Steve Grand may well have felt that lightning struck. In July 2013, the songwriter, singer, piano player, and guitarist from the Chicago suburbs released a self-produced debut single, “All American Boy,” that went viral in a matter of days. The country-infused song soon scored him appearances on “Good Morning America,” CNN, and Larry King’s on-demand TV interview show.
The momentum of “All American Boy” allowed Grand — who turned 25 this past weekend — to amass a huge following (he dubs them his GrandFam), which embraced his next single, a catchy summer anthem titled “Stay” released later the same year.
The music business being what it is today, even that splashy start did not lead to a recording label contract. Instead, last February, Grand launched a Kickstarter campaign along with his third single, a ballad about a young gay man’s friendship with a young woman titled “Back to California.” Once again, he proved himself a breakout. His Kickstarter raised more than $300,000 — the fourth highest haul for a music project in the fundraising website’s history.
Now, a year later, Steve Grand is ready to make good on his pledge and release his full-length debut album, titled “All American Boy.”
At a Valentine’s Day concert at SubCulture on Bleecker Street, Grand gave his fans a sneak peek of what to expect from the album, along with a few covers, including Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Gay City News caught up with him after the show.
Asked about highlights from the past year, Grand talked first about the rewarding relationship he’s built with fans.
“Being a songwriter is all about connecting people — to experiences and to each other,” he said.
The personal messages he gets from his GrandFam fans all over the country, he explained, are hands down the best part of his musical journey so far.
The buzz surrounding Grand’s sudden fame led some to term him the first gay male country star, and that meant he was inevitably talked up as a queer role model. Grand made clear that while he didn’t seek that out, it’s something he’s comfortable with and takes very seriously.
“I’m so happy with and so humbled by the fact that there are people out there who have welcomed me with open arms and who appreciate what I do,” he said. “Being someone who is seen as representing the community — even if that isn’t something I asked for by default — and as someone who is an openly gay artist who sings about openly gay themes… people have this expectation of me, whether fair or not, that I should represent them.”
Grand also understands he can’t please everyone. But he seems confident that being true to his music and to himself can only yield positive results.
“I really do care about what I do, I really know that my heart is in the right place — I care about being a uniter and about making people’s voices heard,” he said. “I care about that young kid, who’s just like me, growing up in a small town, who feels like they have no one to look up to and feels like they have no gay person in media, entertainment, or politics who represents them. I know that I have done that for some people and that makes it worth it for me.”
During his SubCulture show, Grand took a break from singing to give a shout out to a group from Lambda Legal, and he acknowledges those who came before him and “cleared a trail” allowing him to do what he does today. Mentioning Harvey Milk and Edie Windsor, he said, “It is easy for young gay people of today to forget where we come from because we are not all taught gay history in our high schools. It is up to us to really educate ourselves.”
Grand also mentioned President Barack Obama as a source of inspiration for his “true American Dream story, from what he has come from and what he has been able to accomplish.”
For Grand, talking about his job as a musician seems a lot more interesting than responding to some of the other attention he’s received lately. Asked how he felt being recently named one of Out magazine’s Most Eligible Bachelors — hardly a surprising nod given his model looks and body — he laughed, saying it was all good but he hoped that “at the end of it all, my greatest achievements will be more than that.”
Grand was also coy about whether, in fact, he qualified in the category, saying that while folks have “assumed” he’s single, he’s never made any official announcement about his relationship status. And, forthcoming as he was with Gay City News, he didn’t seem willing to let this newspaper clear up that question.
“All American Boy” will be released on March 24, and as he discussed the album, Grand made an effort to put some distance between himself and the typical country artist. Billy Joel and Elton John, he said, are big musical influences because they made piano “cool and sexy.” Elsewhere, he’s mentioned his love of the Beatles, particularly John Lennon.
And, to be sure, “All American Boy” is much more than just a collection of country croon tunes. The patriotic “Red, White and Blue” and the comical “Whiskey Crime” certainly fit the country genre well, but Grand also throws some more traditional rock songs, like “Loving Again,” “Better Off,” and “Run.” Welcome surprises are the album’s dance tracks — particularly the Lady Gaga-inspired “We Are the Night.”
Grand named “Time” his favorite song off the album — and for good reason. The track’s seize-the-day message of hope pulls together not only the album’s overall theme but his rise as a musical artist, as well. March 24 may well be just the start of a lot more we’ll be hearing from Steve Grand.
Steve Grand will be playing in New York City March 6 at a yet to be determined location. For further information, visit goo.gl/RtNrRp.