It's been quite a whirlwind for Steve Grand recently.
The out gay singer, who hails from Chicagoland, made news around the world for posting a video for the country-pop song "All-American Boy"a video that shows Grand falling for a guy who turns out to be straight (although the other man lets Grand know that things are fine and that he understands it was an honest mistake).
In the interim, interesting news items have surfaced, from Grand's parents supposedly placing him in an "ex-gay" camp (which he clears up in this interview) to Grand basically going bankrupt to make the video for "Boy."
In an email interview with Windy City Times (although one that had his rep saying, "These responses are quite a bit deeper than most of his other interviews"), Grand discussed everything from his musical influences to his relationship with his parents.
Windy City Times: As a singer/songwriter, who are some of your influences?
Steve Grand: Most of the artists I grew up listening to were the ones my dad likedJohn Lennon, Billy Joel, Elton John, Neil Young, Carole King and James Taylor. I was also very influenced by the artists I listened to in high school; Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Green Day are just a few. Lady Gaga is also a big inspiration to meespecially her more piano-driven records. And our own Chicago band, Empires! Sean and Max are a writing/producing dream team.
WCT: Why was it so important for you to make the video for "All-American Boy?"
Steve Grand: I dropped out of college after three years. I knew music was the only thing I wanted to do. But I wasn't the best singer. I didn't have any money. I didn't have a band or anyone backing me. I spent most of my days alone doing a lot of self-reflection ... trying to figure out who I was and what I was going to say.
I was writing and recording a lot and taking on all sorts of odd jobs. I was a barback for a year, then I worked at one of the Wrigleyville rooftops for a summer … all the while playing at churches every Sunday. Then I started doing the piano bar gigs at the Joynt.
I was always working when everyone else was playing, but I did that so I could have my weekdays free to write and record. People would always ask me what I was doing with my life; it became the most dreaded question. I felt like such a loser. You tell people, "I'm writing music, and one day I want to make records and tour all over the world" and no one gets it. I could just feel their eyes roll into the back of their heads. To these people, I was just another delusional kid who embarrassingly clung to his childhood dreams ... or it felt that way to me, at least. But I don't blame them for that. I wasn't sure what I was doing or where I was going.
Eventually, I got to the point where this wasn't just what I wanted to doit was the only thing I could do. Making the video really felt like a last-ditch effort at making something of myself. That's why I went all-in. I drained my savings and maxed out my credit card on a project that I thought would put my work as a musician in the churches (which at this point was the largest source of my income) in jeopardy. This had to workthat's why I was so obsessive with every detail. That's why I drove everyone in the process completely crazy making this all happen in a very short period of time.
I couldn't let another year go by without putting something out into the world. Sometime in May I felt this jolt: I was ready. Something came over me and nothing else in my life mattered more at that point.
I wanted "All-American Boy" to be the first project because that ache for someone you can't have, that I've felt a thousand times since I was 13, affected me so profoundly. I never understood it. It hurt so much sometimes. And that's one of the main reasons I turned to art. I thought expressing this ache through music would be a way for me to help let it go and move on.
WCT: What type of feedback have you gotten from the country-music community? Also, have you had a chance to talk with other out musicians?
Steve Grand: I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who like country music. I've read thousands of messages from people all over this country, from small towns to big cities. But the story seems to have resonated especially with folks in the small, rural towns in the Midwest and the South. They are so passionate and connect with the song and the story in such a deep way. That's what has made this all worth it to me.
I've talked briefly with some other out musicians, and hopefully when this whirlwind calms down just a little bit, I can reach back out to those people and really talk with them and hear about their experiences of being out in the music business.
I didn't ask to be called the "first gay country star," and I'm not. I've looked into this a lot during the past month. As far as I can tell, the very first was Patrick Haggerty. He formed a band called Lavender Country in 1972, and they released an album in 1973. That was a long time ago, and he was much braver to do what he did in the early '70s than I'll ever be. I'm very grateful to him and all of the other activists before me who paved the way and made it possible for me to do what I'm doing now.
As far as country music specifically, there have been others. More recently, of course, we've had Drake Jensen and Chely Wright.
WCT: What's one thing about you that would surprise people?
Steve Grand: I don't really drink that much, with a couple recent exceptions. For someone who has worked in bars and played music every Friday and Saturday at a bar, I drank almost nothing. The day of the video shoot was actually one of the first drinks I had had in all of 2013.
WCT: You stated that your video was inspired by a real-life crush on a counselor. Does he have any idea the video is based partly on him?
Steve Grand: The video was inspired by the accumulation of experiences I felt as a young guy, growing up and crushing on guys I couldn't have. The first crush I had on a man was when I was 13 at this Boy Scout summer camp. He was one of the counselors; he was probably in high school. He had that winning combination of strength and tenderness, and he was this cool older guy that actually took an interest in metotally platonic on his end, of course. Nothing happened; I'm pretty sure he wasn't aware of my attraction to him because I wasn't even totally aware of it at the time. I didn't understand what those feelings I had were. I just knew it was really intense and painful even; I ached for days and days after I left. I never saw or heard from him again.
WCT: An article by Mark King on Bilerico stated about your video, in part, "Gay men drink too much, feel sorry for themselves, and come on to straight dudes when their girlfriends aren't around." What's your response to King's assessment?
Steve Grand: If he had said, "human beings" instead of, "gay men," he'd be right on!
WCT: How would you characterize your time in "ex-gay" therapy?
Steve Grand: I'm glad you asked, because I do want to clarify a few things about that. Obviously, I believe that it is always wrong for an adult to teach a child that being gay is a problem that should be fixed. No one knows more than I do how harmful that can be. At the same time, not all therapists who try to help kids deal with homosexuality are equally destructive.
My experience was this: Like many parents who believe that homosexuality is a disease, my parents tried to help me by taking me to see a psychologist. The psychologist they took me to was an Evangelical Christian, who believed that being gay would not make me happy. But my therapist was not associated with any of the "ex-gay" organizations. He did not shame me or tell me I was bad. He did not believe that gay people are afflicted with some "special" kind of depravity that is somehow much worse than the regular depravity that every other imperfect human being is afflicted with.
I think his views about homosexuality are wrong, but he never tried to force them on me. He always treated me with love and respect. I saw him every week for five years, but only a small portion of that time was spent discussing my sexuality. The rest of the time, he helped me grow in my awareness of myself and deal with a wide range of things that were troubling me at the time.
So, like most things in life, it was a mixed bag. He reinforced my discomfort with being who I am sexually. That was harmful and that was wrong. But he also helped me become free to be who I am in some other important ways.
WCT: How would you characterize your relationship with your parentsand your churchnow?
Steve Grand: My parents have come such a long way since they learned about of my sexuality when I was 13. I love them so much. It only goes to show how strong and deep their love is for me. We have been through so much as a family, and everyone has come a very long way. I'm so grateful for them...this has all really brought us closer.
My relationship with the churches I play at has not really changed since I posted the video. Everyone knows about the video, and the feedback I've received has all been very positive. I felt like there was this giant exhale from a lot of the church people I know. I think many religious people are eager to see the church evolve to be a place where truly "All Are Welcome." Of course, it's a very divisive issue. But even on a small scale, in the communities I am a part of, I believe many people are excited that an openly gay church musician is being embraced by his community.
The Catholic Church is a giant global force. It's not going to change overnight. But I do believe it will change if more and more people come out and are visible. It's going to take time and patience, but I do believe it will happen. And even if it does not change for many more years, I think my presence in the church today is positive for all those kids out there who are sitting in the pewsjust as I was not too long agofeeling like they are not welcome, like there is something wrong with them because that is what they have been taught. I can't imagine how different things would have been for me if 10 years ago I was sitting in those pews and got to see an openly gay musician being embraced by the church.
WCT: Do you have any advice for singers who are closeted?
Steve Grand: Anyone trying to make it as a musician needs to work really, really hard and be fearless. We all have bad performances, and there is a lot we can learn from them. Closeted or not, that process is the same. Everyone's journey in life and with coming out is so different. There isn't any one right way. I can only speak from my own experience. Being out has been incredibly liberating and positive, and I think many who have come out would say the same.
WCT: What should the public expect in terms of future songs and/or an album?
Steve Grand: I'm working every day on new music. I'll get an EP out there as soon as I can. Expect something eclectic. No two of my songs sound the same. I draw from a wide range of inspirations. Many of my songs tell stories. Some songs are just goofy, and some are very heavy and reflective. Musically, my sound is more piano-driven than anything. Some songs I fatten up with distorted guitars and bass, and with others I stick with a nice string arrangement.