Grand stand: an interview with out musician Steve Grand
Sun. March 9, 2014 by Gregg Shapiro
I get to wake up every day and do something that I love. For that, I feel so blessed, so humbled.
GS: (Gregg Shapiro) Steve, we first spoke to each other in July 2013, around the time that your "All-American Boy" music video had reached a million views on YouTube and you were getting some national media attention. When you look back at the past eight months, what is the one thing that stands out as the most memorable for you?
SG: (Steve Grand) It's so hard to say just one. There've been so many incredible things that have happened. For one, the continued support of my fans, who I love so much. When I was on my little tour they came out in droves. It was so incredible to meet them at each and every show. I remember a specific show in San Diego that I did. It was at Urban Mo's and we packed the place. Everyone brought such great energy to the room and there was so much love in the room and this outpouring of support. It felt like a little family. It's been so great to meet people like that and hear the stories that they've shared with me and watching the fan-base grow every single day. I started my Facebook page when my video when up on July 2 (2013) and the day after my birthday (a couple of days ago), it passed over 100,000 "Likes." The Grand Fam, as I love to call them and they love to call themselves, has grown so much. It's not the number that matters to me, it's that they're still the most incredible, loving fans. They're so positive and supporting of each other. That's something I've been so blessed to witness. Not only are they there to support the music, but they're there because they care about each other.
GS: What makes you say that they care about each other?
SG: It's apparent if you go on my (Facebook) wall. They write to each other. People have made friends on my wall. It's a really beautiful thing to watch. There's so much love.
GS: Even though you had been working hard at your craft for a number of years, you became a kind of overnight sensation. Do you think you were prepared for all the attention and scrutiny you received?
SG: It's something you can't prepare for. You can think about it all you want and study it from the outside to a degree, and that might help. But, no, I certainly didn't expect this. I didn't expect this to the degree that it's happened. I take it day by day. I stay focused on all I have to be grateful for, which is really a lot. I get to pursue my dream. I get to wake up every day and do something that I love. For that, I feel so blessed, so humbled. For that, I also feel that honoring the relationship that I have formed with my fans is the most sacred thing to me.
GS: In the course of these past few months, did you get to meet people and go places that you hadn't previously?
SG: I have met some incredible people. Very early on I met Edie Windsor, not too long after the repeal of DOMA. It was amazing. She is a hero and an inspiration to me. At the Out 100 Awards, which I was also a part of last winter, I played there and she spoke. She received the big award and her speech was so moving. She spoke about how before the AIDS crisis, gay men and lesbians were kind of separate; they segregated themselves. But she remarked on the bittersweetness of them coming together, and the fact that it took a crisis to bring them together. I thought there was something beautiful about the way she talked about a community coming together to fight a bigger battle. I've also met Mariah Carey and Elton John. I did a show with Lance Bass. He's an extremely sweet guy. Elton has been my musical hero since I was a little kid. As a big piano rock fan, it was so exciting – he's my musical hero and I got to meet him before a show and give him a hug. He knew who I was and he said he was keeping an eye on me. That was really exciting. I've been so many places that I've never been before. I didn't do a lot of traveling growing up with my family. I went very few places. Even after that, when I was in college I didn't have the money, and after college I certainly didn't have the money [laughs]. Struggling as a singer/songwriter and playing at churches just to get through the week. It's been incredible to be able to go to all of these places all over the country and play and have people show up. People who have been moved by my story or are interested in hearing me live. There's always so much love and support. It's something I don't ever take for granted when I get before an audience. I know what it's like. That feeling of getting on the stage and trying to win over an audience, which I did for a long time, especially in that year before "All-American Boy," when I was playing in a jazz club in Chicago and every night I played it was a new challenge to win over that audience. Just me and the piano and the microphone. That's all I had to work with to win the audience over and to try to get them to respond to the music. I never take it for granted when I get in front of an audience who is excited before I even play my first note.
GS: Were you offered any work outside of music, such as on TV in Glee or in a movie musical?
SG: Yes, there have been some offers relating to film and people doing their own small or big budget projects. People have asked me if I want to act, but right now I just want to focus on my music. My fans know that. You can only take on so much and right now with me launching this Kickstarter (campaign) and new music video. I'm in California and I stepped outside of the studio to do this interview with you, Gregg. You can only stay focused on so many things at once. I'm working hard every day. We really have to get this (album) out for the fans by late May. It's going to be difficult to do that, but I am determined. Of course, the quality has to come first. I'm doing everything I can to make that this album comes out in a timely manner.
GS: I'm glad you mentioned the album because since we spoke last July, you have released two more singles, "Stay" and "Back To California." Do you plan to include those songs, as well as "All-American Boy" on your forthcoming album?
SG: Yes. It's part of the whole story. I have a whole library of music to choose from. I've been writing songs for a long time. The whole album will be twelve (original) songs, but those ones have to be on there. Granted, I've released them already, and I know that people have moved on from the idea of an album because the industry is changing and technology has changed the way people consume music. But I feel like my fans deserve that from me. I want to show them a full body of work, where each song stands alone and together they all tell a story and a bigger picture.
GS: Fan-funded albums, such as the one you are raising funds for through a Kickstarter campaign, are all the rage. Why did you decide to go that route?
SG: I wanted my fans to be my label. They've given me so much support and love. They've amazed me every single time with each song I've released. I promised them, from day one when I first started doing these interviews, that I would keep my music and message as pure as possible. I don't want anything getting in the way of that. I'm staying independent for that reason. It's meaningful for them to be a part of seeing this album come to fruition and being a part of the reason that this album is come to be, through their support and generosity. I think that's special for them.
GS: Some artists who do fan-funded CDs have unusual ways of expressing their gratitude to fans who donate large sums. Levi Kreis, for instance, had the names of contributors written all over his body and was photographed with them on display on the cover of his latest album. Jill Sobule, on the other hand, thanked contributors in "The Donor Song" on her California Years disc. Do you have anything special in mind in terms of expressing your gratitude?
SG: There are a bunch of different premiums on my page. There's a wide range of rewards from which to choose. Everyone is going to get a handwritten card from me, thanking them for their love and support and for being a part of making this happen. Everyone passed a certain amount is going to get recognition, right next to my mom, in the credits of the album. I'm always thinking of ways because I am so grateful to my fans and it's so important to me that they know how much I love and appreciate them. I don't, for one second, forget that they made all this possible for me.
GS: You mentioned your mother. Last August, at an event in which you performed in Chicago in advance of your Northalsted Market Days appearance, your family, including your parents and grandmother, were present. What do they think of your meteoric rise?
SG: They're having a great time with it. They're so happy for me and so proud of me. It's a beautiful thing. This life has been such a journey in so many ways. One of them is watching my parents do a 180 in many ways in life. Faith and religion was all tied with what it meant to be a good person. It was part of their culture and where they came from. What they were taught to believe from their faith was that homosexuality was a sin. They can't help that that was the environment in which they grew up, that that was their world. But, because of me, it's a testament to a parents' love that because of their own son, they were able to reexamine these beliefs that they had held for so long. They're in midlife and I don't think people appreciate how difficult it is for people at that point in their lives to totally reevaluate their value system. That's a really big deal. That's why I say it's a testament to the power of a parent's love. That has been one of the most special things about all of this for me.
GS: Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't ask if you are currently single or if you have a boyfriend?
SG: [Laughs] I'm married to my career. That's all I'll say.
Listen to "Back to California"
In addition to "All-American Boy" and "Stay", Grand released "Back to California" this week. Each song is an example of what fans can expect from his new album. You can download "Back to California" for free on Bandcamp and iTunes.
Related: Steve Grand successfully funds album on Kickstarter
Fans fully fund Steve Grand's Kickstarter campaign in just 17 hours.
With the album fully-funded, Grand is back at The Studio in Las Vegas with Aaron Johnson, who is best known for producing the first records from The Fray, working on the second set of songs that will be on the album - twelve in all.
Interviewed by Gregg Shapiro. Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.