Two years ago, out singer Steve Grand burst onto the music scene, making national news thanks to the video for a song for the song "All American Boy." ( The clip shows a gay man, whom Grand portrays, falling for another man who turns out to be straight. )
Grand then parlayed his visibility into monetary success with an enormously successful Kickstarter campaign that raised $326,000the third highest funded music project on the site, according to his website.
Now he's released his first full-length CD, All American Boy, which contains tracks such as "Whiskey Crime," "Stay," "Time" and, of course, the title tune. Grand ( a former Windy City Times 30 Under 30 honoree ) recently talked with WCT about the new album as well as reviews and Lady Gaga.
Windy City Times: I was doing a little research on you and one of the things I came across was an op-ed entitled "Steve Grand Is the Role Model That Gay Youth Need." [Grand chuckles.] What do you think when you hear something like that?
Steve Grand: I close my laptop and don't read something like that. [Both laugh.] It's very flattering by the person and publication that ran that; it's very nice of them to think of me that way. But whenever you're called something like that, I've noticed an inverse relationship between the comments you get and a headline like that; it's, like, begging for people to rip you to shreds.
I feel like these expectations are put upon me. It's not something I asked for, but I try to be the best person I can be. I have a lot of good qualities that young people can look up to, but I'm also a human being and I have faults. I just try to live my life honestly, openly and in a positive way. I don't try to put other people down; I just stay focused on what I do and make work that I think my fans will like.
I think, in our day and age, social media has opened these channels for people to be negative without repercussions. I think a lot of people experience things in everyday life so that it's not polite to air grievances. As an artistand moreso, as an entertainerI need to engage with people out there and, sometimes, it's sometimes difficult to be positive.
WCT: I also read that you're a fan of Lady Gaga, so you undoubtedly saw her performance at the Oscars. Did you know she could sing like that?
SG: Ohit was stunning and, yes, I knew she could sing like that. I had [definitely] studied her. I've watched all of her videosback when she was 19 or 20 and playing at a contest at NYU. She's always had the pipes.
I actually trained with her vocal instructor when I was in New York once. He's worked with Bono, and he's the best of the best. But [Gaga] works really hard, and perfects the gift she already has. She just gets better all the timeand you can just tell that she loves music so much; she gives off all this energy.
WCT: Yeahshe's a lot more than the attention-getting outfits she has worn.
SG: And it's so funny because people just assume that if you're using those tactics, you're using them because your natural talent isn't thereand that's not the case with her. I would say that, out of the big pop stars out there today, there are very few who can hold their own with Tony Bennett and sing like that at the Oscars. She can sing anything: jazz, rock, pop.
When she was getting backlash, she said, "If no cameras were here, I could sit down at this piano and make people weep." She said that on 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper in 2011. She knows she has itand she's right.
WCT: As you know, country singers Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman recently came out. Have you had a chance to talk with either one of them?
SG: I tweeted Ty Herndon and congratulated him; I actually congratulated both of them. But we haven't had direct communication. I so happy for both of them. To be out in country music is a tough thing. I'd love to talk with [them] sometime.
WCT: Now let's talk about All American Boy. Is there an overriding theme to your CD?
SG: There are a couple. The songs were written between the time I was 19 and 24, and you go through things that are specific to that age. It was a unique, awkward transition between [youth] and adulthood, and I feel the lines between them are blurred.
As millennials, we entered the workplace when there weren't a lot of jobs. Our parents told us that we could do anything we wanted but when it was time to go out into the workplace, we were hit with the hard truth, which was that it's a cold, competitive world out there. I feel like a lot of us were left disenfranchised and moved back home. I feel that we didn't start adulthood as early as [previous] generations.
There's that "transitional angst," as I call it, on songs like "Run." It was one of the last songs I wrote for this record. I was on a porch at this place in Los Angeles. I had a really bad phone call with someone I was close to, and I got really upset. I went and got some [alcohol] and wrote that song in 15 minutes.
Also, all the songs are about relationshipsbut not necessarily relationships with people. There are romantic relationships and friendships, but there are also relationships with things that are not good for us, like in the song "Whiskey Crime." It's been the most polarizing track so far. Some people see it as a vacuous party anthem that glorifies alcoholwhich it is, on the surface. But alcohol is a very sensitive thing, and I think people in families that have abused alcohol see the song quite differently. It hits close to home in a way that's uncomfortable. Then, others read something darker into itand it's darker by intention. It's interesting to see the different reactions.
There are songs about relationships with community, like "We Are the Night." There are songs about relationships with time, or with nostalgia, like in my song "Time." It's a relationship album.
WCT: Do you ever read album reviews?
SG: There haven't been too many yet. It's been a long process, and people have been listening. I have seen some, and they've been really positive so far. People will say that one track is a misfire, but reactions have been really different; [for example,] there's no one consensus on what's the standout track.
I don't think people know what do with me, in my personal life or in my professional life; there are people who call me a country artist and calling me "the first"I never said any of that. Even the genre I'm in is being debated. I guess that would be the cards the universe has dealt me.
WCT: How difficult is it to balance your personal and professional lives?
SG: [Pauses] There's such an overlap, as I put myself into my work. I put myself into my interviews, my music, my music videos, on social media. I'm a person, and part of my personhood is also part of my product, which people evaluate and scrutinize like a product. So that makes things really difficult to see where I begin and end as a product. I'm still working on making that separation [between personal and professional lives].
It's important to stay grounded; the second you become unhinged, you're up for grabs.
WCT: You've meet a lot of famous people. Is there anyone who has left you absolutely starstruck?
SG: Oh, that's a good question. I briefly met Mariah Carey, but my thought is that they're all people, and they've experienced things that I've experienced, although in a much bigger way. I think there are people I'd love to have conversations with Lady Gagabut I don't know if I'd be starstruck at this point.
There are people who have that "X" factor, like Kim Kardashian. People are, like, "Why are we talking about her?" But the process is more democratic than it's ever been. If someone is constantly being talked about, you can't hold that person down. Society finds her interesting; you wouldn't have all these tabloids and blogs about her if she didn't get these clicks.
But going back [to your question], I just see everyone as people.
The new CD All American Boy is on iTunes, Amazon and www.SteveGrand.net . Videos for various singlesincluding "Time," "All American Boy" and "Stay"can be viewed on YouTube.