Steve's fans lift him up. Full gallery above.
Steve Grand is stubborn.
The Lemont, Illinois, native has discovered a way to have his cake and eat it, too (all the while looking like he's never so much as tasted cake): Without a record deal or traditional music manager, he's created two-going-on-three viral music videos, landed on multiple mainstream TV shows, made personal appearances around the country and—oh, yeah—raised $130,000 on Kickstarter in a day and a half.
So forgive him if he's not worried to be going it alone when he releases his debut album, All-American Boy, in May.
But for a self-described loner, Steve was, as he has been every time we've connected, completely affable, open and in good humor during our late-night, birthday-eve phone pow-wow, during which we talked about his fans, his album, his single "Back to California" and how he's handling being an "It" guy for so many people who'd never heard his name eight months ago...
Boy Culture: We have to start with the elephant in the room—your Kickstarter project soared past your hoped-for $81,000 in 17 hours, making $100,000 in under a day. It's now one of only 32 music projects to ever break the six-figure mark in Kickstarter history. Did you have any idea it might take off as quickly as it has?
Steve Grand: No, I really did not. You know, I’ve been surprised over and over again by my fans. I had a lot of faith in them helping me raise the money, but to have them do it in 17 hours and to have it grow from there has been so amazing.
BC: What was the $81,000 for? How did it break down?
SG: I had a budget proposal from a producer for the remaining songs, and for making the actual album and distributing it, and a tiny bit for promotion, but I was low-balling it overall. I wanted to do something attainable and reasonable...and it’s worked out well so far.
BC: And you did it with so many small donations—very Obama of you! So far, the average donation works out to just about $64 apiece, and that takes into account some deep-pocketed $5,000 pledges.
SG: I’d rather have a lot of little donations than a couple big ones. That shows that people care and are giving what they can. People have been incredibly generous to support me. [Full disclosure: I have donated to his campaign—Ed.]
BC: Are the song and video for your new single "Back to California" autobiographical?
SG: Yes. This goes way back to a friendship that started in middle school with this girl, and it evolved over time. We started breaking away in high school and then in college we would meet up every so often for coffee. This last year, I saw her Facebook status update that she was getting married. I had all these flashbacks about what we were like as kids, us talking about the future, me wanting to be a rockstar, what her aspirations were.
"I've experienced letting my heart out through my music, but never in that way."
We took this trip to Washington D.C. in middle school and spent all these hours together. It was a close relationship. There was a lot of love and we bonded over the things adolescents bond over—not getting along with our parents, school, our fears.
SG: Yeah, I did. Two months ago, when I met up with her again, I was like, "I have something to show you..." and we sat in my car and listened to it.
BC: What a vulnerable moment!
SG: It was a vulnerable moment—for both of us. It’s definitely an intimate and vulnerable thing. I've experienced letting my heart out through my music, but never in that way.
BC: Some viewers have seen the girl in your video and asked, "Is he straight now?" [Laughs]
SG: How dare I have a girl in my video???
BC: I mean, lots of singers play characters in videos, too, so even if the storyline had been straight, that would've been fair game.
SG: The songs are always drawn from personal experience; I’m putting myself into my music. I usually am playing myself. But sometimes, to communicate a message, when you represent things in art, certain details are sometimes embellished to keep the message clear. We didn’t necessarily walk by the skyline of Chicago and point. [Laughs] It’s art, art that represents my life.
"I’m such an awful faker. Everything that comes out of my mouth needs to be the real deal."
BC: So now that you're funded, you're committing to release your album in May?
SG: Exactly, yeah, so I don’t have a day of rest in sight. I have eight more songs and I already was working yesterday with my producer and was back today working on the Kickstarter stuff and figuring out how to move forward and keep momentum. There’s always something going on. I did the Kickstarter all myself, but I hate talking into the camera—it's really hard to do, especially since I did it on my laptop so you’re trying not to be distracted by seeing yourself out of the corner of your eye. I end up being pretty hard on myself, so I did it over and over again. I wasn’t liking what I was saying before. I’m such an awful faker. Everything that comes out of my mouth needs to be the real deal. Not that I ever try to be deceiving, but sometimes it takes a while to find your voice and find what you want to say.
BC: So you'll have 11 songs total? Is there any chance you'll come up with something new before you set the tracklist?
SG: Twelve songs. It’s already gonna be a lot to pull this off, but you never know with me. I will sometimes do things at the very last minute. Even before I really saw the "All-American Boy" video, I was thinking about putting out an EP of five songs—no video. I had this date of May  in mind, and right a couple of weeks before that I wrote this song “Whiskey Crime." You can hear a little of it at the end of my Kickstarter video. Then I decided to put out this one message and this one song and this one video and just see what would happen—and that turned out to be "All-American Boy."
BC: You have momentum with you, so going fully indie with your album is not something you had to do—it's a choice. Why did you make that choice?
SG: I'm not always so open to creative input when I have my heart set on a creative idea or a message I want to convey. So you could say I'm a little stubborn.
And I feel like it’s in the spirit of our times to do it this way. There’s a lot of power to being on a record label. A record label will be your bank, essentially, and help you finance your record...but then they take a big percentage and you don’t start seeing money until they make back the money they gave you. If it's a "flop," you never see any money…even if you sell 100,000 copies.
I feel like I know what I wanna do. I have the vision, and I just would rather lead the way. It’s hard being your own boss. There's no one kicking your butt every day. I have to kick my own butt. Which is hard. [Laughs]
BC: Do you feel pressure to produce now that you've solicited so much money from your fans?
SG: Absolutely. It makes sense for what kind of artist I am and what kind of fans I have to do a record this way. I really take very seriously the trust they place in me and I hold that relationship sacred. I want to make honest music and tell honest stories that hopefully reflect the thoughts and feelings other people have.
BC: But don't you have to collaborate in some ways?
SG: The bigger this gets, the more I need to let people in to help me. Now that I'm building a team and people have things to say about what I wanna do, it’s good. I'm learning how to work with people. It's part of being an adult, too. Everyone has to learn to work with people.
"I'm already one of my harshest critics, so if other people are hard on me, it just amplifies how hard I already am on myself."
Even in school, I hated group projects because if you had to choose your group, it was awkward because I didn’t have many friends. Or people would be like, "Oh, good, we got the smart kid, he'll do all the work!" and I would because it's all or nothing with me.
BC: What song are you most excited for fans to hear, come May?
SG: I'm so excited for the opportunity to play with a band, which hopefully I'll be doing by the summer. I think "Whiskey Crime" is a full-band song. It's really a lot of fun, and my friends who have heard the demo forever can’t get enough of it.
BC: You just did an interview with Larry King. What was that like?
SG: I felt bad because he had a sinus infection! The producers warned me that people get nervous around Larry, even people who don’t think they will. I just went in and gave him a hug and thanked him so much for having me. I felt at ease with him. I get him. I get what kind of person he is, and I appreciate it—he’s a legend!
BC: If you become a legend, what would you want to be known for?
SG: I would like people to see me as someone who is genuine and sincere and cares about the people who support me, and who doesn’t forget how lucky I am to be doing what I love now. It’s really important for me to live purposefully, and I feel that way putting music out in the world and having people connect with it. That means everything to me.
BC: I read a Facebook post of yours claiming a typical day for you is watching movies in your jammies in your parents' basement, or something like that...I can't picture that. You're so industrious!
SG: Sometimes I'll go days and won't sleep and keep going, but some days my mind never turns on and I get so lazy. I'm either doing nothing at all, or I'm working on my craft in some way. I don’t really hang out with friends...I'm not really a very social person. It exhausts me when I'm out. I wish I could be someone that is more in the moment. There’s a benefit to being who I am because I get things done, but I probably don’t need to be in my own head all the time because it's intense in there.
BC: Are you relaxing into the idea that you're a public figure?
SG: I'm better at accepting the people who don’t have nice things to say about me anonymously, but until you’ve experienced it, you don’t understand how much it can affect you and mess with your mind. I'm a sensitive guy, and I'm already one of my harshest critics, so if other people are hard on me, it just amplifies how hard I already am on myself.
"It’s really important for me to live purposefully, and I feel that way putting music out in the world and having people connect with it. That means everything to me."
What puts my mind at rest is knowing I'm a person of integrity. What I put out there, I mean, and I really do stand for what I say I stand for. I’m real! [Laughs, mocks himself with airhead-sounding repetitions of the phrase] I'm reee-al. I'm rull. I'm rill.
BC: What would you do with the money if you raised $500,000 or some crazy amount?
SG: I'd probably be even more conservative and more guarded than ever, but you could spend lot trying to get a song in rotation on the radio. I already, in good faith, was praying we’d reach $81,000 because I’d already hired music promoters. I do want a push with this record. I need to hire independentt contractors to do the things I don’t know how to do. I’d increase the budget for producing, for music videos, have more people in my band...but ultimately, I'd save it for a rainy day in case I'm not making the money back. Really, $100,000 is nothing to a big arist who’s making big deals and touring and releasing big albums.
BC: But...you are a big artist who's making big deals and touring and releasing big albums.
SG: [Laughs] But I haven't had a hit yet.
BC: You mean a Top 40 hit?
SG: That is, I feel, the way to take it to the next level. I need a hit. We’ll see. I’m already thinking about when I'm gonna be releasing new music in the future. I want to release music on a more regular basis. I wanted to do this first album so I'd have a full body of work to tour with. After that, I like the model of doing five-song EPs more frequently.
BC: Is there one type of Steve Grand fan?
SG: There’s definitely a wide spectrum of someone in the Grand Fam. I interact with them every single day. If you go on my Facebook and look at the comments, I pretty much try to respond to every person that comments and I read the comments and like things, so I see these people from all over the world. There are mostly men, and mostly gay men, but a lot of people beyond that: women, transgendered people. It’s really cool. Got some awesome moms and shit...it’s great. [Laughs]
BC: Any gay groupies?
SG: I don’t really ever…I do my shows, do my meet-and-greets and just zone out. I don’t go out.
BC: C'mon...not even on social media?
SG: Um…sometimes. Sometimes, yeah. But, I don’t know, if someone sends something inappropriate, I'm like, "haha, thanks, but I'm married to my career right now." Sometimes, people say some crazy shit and I’ll get a good laugh out of it. Whenever I've felt tempted toward someone, it's like, "Oh, do yourself a favor—don’t get involved in this."
"I've accepted this is the kind of person that I am, and this is the path I've chosen in life—and I'm stickin' with it."
This is my life right now, and while I'm young, I need to be focused on this and this needs to be where all my energy goes. It is kind of lonely, and people would probably be surprised by that. I get the most gratification in life by feeling like I'm doing something purposeful and meaningful and makes a difference to other people, and that comes with its pros and cons.
I've accepted this is the kind of person that I am, and this is the path I've chosen in life—and I'm stickin' with it.