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, has found a devoted audience and earned more than a million views on YouTube.
He performs at Atlanta Pride on the Coca-Cola stage at 3:45 p.m. on Saturday.
On the (boot)heels of this viral video, Grand has received attention and coverage from a variety of sources, including The Huffington Post, Good Morning America and The Los Angeles Times, not to mention numerous LGBT websites and publications.
A proudly gay voice for his generation and others, Grand is still getting used to being in the spotlight. I spoke with him about the experience, his music and his future during the summer of 2013.
Steve, how does it feel to be performing around the country live?
More than anything, I’m just grateful my [music] has reached people that it has meaning for. People that feel the same way I felt and that it resonates with people emotionally. That’s all I hoped for. That’s all you can hope for as a songwriter, as one who makes music and performs. I certainly hope that this is just the very beginning, the tip of the iceberg, of a career. Because that’s what I got into this to do, not to be a flash in the pan. To continue to create good music that resonates with people emotionally.
Is there anything in your background or training as an artist and performer that prepared you for this moment?
I started taking piano when I was six years old. When I was four I started making models of pianos out of cardboard. I was so fascinated even with just the aesthetic of a piano. I was obsessed with Schroeder, from Charlie Brown, and his piano.
I would go through different phases as a kid, as we all do and I would get obsessed and driven to be creative. Whenever I would get into something I would want to replicate it, express it in my own way out of cardboard. 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, especially the piano. I took music classes in high school.
Did you give piano recitals?
At a local church, but it wasn’t a contest and I wasn’t being evaluated by someone from a university or something. My teacher was a stay-at-home mom, a very talented woman. I didn’t really understand music theory until I was a teenager and then everything started to click.
When I started to play guitar and started to listen to rock music, there was a guitar teacher who really helped develop my ear and help me listen to things and feel things out. I feel like I have a really good balance of traditional, classical training balanced with playing by ear. I can read charts and sight read to some degree and I also know what chords are being played when I listen to a song on the radio.
Because “All-American Boy” has a touch of twang, the song is being pigeonholed as country and even led to you receiving 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. Do you have any thoughts about that?
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. So I think that’s where that comes from.
I think also the imagery in the video leads people to give it that title. 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.
Have you written and recorded any other songs?
Yes. 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. I’m always changing my mind and I obsess over certain parts. Sometimes I’ll do a vocal take 300 times, so things take me kind of a while. But I do have a lot of songs recorded.
From the response I got here, it’s obviously inspired me and influenced what will come next.
Are you being inundated with offers from record labels and if so, are you taking them under consideration or would you prefer to remain an independent artist?
I definitely don’t want to close the door to any opportunities or offers at this point. So I’m keeping an open mind. I believe that we’re in a day and age where we can do it independently. There are pros and cons on both sides. You have to consider who you are as an artist, what you want to be and what kind of impact you want to have.
You mentioned the impact that the song has had. For a lot of LGBT folks, “All-American Boy” is instantly relatable because everyone has had the experience of being attracted to or falling love with someone straight or unattainable. How personal is that experience for you?
Wow! What a good question. We’ve all been there, and I mean gay, straight, bi, whoever you are. We’ve all fallen for someone that we can’t have, but it especially rings true in the specific story for LGBT people.It is the story of my life since I was 13. I was always crushing on the straight guy.
I think it’s always been there because 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. I definitely knew the story, as far as the video goes, all the imagery and things like that. I had a very particular vision in mind. I think all that was influenced by everything I’ve been through, growing up and having this happen to me over and over again.
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. What does that mean to you?
It’s very flattering to be a symbol of anything like that. To some degree I feel like, wow, I can’t live up to that [laughs]. 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 and being there for them.
What is the next step for you professionally?
I’m trying to build a team now because this is a little bigger than one or two people can handle. Trying to put together team of people who know, respect and 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. It’s a lot and I’m just going, going, going right now. It’s going to be a while before I get a real vacation [laughs].