "Southern Baptist Sissies," one of creations of playwright Del Shores.
And things have been both up and down. A down, which was probably a blessing, was being dropped by Atlantic Records. I consider it a blessing because if had not been dropped, he would not have released in 2005 an album on his own called "One of the Ones." I think that is an amazing album and was one of my favorites of the year. And now he's just come out with a new album, very different and I just love it, so I couldn't resist having him back on Queer Music Heritage. Okay, I've brought you up to date and you've already heard a little of one of the songs from the new album. The new album has a title that is a bit tongue in cheek. It is called "The Gospel According to Levi," and I began the interview by asking him to tell me about the album.
Well, one review I've gotten already has said that the album is hook-driven and genre-bending and I love that, but what is neat to me is that finally here's a project where I've allowed myself to confront the issues presented to me by my history with the church, and hopefully it's as much loving as it is confrontational, but certainly this album allows me to put the past to bed.
Now that you've told me that, is there an overall message you want this album to get across?
You know, I think if I want this album to accomplish anything it would be to leave the listener with the suggestion that in a world of so many different belief systems, you know, we're so inclined to think that our way is the right way, but maybe perhaps maybe our way is just another way and that we need to allow for the journeys of other people and how they ever interpret that, and see it as equally divine. I believe it important because at the end of the day I don't think that we can even fulfill the greatest commandment that Jesus Christ gives us, love our neighbor as ourself, if deep within we really believe this other person is wrong and I am right, and if you don't think the way I do, you're wrong. So hopefully the album kind of suggests to make room for everyone's belief system
Do you expect to get any controversy about this album? Well, that's not bad.
I would imagine that I would run into that at some point, yeah, so far it's been well received, I've been very surprised. I have had responses on myspace from people who got to know me through the last album, and these were Christian folks that maybe heard from me maybe from The Apprentice, they have more of a conservative demographic, and I've received people putting Bible verses on my myspace page and commenting about my confronting the church and how unfair that is, and a few emails from people who are praying for me now. So, yeah, it's going to ruffle a few feathers, I think, probably.
Well, that's not bad.
Maybe not, if it causes us to think, that's all I want to do.
Since your last album got such acclaim, did you have difficulty in deciding the musical direction of your new album? So many artists follow up an acclaimed album with a cookie cutter version of it.
This is true. You know, I like to approach an album often times more as a songwriter than as an artist who wants to stay within a confined stylistic place. As I was looking at the lyrics for this album I wanted to avoid making it kind of masturbatory and a little I don't want to make it too dark, and so I found myself trying to find a style that would interpret that lyric in the most upbeat, hooky, positive way, and oftentimes it ended up meaning that one song sounds more R&B and one song sounds more rock & roll. I just kind of let that be what it was, and I think probably from this project forward I would imagine my next album's going to be more of a defined stylistic statement, but for me it was about how do I translate the lyrics musically and make them work for this project, you know.
Do you think it may be incongruous to have a dark subject conveyed with hooky melodies?
Yeah, I mean I was experimenting with that because I wanted to convey my message in a way that people didn't feel beat over the head with it. Maybe they could walk away singing the song thirty times before they realized what I was saying underneath a hooky, upbeat, fun sound, and maybe it was a way for me to slide in my message, you know, through the back door, so that maybe it was heard after someone has played it, because they liked the sound of it and then they realize, oh, wow, he's talking about 9-11 in the first verse of this song, he's talking about the Protestant-Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland, oh my gosh, I was just singing along, and it was fun. So I think a lot of that choice was to try to slide the message through the back door
Well, while I would have absolutely loved another album like your last one, cause I adore that album, I totally understand why you went this direction.
You had to, I think.
You know, I am a huge fan of artists like Tori Amos and I enjoy how true she allows her music to stay to the heaviness of the lyric, but the lyrics for me were just so heavy already that I think I personally had to give myself something light musically to package it and something that was easy to digest, so that I could digest the lyrics a little easier
Now, I had not given it a lot of thought ahead of time, but I was kind of surprised at how meaty it was.
Lyrically speaking? I hope that it's not too much, there's always that fine line of pushing your agenda on other people and I certainly don't want to be that kind of artist. I want people to be able to take something and have their own interpretation of it and think for themselves and process it in a way that makes sense for them in their world, so I hope that it's still, even with the meaty lyrics, found a nice balance that people are capable of doing that with.
Oh I think it definitely does. Let's get to one of the songs from the new album. Tell me about "Bittersweet Salvation"
Oh, I would love to know what you think about "Bittersweet Salvation"
I'm not the one being interviewed.
Well, "Bittersweet Salvation" is probably the hardest song I think for people who might tentatively approach this new material, because maybe they still believe in the theology of Christianity. Maybe they just have a healthy fear of God, you know, this is the song that flat out says, "you told me that I was worthless and what I needed was to rely on this outside source to save me so that I could end up in this place in the future and I would have to behave like this and do this right and this right and I can't mess up, and all these things, this legalistic structure that I was kind of forced to move through with such pain and coming out with such scars. It was kind of my way of denouncing, quite honestly, that the church, and not so much Christ and not so much the theology of Christianity, but to denounce the lack of love
There's a big difference between religion and church.
Yes, I absolutely think that there's a big difference between religion and church actually I think they're more similar than different, now that I say that because spiritually to me is different than religion and church. I think that once a belief system becomes an organized religion there are a lot of things that are embedded within the structure of that is a part of it, I imagine that has to be a part of it for thousands of years, if you look at the history of the church oftentimes that structure has been needed for Christianity to survive. So it's had its purpose, but it also doesn't reflect the fluidity of and the individuality of everyone's journey and how mine is different from your's and your's is different from her's and it's okay to accept others outside of that structure and that to me is what spirituality is and religion always feels that you have to be in this box in order for us to recognize you.
Levi Kreis - Bittersweet Salvation (2007)
Of what song on the new album are you the most proud?
Wow, that is a wonderful question because they're just so different. I think that I'm probably most proud of "We're Okay," a song that I wrote for my mother, which that song began to write itself, very quickly, after being in Kentucky on tour, with Eric Himan, and I had been telling my family, my mom and dad, I would love for them to come and see what I'm doing now. It had been nearly eight years since they had made an effort to come out and be a part of what I do and sit in the audience and take it in and be there and support me and they decided at the spur of the moment to just drive up from Tennessee, and they walked into this club. It was a room full of, you know, gay guys and college girls and like all this sort of mix of people that they would never be around and it was that moment that I realized that they're finally making an effort and maybe we are going to be okay, because it's been a big challenge I think for my fundamental Baptist family to really reach out.
And they've done wonderful with the partnership and the marriage and my mother has been very acknowledging of Greg and they've really come a long way now, but that song was kind of my way of saying, look, I recognize that you made that effort and it's the start of something that we can mend, because I don't want my life to go by and not have a relationship with my family, and continue to feel estranged from my family over this issue. It's just time that I start being a part of my family again, and us confronting these issues and working through them with love. And so that's kind of why I think that song is so important to me and I played it for my mother, and she just bawled and cried, and I'm getting wonderful emails, JD, from other people who have gotten the pre-order and heard the song, played it for their mother and it was kind of it created a moment of conversation for them, and bonding for them through that song, and that's exactly what I wanted to hopefully do through it, and hopefully it will continue to do that and it will always have a special place in my heart.
Levi Kreis - We're Okay (2007)
Did your association with the play "Southern Baptist Sissies" influence the direction of your music?
It certainly provided me with a sounding board of people who have gone through the same kind of experiences and I began to sit down and look at lyrics like "Bittersweet Salvation" and "The Reckoning," I wanted to know that people who have had the same journey as myself instantly relate to what I'm trying to convey, so you know, having the blessing of being in Del Shore's world and on tour with "Southern Baptist Sissies" and the fact that that subject matter draws people who have had that same journey and the same experiences to us to hear their stories, to hear where they're coming from all that kind of served as fodder for me to be able to go back home and pick up my pens and sit down at my piano and write, and to keep all those things in mind for me. It helps a lot.
It kind of gives voice to some of the people who may not have it.
Absolutely. I didn't have that voice for myself, and if music and writing wasn't just therapy for me then maybe out there someone wouldn't have that voice to speak for them, but now luckily Del's out there doing that and there's a lot of avenues where people can really I think hear someone addressing their experience and, and may be able to associate themselves with than and maybe work through some healing for theirself, you know, hopefully
Tell me about the song "Stain Glass Window"
You know, after seeing "Southern Baptist Sissies" thirty-six times after discovering the play of course you know Del Shores invited me to see it as many times as I needed to see it to kind of put the pain of the past behind me and I took him up on it, I went every week, until I began to feel a sense of understanding as to my own journey and going through six years of reparative therapy to become, and you know, growing up a preacher and an evangelical boy, going to a different church every weekend, you know, singing and preaching I was sitting at my house, after seeing it for that last time, during that year, of course I've seen it now countless times being on the road with him. I sat down at my piano and just tried to put a period at the end of that experience for me. It was my own effort to create something that said, you know what, this is what I make of this now, you know, drawing from Del's monologues in the play, letting that color the lyrics, kind of combined my experience of the play with my own experience and my own desire to just put that past behind me and write a song that capsulizes what I believe this content to mean in the play and what I believe my own journey to be.
So, it was a release for me, and I remember being back over at Del's house, and I think I was hanging out with his kids or something and I said, "Del, have you ever heard this song that I wrote after seeing your play?" and he was like "No, play it for me." And I just sat there and played it and he just kind of stopped what he was doing and looked and said, "you know what, maybe this is the theme song, you have to sing this after every show," and ever since then I've barely missed a show
Are you going to record it any differently for the soundtrack?
It is already recorded for the soundtrack. We have a wonderful studio version that has not been made available for sale to the public, but we have it in the can and we're ready to use it, it's done.
How different is it?
It's very churchy, I mean, you've got the church organ and you've got the gospel choir behind me and it sounds very large, much different from me just being at the piano and doing it on "Rough Around the Edges," yeah, I've got a whole team behind me and singers and wonderful players that really just brought the bigness of it to life.
For the new album you resurrected a song from your "Rough Around the Edges" album. Was that a hard or easy process?
It was an absolutely enjoyable process. You know, I've been singing "Standing Tall" in my shows for seven years, and it was wonderful to have that on the live CD, "Rough Around the Edges," which we don't have, it's not being manufactured anymore, I don't have it available for people but that was one of the reasons I went back and did that song, because I don't have it available on any other CD right now, and because for me I've always liked to end my shows with that. I've always liked to leave it on a really positive note, and that song for me did that very well, so it was good to have it available, I think. But it's a completely enjoyable experience to be able to sit down and do that exactly like I would do it live.
So, that CD is kind of a collector's item.
Yeah, it is.
How many did you make?
How many of "Rough Around the Edges" did I make? I would have to say roughly 1500, maybe 2000.
That's a good amount, really.
Yeah, and that's how many I had sold and at that time I was making them off of my own computer at my house and burning them myself and putting the insert into the j-card myself and printing out the labels and it all came straight from my home computer and straight to the show, and selling them mostly through "Southern Baptist Sissies," at that time I was singing after performance. I think that was 2002. So yeah, every one of them was made with my own hands to get out there to just make a little bit of money, grocery money at the time, you know, just as a means of survival
From your last album I enjoyed the song "With You," and it shows up again on this album in a little different form.
"With You" I wanted to put on this new album, "The Gospel According to Levi," because you know some babies you have are just more special than others, you know, and as a songwriter there are songs that I've always wanted to kind of give them a chance to be heard in the best light possible. "With You" is on "One of the Ones" and of course it was a more intimate take and maybe a little bit more internal of an interpretation, but I really wanted to give this song another chance, to be what I initially heard it to be as a songwriter when I wrote it. I initially heard it having a bigger chorus and a fuller sound and really having a soaring sensibility about it. So I just had to go back and do it again, you know, that was a choice completely disconnected from trying to make a consistent content of the album. All the other songs are very decisively chosen to continue a theme, contextually. This was just kind of like for my own sheer enjoyment. I just wanted to hear this song in the way I originally heard it in my mind, writing it. And I also found that there was a lot of people who I think gravitated towards "With You" on the last album because "I Should Go" was instantly gravitated towards because of "Days of Our Lives" and "Hardly a Hero" the same thing, with "Young and the Restless" and so "With You" just sort of sat there between the two of them and I think never really found its place, and so I kind of wanted to give it another shot, to see where it sticks, and hopefully I think by the way we've produced it this time I'd love to get some radio play with that now, because I really just think a more top-40 approach to its production fits the song. I hope. It was a fund experiment to do anyway, and it was thoroughly enjoyable, much like doing "Standing Tall" again.
Levi Kreis - With You (2007)
You've had a pretty good year. Let me recap what I see from where I sit. You're nominated for three Outmusic Awards, you tour with Eric Himan, your songs have been used on soap operas, and you already have a new album, which I think is terrific.
I feel blessed, JD, I do. And to top it off I can tell you something even better I got married two weeks ago. [Note, this interview was recorded January 4, 2007]
Wow, like civil union, or
Our domestic partnership, me and my now husband went to city hall in West Hollywood, and the mayor married us, and we signed the domestic partnership, which in the State of California is every bit as legal as a marriage, brought his mother and a couple of our close friends and we did it, so the whole holiday season was kind of a honeymoon
Well, since you're in a relationship, how has that affected your songwriting?
Well, it seemed like immediately after finding this relationship the songs started pouring. Of course one of them ended up on the new album, "The Gospel According to Levi," a song called "U Found Me." After going through three years of dating so many people, so many guys, that created "One of the Ones," because I wrote about all of them. I had moved back to L.A. from New York and I was kind of done with dating. I was like I have all these series of two-month relationships, and four-month relationships and I just can't find what's compatible with me, and this guy was walking his dog by my apartment one afternoon and yeah, we talked and sure he came by a second or third time, but I was not going to invest my energy in doing this all over again, when I was just convinced that it was not going to work. So he had the patience of Job with me, or is that the patience of Moses, I don't remember, but all in all he was a very patient man and just stood there in front of me and offered his friendship and his love, until I got a clue and realized that everything that I had been looking for was standing right in front of me and I needed to get on it. So, it was it's really changed my life in such a positive way. He really lifts me up to be a better person and I hope that I do that for him.
I remember teasing you last year about lining up ten guys for the next album.
I know, I'm going to have to milk this one guy from now on, for all of my material. He's my final muse.
Well, since Levi's partner Greg inspired the song, let's hear a little of "You Found Me"
Levi Kreis - You Found Me (2007)
You landed a couple songs on soap operas last year. How did that come about and can you measure the impact of it?
You know, that was such an exciting thing to discover, first "Days of Our Lives" of course. You know, I wrote "I Should Go," the song that ended up on "Days of Our Lives" as you know for a straight friend of mine I developed a crush on and we were very close and of course I played the song for him eventually and he was very, you know, flattered and it was birthed out of my own very different experience than what Austin and Kerry's relationship on "Days of Our Lives" is. To find that that song apparently was written universal enough to apply to their relationship and other people's relationships was such a positive thing for me.
Upon doing "One of the Ones" I thought you know, here's my coming out album, I'm writing songs about guys. My fear is that I'm going to alienate the rest of the world because maybe they won't be able to relate their experiences to mine. And so I kept waiting to see if that would be the case, and when "Days of Our Lives" came along and used that as the theme song for Austin and Kerry's budding relationship, it was kind of just a nice it was a nice sign for me to say, you know what, good, that's the point of a songwriter I think it's very important to be able to write in a way that relates to everyone, that allows everyone to bring their own experience to it, so I was just thrilled to find that it could be used for "Days" and when "Young and the Restless" came along it was wonderful, too, and it motivated me and gave me a positive feeling about how the rest of the world can take my music when it means something so specific to me, and allow it to mean something completely different to them, and so much so that they can bring it to the nation, and have people all receive it, so I was very, very jazzed about that.
Well, the second part of that question was can you measure the impact of that? Did your sales go up?
Oh, absolutely, yes, it really did make a huge difference. "The Apprentice" was perfect to launch "One of the Ones" with that helped me move so many units I couldn't keep up with them, and once "Days of Our Lives" hit too, and of course the live performances on "Soap Talk" and "Young and the Restless" and then back again on "Soap Talk" it was something that really gave a fresh new wind midway through the life of the album, and brought it to a whole new group of people that began to appreciate my music in a different way.
As a radio producer I could have got your album sent to me, I pre-ordered it, because I wanted to be sure to get what you were offering a bonus CD. And I later learned these were the Atlantic tracks. Now I understand why they can't be broadcast, but do you have any comments about them?
You know it's so funny going back to hear that bonus CD. I pulled it out to kind of make it available to the people who would pre-order, and as I listened to it again, for the first time in probably a year and a half, ah, two years ago, when I made it, it was striking to me now. After a year of being an Out artist, after a year of just laying my guts out and being honest about my journey and about the reparative therapy, about my journey with the church, about the men I have loved, it was shocking for me to go back and see how much they were really kind of putting me in the closet, and grooming me to like every song was "girl this" and "she's do fine in her mini-skirt" and this and that and the other and I was just shocked that one song after the other it was such a representation of what they were creating me to be, and that was a straight singer/songwriter, MTV kind of heart-throbbish kind of direction that they were trying to take me. That is hysterical for me, to go back and hear that, and Greg can't even listen to it, my partner, he's just "I just know you as an Out artist and this is weird to hear you singing about some chick in a mini-skirt."
I know, I listened to it, and it's like, gee, this is nicely produced, it's well-done, but I didn't buy it.
And you know, that was another thing that struck me, JD, the fact that it didn't feel genuine, at the end of the day, it didn't feel nearly as genuine.
No, I wasn't convinced.
Yeah, yeah, I absolutely agree, and I think that it just wasn't tapping into the honesty of my own self. You know, there's a couple of songs on there that I am proud of, of course, "So Much Justice," and "Alright" "everything's gonna be alright," because that's just a flat out positive song, about keeping the faith when just everything around you is crumbling to the ground, and you've gotta have some reason to think that it makes sense. So I've always been fond of that song, and I hope that one day I'll find that I can go back and re-record it, because those songs on the bonus CD are songs that I don't have the liberty to record again, at least not now, because once Atlantic recorded them, they have that locked down for a period of time, I'm not sure exactly how long, but those songs will stay on a bonus CD and not be able to be broadcast for a little while longer until maybe I can recut one or two of them.
You don't need their help.
Exactly, screw them, I don't need their help.
You don't need their songs.
Yeah, and you know, I had to realize after the Atlantic thing that I can continue writing strong stuff. Like I thought "Alright" and "So Much Justice" and those things were like "gosh, how can I lose songs" and it was a real lesson for me to say, look, no, don't put a limit on your creative ability. Just allow yourself to constantly keep writing and there's always going to be new and different and good stuff that comes out. It really made me it forced me to realize the flow of writing, and how to consistently create, and not be tied into what you've already created and think that you can't do that again.
The song "In the Name of God" is perhaps the most political song from the album.
This was the first song. "In the Name of God" was the first song that was created for this album. And it was birthed out of watching CNN and everything that's going on in our world right now, and how so many of our conflicts are religious based, and how religious intolerance for thousands of years is something we can't seem to let go of. And it keeps dividing us and it keeps causing destruction and more and even death. So I wanted to take all of the examples I possibly could and say this is what a separatist consciousness, an exclusive mentality of religion will do for our society if we continue to perpetuate that, like from the first verse, and I took it from the perspective of the guy who's driving the plane into the World Trade Centers. For him, he is doing this from his belief system, believing that his God will bring justice if he is a part of this act, of the death of so many non-believers, in his mind, and for him it was a very sincere, spiritually committed choice, his anger was righteous. But look what it ended up being, such destruction. You look at the Protestant-Catholic conflicts in Northern Ireland. That's what the second verse is based upon. Here you have a culture for thousands of years, are still killing each other because they're Protestant, I'm Catholic or vice versa, and you know the kinds of things that we're doing to ourself because we as a human race do not want to evolve past this, is going to be the death of us. And of course I thought it was intriguing and fascinating when you look at history and you find that people have used scriptural references to prove that, for instant, women can't vote, it's in the Bible. That I can have slaves. It's in the Bible. You can't marry other races. It's in the Bible, or other, same sexes even, and I was just amazed at how we take scripture, our own inspired book, our own sense of being right, and we hurt so many people. And that's exactly the irony of it, I wanted to take it from a very positive place, and come up almost anthem-like and say, yeah, I'm doing this in the name of God, but it's kind of screwed up when you hear what's going on in the name of God. So hopefully that will translate to people that hear it.
That's probably the most political song, isn't it?
Levi Kreis - In The Name of God (2007)
I think the song "Futurelove" is a grabber, please tell me about it.
Absolutely. "Futurelove" was I'll take that back, when I'm going to make an album that is that confrontational, and spells out conflicts, and spells out a problem, I don't like when people spell out problems and they don't give a solution. And I knew that I needed a song on the album that gave a solution to the religious intolerance that is spoken of throughout this album, and a lot of the lyric of "Futurelove" actually came to me from reading "Conversations With God." "Conversations With God" has been a huge resource for me coming from where I have come from in the church and allowing my belief system to allow room for other people, for other people's belief systems, and he talks about, you know, the human race being able to evolve hopefully to a place where we can allow room for others and their own interpretation of what their spiritual world is, whatever it is, and I just wanted for it to be fun and with a kind of rally people together type of feel that says, look, it doesn't matter if we disagree, it doesn't matter if I call him God and you call him Allah. If doesn't matter if I go to church and you don't, you go to a Buddhist Temple to meditate, none of that matters. What matters is love. What matters is unity. And I thought it was really important to put that on the album knowing that the rest of the content is more about the conflict. You've got to answer the conflict, you've got to give people an answer, at least my own personal answer, anyway.
Levi Kreis - Futurelove (2007)
Some artists think this far ahead, do you know the musical direction your next album will take?
I'm already writing songs for my next album, actually. It's going to be all live band, as we will all record it together, more piano driven, definitely top 40. The wonderful thing about "The Gospel According to Levi" is that I don't feel pressed like I have to say anything anymore. It's such a release for me to be able to put the past behind, that I feel like this next project is about just making good music that relates to everybody's experience, relationships or whatever, and just have a good time with it. So it's starting to just kind of find its way. I think it's going to very much more of a commercial album, certainly more consistent in the style. But it's going to stay within that piano-driven rock sound. We're going to get back to the piano on that one, because "The Gospel According to Levi" isn't very piano heavy
Would you shy away from lyrically gay material?
No, of course not, I mean, I think "Love In Another Light" is definitely a choice I made for being able to say, to be true to my own experience and say something and not care if it's gay or not. I think for me though it's even more important "Love In Another Light" was a choice, that was my experience. I used to be back in those bars with boys with no names, but outside of that you take a song like "I Should Go," with its content about a straight guy, I think it's so important for artists to be able to create things that everyone can be brought together with that this guy who has problems with his girlfriend, like this email I had, where he heard "I Should Go" and he played he for his girlfriend and were brought back together. I just want to build bridges to everyone, and I think that if an artist can keep that in mind, and if it's appropriate to make that artistic choice, and it's not compromising to who I am as a gay man, then I think that's it's a good choice. I think that if I run into some lyrics on this new album that have to be very expressive and specific to me as a gay man, of course I'll write them.
You've been listening to my interview with Levi Kreis, and to find him on the net you'll go to www.levikreis.com. That's Levi K-r-e-i-s dot com.
I'm down to the last song, but before I get to it I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to especially thank Levi Kreis for the wonderful interview. And as I had expected, the interview was so good that I could not fit all of into the radio version this show, so my internet listeners can hear an extended version with a lot more comments and additional music. That of course can be found at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston. You'll want to tune in next month for a special show on queer hip hop music. But I've got one more question for Levi.
Why did you choose to end your album with the song "It Is Well With My Soul"?
"It Is Well With My Soul" is a choice I made being that it was important for me for this album to have a little bit of love for the church put in there. I didn't want to just be, you know, confrontational with it, I didn't want to just talk about the problems that the church has and leave people with the impression that I am angry with the church, or that I don't understand the importance of the church. The church in so many ways has made me that man that I am today, and I honor that and respect that and need that still to a degree in my life, and I thought "It Is Well With My Soul" was a wonderful statement because even though I believe differently than I used to I can't say that I adhere to the same theology that I once used to preach, ah, but the truth of the matter is finding my own answers, finding my own interpretation for God, finding my own journey, has made it so very well with my soul and the peace that I feel now is surpasses maybe the understanding of people outside my belief system is to say, "well, I don't believe that you're at peace with The Lord, you're not believing the Bible and this and that, but I just wanted to say that I take what the church has given me and I want to kind of salute that, honor that by doing a song that I grew up with, that's a part of the church, and also because the words reflects my present state. It is well, it is well with my soul. I just didn't want people to think that I at the end of the day I was angry at the church and I was a church hater, and that I didn't honor the church, so that's why I wanted to put that song on there.
Levi Kreis, with Darci Monet - It Is Well With My Soul (2007)
Now, aren't you glad you read this far?...:)