Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 29 / 20 July 2017
 

Steve Grand

BARtab

Musical man crush headlines SF Pride


Steve Grand crowd-surfs in his music video for "Stay."
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Since his single and video "All-American Boy" broke through to become a viral hit, has become one of the newest and hottest independent out gay musicians. While his sexy modeling may have helped increase his popularity, the sincerity of his music's themes, and his affable performing style, have helped him continue to gain fans who know he's more than a handsome hunk.

With his new full album out, Grand headlines this year's San Francisco Pride main stage on Sunday June 28. The Illinois-born 25-year-old singer-songwriter was traveling from Europe, and you can read our intercontinental correspondence interview.

Jim Provenzano: Your hit song "All-American Boy" and its accompanying video explores a very common thing for gay men, having a barely contained crush on a straight man, along with a stunning silent moment after an unwelcome kiss. Despite its popularity, did you get any criticism for portraying that angle?

Of course. Over four million people have viewed that video, so there are a whole range of feelings that people have about it, though the response in these last two years has been overwhelmingly positive overall. People are coming at it from all different perspectives as they do everything else.

I find the claims that argue I am reinforcing negative gay stereotypes (by making a move on a straight guy and by drinking, for example) elementary at best. Drinking is a gay stereotype as much as having two arms is. As for falling for someone that doesn't feel the same way, all I can say is, 'Who hasn't been there?'

Unrequited love is part of the human experience, and yes, sometimes it's going to be a gay man that wants a man whose sexuality is unknown, and maybe he will even make a move. That is nothing to apologize for, as long as the gay man doesn't persist to hit on his friend after his advances have been unwelcomed. I stand behind everything in that video.

You've since released songs and accompanying videos that are more openly gay and romantic, like "Stay." Is there an evolution to your song's themes and styles? I'm hearing classic rock from some of the album's songs that aren't as specific.

I don't think it's a linear evolution. I'm constantly pulling inspiration from all kinds of music and all kinds of experiences. I've only ever intended to be my authentic self in my music, and I intend to keep doing it that way. I grew up listening to classic rock with my dad, so certainly that is a sound I draw from. It's in my blood.

Steve Grand.
photo: Christopher Free

I read that you wanted to be like Schroeder, the piano-playing Peanuts character. While to the public, you "appeared" suddenly on the music scene, can you talk a little about your extensive training as a youth, and your preferences when creating music (piano, guitar, etc.).

I started playing piano when I was 6, and yes, Schroeder from the Peanuts cartoon is who sparked my fascination with the piano.

Even though I was very interested, I was still a little boy, and I didn't want to be inside practicing when I could be playing outside, building tree forts with my brother. My mom would set the timer and make us practice.

But by 11 or so, I was back into it. I started playing guitar then, too. By 13, I was writing music regularly. It became nearly the sole outlet for me to express how I was feeling. When I realized I was gay, I felt incredibly alone, and didn't feel that anyone in my life could understand what I was going through. So I turned to music.

I was involved in all the music programs my school had to offer. I was in Marching Band and Jazz band, I did the musicals, I took music theory courses and private studies. I began to work as a church musician by the time I was 17 and continued doing that through the release of my first music video for "All-American Boy." I also played a piano bar called The Joynt in Chicago after I dropped out of school.

Steve Grand's album, All American Boy

Because you're openly gay, and your songs deal with personal themes, do you feel pressure or an obligation to continue composing music with a gay subject or theme? Or do you also enjoy writing songs that aren't so specific?

I don't think any of the themes in my music are exclusive to gay people. The theme of unrequited love in "All-American Boy," for instance, is really a human experience that I think everyone has at some point.

I am a songwriter that draws from my own personal experiences and feelings, and I'm also a gay man. So naturally same-sex pronouns will be used when I'm singing about romance or love or heartbreak. Not all of my music deals with love or heartbreak though. I have been clear from the start that I am going to write the music that I want to write about the things I want to write about.

Although I am naturally a people-pleaser, I try to resist the pressure to do what other people want me to do if it's not something that is in my heart. Someone somewhere is always going to be disappointed. Learning you cannot please everyone in life is a very important lesson!

Steve Grand

"Back to California" features an actor playing a young version of you with a crush on a girl. Were fans surprised by that, or do you think it's part of many gay men's lives?

Well, it's not quite that simple. I intended for the interaction between young Steve and his friend to be more ambiguous. He is still trying to figure out who is and what kind of feelings he has for his friend and what kind of relationship he is capable of having with her. I believe that's the way it is for most young people. Sexuality and attraction are a little more fluid than a lot of us probably think.

Sure, some viewers were surprised. Again, I didn't become an artist to play it safe and just make everyone happy all the time. Art shouldn't always be pleasant. It shouldn't always make you comfortable. Being uncomfortable can be a good thing. It means we are dealing with something challenging, and that is the only way that we grow and become better individuals and a better society.

Steve Grand

Were you overwhelmed by the popularity of your debut song and the tie-in of being openly gay? Tell me a bit about the process of forming a touring band.

I was very overwhelmed! There is no way to prepare for something like that. I think I handled all the attention I was getting the best I could.

I started forming my band in May 2014. We met for the first time in June of that year, practiced for a week, then went on to travel and do shows together.

My dear friend Alicia Champion, with her wife Danielle LoPresti, put on the San Diego Indie Fest. After releasing "All-American Boy," they contacted me to come play their event. They were so warm and soulful…even in their emails, I knew I had to come do it. We have been friends since.

I was very busy with my Kickstarter and making my record, and Alicia offered to help audition band members and send me audition tapes so I could make the final call, and that's how it happened! I love my band. They are all wonderful musicians and equally wonderful people.

You're one of a few prominent independent musicians who've built a fan base and self-produced an album with their support. Last year, your debut album was the #3 top project on Kickstarter. Do you still hope for a major label deal, or is that now irrelevant for you? Do you feel you've already proven yourself?

I am certainly open to it. I'm not actively seeking something like that right now, especially since the record hasn't even been out but a few months. I've learned, after doing it all myself, that there are probably a lot of good things about being on a label. They are able to do things more quickly and efficiently, although there is also usually a loss of creative control, which would be a hard thing for me to let go of.

I don't think of it in terms of "proving myself." I'm making all of this up as I go along, and so far, it's all gone pretty well.

Steve Grand crowd-surfs at his June 2015 concert in Latvia.

You recently performed in Vienna, Austria, at EuroPride in Riga, Latvia as well as several Pride events in the U.S. this summer, with more to come after your gig in San Francisco. Can you share a little bit about the most fun cities where you've performed?

We had so many great shows in Europe! I am just flying to NYC from Riga, Lativa now. We had the EuroPride after-party last night and it was pretty epic. I ran out into the audience a lot and even crowd-surfed! One of our shows in Vilnius, Lithuania at this factory-turned-music venue was a blast too. We had over 400 people buy tickets just to see us, and they were such a great audience; a lot more girls than usual. I loved it.

Any tour experiences like the "22-hour" affair in your song "Time?"

On tour? No. I was too busy for love on this trip. ;)

You've described the uplifting song "We Are the Night" as a sort of anthem. Have you done any remixes, or would you like to work with producers on remixed versions of your songs?

I keep meaning to create stems for the songs so that I can give them out to producers and have them work their magic. There aren't any yet, but there should be soon.

Pride concerts are usually big crowd performances. Yet you've done some intimate concerts as well, and benefits. Do you have a few small venue favorites?

The other night we performed at Fontaine Palace in Liepaja, Latvia. It was a big smoke-filled bar, but the crowd was great. They were dancing from the start. The stage was nice and high and big; super fun to run around on.

Steve Grand performs in Vienna in June 2015.

While "All-American Boy" had a country style, your music is more than that. Your songs chart in the Pop category. Are there other genres that interest you to perform/write in the future?

I don't think about the label so much. I just write and let other people classify it as they must. Like I said earlier, Classic Rock has influenced me a lot, as well as Dance pop. I've been getting into the darker, 80s Dance Pop sound lately.

You recorded a great cover of Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets." Did you have a time in your life when you felt that way, looking for gay clues in music? Were there musicians who influenced your coming out?

Gay people weren't really visible to me growing up. I was very sheltered. It wasn't really on my radar to try and read between the lines. I just thought the whole world was straight and I was the only "different" one. I'm not sure that any musicians influenced my coming out. Many things influenced me finally accepting myself, but it was a big long journey.

Influences weren't always gay, like Billy Joel, whom you've mentioned as an inspiration. How do you balance being more famous while still being a fan of other artists?

I don't think I am all that famous. I know what it feels like to have fans shaking with excitement as they take a picture with you, I know how it feels to have a stranger know all about you, but I still live a quiet life (outside live shows), and I still fly coach when I travel.

Steve Grand

Do you have any dream duets with other musicians?

I'm really into Hozier right now ("Take Me to Church."). Amazing artist, amazing songwriter. He writes very different from me and I like that.

Several musicians, country singers in particular, have recently come out as gay and lesbian. Do you think country music or perhaps other genres are more difficult for an LGB or T musician?

Sure, but they are coming along, slowly but surely. Country is traditionally more conservative and slow to change, but it's already changing. Hip hop seems to be another genre where artists feel pressured to stay closeted. But again, I believe progress is being made.

Your (sort of) fictional counterpart, "Will Lexington," played by Chris Carmack on the ABC show Nashville, just came out in the finale of this year's season (apologies for spoilers!). Have you watched the show? I was wondering if you empathized with that character, or perhaps more with the openly gay composer (played by openly gay Broadway performer Kyle Dean Massey). Do you think the timing of that show helped your musical debut?

I've seen a few episodes and I thought it was great. The music is very well done. I have not seen that character in particular, though. I think the summer of 2013 was an important time for the LGBT community. I think I certainly benefited from that. I believe there are a multitude of complex factors that play in such a drastic shift in public opinion, so it's hard to nail down a single show as an influencer. At the very least though, it was an indicator of how public perception was shifting.

Can you explain a bit about the "smelly marker" drawings you make for your fans?

This is from my KickStarter Campaign. For $25, the backer could send in their picture, and I would draw it with smelly markers. I did it as a fun thing to get people excited about the campaign. I should have put a cap on the number of entries though. I had around 180, I think, and they all took a very long time to do. You can see from the ones I've posted that they're very detailed.

Steve Grand
photo: Christopher free

You're obviously comfortable with your body, and you're known for your modeling as well. And you had fun with objectification in a short video online.

I did a handful of test shoots when I was considering trying to become a model. I didn't make any money from any of that, and it all took place when I was 19 (six years ago). So it's pretty old news for me, though I can understand that's not the impression people must get when they Google me (which is something I have no control over).

I did that video to make light of the ways I often am treated when I do interviews. Of course it is exaggerated for comedic effect. It's healthy to be able to laugh at yourself and your situation.

But you have moved on to being about more than your physique.

I created one of the most successful music Kickstarters of all time without ever being on a label. I sold over 10,000 copies of that independent record in the first week making it the third best selling Independent album. I've been interviewed by Larry King. I've appeared on national television multiple times, represented my country as a cultural ambassador through the U.S Embassy, and have opened for artists like Melissa Etheridge, Deborah Cox, Macy Gray, and Mary Lambert.

I've corresponded with thousands of fans who have been affected by my music in some positive way. I've done more benefits than I can remember. And I started all of it by self-funding a music video for a song I wrote without the help of a manager, label, or agent while everyone in my life told me it was a bad idea because I would be "pigeon-holing" myself.

Speaking of physique, can you share a little bit of your training routine? How do you keep up while on the road?

It can be argued that I really don't. I just got back from Europe and I didn't work out once there. My body fluctuates a lot depending on how often I am traveling and how I am feeling in general. I'm not really too worried about it, though.

Steve Grand performs at the main stage Civic Center celebration Sunday June 28. www.sfpride.org

For more about Steve Grand, visit his website: www.stevegrand.com

Steve Grand's YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/stevegrandmusic










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