Meet Steve Grand, ’All American Boy’
Steve Grand has followed a uniquely contemporary trend by becoming an overnight "YouTube" celebrity. His poignant and bittersweet music video for his debut track "All-American Boy" chronicles a traditional love story of unrequited affection, but with a twist - it involves two men.
Since then, Grand has been widely hailed as the first openly gay country singer - although he is quick to refute that label. Instead, Grand considers himself distinct and independent - he is driven to succeed by an overwhelmingly positive response from fans, as well as the desire to help change the lives of fellow LGBT citizens.
EDGE chatted with Steve about his music and newfound fame ahead of a recent appearance at the Hilton hotel in Chicago, where he performed an intimate gig in the name of an LGBT charity.
A deep ache
EDGE: So lets get some background, when and how did you discover your love of music? And how long have you been singing/songwriting?
Steve Grand: I think I was about 4 years old when I become fascinated with the piano, but from just an aesthetic standpoint. My dad used to bring home poster board from work. I would turn it over and use the blank side and color with brown or black crayon (of what) I thought of how a piano ought to look. Our little house on the South Side began filling up with these creations. My parents were smart enough to pick up on it pretty quickly and bought an old upright piano and enrolled me in piano lessons once we moved out to the suburbs.
And I actually began songwriting when I was 11. I would write out the most random melodies and chord progressions... basic music theory still hadn’t totally clicked with me at that point. It wasn’t until I started playing guitar and training my ear that it all came together for me. Then I was 13 and I would listen to rock and punk songs and figure out what chords they were using, and very quickly realized how basic most pop and rock music is. So I started writing my own lyrics and melodies over basic chord progressions. I wanted to capture what I was feeling at the time. That ache that I felt so deeply.
EDGE: You have been dubbed as the first openly gay country singer. What is it about country music as a genre that you find accessible and inspiring?
Steve Grand: Honestly, I actually don’t consider myself a country artist! I didn’t even start listening to country until very recently, so it’s quite possible that some of that has rubbed off on me and has seeped into some of my more recent songwriting efforts. I see him kind of outside of the country machine, but the Zac Brown band is a big inspiration of mine. His voice is so pure and rich and deep and he is so sincere... you can just hear it in his voice. He is the real deal and man he writes a good hooky chorus! I love his beard and that he doesn’t wear cowboy hats. There’s no gimmick. He’s just in it to make great music.
EDGE: You were raised in the Catholic faith, was it difficult coming out because of that upbringing?
Steve Grand: Yes, it really was. When I was 13, I realized that I was gay and at that moment I believed my childhood ended. For the first time ever, I had this big secret burden I had to deal with all on my own. It was the first time in my life I felt I really wanted to die. I felt sick to my stomach every day, and I just prayed and prayed it would go away. My parents knew right away because they had been filtering my AOL instant message conversations where I had told a couple friends.
They started reading all this ex-gay literature and books like ’You Don’t Have to Be Gay.’ Mostly, those books just did a good job at igniting these very obsessive fears in my parents, where they learned to equate homosexuality with AIDS and death. Though I know with all my heart that everything they did for me through those years was out of love, they were very misguided on how to deal with having a gay son, as many parents all over the world are. That’s why it’s so important that people stop using words like ’choice’ when talking about being LGBT. Being gay is not a choice, and that truth will only become more undeniable as time goes on.
EDGE: Has it been difficult to reconcile your faith with your sexuality?
Steve Grand: I’m happy to say that even as a teenager, I never bought into the idea that being gay meant you were going to hell... As a young boy I did, but the moment I had any remote capacity to think for myself, I thought that was a bunch of garbage. That always seemed so arbitrary and random to me. To single out one group of people who just wanted to love each other?
As far as what I have come to understand about what has been written about Jesus, the guy preached forgiveness and loving thy neighbor as thyself. He hung out with sinners and saved that adulteress from being stoned to death by saying something like ’let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.’ You really have to be on a mission and ready to deny abundant evidence that Jesus was a man of love and that he was a peacemaker, whether you believe he was the son of God or not. But this is just my humble opinion; I’m certainly no expert. My bible study class at Belmont was at 8:00 so yeah... that wasn’t happening.
Truthfully, I hate that we even have to ask questions like this. Has it been hard to reconcile your impure thoughts with your faith? Has it been hard to reconcile your use of contraception with your sexuality? Has it been hard to reconcile your need for material possessions with your faith even though Jesus talks about giving up all of those things and following him? Why do we never hear questions like this being asked? And it also seems to me just about everything that is said in the Bible is at some point contradicted.
That’s why I have learned to not get caught up in that. I’m very simple when it comes to my faith. As most young people do (and should do) I question my faith and my convictions on a regular basis. Plenty of things about the Catholic Church don’t sit right with me, but I really believe we’re moving in the right direction and I want to be part of the church moving forward. It’s going to take time, but I think by being present and by living by the core teachings of Jesus: love and forgiveness, we are at a much greater advantage to change the hearts and the minds of those that are skeptical of change and of the progressive world. Whether there is a heaven or not, it won’t change the way I’m going to live my life. I love that saying about "being the change you want to see in the world." I think about that every day. I try to be a peaceful person, because I hope to see more peace in the world. I try to be a more forgiving person, because I know the world we be a much happier and kinder place if we could learn to forgive each other. I try to be a more loving and compassionate person because, especially in the Internet age, where people hide behind message boards and spew hatred and negativity, the world could really use more love and compassion.
Making the video
EDGE: So what was the inspiration behind the song ’All-American Boy’?
Steve Grand: That ache that I felt since I was that 13-year-old boy at Boy Scout camp crushing on my counselor...I’ve felt that ache hundreds of times while in the presence of a certain kind of man: someone who is strong but tender and confident and loving. I’m a very emotional guy... everything I feel hits me like a ton of bricks. Sometimes that ache deep down in my gut was so overwhelming I could hardly stand it. I felt like putting that feeling into a song would help free me of some of that. But to my surprise it has seemed to free thousands of folks from that ache, maybe even for just a moment. I didn’t know how I was going to get through life without dealing with a feeling that intense. So I wrote a song about it...and then I wrote a hundred more about it before I stumbled upon ’All American Boy.’
EDGE: And how did the production of the music video come about?
Steve Grand: Something snapped in me a couple months back, and I knew I couldn’t let another day go by without putting the wheels of this project in motion. I had no idea how to start a project so big. I didn’t have any money. I called Ricardo Sebastian from Luxury Management because I had met him while I was working Pride at a bar one year in my underwear. Ricardo was working that day too and I just watched him hustle around and take charge and I was impressed with that. I was taking out the trash and he asked, ’What are you doing? These people want to take a picture with you.’
So one day he messaged me after a show I played in my hometown where I wore a leather jacket and no shirt, and wore sunglasses with hand cut-out stars, and he wrote me a message and just said ’never do that again.’ After that we started this thing where I would send him pictures of me in clothes I was thinking about performing in, and he would give me the okay or not. Fast-forward to a few months ago, and I told him I wanted him to style me for a photo shoot because I was ready to start releasing music. Somewhere in the process of that we talked about a video and he suggest I meet with Brendan Leahy, a filmmaker that he has frequently used for his big events. So Ricardo arranged the meeting and that was that. Brendan then suggested we get Jason Knade on board to direct and the rest is history.
Having his dream
EDGE: What was the most rewarding thing about that experience?
Steve Grand: So many things! I felt like a loser for a long time... I dropped out of college to pursue music, but nothing was happening. I wasn’t getting any leads. I just sat in my parents’ basement at my keyboard and wrote and wrote, not sure if I was just spinning my wheels... wasting away the ’best years of my life’ on a dream that seemed likely to never come true. I hated telling people what I was doing because I felt like everyone was losing faith in me becoming an artist. It had been years and I was still in the same place, telling the same story: ’I’m writing music I’m finding my sound... I’m trying to figure out who I am as an artist... I’m trying to put together a game plan now that I have some songs under my belt.’
I felt like a broken record and, even the people that were close to me, I felt their faith in me begin to die. I sunk into a pretty dark place last fall. I had been dumped, my cat died, I couldn’t afford my apartment and had to move back home. I didn’t go out for a long time. I went into a state of hyper focus, writing and recording and studying the careers of other artists. I stopped seeing almost everyone in my life because I knew that many of them had lost faith. And I was getting older! I had to do this now! I had given myself enough time.
I said all that to contrast what the last few years of my life has been mostly, the reality of what it has felt like for me. To go from that, to having thousands of people write to me every day saying ’thank you for telling my story’ and feeling connected to what I did to the point they felt compelled enough to share their own stories, well that is what has been so rewarding about this for me. I didn’t set out to be an artist or to make money. Making something that has connected me with people, and that has connected those people with each other, has been the greatest reward of my life and I am so proud of myself for that. Being on the radio isn’t really that important to me... it’s watching this little family grow because of something I fought for and believed in. Now I write for them. Now, for the first time ever, I have daily reminders of why I gave up everything to do this, and not once have I regretted what I have done.
EDGE: You have become a sensation overnight! How has that experience been thus far? I imagine quite surreal?
Steve Grand: Of course it has been surreal! This song/video is very special to me. But the fact that it is special to so many other people makes this project so much more than I could have ever imagined. I don’t care so much about being a sensation. That is cool and fun, but more than anything it makes me anxious about the future. I have been given this great gift... I put my whole self out there and told my story through sound and film and it has connected me with thousands of people in a very deep and special way. I cherish that more than anything, and I cherish them more than anything.
I’m already hyper focused on my next release and the release after that, and staying true to who I am. I wish I had more time to sit back, even for a few moments, and really take in what a special time this is, but there is a fire in my gut pushing me to do more and more and have each project be better than the last.
EDGE: And what is next on the agenda for you? A recording contract maybe?
Steve Grand: Everything that I do from here on out will be to honor my faithful "GrandFam." I’m eager to release my E.P. because I know they are ready for it! I work all day every day on my career now. There is so much to do, I could talk about that all day! But, basically, in the near future, you guys can expect an E.P. from me and another video.
Then, once I have the songs released, I’m going to work my tail off getting around the country, and the world, to meet and perform for those that have been so kind in supporting me. I’m not looking for a record deal at least for right now... I’ve worked a long time at writing and recording my own music and doing it just the way I want, and that’s just the way I want to present this release to the world. I love the DIY world we are living in - the computer and the internet have turned traditional business models on their heads, and honestly, I think it’s the best thing to happen to music in a very long time. Bring the power back to the people and back to the artist, as it always should have been.
For more on Steve Grand and to find a link to download "All American Boy," visit his Facebook page.
Watch Steve Grand’s video of "All American Boy":