Not long ago, Steve Grand was a little-known, young singer/songwriter from the Chicago suburbs. But that all changed in July, when his self-funded music video, All-American Boy, was posted to YouTube.
The touching song about unrequited love between two men quickly accumulated more than 2 million views and landed Grand appearances on CNN, Good Morning America and other national media. Grand was hailed as an overnight sensation and one of America’s first openly gay country stars.
Since then, he has hit the road, performing across the country and headlining national LGBT events. Despite his sudden fame, he remains true to his small town roots and dedicated to his music and fans.
Mirror recently spoke with Grand about his experiences, music and plans for the future:
Your career has taken off since All-American Boy. What has this year been like for you?
It’s been a whirlwind! On July 2, my life changed. When I posted All-American Boy to YouTube, I knew I was making myself vulnerable, telling my story to the world. But I never could have guessed how many people would be so touched by it! I wake up every day feeling grateful to my fans. Now I’m focused on turning all of this into something lasting for the thousands of people who have reached out to me.
How did you get started in music? What was your inspiration?
Charlie Brown's Schroeder! I think I was 4 or 5 years old, and I was just fascinated by the sounds he would create sitting at that little piano….I would make my own little cardboard models of pianos. I’d sit at them and pretend to play. My parents finally got the hint and bought us a little used upright piano from the Penny Saver!
What is your creative process?
It’s never the same. Sometimes it’s writing a lyric down in my notes on my iPhone. Sometimes it’s humming a melody into my iPhone recorder. Sometimes I just sit at a piano and flesh out a song in a matter of hours. Usually songs come when I least expect them.
What are the musical themes in your work?
Love had and lost, lust, friendship, the trials and tribulations of growing up, the struggles of self-acceptance and being accepted by our parents for who we are. And, of course, unrequited love.
Who are your musical influences?
My dad was the first person to inspire me to play music. Many of my musical inspirations align with his: The Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Billy Joel. Later on, I began listening to music my parents didn't quite understand: Blink-182, Green Day, Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Fall Out Boy….But it was Dad who got me started. He would listen to a song and tell stories about what each song meant to him, where he was in life, who he was dating, what car he was driving. He made me realize the lasting power of music— how a great song can take you back to the moment you first heard it. From that point on, I knew that's what I wanted to do in life, create something so real and beautiful that it stays with its listener forever.
You’ve been called the first openly gay country star. Is that an accurate label?
I never labeled myself country….But, if some people hear that in my music, that’s great. I’m not sure I fit into any one box. I’m truly a songwriter at heart, rather than a performer. How the song is produced depends on the story and the message and the feeling I’m trying to convey. I’m never thinking about what genre when I’m writing, I think as people hear more of my music, the (country label) will go away….I just want my music to touch people. If it does, I’m happy.
Coming out wasn’t exactly an easy process, was it?
Adolescence is hard enough….compounded with that, I realized I was gay. Music was my escape, this dream that I would be able to express my pain and what I was feeling. My parents sorta panicked when they discovered my orientation and they sent me to a Christian therapist. Fortunately, they’ve come a long way and embraced my career as an openly gay musician.
Producing All-American Boy certainly presented a challenge, didn’t it?
No one was helping me. I saved up between $2,000 and $2,500—which isn’t a lot—by playing at a jazz club and churches, and I maxed out the credit card. But I was ready to do something.
What would you say to the fans who made you a viral sensation?
My relationship with my fans is truly sacred….I'd like to say, “Thank you for changing my life and giving me a sense of purpose. You are what I think about when I wake up each morning and go to work writing music.” The best part of all of this has been the people who walk up to me and say, “I’m from a small town. Thanks for telling my story. Thanks for giving me a voice.”
What’s next for your career?
I’m taking it one day at a time. I want to release an EP in the future. So for now I’m just going to keep writing, recording and getting better. I feel a sense of purpose to honor the relationship and trust I’ve built with fans. Whenever I’m making a decision about my career, my fans are always at the forefront of my mind.