Steve Grand, 23, seemed to come out of nowhere earlier this month when he released his song "All-American Boy" and its accompanying video, an instantly iconic treatment of the oldest story in the gay world: falling for a guy who seems to feel the same way, but who ultimately does not. Like a microcosm of the reaction to Brokeback Mountain in 2005, the video was mostly enthusiastically received—1.6 million YouTube views and counting, national TV appearances—and yet has had its share of detractors, most of them gay.
At least some of the criticism of Grand is simply misplaced, resting squarely on the otherwise extremely helpful Buzzfeed piece that almost single-handedly got his name out to the world. In the post, Grand was tagged as "the first openly gay male country star," even though he was not the first, nor does he pretend to be a country artist, nor is he a star—yet.
But several other negative reactions made the Grand phenomenon more interesting to me than it might have been otherwise (readers of my blog know I'm rarely drawn to singer-songwriters, no matter how talented or cute). An inflammatory piece at The Bilerico Project (which was initially headlined in such a way as to imply the singer himself was a "sad, predatory drunk") accused Grand of trading on his looks, demonizing his "pouty lips and sculpted abs," while selling a Boys in the Band-like "self-loathing" message. It was even suggested that Grand's actions in the video could have led to "some serious gay bashing," the implicit message being that this bewitching Billy Budd would've had it coming. (The author of the piece later said his only regret had been maligning The Boys in the Band.)
On my own Facebook page, one person said I should ask Steve which thing about him did he feel made him more of a gay stereotype, the fact that he cries a lot (Grand's Good Morning America interview had a touching Johnnie Ray moment) or the fact that he's been through ex-gay therapy, as if either were something to be ashamed of. Still other armchair critics of the right way to be gay have sniffed at the video for making Grand's character seem powerless (love and lust are apparently signs of weakness...God forbid the character turns out to be a bottom!), have said it was wrong for Grand to work with [Work Unfriendly] an actor who did porn (it's apparently wrong to have anything to do with porn actors unless you're watching them fuck their brains out for too little money) and have complained that smoking is glamorized.
In short: Hey, pretty boy, how dare you not be the kind of gay person I want you to be?
Considering the self-aggrandizing, materialistic, superficially sexual, outright obnxious things that pop up in most every other enthusiastically adored music video today, I saw Steve Grand's achingly vulnerable song and video as honest. The most dangerous thing he does in the video is jump into that fetid swamp. But anything for love...
What also interests me about Steve Grand is the fact that he didn't come from nowhere—no one does. His backstory is one many gay people can relate to: He fell for a camp counselor at 12, was outed to his conservative parents by an instant message they discovered and was sent to therapy to try to overcome "unwanted same-sex attractions." They were unwanted, but not necessarily by Grand. He has cycled through various identities—his days as a model and as cover artist "Steve Starchild" are readily documentable via Google—and has settled on being himself.
So forgive me if I take umbrage at the critics who think Steve is less than perfect, because it seems clear to me he knows he isn't. This "bad role model" has survived Catholicism, parental disapproval, ex-gay therapy and body issues to emerge as an unapologetically out performer, unafraid to be vulnerable, which in my opinion makes him a wonderful, if humbly relucant, role model for young people, gay and otherwise.
Everyone is so heartbroken when a troubled gay teen commits suicide, so why not cheer one on when he is able to rise above his struggles, embrace who he is and give back to the world in the form of art?
As I found over the course of three conversations, two on the phone and one during his quick visit to NYC for a CNN interview and some business meetings, Grand is the least marketed singer you've ever heard of, has no media training, has only a family friend as an advisor, isn't wholly comfortable with so much as profiting from his music (his YouTube account, as of this writing, seems to have no ads) and, unlike so many of the young performers I've spoken with in the past 15 years, cares more about making a personal connection with his audience than he does about scoring a merchandising deal or getting free clothes to wear from designers.
He's got talent, humility and sincerity—even without the abs, I think that's a good recipe for the right kind of gay...
BOY CULTURE: There’s been some backlash to the Buzzfeed article that labeled you the “first openly gay country star.” Do you see yourself as a country artist, let alone as the first openly gay one?
STEVE GRAND: “The first openly gay country star”…there’s a lot of things wrong with that statement. I didn’t set out to be the first of anything. I just wrote a song that I really believed in and that I wanted the world to hear.
There’ve been people who’ve been out in country music before me, like Drake Jensen and Chely Wright and k.d. lang. It’s false to say that I’m the first—I’ve never said that, I’ve never stood behind that. But I do appreciate the media that picked this up because I had no means of promotion, so I certainly have no ill will to any press that said that.
I’ve never considered myself country and didn’t set out to write a country song. That isn’t an important label to me. If some people wanna call it country, that’s fine with me. I’ll let people decide how they wanna label it; I just write the songs.
And I’m not a star! [Laughs] I have one video with 1.6 million views. I’m so grateful that it’s reached so many people so quickly, but more so, I’m grateful for the people who’ve reached out to me and are putting their trust in me. That bond I feel we’re already establishing I hold more sacred than anything, and I wanna do anything I can to honor that.
BC: Why did you use other names before, and why did “All-American Boy” deserve your real name?
SG: I guess I struggled with knowing myself for a very long time. That’s caused a lot of pain and frustration in my life. Like, I remember being at some points in my life and being like, “I don’t know what I even think about this, I don’t know what I think about myself, I don’t know what I think about the world, I don’t know what I think about this issue—I’m so lost.” I remember just breaking down and saying that to a really close friend. So I think part of the fact that I was using all these different names was a very kind of literal representation of the fact that I was trying to find an identity for myself.
It all comes back to the simple fact that you have to just embrace who you are, and everything that you are, and so I was like, “Well, you know what? If I’m going this far, this song is very close to me, it’s very personal to me." I’m not a calculated person. I’m someone who’s an emotionally-driven person. So that all goes into the fact that I was acknowledging all of these parts of myself and I was like, "Well, I have to start with my name.” For a while, I really didn’t want to do that, I was like, “What if this all blows up in my face?” If people hate it, it’s tied to my real name forever and maybe I’ll really regret doing that, but it pretty much got to the point where it was just like, let’s face it, I’m never gonna be able to forgive myself if I don’t put this out there.
This is a song I’ve been trying to write for a very long time and this is one thing I feel so strongly about. And I’m so excited to feel so strongly about something for once.
BC: You've often referred to the song as "my story." Is "All-American Boy" based on any one person, or just on the relatable concept of being in love with someone unattainable?
SG: It’s based on a lot of experiences. There’s a lot of things that are specific and non-specific about it that just come from all the experiences I had, going back to being a 13-year-old boy at Boy Scout camp when I was crushing on one of my counselors up until the very recent… It’s not based on any one person.
BC: So you’re not Taylor Swifting anyone?
SG: Not on this song! But you just wait. [Laughs]
BC: Can you talk about some of the most positive responses you’ve had from fans so far?
SG: There’s this one that was one of the first, this guy in Texas who wrote a note on a CD and it said something like, “This is the best $15 I’ve ever spent on music, I’ve been waiting the better part of my life for someone like you, and for this song and for this message to come around…” I don’t wanna misquote him. I just stared at the screen—he took a picture of himself holding the CD—and I look at that every day and it just reminds me why I did this.
BC: Having a crush on someone or just being horny for someone seems to be universal, and yet there is a vocal minority of people who’ve seen your video who think it’s stereotypical in some way, or that the gay man is in a “weak” role. There have even been some accusations that the video gets, and I hate to even use this word—
SG: Rapey? [Laughs]
BC: Yeah! "Rapey." And I’m sure you saw there was a vitriolic piece about you on a gay blog, too. You have your defenders, but how to you feel when you read criticisms like that?
SG: I have a lot of mixed reactions. I’m not used to people taking me that seriously, so that’s kind of refreshing. But, I mean, I think it’s sad that we have this expectation of what a gay artist is supposed to say and what story they’re supposed to tell. I hope in my lifetime I can see people move past that and I could just be an artist and I don’t have to say a message that’s totally PC. I don't agree with the people who said it puts me in a weak position. Quite honestly, be real—we’ve all been there. We’ve crushed on somebody and we’ve made a pass at them probably at some point It’s just like, “C’mon guys!” [Laughs] That’s what I have to say. “C’mon, guys...we’ve all been there.” I’m not mad at the people who are offended by it; of course, that’s a part of putting yourself out there.
BC: One of the first things that grabbed me about your story was that you put all this money on a credit card to make your video happen. What made you so sure, and when should other young people make this kind of a grand gesture—
SG: Was there a pun on “Grand” in there? [Both laugh]
BC: What made you so confident going into debt to make this video was going to be worth it and was going to work?
SG: Well, I wasn’t sure it was going to work. It was what I absolutely had to do. You have to get to the point, a lot of times, where if you don’t have a lot of money or all the resources to throw out there, then you are taking a risk and you have to be ready to take that risk. I guess my advice would be: Don’t wait too long, but you’ll know when you’re ready. You’ll feel it. I felt it. I was just like, “I have no choice!” That’s what I felt. I couldn’t let another year go by and not do this. I took off school to do it, I’ve been working all these different jobs, just trying to get by. And I’ve been writing, writing, writing and spending a lot of time alone figuring out who I am.
BC: Did you come up with the video’s concept?
SG: I came to them with a very detailed [laughs], you know, storyline. I laugh because I drove them so crazy. I was very particular about things. I kind of drove everyone crazy.
BC: Sounds like you were creatively rapey with those poor guys.
SG: [Laughs] I like that. Of course they were there to tell me, “I think this is reasonable, I think we can do this, this costs more, this is gonna have this effect, I don’t think this is reasonable and I think we’re gonna have to do it this way,” so there was a lot of back and forth.
When I sat down with Brendan Leahy, the filmmaker and producer, I said, “My budget is $2,500,” because that was all the money I had. So that’s why I ended up having to use a credit card. I really prided myself on not ever using a credit card, and the only reason I had a credit card was because a friend was like, “Oh, let’s get these free Southwest tickets.” I never planned on using it. I don’t trust myself…I'm such an irrational person. I was really proud of myself. I was like, “Holy shit!” I saved up over $2,000 dollars, like, amazing." I was really, really proud of that. I decided to go all in, and of course “all in” meant over three times what I had.
I owe a lot to Brendan and Jason Knade. I could never in a million years have done this without them. They really helped my vision come to life and really made it look as beautiful as I could have ever hoped for.
BC: Did you know Nicholas Alan, the guy who played your love interest in the video, before the shoot? You have to have chemistry, which is hard to fake, and you definitely have it with him in the video. How did you cast that?
SG: I met Nick kind of by accident when I was in Miami, actually. This was a couple years ago. He was with a girl and I was with my friend and we really hit it off and I just knew in that moment, “I need to use him for one of my videos to tell this story.” Nick just so perfectly embodied the story I was trying to tell and was just that guy, I just felt like he was so perfect. I’m a very intuitive person, and there was no question who I would’ve used to make that video—it was Nick. Everything had to be my way [laughs] because he just was right and I knew it in my gut.
BC: After the video dropped, did you immediately get offers from managers and others? Any progress in that regard?
SG: Yeah, definitely. I’m still talking with people. Generally, I grew up very skeptical of people’s motives. I’m definitely not the person who’s like, “Oh, sign me! Sign me!” I’m not even sure if that’s the way I wanna go. I’m definitely meeting with some people now but I wanna be smart about this, and I’m gonna be as smart as I can be about something like that. I just want to put together a good team of people that I trust and that share my vision. I’ve definitely gotten a lot of interest from all kinds of music-industry people, and it’s been really amazing. It’s just been incredible some of the people who’ve reached out to me.
BC: That sounds juicy. Are there some well-known names you’re not gonna talk about now who’ve reached out to you?
SG: Um…yeah, I would say so. [Laughs]
BC: But your situation hasn't changed drastically since the video dropped?
SG: As I’m making this phone call, I’m pulling up to my parents’ place because I’m going to another mass soon and I’ve already played three masses today; I’m certainly not a star. When I’m in the city, I’m living in a 10’X10’ studio apartment with no kitchen or sink. I’m not saying that to make myself sound like I have it hard—I’m very lucky for everything I have. To a lot, it may seem humble, but I’m very content with the way I’m living. But to say I’m a “star"—that’s false. I hope one day to have a career in music and I hope this is just the beginning of that.
BC: Speaking of managers and agents and publicists, these are the types of people who typically take part in decisions like if an artist will be out professionally. You hit the ground running as an out gay man. Was that a decision you made at some point, or would you say that once you came out personally, it never occurred to you not to be out professionally, too?
SG: I think I probably toyed with the idea, but the people closest to me were like, “Get real. You’re not gonna fool anybody.” [Laughs] I think I heard that when I was, like, 18. So I put the idea out of my mind.
I was doing cover songs and stuff and people would ask me, they’d message me, and it would make me really uncomfortable, you know, people asking if I was gay, even though I was out in most of the rest of my life; I’m very open, but there’s still something kind of unsettling about that. That’s why I made the statement I made about just letting it all out there, being brave and bearing your soul to the world. There was no question in my mind as of recently that, yeah, we’re over that point in the world. Maybe there was a time and a place when you needed to do that, but someone has to move the ball along and I think that’s just part of it. I’m not the first person, obviously, or the only perso, but for me personally, I just felt like that would’ve been a big shame and I couldn’t have done it. Of course, of course that’s what I was gonna do. There was no option for me—let’s just keep it at that.
BC: What is your opinion about public figures who are gay but who refuse to come out? And is it okay for people to talk about them being gay even if they don’t want us to?
SG: Wow, I could say a lot about that… There’s the Internet—anyone can say anything that they want. But do I think people have an obligation to come out? I don’t want be the person to say that. Everyone’s life is so different. Who am I to say everyone should come out? There’s a lot of people who have professions to consider. In the same breath, kids need positive role models. I don’t wanna focus on the people who don’t come out. I think we’re seeing a lot of brave, courageous men and women who are coming out every day and making the world easier and more accepting and open-minded and aware, a more self-aware place.
I think it’s getting harder and harder to fool people anyways. People are smart and we don’t wanna be fooled. We’ve been fooled for so long by artists. We’ve been fooled by the machine for so long. The future is to be honest, is to be the real deal, and it’s not to try to cast the widest net. I think it’s an old-school way of thinking, and that’s why I was discouraged when some people said, “Oh, don’t pigeon-hole yourself! You wanna appeal to the widest market.” I’m no business student, but that just doesn’t seem like it makes sense to me. There’s plenty of that. That area is well-tapped. You hear stories every day about niche-marketing. There’s the Internet, if people find something they like, they’re gonna pass it around. You have major-label artists who can’t sell records. You don’t have to have the biggest audience.
BC: It’s a real gamble to attempt to appeal to everyone at the same time.
SG: Yeah, and I wasn’t meant to appeal to everyone.
BC: Speaking of appealing, when I first posted your video, I also posted some of your modeling shots from the past. Innocently, actually, since I didn’t see them as scandalous in any way. But some people were protective of you and felt doing that could be deleterious to your career. Was that something you worried about before you released your song? And how do you feel about those images now?
SG: I don’t care. It doesn’t mean anything to me. You certainly didn’t do anything wrong. Like I said when you asked that question about, “Should people leave people alone that don’t come out of the closet," the answer is: It’s gonna happen anyway. I knew that was the first thing that was gonna happen when I got more than 10,000 views.
Those pictures were taken when I was 19. I’m not in this to show off my body. I did that, and I feel like it’s kind of something I did a while ago. Of course people are gonna wanna talk about that and if it’s exciting to them, like, that’s great—I don’t have any problem with that, I don’t have any shame in those pictures. Yeah, I was a little worried about my parents. I was like, “Oh, great, now this is all gonna be brought to their attention.” I wasn’t sure how they’d feel about everyone seeing their son’s pretty-much-naked body.
There’s a hypersensitivity within our own little gay world. I think people see it as a quick way to tear me down and say, “People are only watching his video because he’s good-looking, look at his modeling pictures, he had it so easy because he looked like this.” The truth is…I don’t really look like that, exactly, anymore! [Laughs]
But it doesn’t bother me.
BC: When you did the modeling, was it to support yourself or was it more for fun? And did it put you in touch with anyone who wound up being a good contact for your singing career?
SG: No. To answer your second question: No. My modeling pictures had zero impact on my singing career other than the fact that it gave another reason for blogs to post the story once the pictures were discovered.
BC: Did you make any money off of them?
SG: Um, I intended to make money on it, but I did a couple shoots and then I stopped it. Honestly? I never saw a dollar from modeling. It was kind of inaccurately represented that I made my money standing around in my underwear. I was building a portfolio, so I was kind of doing this as a…you know, if a photographer were doing a shoot with me, it was kind of just like a trade-for-photos kind of thing.
BC: People see modeling photos and assume you have a lot of money from that.
SG: I think that’s just hilarious. I was walking out of my tiny-ass apartment just before I was talking to you and…I don’t have a kitchen sink. Give me a break, people! [Laughs]
BC: Do you have a favorite photo or shoot that you did from back in the day? And where are those yellow shorts, because the Smithsonian is gonna be wanting those.
SG: [Laughs] Um…I don’t have a favorite…
BC: You’re detached from them?
SG: Yeah, I really am, because I just look at that and I go, “That’s not me, that’s not what I’m representing now.” I’m happy to talk about it, because if people wanna talk about it, I don’t have an issue with it. But it’s really kind of…they don’t have too much meaning for me at this point. I worked with some really great photographers who I’m really grateful for for giving me the opportunity. That was what I wanted to do at the time, and they made that happen. Some of the people were really, really very talented and did a beautiful job making me look cool and like I knew what I was doing, which takes a lot of talent. [Laughs]
BC: In the video, you’re playing your own age, basically, but it’s a story that teenagers would really relate to especially. I know you had some tough times coming to terms with who you were when you were a kid, but how would you describe yourself as a teenager? Shy, popular, a jock?
SG: I was kind of like a drifter. I didn’t ever really go out because my parents were really worried I was gonna go and sleep with a guy, and I was in straight therapy so they were hyperparanoid I was gonna go act on my feelings and screw up all the progress—I’m making the quote signs now. I was not the cool kid, definitely, not at all. I just kind of got weirder and weirder and in high school had this really long hair and I remember my freshman year of high school I insisted on wearing the same Paul McCartney tour shirt from 1990 every single day. I would wash it and wear it and wash it and wear it. [Laughs] I wasn’t doing myself any favors. Then I went through this phase where I only would wear white. I was weird! The best way, if I could put it in one word, is I was awkward.
Because I’m such an expressive and extroverted person, everything was to the nth degree and my awkwardness was played out on this very grand scale. I did the musical and stuff and I was in bands, so I just was kind of all over the place. And I didn’t have a solid group of friends all the way through. I remember so many times walking into the lunch room at the beginning of the semester and feeling so scared, because I was like, “Shit, what if I don’t find anyone to sit with? Everyone’s gonna see me walk around aimlessly, and then I’ll have to sit at the table where all the kids go that don’t have a place to go.” I remember that recurring every semester. I wished I had someone. There were times I couldn’t find anyplace to sit and I didn’t want to be seen by anyone, so I would just go to the band practice room and eat lunch there alone and just bang on the keys and sing, stream-of-conscious.
BC: And along the way, you had what you just referred to as “straight therapy.” What was that like?
SG: The basic principle was that homosexuality is the result of unmet needs in early childhood and that if I was honest enough with myself and I was able to really see where these unmet needs happened and where my father didn’t pay enough attention to me and where I didn’t get enough affirmation as a man by another, older man, that I would be able to mourn the loss of that and then ultimately seek that affirmation on my own, and ultimately not be attracted to men. So that was like the idea there. That was the idea, to cure me of that. It wasn’t like Exodus—I wasn’t getting shocked.
I will never, ever, ever, ever speak poorly of my therapist. I haven’t spoken to him in a lotta years, um, but I love that man, and he’s a good man, and I would never say anything bad about him.
But if I’ve been unclear in other interviews, I want to make sure that people know that I’m not saying that I support the idea of straight therapy—I certainly don’t and it’s certainly harmful, and it’s not something I endorse. My experience was a little bit different. I was seeing a clinical psychologist with the end goal in mind that I would be straight, but the process in which we were revisiting moments of early childhood and places where I was broken as a person, that helped me, that aspect of it. It was harmful in the way that I felt that I wasn’t who God made me to be, and that was very painful. That’s something you don’t recover from overnight and I still feel like I have a long way to go. When you learn to hate yourself, it takes a very long time to undo that.
We’re all on a journey in life and in various states of accepting who we are. If we all had more compassion for each other, this world would be a better place to live in.
BC: I'm glad that you failed at straight therapy.
SG: I’m glad I failed, too. I’m glad everything happened the way it did. And some days I don’t feel that way…I mean, I’m glad my sexuality is not the issue. I have my good days and bad days.
BC: Speaking of all that, the suicide-by-bullying epidemic is baffling to some people who feel like being gay is no big deal anymore. Can you explain to them why kids are still coming up with these feelings?
SG: Please, let me explain! Because, what if you’re not exposed to that? What if your parents don’t let you watch a lot of TV? Obviously, what your parents think is the most important thing at the end of the day when you’re growing up. If you’re a kid growing up in a small town, it doesn’t matter what the big shots are saying on TV about it. It’s still your world. You remember being a kid—was there anything more important in the fourth grade than what the cool kids thought of you? It’s not a question for me why it’s difficult—it’s going to be difficult for the next hundred years. It’s gonna always be difficult for some people. We’re a very, very, very diverse country; what ‘s happening in New York, how kids grown up there, it’s very different from how kids grow up in the Deep South. That’s a huge generalization, but it’s the truth.
I get really frustrated when people say, “There’s gay equality now in the law, gay is everywhere and it’s all over TV, we all have to embrace it now.” What is happening in pop culture doesn’t change that little kid that’s growing up in a town, it doesn’t change what his parents are telling him or what his world is telling him. I grew up within an hour of the city of Chicago, but my little world was very different from just a short ride over. Actually, I never ventured out into the city because I wasn’t allowed to. I didn’t come to Boys' Town until I was 18 and it was the craziest thing for me, and I just went crazy, because I was like, “Oh, my God, there’s this big world out there and my parents can’t tell me I can’t go on the Internet anymore. I’m at school now and there’s nothing they can do about it.” I was really kind of wide-eyed and I just was so excited to be able to express my sexuality and to be gay. It was just crazy. I went through a phase where I was probably really obnoxious and in people’s faces about being gay, and I think probably a lot of us go through that, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it was part of my progression. Now I’ve calmed the fuck down, thank God.
BC: A lot of people on the coasts think we’re in a post-gay era.
SG: It’s disheartening that out of all people, we should be the most open-minded. We know what it’s like, we know it sucks to be misunderstood. Let’s not forget what that feels like. Let’s try to be more compassionate for each other. That’s why it kills me when I see gays being so hard on other gays. I don’t know about other people, and this is what, really, I don’t understand about people, and makes me feel like a total alien: My hard times in life have only taught me to be more compassionate for other people and for myself. Life is hard. You know? For all of us in all sorts of ways. I only find myself being more compassionate and more understanding and I only find myself saying “I don’t know” more and more and more. And I only find myself going back and saying, “I was wrong about that. I was wrong to judge.” So I don’t understand when I see all this gay-on-gay hate. Guys…we all know what it’s like, let’s help each other out a little bit. I’ve never been good at tearing other people down. I’m not quick on my feet. So I never had anything but, “Hey…be nice.” I’m that person.
BC: You went from being a weird outcast to modeling and now being praised all over the place for your good looks and hot body. Was that a big adjustment to you, with maybe some ups and downs to it?
SG: Yes! It was a huge adjustment. Not even just people paying attention to my appearance, but really just being out and open and feeling freedom for the first time. I was very restricted in high school; my parents didn’t really let me go out, so I have zero freedom and all of a sudden my whole world opened up and I could do whatever I wanted. All my modeling things and anything I did where I was taking my clothes off [laughs] was a whole, like…I was just feeling it out. When your parents tell you not to do something and they’re obsessed with it, what is the first thing you do the second you can and you’re aware from them? Everything that they feared. I went out and I had sex and I met guys and I hung out at the bars, or at the one bar in Nashville, and then when I came to Chicago I went to Boys’ Town. I wasn’t ever around gay people so I was excited for that experience. I dive right into everything, I’m really intense, and it’s quite a world to throw yourself into at 18 and 19! That was a whirlwind, and it took me a couple of years to calm down. I was finding myself and for the first time starting to get attention from other men…and that was really cool and exciting, but it also was weird being someone that people noticed and adjusting to that. It’s like the preacher’s daughter—she’s the wildest and craziest one. Everything I felt, I expressed—I'm that way.
BC: People were moved when you cried on Good Morning America.
SG: I’m not a crier. But through the video process, I cried more than I have in my entire life because it’s been really overwhelming. I wanted to cry for so long, like, for years and years and years growing up, and I wrote all these journal entries I can’t even read anymore it’s so close to home still, but for so long I wished I could cry, I wished I could feel and was so used to just swallowing my feelings down that I couldn’t even express them anymore and they couldn’t even come out a natural way. That natural process had been so manipulated. I didn’t like myself because of messages I got from my parents and society, I really hated myself for a long time. That just doesn’t go away overnight. I’m gonna be dealing with that for a while.
I studied psychology a little bit, actually, and [Erik] Erikson talks about critical periods in your development and I was still developing…I'm still developing now. When I was 12 or 13 and realized I was gay and right away being told it’s wrong and that I’m gonna go to hell and I need to change, my parents being very disapproving, and watching my mother cry about it over and over again... People like to see me happy, but I’m really not a happy person all the time and I really struggle still with truly accepting myself and truly letting things go from my past.
BC: The Joynt seems to have been so important to your re-emergence as "Steve Grand." How has that place and its patrons boosted your art and your career?
SG: Last July, I got a call from Stephen Wright, who was my friend’s older sister’s ex-boyfriend, and he works with the people at The Joynt. I was at the point where I was done saying no. I was never gonna turn down an opportunity to play, I would just have to suck it up. I’d taken enough time off from school and I knew I needed to put myself out there. So I was like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” I tried to throw together a bunch of covers and put together this binder with all these chords and lyrics and I played a lot of old music, the kind of stuff I grew up on, like a lot of Beatles, James Taylor, Elton John, Billy Joel—all that kinda stuff. So I played, and I was all about committing to something. I was really over-the-top and really energetic and talkative to the crowd, and they were actually very impressed with me and wanted me back as a regular.
I’ve never been the best singer—my voice has really come a long way thanks to all the practice it’s gotten, some at churches and some at The Joynt. But I’ve never been the person who just opens his mouth and people are like, “Oh, that’s the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard.” I was always so frustrated because I wanted to be an artist and to express myself to music, but—I have a good ear, but my voice wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do because I’d gotten into all these bad habits over the years like yelling and having high school sophomores tell me how they think I should try to sing.
The Joynt has been amazing and they’ve been so supportive and was playing twice a week. A lot of times they would have bachelorette parties because the bachelorettes would just eat that shit up. [Laughs] And they would just be sitting there laughing because they would be like, “He doesn’t want anything to do with pussy.” [Laughs] They always were joking around there and saying, “Please don’t say the F-bomb 20,000 times.” So I would start drinking and would just swear, and I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there. Some people really liked it and some people didn’t, and there were some nights I was so awful I was so embarrassed to walk off that stage, but you gotta be ready for that. You gotta bomb a thousand times before you could ever be any good.
BC: Do you still play churches?
SG: Yeah. I did today.
BC: Is there any concern that they might not want you since you’re becoming so well known as an out artist?
SG: I’ve talked to a couple of them in my hometown, because obviously people know in my hometown now. I didn’t want to be disrespectful; they gave me an opportunity. So after the video came out, before the next mass, I was just like, “I just wanna let you know…” and I sort of like cried a little bit and was like, “You guys have been so great to give me this opportunity, but this is what I need to do and I hope you understand that I can’t not do this. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” It’s actually worked out where they’ve all met together and they were like, ‘Well, I don’t have a problem with it. You have a problem with it? No, I don’t have a problem with it.” So, there I am, still. I’m sure people have a very mixed view about it because it was posted on a hometown blog and the first comment was., “DISGUSTING!” [Laughs] Religion has done a lot of good for people. Religion has made me really angry for a long, long time, but let’s bridge the gap. Let’s do that. Even though it makes me a little uncomfortable, I’m still happy to be there and I know that would send a really powerful message. I was sitting in those same pews 10 years ago and I can’t imagine what effect that would’ve had on me, seeing an openly gay person being embraced by his community and playing at church. So that’s really awesome and a sign of the times and I think that God is smiling on us. [Laughs]
BC: Are you single?
SG: That’s the one thing I don’t wanna talk about, the love life, sex…as of right now, I’m just not wanting to do that.
BC: How about this: In general, what qualities attract you to a man?
SG: That incredible combination of strength and tenderness and confidence. That’s what I’m so drawn to in a man, and that’s what I saw in Nick—strength and tenderness and the ability to be a strong man and also be able to be very free and expressive and the way you feel. I feel it’s the modern masculine man. It’s not like, “Suck it up, don’t cry!” It’s like, “Know who you are. Be who you are. Embrace it.” Soft stuff is cool, too; let’s talk about our feelings and shit. [Laughs]
BC: Speaking of strength, what is your fitness regimen like?
SG: I struggled with my body image for a long time. I was really skinny as a kid and I hated being skinny so I was working out all the time—I was obsessive in college and would see guys who were really big and be like, “I wanna be really big!” I was obsessed with that, and I finally reached a point where I was like, “Okay. I’m over it. There’s enough people that look like that, I will never look like that, and it could be a whole lot worse.” Now, I’m confident. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful people—I think they are—and they don’t like the way they look. People are never satisfied. So in the last year and a half, I decided people waste too much time complaining about how they look, so I’m just going to enjoy how I look. I’ve gotten lots of positive response on my physical attributes, and I don’t say that to be narcissistic, I say that because the most obnoxious thing is when people complain about how they look or fish for compliments on Facebook and post a shirtless picture with an eight-pack. It’s so off-putting. So I’m comfortable with my body, I like the way I look, I’m not the best-looking guy ever, but I’m happy with what I have and I’m grateful for it.
Regarding working out, I go to the gym and text 75% of the time. [Laughs] It’s all over the place! It really depend on what’s going on. It’s really suffered in the last couple of months. I really lost a lot of weight and it’s like, “What’s wrong?” and I just hate hearing that. It’s hard for me to put on size and keep size, I need to really eat a lot, I burn it up so fast. It’s been pretty taxing on me and it’s been…my mood is all over the place, so sometimes I struggle with eating enough. So the stress of this made all of that go to hell. But generally, I try to work out four or five times a week, for about an hour. I do a different body part. I do chest and back one day, bis and tris another day, shoulders and traps another day, and legs another days. And then I do abs somewhere in there, wherever I can tolerate it.
BC: For all the people who’ve come to know you from the video and song, what’s next?
SG: I don’t have all that figured out yet, so I guess we’ll all have to wait and see together. My taste is pretty eclectic, so my EP will definitely show that I’m eclectic in my style. I won’t do anything too trendy; I kinda gave up on all that. I’m just not a trendy person and I’m so slow with all those things. Any time I’ve ever tried to do anything “cool,” it’s blown up in my face, so that’s why I just kinda stick to what I know, which is drums, bass, guitar, piano, live, real instruments. I’m definitely well tuned in to what makes a song catchy and memorable and I definitely at this point naturally kind of do those things. Even if it sounds like it could’ve been recorded 30 years ago, I think the basic elements of a good song are timeless. The things I go for, my goal is to make it sound like it could’ve been recorded in many different decades. I just love things that are timeless. Visually, I try to do that, too. As you know, I experimented with different looks and nothing trendy has ever worked with me and I just look in the mirror and I’m like, “Who am I kidding?” I just stick to the basics, and that goes for both sound and how I look, my aesthetics.
BC: Basic works for you. Your name is “Steve Grand.” You can’t ask for a better stage name. And your look is classic. When I look back at “Steve Starchild,” I rolled my eyes when it was first sent to me, then I listened and was like, “Oh, it’s good.”
SG: Yeah, I did all this stuff and it’s been a part of my growing experience and I think it’s great that people see that yeah, I did some goofy stuff and tried and was so passionate, but I was still figuring out who I was as artist and who I was as a man, as a gay man, as a human being.
BC: For fans, I think it’s fun to Google you and find all these other things going on. It’s interesting.
SG: [Laughs] Yeah, interesting. I’m an Eagle Scout, but I’m no Boy Scout, as they say. [Laughs]
BC: Do you think "All-American Boy" was the perfect launch for your career, or would you change anything?
SG: This is just the beginning. The real work begins now. This has really changed me drastically. I made this happen…this is because I was so intent on doing it exactly the way I wanted it. And despite whatever anyone said, I have no regrets and I’m very happy with how it turned out and the response it’s gotten.