In July 2013, Steve Grand’s music video for “All-American Boy” exploded on YouTube. That popularity translated to Grand’s funding a full album by the same name on Kickstarter,
the platform’s third most successful music project ever. That album is out today on iTunes and Amazon (though Kickstarter pledgers received advance copies). During the cold months leading up today, Grand talked to Metrosource from his home in Chicago about being labeled a gay recording artist, labeled a country artist, and not knowing what’s in cuppa cuppa cuppa cake.
Interview by Matt Gurry
This interview has been condensed.
METROSOURCE: I saw today’s high in Chicago is 4 degrees. When was the last time you left your house?
STEVE GRAND: Last night, actually. My sister’s birthday was yesterday, so I went out with her and celebrated a bit and got her drunk ass home.
That’s love, because what was it last night? Negative 50?
I got in my car, and it was 0. Then it was -2 when we left. It was supposed to get down to -27 with the wind chill.
Yeah, I can’t think of anyone I love enough to go out in that temperature for.
[laughs] Well, that’s what we do around here.
…is your polite way of saying you’re a better person than I am.
[laughs] Well, those were your words. But actually, I am thinking of moving to southern California.
Like in your song, “Back to California.” Is California a part of your life? Or is it the proverbial “I’m heading west”?
It’s both. I wrote that song about a relationship I was in in eighth grade, a friendship, and it was one of those very intense adolescent friendships. We were filled with all these hopes and dreams about what our next four years would be like, and what our lives were going to be. We were so excited about growing up and going out in the world — especially us, because we were very sheltered.
I think California — especially for people who don’t live there — it represents this romantic idea of going where things are happening and exciting and warm and beautiful. And that’s what it was to us. We said we’d go to California together, and she said I was going to become a rock star and she was going to become president. We were kids just dreaming.
It’s about that really beautiful, warm moment in my life where I was on the threshold of becoming an adult. It’s a very bittersweet, challenging time. For me I wasn’t really able to love myself back then because I knew I was gay and hadn’t really accepted myself yet.
And that was right about the time you came out, right?
That’s right. I came out the summer before eighth grade. I wasn’t really accepting myself but and she was. Around this time I was being indoctrinated by all this Focus on the Family literature that said you can change and you don’t have to be gay. [Focus on the Family is a socially-conservative nonprofit that opposes, among other things, gay marriage and gay adoption.] I thought that her love for me was actually not good for me. So it was a really complicated relationship, and the song is about that.
Wait, her love for you was not good for you because of her acceptance?
Yeah. She was affirming my reality as a gay person. She said it was just who I am and I needed to accept it and that it was great. And I was just like, “no, don’t love me.”
That’s really heavy and layered stuff for pop music.
Well that’s why it’s a five-minute song! [laughs] I’m very proud of that song, though. It’s a song that will never be on the radio, probably, or would never be a big commercial hit, but I’m really proud of it.
Well I noticed it closes the album, and I oddly tend to listen to albums’ last songs first. It seems a lot of bands and artists put the most personal stuff at the end. I don’t know if that’s a trend or if it’s conscious—
Yeah! I think that’s probably because it’s the song a lot of artists really want to have on the record, and it’s probably a song that the marketing team or the label or the producer or whatever powers-that-be don’t see as being commercially viable. So they’re like, “OK, to make you happy we’ll put it at the end when people have stopped listening.”
Which brings up your label, and that you are your own label. All those decisions were yours. Was that freeing? Challenging? Both?
It’s both of those things. Sometimes you hear artists complaining about their label, but if you are your label, you have no one to blame but yourself. Everything that goes well, everything that goes badly, it comes down to me because I had the final say. I had people advising me, but yeah, it all comes down to what I say, so I have to know when to trust my instincts and when to get help. That’s what I’ve really learned, where I could trust my instincts — and I’d say now I can trust them quite a bit.
Today more than ever, people are finding artists by the internet — definitely as people did with you — and there’s a lot of noise out there. So to cut your way through that, you really have to have something to say.
Absolutely. We’re so inundated with the ads, and the “Listen to my music!” and “I have 100,000 Instagram followers” and the “Look at me! Look at me!” We’re just inundated. So, you really need to ask yourself this question — and this is what I tell people when they ask for my advice about getting into the entertainment industry — so the question you have to ask yourself every single day is: Why should people care about what you’re doing? What does it say about them? What are you creating for them, what value are you adding to their lives and then to the world by doing whatever you’re doing?
That’s the question I was asking for the last couple years leading up to everything that I did, All-American Boy and all that. It’s a hard question. Sometimes you do something and you really like it but then it’s not responded to in the way you’d hoped for. So you’ve just gotta keep trying and trying again.
Congrats on the release of All-American Boy, by the way. How long have you been working on it?
I wrote the oldest song when I was 19. It’s the first track, “Say You Love Me.” So that goes back…it’s going to be five years now. I started recording it in December of 2013.
Was it going to be an album at that time? Or it was just a song then?
It was going to be an album. I had all the songs, and I had them all demoed. On “All-American Boy,” I updated the recording in the video, and I think it sounds quite a bit better now. It was really hard to do because I wanted the sound quality to come up, but I didn’t want it to lose any of the magic from the original recording, so it was a very hard balance to make those things work: to make it sound better and fuller and richer and deeper, and also to be true to the original. And I think I did that well. If you listened to the original, you probably wouldn’t notice.
Right off the bat you were labeled a country singer, but if you listen to the album, it’s clearly not a country album. It goes in and out of genres. Do you expect people to be surprised when they find that out for themselves?
Well anyone that’s ever listened to anything that I’ve ever said will not be surprised. I’ve been saying that I’ve never called myself a country artist until I was blue in the face. Literally, since July third of 2013. I never have said, yes I’m a country artist or, yes I’m a first or whatever. I never said any of that; I never stood by any of that. There’s certainly elements of country in my music, four tracks that are Americana — that’s the word I like to use — but I have never said I’m part of the country community.
I’m not really concerned with the label. People can decide what they hear, but I’m a singer-songwriter. I’m hereby declaring that my genre: singer-songwriter music.
Well that is nice that you have declared that, but fortunately for everyone involved — for you, for journalists you talk to in the future, for fans — I have devised a quiz that will give us a thorough, definitive, scientific answer to the question, “Is Steve Grand a country artist?”
Oh my God! [laughs]
OK, so answer each question honestly. Question one—
Oh shit! This is gonna be real?
Um, yeah. So. Question one: IHOP or Waffle House?
Springsteen or Mellencamp?
Donnie or Marie Osmond?
Dolly or Whitney?
[hesitates] Oh, dammit. I don’t know if I can choose. [deep sigh] I can’t choose.
Fair answer. Complete this sentence: “Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee, it gets hotter than a what?”
Uhh— [hesitates, laughs]
Yeah, time’s up.
[laughs] I had nothing creative to say to that.
No, it’s not about creative! There is a word that’s next and you either know it or you don’t, and you don’t.
OK, last question: There are three ingredients in a cuppa cuppa cuppa cake. Name them.
I don’t even know what that is.
Yeah, I can definitively tell you right now, Steve Grand, that you are not a country singer. You are a definitely of the singer-songwriter genre.
Amen. [laughs] It was a good quiz. I mean, I think it was more of, like, a “How do well do you associate with Southern culture?” quiz.
Yeah, fair enough. But now I feel like we need to question — and I didn’t prepare a quiz for this — “Is Steve Grand really gay?” Because you failed several easy questions. I mean, cuppa cuppa cuppa cake? Come on! Steel Magnolias!
Yeah, I’m sorry. [laughs]
No, don’t worry. I’m going to send you some links and some homework; we’ll take care of that.
Yeah, or else my gay card will be revoked.
No, I’m not in the business of or with the ability of doing that.
But to that, the press story does tend to revolve around your being gay. Do you think that label has been a hindrance? Or a help? Neither? Both?
[sighs] I don’t think about that. It doesn’t matter to me; it’s not going to change what I’m doing. I am a gay person, and I am a songwriter, and I’m a songwriter who draws from my personal experience. Part of my personal experience is that I’m a gay person. But I don’t waste time with things that I have no control over.
I think that what I’m doing has inspired a lot of people and has made a lot of people feel less alone, and I know this from first-hand accounts. I know this from thousands of messages, emails, letters I’ve received from people all over the world who have listened to my music and have written to tell me what it means. And it means a lot of things. A lot of those things are because I’m gay and doing what I’m doing. So I would never say that it’s a hindrance because it’s helped people. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this. I care about making a difference. I think there’s no better use of art to do just that.
Last modified: July 27, 2017