It's difficult not to quickly fall in love with Steve Grand. The All-American Boy has a perpetual twinkle in his eye and an disarming smile that makes you immediately want to share your darkest secrets.
When I met Steve prior to his one-man performance at the Provincetown Art House, he was barking on the street -- playing his guitar and handing out flyers for that evening's show. Wearing dark, fitted slim jeans, a plain white T, and leather suspenders, he looked like a living embodiment of a Levi's commercial.
"It's a different experience having to go out barking," the singer-songwriter told me. "I'm actually pretty introverted, so it takes me a lot to get the confidence to do that."
While introverted, bordering on slightly awkward, Steve is open when it comes to his personal life and the challenges he's worked hard to overcome.
In fact, they're the inspiration behind his music, especially his newly released sophomore album, Not the End of Me.
At around 11 years-old, "I started writing music as means to understand and express myself."
Before then, "I didn't understand myself; I was a misfit kid," the 28 year-old continued. "I was a dork who didn't have a lot of friends. And then I was dealing with my sexuality which I wasn't accepting of."
"I had always heard kids say the word, 'gay' but I didn't know that was a real thing. Gay simply meant bad. Then I realized I was this thing, and felt terribly for a while."
While Steve's no longer playing guitar in his living room, instead playing for packed theaters of adoring fans, the inspiration and purpose of his music remains the same: to better cope with life's troubles and to find himself. "That's what this record was about too. I wrote every song about a specific moment or feeling I had at some point in time. It was cathartic."
Things didn't immediately shape up after rising to fame with the release of his heartbreaking music video for "All-American Boy". Right as his first album came out, a little over three years ago, he and his long-term boyfriend broke up in a "tumultuous ending."
"And then I started to drink a lot, so I ended up having to go sober."
The musician has been sober for roughly two and a half years now. A number of the songs from his most recent album were written while he was drinking. The most raw, heart-wrenching song on Not the End of Me, but also arguably the best track, was the last song he wrote before going sober.
With an epic energy reminiscent of Imagine Dragons, "Disciple" ends with Steve singing repeatedly, "I'll die happy to never hear your words again."
And to hear him belt "Disciple" live is soul-crushing. Grand is able to tap into the feelings he experienced while writing this song and wear them all on his sleeve.
"People have told me it's hard to listen to because they feel what I'm feeling. It's painful, but it's still beautiful."
It's also beautiful to see how outspoken and forthcoming Grand is discussing his sobriety.
"I like to be vocal about being sober," Grand said. "And it's such a heavy word, sober. But I've noticed there are a lot of closet sober [people]."
The artist continued, "You'll be surprised how many people out there are having sober fun. Your life isn't going to be over. Sure, it will be harder and you might not be able to hang out with some friends anymore, but it's worth it."
Of course Steve isn't one to judge. He knows plenty of queer individuals drink without a drinking problem, but he does note, "In general, we [LGBTQ people] have a few more things to overcome. Most of us are not brought up in a world that's totally accepting of who we are, and we sometimes carry those demons into our adulthood, and we don't deal with it the healthiest ways."
That's what the second song of his new album "Pink Champagne" delves into: the blackout nights, loneliness, and emptiness he experienced from alcohol abuse.
Still, things are looking up for Steve. "For the first time in my life, I feel like I have a strong base to work from. The world no longer feels like it could drop out from underneath me at any point."
In the meantime, as the artist continues to create (and he repeatedly emphasized that there won't be a three-year wait between albums this time), he will continue to live honestly.
"The more you keep honest with yourself, the more you will naturally be honest. Above kindness, I think truth is one of -- if not the most -- important things to live by."
"I tried to be as brutally honest as I could be in my songs," Grand said, and I'm sure he'll continue being nothing but honest and authentic moving forward.
Steve Grand is playing at the Art House in Provincetown until September 9. Get notifications if Steve is playing in your town by signing up for bandsintown.com/stevegrand.
Listen to Steve's new album, Not the End of Me, on Spotify and Itunes.