In these days of instant Internet celebrity, overnight sensations are a dime a dozen. But Chicago-based gay singer/songwriter Steve Grand seems to be an exception with his song "All-American Boy" and its accompanying video.
Sure, he's breathtaking to look at, and that doesn't hurt. He's even put in time as a model. More than just a pretty face and amazing body, Grand is a musician with a message. Striking a chord across boundaries, Grand's song and video of unrequited love, set to an unlikely country-music beat, have found a devoted audience, and earned more than a million views on YouTube. On the boot-heels of this viral video, Grand has received media coverage from The Huffington Post, Good Morning, America and the Los Angeles Times, not to mention LGBT websites and publications. A proudly gay voice for his generation, Grand is still getting used to being in the spotlight. I spoke with him about his music and his future in mid-July.
Steve, how does it feel to be a YouTube sensation?
More than anything, I'm just grateful my song has reached so many people so quickly, and that it resonates with people emotionally. That's all I hoped for. As far as being a YouTube sensation goes, I am more than one song and one video. I certainly hope that this is just the very beginning of a career. Because that's what I got into this to do, not to be a flash in the pan.
Is there anything in your background or training as an artist that prepared you for this moment?
I started taking piano when I was six years old. I was so fascinated even with just the aesthetic of a piano. I was obsessed with Schroeder from Peanuts, and his piano. My parents picked up on it, and they got us this old, shitty upright piano, and we all started taking lessons. I was the one that was really into it. I took music classes in high school. I didn't really understand music theory until I was a teenager, then everything started to click. There was a guitar teacher who really helped develop my ear and help me listen to things. I have classical training, balanced with playing by ear. I can read charts and sight-read.
Because "All-American Boy" has a touch of twang, the song is being pigeonholed as country, and even led to a favorable mention on a Nashville website. But being an openly gay musician in Music City can still be risky, as we saw when Chely Wright came out as a lesbian.
I never set out to write a country song. I would never dismiss that if it sounds like country to some people. That's fine. At the heart of it, country music is good storytelling, and "All-American Boy" is a story. Even if I am labeled as a country singer, which isn't a label I gave myself, I certainly wouldn't want to take away anything from the brave men and women who came before me.
"All-American Boy" could just as easily have been arranged as a power pop tune, an acoustic folk number, or an electronic dance track. Are there plans for the song to be remixed for club play?
I would be open to hearing what that would sound like.
Have you recorded any other songs?
I've been writing since age 11, so I have lots of music that I've written. I've been recording for a long time, too. Sometimes I'll do a vocal take 300 times, so things take me kind of a while.
For a lot of LGBT folks, "All-American Boy" is instantly relatable, because everyone has had the experience of being attracted to someone straight or unattainable. How personal is that experience for you?
We've all been there, and I mean gay, straight, bi, whoever you are, but it especially rings true for LGBT people. It is the story of my life since I was 13. I grew up in a place where gay people weren't visible. I was always crushing on my best friends. The song isn't about anyone specific. It's the accumulation of experiences.
What kind of advice would you offer in that situation?
Hold on and don't make yourself fucking crazy! Unless you're in a world that's exclusively gay, it's going to happen. I needed to get the song off my chest. I think it has helped people. I've read their messages, saying "Thank you for telling my story," and telling me what happened to them with their guys. I try to play therapist!
Because of your religious upbringing and what you went through with your family and ex-gay therapy, you are being looked up to as a symbol of strength and overcoming the odds.
To some degree I feel like, wow, I can't live up to that! Don't put me in a position to be a role model. But the story is true. I don't want to let people down. I got into this to play music as a way to express myself and tell stories. My focus now is not letting the people who put their trust in me down.
What is the next step for you professionally?
Trying to put together a team of people who can see my vision and can help point me in the right direction so that I'm staying true to myself and true to my art. Then I want to start releasing more music.
As we speak, you're at the airport on the way to New York. Have you been recognized?
Not so far. In my hometown, I have, by people I don't know! But not at the airport in my gym shorts. My hair looks terrible, and I'm wearing an old T-shirt.