Steve Grand, the first openly gay male country artist to achieve mainstream success after his music video "All-American Boy" became a YouTube hit and talks self-acceptance, finding inspiration through his fans and tapping social media to independently fund his full-length debut album.
Listen to the interview below:
Steve Grand turned "All-American Boy" into the all-American dream.
Nearly a year ago, the 24-year-old's self-funded music video for his single "All-American Boy," quickly became a YouTube hit within its first week of release, garnering 2.75 million views--and the attention of "Good Morning America," CNN and a legion of fans who were moved by an unusual departure in country music video themes: a gay love-interest storyline. "All-American Boy" now has more than 3.1 million views on YouTube.
And now, with an upcoming full-length debut album on its way, and gigs across the country in his queue, much has changed for the former piano bar singer.
"I'm doing a lot more traveling," Grant said in an interview with Star 94.1. "I've never been to very many places outside of my own state before this. I get to do a lot of prides and festivals and events."
In fact, last Friday he opened Toronto's WorldPride, where singers Melissa Etheridge and Deborah Cox also entertained pride revelers, and the next day he rushed to Tennessee to rock Knonxville PrideFest.
On Sunday, June 29, Grand will perform at Seattle PrideFest and serve as the opening act for another trailblazer for LGBT visibility in his genre, award-winning singer Chely Wright--the first openly lesbian, commercially successful country music artist.
But his current path is a far cry from what he imagined growing up in a small town.
Grand, who was raised Catholic, described his small town upbringing in Lemont, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, as "sheltered," and found the process of discovering his sexuality difficult.
"More so than anything it was really terrifying for me," he said. "I realized I was a gay person and I wanted to do everything I possibly could do to rid myself of it because of the way I was brought up and taught to think it was a sin."
"Many painful years ensued after that, but I've come a long way and my family has come a long away."
As the first openly gay male country artist to achieve mainstream success, the singer-songwriter credits his following to his approach to music--as an emotive tool to heal the past and guide the journey ahead.
And "All-American Boy" provided him with that platform.
"It's about falling for someone that you can’t have, which is something that I experienced over and over again, ever since I was a 13-year-old boy at summer camp; that was the first time I had a crush on a guy," Grand said. "It was just a feeling, and it made me realize I was attracted to men and a lot unfolded after that."
For Grand, the introspection is a formula that works and resonates with his fans, which he refers to as his GrandFam.
By tapping into social media to reach the same audience that catapulted him to YouTube stardom, he engages with his fans through Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites, offering an intimate look at an artist pursing his dreams--and in return, he said, he has been able to source inspiration for his work through their mutual adulation.
"People will just write me and say 'thank you for inspiring me,' and they'll tell me their story, and I'm so inspired by the stories of my fans, and I think that started to seep its way into my writing, but I have a lot of my own experiences, too, that I draw from"
Grand's latest single "Back to California" was released in February, and his full-length debut album, "All-American Boy," is due in September, which he funded with contributions from his fans through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.
The crowd-sourced project allowed his fans to make contributions--anything from a personalized thank you note for $5, to an appearance in one of his music videos for $400, to a private acoustic set for $5,000.
When Grand's 31-day Kickstarter campaign ended March 30, he was wowed by the response. His GrandFam came through.
"All-American Boy," the album, was funded to the tune of $326, 593--making it the third-highest funded music project ever on Kickstarter, besting other fan-backed campaigns by established chart-topping country music artist Jo Dee Messina, who was backed by fans with $121,743 to support her "My Time Our Music" album, and Lilith Fair alum Paula Cole, who raised $75,258 to complete "Raven."
"My fans exceeded my expectations by four times, so it was incredible, and I'll forever be grateful for that," he said. "It's given me so many opportunities to bring all these people into my corner that are helping to bring my creative vision to life."
Grand counts Larry King among the first to make a contribution. The veteran newsman supported him by writing a check, mid-interview, when he was promoting the independently-funded album in February on "Larry King Now."
Too busy with music and traveling, Grand said he has no time to bask in romance as his career gains momentum.
"It's really all about my music right now," he said. "I'd be a terrible partner right now because I'm so invested in what I’m doing and it's probably going to be that way for a while."
Steve Grand is performing at gay pride events in St. Louis on Friday, Twin Cities Pride on Saturday and Seattle's PrideFest on Sunday, June 29.
For more information, visit his official website.
In Pictures: Steve Grand
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Watch "All-American Boy" below: