In 2013, Steve Grand became a viral sensation when he released the music video for his single "All-American Boy." It featured a bonfire, a party, hot girls, some beers, and a poppy, feel-good country song. But the direction of the video shifts, and you realize that Grand doesn't really have a crush on the girl-next-door. He's more interested in the guy that likes the girl-next-door.
Grand was an overnight star. And just like that, a new face representing the LGBT community emerged. He appeared on Good Morning America, played alongside Melissa Etheridge and Deborah Cox at various pride events, and funded his entire debut album via Kickstarter. (He's still making gifts for backers, but more on that later).
After two years of creating a solid fan-base, Grand is releasing his debut album, All-American Boy, on March 24. But this Saturday, you can catch the country star at Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale. We spoke with the musician about issues related to the gay community, drawing pictures of his fans, and who inspires him.
New Times: These past two years have been a hell of a time for you. Your Kickstarter campaign and the progress on your debut album have both been received well by fans. You're snatching the hearts of millions of gay men. How has this whirlwind of a process been for you?
Steve Grand: I feel so much gratitude for the support of all of my fans. Their support has made it possible for me to pursue what has been my dream for a very long time.
In this last year, I have traveled all over the country playing shows and have been able to work with some incredibly talented producers and musicians while making this record.
It's been a great journey, and while so many things about it have been amazing, it has not been without its challenges. I have learned so much this last year, including some very hard lessons. Many things have made it a sobering one. But I believe I'm better for it. I've certainly grown up a lot.
I'm curious. Were you already "out" before you released the video for "All-American Boy"?
I was out in my personal life. As far as my professional life goes -- it was still pretty compartmentalized at that point. So while I was out to everyone who worked at the Joynt (this bar I played at in downtown Chicago), there were also certain venues where I just didn't bring it up.
I see you sending drawings to fans practically every day. What made you decide to do something so personal and time consuming?
The part of me responsible for all my bad ideas. [laughs] Just kidding. I studied other Kickstarter campaigns to get ideas. I liked the ones that incorporated rewards that were random and goofy and personal.
At the time, I was deciding I would charge $25 for a full portrait of a backer, my thought process went something like this: "A year ago, if someone told me I could make $25 for every goofy picture of a person I drew, I would think I had it made, therefore, this is worth it!"
Honestly, it is a lot of time and effort, and I still have many more to do, but I know they are going to be something that my backers really enjoy. And that makes it worth it. I can't wait to see them posting them on Instagram and everywhere else.
What was it like creating this huge debut album funded by the fans themselves?
I don't think there could have been a better way! What a validation to know that all of these people believe in you enough that they will take the time and money to make a contribution. I am so very fortunate for that and so very grateful for the incredible support of all my fans! Almost 5,000 people contributed in 33 days to raise over $325,000! That's why I wanted to spend so much time on getting it right. They deserve nothing less than my best.
What can fans expect from All-American Boy?
When I was thinking about the songs I was going to put on this record, I wanted to make sure that together they made one big, colorful picture. I wanted this album to have an arc, kind of like a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Each song represents a plot point on that arc. Though I must say, in the end, I didn't end up putting the songs in chronological order. But all the pieces are there.
All the songs are about relationships, though not just romantic relationships. All kinds of relationships are explored: friendship, relationships with things that are bad for us, relationships within a community, relationships with different versions of ourselves at different places and different times.
Listeners can expect to feel a wide spectrum of emotions. Some songs will make people want to dance, other songs will put the listener in a more reflective state of mind.
Who inspires you?
So many people inspire me. My fans have inspired me a lot lately. I think the internet brings out a real dark side in a lot of people and, as a result, there is so much negativity and bitterness. I see something very different from the fans I interact with at my shows and through social media. They are so refreshingly positive. They get excited about things, and there is such a strong feeling of joy about them. I feel I have a lot to learn from them in that regard.
I tend to get very focused on whatever project I am working on and it often keeps me from being in the moment and letting myself feel joy.
What musicians do you admire?
I do like country music a lot, but I am really someone who is about the songs. Good writing, that is what hooks me. And there are great songs in just about every genre that I can think of. I grew up listening to the "oldies" station with my dad, so I draw a lot from the Beatles and John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, Carole King, Elton John, the Beach Boys. These were my early inspirations.
In high school, I got into bands like, Fall Out Boy, Blink 182, Taking Back Sunday, and the Used. I didn't listen to Top 40 music until college. That was when I really became fascinated with pop music and the mystery around which songs became hits and which ones didn't.
You were named one of the Out100 by Out magazine back in 2013. How have you been involved with the LGBT community since then?
While still in the process of making my album, I spent all of last summer traveling around the country doing Pride events. I played the opening ceremonies of World Pride with Melissa Etheridge and Deborah Cox in Toronto. That was really amazing and an honor to be a part of alongside such accomplished artists. I have performed at a handful of HRC (Human Rights Campaign) events around the country, as well as headlined a fundraiser for AIDS Walk OKC.
With gay marriage becoming legal in almost three-quarters of the country, it really feels like the golden age for our community. What's it been like touring and playing pride festivals, while simultaneously seeing these crucial rights and amendments being passed?
What an incredible time to be alive and to witness all this change! It's a beautiful thing. There is a very long list of people who made countless sacrifices in order for us to witness this now, and that list goes all the way back before Stonewall. We owe so much to them!
At the same time, I think it's important to remember that gay marriage rights don't affect everyone in our community. Our trans brothers and sisters have stood by us and have fought on the front lines with us for a long time. We have to make sure we are there for them as they have been there for us. Violence against trans folks, namely, trans women of color, is very, very high. The fight for full LGBT equality is still very much ahead of us.
OK, I think the "current relationship status" question is annoying and irrelevant, but I'd be catching a lot of flack if I didn't at least touch on the subject of your romantic interests. How about instead, you tell us who your celebrity crush is? It's much more pressing.
Bradley Cooper. Mmm. He's so dreamy.
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