Connect with us

a&e features

Ain’t life Grand

‘All American Boy’ on funneling fame into something sustainable

Published

on

Steve Grand, gay news, Washington Blade
Steve Grand, gay news, Washington Blade

Singer Steve Grand says he is not driven by financial payoff when making music. (Photo by Christopher Free)

Steve Grand says it’s become trendy for gay celebs to come out in an “oh-by-the-way”-type manner. The 25-year-old singer/songwriter says that was never his style.

“People say this is no big deal anymore, who cares,” he says. “You know who cares? The kids who are still really struggling with this. The kids who feel like they would still rather be dead than live life as a gay person. I’m thinking about them all the time when I’m doing these things because deep down, we all just want to be loved. … We want to feel valued and understood.”

In 2013, the Chicago native took $7,000 of his own money to make a music video for his song “All-American Boy.” The now-famous clip — nearly 4 million YouTube hits logged — found him jamming roots-rock style (many called it country) and pining for a straight friend. Now having raised $325,000 from 5,000 fans through a Kickstarter campaign, Grand is releasing a 13-track album of the same name. The Aaron-Johnson-produced project is slated for a March 24 release. We caught up with Grand from his Chicago home by phone. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Nobody sets out to be a one-hit wonder. You seem like you’re on a logical path to spinning the attention from the video into a sustainable career. How easy or hard has that been so far?

STEVE GRAND: I think I did a good job of keeping my feet on the ground. I went through the whole viral Internet star thing and that was big for a short time. I fumbled a bit in interviews and was trying to figure out if I was going to do shows right away, work on an album. There really was no plan and looking back it seems almost like a hindrance that the video and song came together so beautifully because I don’t think people realized it was really just me doing all that. People suddenly had all these really high expectations right away and I didn’t have a team, no manager, label, it was just something I did all myself with my own money made from playing bars on weekends. … It gave me a good jumpstart and exposed my music to a lot of people right off the bat and connected with a lot of people. I have to be grateful for that but it has a dark side too, for sure.

BLADE: Obviously the video wasn’t just something you did off the cuff. How calculated was it?

GRAND: I really wanted to start a grassroots kind of thing and I thought if I put it out there and people responded, that would be a good start to establishing myself as an artist so I just started asking around, finding people who did videos and eventually I met up with (director) Jason Knade. … I think I really stretched everyone and got a lot for my money. I was very passionate about it and I really cared about getting that song and video out to the world … but no, it wasn’t calculated in terms of anything after. I’ve said this a few times and it doesn’t seem to really stick, but I really did just upload it to YouTube and put it on Facebook and then the Internet did its thing. I wasn’t even sure who to reach out to. I remember thinking, “Oh, maybe I should e-mail Davy Wavey or something,” but it just did its own thing. Buzzfeed got it the next day and said I was the first openly gay country singer and I was like, “What?” I never really stood by that title but I was glad people were seeing it.

BLADE: When was it filmed and how long did it take?

GRAND: We filmed it in June of 2013 and shot it over three days. It was really hard trying to find a yard that we could bring all my friends as extras and have a place that looked like open roads and a campfire and light off fireworks and not get in trouble. I had so much trouble getting a place. No one wants to lend their place to a bunch of 23 year olds with cameras, fireworks and alcohol, but we did end up finding a place in Wisconsin through a friend of a friend. I invited like 200 people knowing maybe 30 would show up and I was right. We shot two days back to back, then a week later shot the stuff in a friend’s yard where it looks like the morning after with the fire and the garbage. Then we edited it right away.

BLADE: I guess people were skeptical because it looked so professionally done. So many essentially homemade videos end up looking so cheesy. How did you avoid that?

GRAND:  Well, I insisted on looking at all the footage we shot even though nobody wants to do that because it’s so crazy, but I insisted. I was like, “Give me the footage.” I wanted to be sure we had absolutely the best shot of everything so I spent hours and hours going through it. I also really needed it to be up by the Fourth of July, that was my plan, me being calculating I guess. I thought that was the best time to release it so we had a very limited amount of time. The editor had his first edit, then we spent eight hours going over everything making tweaks. … I really just knew exactly how I wanted it to look and I knew the feeling I wanted people to have and how to achieve that. I was very inspired and very determined and also lucky to have some very talented people to help. … I drove myself nuts, though. My parents were starting to get really worried. They were like, “It’s a little scary how you’re so intense about this.” I wasn’t sleeping or eating, which honestly is why I look so ripped in the video. It was really going over every last detail right up until the last minute.

BLADE: When hip-hop made its mark on pop, country started sounding a lot like where pop/rock was in the ‘90s. Do you think that’s why you got the country sticker?

GRAND: Yeah, live drums, acoustic guitar now, people think country. And also the storytelling style and a lot of the visuals with American flags, old cars, friends by the fire, whisky — those are very country images I guess. I just think of them as Americana. I’ve never gotten too hung up on what it’s called. … If it sounds country to you, that’s fine. … I’m just all about making the song really shine and bringing out the beautiful raw elements of the song.

BLADE: There’s a lot of industry hand wringing about whether albums are obsolete. Why was it important to you to make one?

GRAND: It was something I always wanted to do. After “All American Boy” came out people were like, “You made it, you made it.” I’m like, “I haven’t done anything yet.” Until I have an album out and have played all over the country and the world, then I’ll feel I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do since I was 12. Right after “All American Boy,” all these offers came in, all this stupid shit like reality TV and you know, people saying you have to decide today what you want your career to be like. … My thinking all along was if I’m a good songwriter and a good performer and I think there’s an audience out there for me, if that is all true, then there should still be something left when this moment fades away.

BLADE: Will you tour?

GRAND: Yeah, later in the spring. We’re doing this thing in Europe for two weeks in June and the rest is being put together now.

BLADE: How did you feel watching Sam Smith at the Grammys?

GRAND: It was amazing and a testament to where we are today, which is a beautiful thing. I thought about what it would have meant to me as a young person to have seen something like that — Sam Smith just owning the Grammys, that was amazing. He’s obviously just so, so good and the industry has really embraced him. People everywhere just seem to really like him.

BLADE: What album did you wear out when you were 12-13-14?

GRAND: Fall Out Boy, “Take This to Your Grave.” I listened to that like crazy. That’s when that whole pop-funk-emo thing was happening.

BLADE: You played a lot in clubs and churches. What did you learn?

GRAND: How to be in front of people and give them an experience even when I wasn’t feeling it. You learn to perform and be on whether you’re having a bad day, hung over, sometimes sick, whatever. I learned it was my job to still play and make people happy.

BLADE: There’s no money in having a huge YouTube hit and not that I sense you’re doing all this for the money but surely in time you want to be able to sustain yourself doing this. You put a lot of money into the video. Was it worth it?

GRAND: Anytime somebody thinks I’m doing this for the money, I just laugh forever. I actually moved out of my apartment and back into my parents’ basement because I wanted to keep investing in myself and not throwing hundreds of dollars away for an apartment I was barely at anyway because I was spending so much time traveling to L.A. and recording. People have all sorts of priorities and so far, mine has been putting out something beautiful in the world, something people will connect to and giving people an experience. … I don’t care about living a glamorous life.

Steve Grand, gay news, Washington Blade

Steve Grand says he knew his ‘All American Boy’ video would be successful. (Photo by Joem Bayawa)

BLADE: You’ve done a lot of scantily clad photo shoots. Do all the underwear shots risk undermining a serious career?

GRAND: Those were all done when I was 19, so like six years ago. I didn’t do drugs or anything. My way of rebelling was taking off my clothes. I don’t own them and don’t choose my Google search so there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m not ashamed of them and I don’t feel like they’re any big deal … but most of the time now I don’t care how I look. Sometimes I’ll do a show now and people say, “Take off your shirt.” The only time I did that was for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in Lake Superior. But now, I don’t really care about showing off my body.

BLADE: Whatever ingredients are needed to launch a successful pop career in 2015 — whatever combination of looks, talent, and so on, to say nothing of drive, it would seem you were dealt a pretty good hand in life. Would you concur?

GRAND: Oh yeah, I’m never one to downplay that, absolutely. We’re not all dealt the same hand. I think I’m lucky to a certain extent but also lucky to have work ethic and passion and to care about what I do. … You really have to be in this for the right reasons because if you’re not, it’s just not worth it.

BLADE: You’ve said before in interviews you were not dating but focusing on career development. Is that still the case?

GRAND: Absolutely. And even if I was, I wouldn’t say. I like to keep some things to myself. I love life and sex and all that, but that’s for me.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

a&e features

Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

Published

on

Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

Continue Reading

a&e features

As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

Published

on

As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
Continue Reading

a&e features

Need a list-minute gift idea?

Books, non-profit donations make thoughtful choices

Published

on

‘Yes, Daddy’ by Jonathan Parks-Ramage is the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older man.

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last a while, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts.

And if you still have people to shop for, why not make a donation to a local non-profit in their name? A list of D.C.-area suggestions follows.

BOOKS: NONFICTION

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, Ph.D., a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a surprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time. Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later – in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

FICTION

Young readers who have recently transitioned will enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him? It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good. Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing.

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

NON-PROFIT GIVING

Like nonprofit organizations throughout the country, D.C.-area LGBTQ supportive nonprofit groups have told the Blade they continue to rebuild amid the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted their fundraising efforts while increasing expenses, at least in part by prompting more people to come to them for help.

This holiday season, if you’re looking for a thoughtful gift, consider making a donation to one of our local LGBTQ non-profit organizations in someone else’s name. This list is by no means exhaustive, but a good place to start your research.

Contributions to the LGBTQ supportive nonprofit organizations can be made via the websites of these local organizations:

• Blade Foundation, which funds local scholarships and fellowships for queer student journalists, bladefoundation.org

• DC Center, our local community center that operates a wide range of programming,  thedccenter.org/donate

Food & Friends, which delivers meals to homebound patients, foodandfriends.org

HIPS, which advances the health rights and dignity of those impacted by sex work and drugs, hips.org

• SMYAL, which advocates for queer youth, smyal.org

Wanda Alston Foundation, which offers shelter and support for LGBTQ youth, wandaalstonfoundation.org

• Whitman-Walker Health, the city’s longtime LGBTQ-inclusive health care provider, whitmanwalkerimpact.org

Casa Ruby, which provides shelter and services to youth in need, casaruby.org

• Us Helping Us, which helps improve the health of communities of color and works to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on the Black community, ushelpingus.org/donate

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular