Country Singer Steve Grand: On Gayness, the Church, and Lusting For Straights
By Michael Musto
Steve Grand became a viral superstar when the video for his song “All-American Boy” exploded on YouTube in July. With its poignant tale of unrequited love—and undressed torsos—it amassed over a million views in eight days, a number that has since more than doubled, with many a thumbs up and tongue out. That put the talented Grand in the spotlight as an openly gay country star, not to mention someone who once saw a Christian therapist and who is still involved in the church, where he’s been seeing some meaningful evolution taking place. We’ll get to all that later, but first I gave openly lesbian country star Chely Wright the chance to offer Steve some sage advice. Said she:
“This is uncharted territory, as you know. I came out after having been in the business for years. He’s trying to get into the business. The fact that he’s openly gay prior to getting a record deal will likely be tough for him. That said, there is progress every day and I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage for him to identify as gay when he did. Very brave! It’s a new day, and I hope that someone on Music Row will give him a chance. He’s clearly motivated and honest. That’s what country music is supposed to be about—honest people telling honest stories about life. He’s certainly doing that. Stay strong, Steve!”
Oh, he will. I learned that during our fascinating chat.
Musto: Hi, Steve. One magazine ad for a concert of yours called you “the first openly gay country singer,” but that’s not totally true, is it?
Steve Grand: No, it’s not. There have been out country singers before me. Chely Wright, Drake Jensen, and some other ones.
And you’re not necessarily a country singer, right?
I let people call me what they want. Nothing can keep me into one genre. There are elements of country, pop, and rock in my music, just like in life.
You’re a Chicago guy?
Yes, I’m based there. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago. The city wasn’t that far, but it felt like a bubble. My parents didn’t necessarily allow me a lot of freedom. So I might as well have been 200 miles away from the city.
Have your parents come a long way in dealing with your sexuality?
They definitely have. I’m so grateful.
Are they halfway there or totally there?
I’d say they’re totally there. I’m happy with where they’re at. I don’t know how much farther they can go.
Speaking of mentoring, Chely Wright told me she wishes you well and thinks you’re brave.
I’m thrilled she knows about me.
But she said that being openly gay, it might not be that easy to get a label deal. Are you trying to get one?
I’m doing my own thing and making my own music. I haven’t decided what path to take as far as being on a label or not.
Would you ever go on one of those competitive reality shows?
No. I don’t see a reason to do it. I’ve been very fortunate, with a pretty sizeable audience—for me, at least. It’s enough for me right now. I feel like I already have my base.
Was coming out ever an issue for you, careerwise?
There was a time and place where you couldn’t make it at all—singers and artists had to use gender-neutral pronouns and even get married to a woman. But this movement doesn’t go forward unless we’re honest about who we are and take some risks.
Your “All-American Boy” video was clearly what the world at large first noticed you for.
It went viral really fast. It got passed around on Facebook so quickly, the first 24 hours. I did nothing to promote it. I didn’t send it off to any blogs. Everything that was done was very organic. I’m grateful to BuzzFeed—they were one of the first really big outlets to pick up the story. Then I was on Good Morning America. I don’t think a person’s life could change more quickly, in one week.
In the video, you lust for a hot straight guy. Did you write that plot?
I did. I had many pages outlining exactly what I wanted. I had a great crew to make it beautiful.
But why go with that particular premise?
It’s the truth, and I‘ve been there many times before. It’s a universal human story—unrequited love. Gay or straight, we’ve all been there. When I started writing music, I was always writing about that. I was always crushing on someone I couldn’t be with.
What? How can that be, considering the way you look?
You should see my pictures in high school. I was kind of weird. I had long hair that covered my face. I’m passionate, so everything I was feeling was always played out on a grand scale. I wore the same Paul McCartney T-shirt every day. I’d go home and wash it, then wear it again.
At least you washed it. But nowadays you’re a total hunk and freely show your body in your videos. Do groupies throw themselves at you?
I stay pretty low key, so...Virally, they do. Some of the comments!
I know! I’ve read every one of them! But why didn’t you do a video about falling for a gay guy who doesn’t love you back? I’ve been there.
Because this was my experience growing up. Many times. I grew up in a predominantly heterosexual world. Most of the crushes I had were straight men. Gay men were not visible. I wanted to tell a story that had been burning inside me.
Speaking of gay/straight: Did conversion therapy scar you for life?
I want to make it clear that it’s been misrepresented that I went through what most people know as conversion therapy. I saw a Christian therapist who, among many other beliefs, believed I’d be happier in a straight life. He didn’t shame me for being gay. Most of the focus, we weren’t even talking about my sexuality. But certainly his belief that I’d be living a happier life as a heterosexual was indeed harmful. In no way, shape, or form—I can’t even believe I have to clarify this—do I condone ex-gay therapy. I think it’s a horrible practice. There’s no scientific basis for it. A person’s sexuality is a part of who they are. And I certainly suffered for not having my sexuality affirmed.
Can you be a happy gay within the church?
We need to learn to applaud the gradual changes. The church has been around for thousands of years. Like it or not, they’re gonna be here for a long time. One of the great ways to make a change is showing we’re just like everyone else and we love the same and we’re just as diverse as the straight community. By having more visibility within the church, that can only be a good thing. I certainly don’t support the church’s stance on gay issues as they are right now. They have a long way to go. But I think there’s a great power to being present—to having openly gay people in church and having the congregation witness and embrace. I got up in front of a congregation and said I was gay and I believed there was nothing wrong with that, and I was applauded for that. There’s a quiet majority that’s growing that wants to say, “Hey, these are our brothers and sisters too. Make sure we’re sending the message that all are welcome.”
As long as they don’t wear that Paul McCartney T-shirt. Thanks for playing things out on a Grand scale, Steve. Best of luck.
Rafe Spall & Daniel Craig in 'Betrayal' | Photo by Brigitte Lacombe
PUT ME ON DANIEL CRAIG’S LIST
Heterosexuals have their own problems in Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal, but the Mike Nichols-directed Broadway revival that just opened needn’t have any such worries. Whatever you think of the stately production, it’s a capital-E Event, thanks to the casting of superstar Daniel Craig and his Oscar-winning wife Rachel Weisz. People are mortgaging off their children to see the Craigs play marrieds who’ve backstabbed each other, she with his best friend (Rafe Spall) and he with any number of people, as we learn via continual flashbacks that acid burnouts will adore.
As the action (for the most part) goes chronologically backward, we start to see the roots of the lies, mostly revealed in economical chit chat that ranges from trivialities to soap operatics. And the cast? Well, we already knew that Craig has stage chops thanks to the even more gimmicky A Steady Rain. Weisz is especially fine when enacting a Pinterian silence during which her wheels turn and her eyes burn. And Spall is lively, if occasionally prone to sitcommy touches. But the play remains a clever yet frustrating triangle that seems more like a glorified geometry lesson than a substantive drama. Still, go ahead and sell your family and try to get a ticket!
A new play, Sharr White’s The Snow Geese, is part Seagull and part Wild Duck, with a touch of malt duck, as it covers a financially shattered 1917 American family who are realizing that society is a futile attempt to impose order on everyday anarchy. No geese were served at the after party, but the chicken tasted good, even if the Times review implied that this was a turkey. I found it overreaching, but with a luminously offbeat Mary-Louise Parker and effective moments, like the son shrieking, “We are broke!!!!”
Off-Broadway producers might get rich with Nothing To Hide, a sleight-of-hand show featuring magicians Derek DelGaudio and Helder Guimaraes, and directed by the magically appealing Neil Patrick Harris. At a meet-and-greet last week, Neil said his job as director has been to keep things lean by trimming any moments where the guys might have their backs turned to the audience or talk to each other too much. That would make people think something fishy was up. And there isn’t. It’s magic, remember?
Poof, I just saw Zacho Quinto and his model boyfriend Miles McMillan canoodling at a Broadway opening night. Politely enough, they stopped during the actual show….A full evening of mwahing happened at the wonderful Dramatists Guild Fund gala at the Edison Ballroom, where theater writers brought out their “lucky stars” to perform a key song or monologue. In the process, we learned that George C. Wolfe and Tonya Pinkins originally hated each other, and that when offered Sunday in the Park with George, Bernadette Peters told Sondheim and Lapine that she loved the script, “but I don’t do nude.” She didn’t have to.
As for guys wanting to get nude: Just when you thought Hell’s Kitchen had reached a saturation point for gay bars, it feels like it’s just the tip of the gay iceberg. I’ve learned that three new bars will open in HK next year (including one courtesy of the G Lounge guys and one from L.A.’s Revolver people). But Vlada is a potential squeezeout; spies say the long-running place is finally up for sale. Still, if that goes through, it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t become another gay bar!
In less festive news, legendary actor Joe Dallesandro (from Andy Warhol’s Trash and Heat) was scheduled to be represented in a Bob Mizer & Tom of Finland exhibition at L.A.’s MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), and he wasn’t happy about it. The museum was set to run nude shots that Mizer photographed when Joe was barely 15, at a time the actor calls “difficult and exploitative.” Joe and his wife say those photos are considered to be child porn in the state of California. His wife was prepared to go to the November 2 opening and call the cops if they didn’t take them down. “I won’t let it be celebrated,” Joe told me. Well, the photos were pulled on request, but then Joe found out Mizer’s estate has been selling shirts with his images from the same period! The Lord giveth…
But wait, he giveth again. The talented Marin Mazzie (Ragtime, Kiss Me Kate) has been discussed as a favorite to play wobbly grand dame Helen Sinclair in the Broadway musical of Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway, opening next year. Well, I hear Marin—who did a reading of the show—definitely got the part, and rehearsals start today. As for any fool who doesn’t like the idea…Don’t speak!