Steve Grand was hailed by many as the first openly gay country music star to hit the big time when his video for All American Boy went viral.
Later this month his debut album is finally hitting the shelves. We discovered how his passions, love life and his early 20s have inspired his music.
All American Boy was your first big hit and now it’s the title of your debut album, where did the inspiration for it all come from?
Going way back when were little kids, my dad would always pat me and my brother on the back and say, ‘These are my boys, they’re the all American boys, and they build tree houses and they play sports, and they get good grades and they are boy scouts,’ and so that was always a sense of pride for him.
When I realized I was gay at 13, it occurred to me that I didn’t necessarily fit into the idea of what it meant to be ‘all American’. So I named the album All American Boy because I wanted to say, ‘I am taking this identity’ and I want my fans to do that for themselves. It is about claiming your identity, claiming your space, and not letting the world tell you what you can and can’t be.
All American Boy was an incredible success. Would you have done anything differently?
Honestly, I put more pressure on myself than anybody else can put on me. Even if I wasn’t on Good Morning America or CNN, I really believe I would be just as proud. It is a beautiful piece of work. It’s a video I can still watch today and I think it is something I’ll always be able to look back on and say, ‘I did everything I could’.
You self-funded your debut album through one of the most successful Kickstarter music campaigns ever, which raised four times more than its goal. What was that like?
I’ll start off by saying I am so grateful to all the people who contributed, all 4,905 of you, thank you so much!
With Kickstarter you don’t have to go through a label, or win over any bigwigs, and I don’t think there is any other way I would rather have raised money for this record. It is very affirming, and it is something I looked to in the darker times when I was struggling to make this record and wondering if I really could.
I always looked back and remembered there are many people who didn’t only say they believed in me, but took out their credit cards and made very generous contributions. That really kept me going.
Is there an overarching theme to the new album?
For me it represents the time in my life between 19 and 24, that awkward age between youth and adulthood, and features some of the themes you only experience during that time. It’s not just an album of, ‘Oh, he broke up with me, oh he loves me, oh I wish he loved me’ [laughs]. Those three songs are on there, but there are lots more.
Do you have any special ways to get the inspiration flowing when you write?
Yeah y’know, just a couple of shots of Jack [laughs].
It comes at all different times, and it’s part of my job as an artist to always be open to inspiration coming in. If I am working out at the gym and I think of something I’ll stop what I am doing and record a video message. Or sometimes I’ll be sitting at the piano and a whole song will just come rushing out, and that’s like striking gold.
There are a few songs on this record where that’s been the case, and I’ve written a song in 15 minutes.
Complete this sentence: To me music is…
…Escape. Music has this unique ability to transport people to any place. No matter what you’re going through you can put your headphones on and go into a world that the artist has created for you for those three and a half minutes.
That’s how I started every day, while walking to school I would blast my favorite artist in my ears and go into their world. And it was so empowering. It made me feel like one day I was going to have a voice, one day I was going to be able to do that, one day I was going to be heard. That sustained me for a long time.
What are your weaknesses?
This has been a big problem. I love sugary drinks, and I just love sweets in general. It really is one of the worst things to be putting in your body, and so I’ve really tried to cut that out because my cheeks were starting to swell up [laughs].
But I just love comfort food, and I love Netflix, and together those three make for a really evil combination.
Other than your music, what would you like to be remembered for?
I’d like to be someone who brought more beauty into the world than I took out.
I like connecting with my fans, and the fact they can connect with themselves all because of something I created. There is really nothing more beautiful and humbling for me. That’s why I keep doing what I do even though there is a lot of crap that comes with it.
I just want to know I did my part to make the world maybe just a little more livable for some kid out there.
The next single from Steve’s debut album – Whiskey Crime – is launched today, (10 March), and the rest of the album is available from 24 March. For more of JD’s interview with Steve, go to scienceofhappiness.org.uk.
JD van Zyl is a journalist and entrepreneur living in London, who is passionate about interviewing artists, authors and thought leaders about success, finding happiness and maximising human potential. He also has a disproportionate fixation with chocolate brownies.
Grand so far: Watch JD van Zyl’s interview and the videos for All American Boy, Stay, Back to California and here the audio for Time here: