For singer-songwriter Steve Grand, who performs an intimate set at the East Village’s SubCulture on Valentine’s Day, the past year and a half has been a whirlwind. After the video for his highly infectious country-tinged pop song “All-American Boy” went viral, Grand’s doe-eyed mug was plastered across seemingly every gay blog, which quickly led to mainstream attention, from an appearance on Good Morning America to inclusion in the annual Out 100 list of LGBT movers and shakers. That’s all pretty impressive for a 24-year-old with no record deal and only one song to promote. Grand called us to discuss his sudden rise to fame, including being pigeonholed as a country act and the annoying reemergence of some beefcake photos.
Tell me about the new album.
I feel like I've been working on it for more than half of my life. It's the accumulation of a lot of things I've experienced. I had a lot of material to choose from when I was making it, but I didn't want to put a bunch of songs on there because I thought they were good. I wanted them all to make sense together. This album follows my experience of being 18 up to 24, so it captures that time in my life, that awkward transition between youth and adulthood.
You funded the album through Kickstarter—why did you decide to go that way?
I thought there was no better way of funding an album! It's such a democratic process. You're throwing yourself out there and saying, "Hey world, do you want me to make this album or not?” So it's very affirming that people took the time and got out their credit cards and entered their information into Kickstarter. Almost 5,000 people contributed, so that really says something.
You exceeded your goal by a lot. Did that change the way you approached recording or producing?
Oh yes! I exceeded it, like, four times over, and I was like, I really need to make sure that it's worth it. So I went back and revisited a lot of things. I ended up overthinking pretty much everything I could possibly have overthought on the album. [Laughs] I wonder how different it would have been if I'd just left it how it was the first time around…I would probably go about it a little differently the next time, but you have to start somewhere. I just wanted this to be the very best I could make it, after my fans were so generous and supportive. I can say I did everything I could to make the best album that I could for them.
Will people be surprised by the sound?
I think so. There's a lot of talk about me being a country artist, and that was the headline from the start: “Gay country artist." I never really identified with that—I certainly didn't put that out there myself, and I've never done anything to affirm that label. That was something that was just placed on me. I mean, I understand, "All-American Boy" does sound country, and the video is certainly very country. But there's stuff that's very dance-pop with not a trace of country on the record. So I think that will surprise people. But I'm a songwriter, and I've always been much more concerned about just the basic elements, the lyric and the melody rather than the production.
Do you think being tagged as a country musician is a negative?
No, I don't think it's a negative—I think people hear things how they hear it, and who am I to dispute that? I think art is inherently subjective, and so some people heard it as country, and from what I understand about country, as a fan of country, is that [my record] certainly meets some of the criteria. So no, I didn't see it as a negative thing, I just saw it as a difference in perspective.
Does it concern you that the album will be different to the single, or do you think people are happy to go on that journey?
I think people will be pleasantly surprised. On a third of the album you could hear a country influence. I did live in Nashville for a year, and I did study songwriting for a year at Belmont University my freshman year of college. I'm definitely influenced by country music for that reason—and because I like it. But I think that my fans will definitely like the stuff that sounds very different. I think most of my fans are really sold on me as an artist, and the genre isn't so important to them. It's the stories that I tell and what I represent to them.
Were you surprised at the audience reaction to “All-American Boy”?
Yeah, I didn't think that so many people would be affected by it on a deep level. I did it, thinking it would get attention, but I didn't think it would get that much attention. I didn't think it would be something that essentially launched my career and put me in the national spotlight.
I assume it opened a lot of doors pretty quickly…
Yeah, I got all kinds of offers for all sorts of things, and I didn't really take most of them. I was pretty stubborm about what I wanted and how I wanted to go about things. I knew a lot less a year and a half ago than I do now, and maybe I would have revisited some of those opportunities, but back then I was just really sure of what I wanted to do and didn't want to do.
Do you feel pigeonholed as a gay artist?
I believe that at some point in time that won't be such a novelty. I certainly didn't set out to be a novelty in that regard. But it is something that's still special for people. You turn on pop radio and how many artists that you listen to are openly gay? And of those, how many openly sing about same-sex attraction? Almost none! So it's still a big deal for people, and you have to respect that, and you have to respect that it's a big country and we're not all in the big cities. There are a lot of people in the flyover states, in small towns, and all over the globe who have grown up in a world that's moving slower—and it's not so easy for them to come out. I think what I do speaks especially to those people.
You were modeling before you did the music thing. Does that haunt you, or did it help you out?
I did a couple of photo shoots, if you can consider that modeling…I mean, I never made a dollar off of it. I would be lying if I said it wasn't irritating. All of those pictures were taken when I was 18 or 19, and I'm going to be 25 in less than a month, so it's just such old news for me. I really do cringe every time I see some media outlet post those pictures. I don't want to see those. I don't have any shame, and I don't think it's any big deal, but that's not what I'm promoting and it's not what i'm pushing as an artist. When I see those pictures, I just have to shut my laptop.
And they have been following you around, I guess.
People should have them saved to their hard drive if they want them. My Google search would look a lot different if I had control over it. [Laughs]
So, what's been a highlight since you came into the spotlight?
I love performing and I love being able to travel all around the country and play for people who know my song; that's the most rewarding thing. Also, the fans that write in and send me emails and send me letters the old-fashioned way to tell me about how my songs affected them—how what I did really resonated with them—as a songwriter, that's all you could really hope for. So that was very rewarding and I feel really good about it.