Shane Stevens loves his gal pal, music and Jesus on
Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys (all photos courtesy of Sundance)
What could a self-proclaimed ‘Jesus Freak’ and a country music singer possibly have in common? Thankfully, being the gay BFF to a lovely lady crosses all boundaries – even the Bible Belt – and on the new season of the Sundance Channel’s Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, one of the four couples we meet on the reality series is Shane Stevens and Sherrie Austin.
Shane is an openly gay successful songwriter (he wrote the Lady Antebellum hit ‘American Honey’) and just launched his solo pop project. Sherrie is an Aussie singer/actress who has penned country hits for Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton and is now launching a solo-career comeback. Together these two talented artists are going through the same life struggles with career, relationships and more.
While last season, the series looked at gay men/gal pal relationships in the New York City area, the show has taken the plunge deep into the Bible Belt in Nashville, Tennessee. During a recent trip to New York City, AfterElton.com sat down with Stevens, who was in town for a Human Rights Campaign event, to talk about the relationship between his faith and being gay, being gay in very un-gay world of country music and how his own relationship worked its way into the show.
AfterElton.com: How did you get involved with the show?
Shane Stevens: They came to us, actually. Sherrie, my partner on the show – she’s my Grace, I’m her Will…or maybe I’m her Charlotte and she’s my Carrie Bradshaw…she’s a country star making a comeback and someone randomly contacted her publicists and asked if she had a gay best friend and she said “Uh, yeah! Of course I do!” They asked, ‘Would he be interested in being on the show with you?’ and she said, ‘Oh, that could be fun.’ They came to Nashville, met us and here we are!
The cast of Girls Who Like Boys 2: Shane/Sherrie, Peter/Kristin, Jared/Tenisha and Brent/Olivia
AE: Was there any trepidation about being out on camera?
SS: Yeah, because I’m a country music songwriter and Sherrie is a country star and she always says we’re unbuckling the Bible belt. It was a little scary but it’s something that needs to be done. I’m the first openly gay songwriter in Nashville and country music. There are a lot of closeted gays or some people know they’re gay but they’re not really out.
AE: Talk to me about that. There aren’t a lot of gay C&W artists. You hear about them once in awhile but they never seem to get very far.
SS: There have been a few men that have come out of the closet in the past 20 years or so but their careers end in country music, unfortunately. Same with the lesbians, as well. It’s a very religious place.
AE: Do you feel, then, that you have to work a little harder just to make sure people are being fair with you and not just writing you off for your sexuality?
SS: Well, I’m not a country artist so that’s good. I’m a pop singer kinda like George Michael. It’s actually not hard in the music business for me. I have a lot of friends and it’s a really close community. Everyone kind of really loves each other. I don’t find it hard being a gay songwriter with business people. It’s just more so a little scary with country music fans and incredibly religious people.
Shane and Sherrie making beautiful music together in the recording studio.
AE: You’re also quite religious…
SS: I’m a Jesus freak. A full-on Jesus freak.
AE: Tell me about how your faith might conflict with being gay. How has your journey been?
SS: I was raised in church. My Dad was a leader and he was also an alcoholic, schizophrenic, bi-polar and a child and wife abuser. Until I was about 30 years old, God represented hate and hurt and I was damned and going to hell [laughs]. I decided I was lonely and I needed some real love and thought if he was going to show up I needed him to show up in a real way. So there was this day crying out and begging for it and he showed up through an actual pastor here in New York City. The man randomly walked over and asked if he could pray for me, which was a huge thing because no one ever asked for permission, not in my experience. He knew things about me that only God knew and it got my attention and I was like, “Okay, you’re real…and you love me.” My Dad was an abused man and so that’s all he knew. Nobody loved him so he didn’t know how to love and I understand that.
AE: Is your Dad in your life now?
SS: My Dad died on Father’s Day in 2006 when I was on the phone with him. I called to say Happy Father’s Day and his girlfriend handed him the phone and he died. He’s in heaven and that’s good and we had a lot of healing before he passed away. He apologized and asked for his forgiveness.
AE: That’s some heavy stuff to write songs about!
SS: My parents used to tell me ‘You’re going to write Christian songs and you’re going to be a country music songwriter.’ I said, ‘No I’m not. I hate country music! What’s wrong with you people? I want to be Mariah Carey!’
AE: You and Sherrie are said to be opposites. Is that what makes your friendship work?
SS: Yes! Sherrie is very private and conservative and I am fireworks and unicorns and rainbows and Jesus. [laughs] I’m pulling her out of her skin…
AE: Was it good for her to be on the show and open up?
SS: It was really good for her. It’s going to be good TV.
AE: How much of your personal relationships do we see on the show?
SS: My boyfriend is in the corporate world so he decided to not be a part of the show. We’ve had a lot of struggles. I have not met his parents and we’ve been together over six years. Then he did decide he would be a part of the show at the last minute. And the way he did it was he decided he was going to invite his family to come for Christmas this year so you’re going to see me on the show just freaking out. I was looking at him going, ‘Are you doing this for TV or is this for real?’ I’d been waiting and waiting and it’s kind of the breaking point for me. I had to give him an ultimatum during this whole process. It’s been really good therapy for us. There are things I should’ve said three years that I think I still wouldn’t have said if I had not done this show. It has really opened up my mind about my faith, about my relationship, about my friendships, about what’s important [and] about why I’m doing this. It’s been quite a ride.
Shane feeling the music in an episode of Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys
AE: This season looks to be very different from the first season. How is it different?
SS: The couples are incredibly close. Not that they weren’t last year but we are in each other’s lives. These storylines all go together and we’re all intertwined in one way or another except for Peter and Kristin, who I’m just getting to really know. She’s pregnant and he’s a comedian. My first impression of him was, “Oh my God, he’s so crass!” and now I know that’s just the show. He probably thought I was this pretentious snotty Jesus freak. He’s great. Then Jared and Tenisha and Sherrie and I have all become close. None of us knew each other before but once we met we were like ‘Oh my God, I’m in love with you.’ Jared is in my music video and he’s my love interest. There’s a kiss. So that was drama. [laughs]
AE: And being in Nashville and being gay has got to be interesting, right?
SS: Nashville has really become a really beautiful character on the show. What’s interesting about it being in Nashville…it’s such a rub to be gay in the Bible Belt. In New York City, there’s not really a rub. I can walk down the street and hold hands with my partner. There I’ve had a bottle thrown at me. It’s hard. But it’s a beautiful place and it’s one of the fastest growing cities in America and I love it. The most problem you find is just in church and the religious people and I’ve learned over the past few months doing this show that God doesn’t like to be put in a box. Even I’ve been guilty of trying to put him in a box. I was saying the other day that I wish I was raised an atheist so I didn’t have to un-learn everything that I’ve learned. But God loves his so much he’ll just get in your box with you and love you and hang out with you.
AE: You wrote a hit song for Lady Antebellum and they are hotter than hot now. What does that do for your career as a writer/performer?
SS: It changed everything. One hit song can change everything. I’ve been invited into writing situations I could only dream of. It has been incredible and we’ve become friends with Lady A and had them over for wine. Everybody starts coming out of the woodwork to write with you. People who wouldn’t write with you before…but I’m a loyal person so I stick to my core group of songwriters. Then, in our business now, it’s changing so much. We have to write with artists even if they aren’t writers and that’s been hard.
AE: Tell me about your album (which dropped November 11th).
SS: It’s a seven song EP called Holy Graffiti [because] I write down everything I want to see happen for my life and for other people. This album was one of my dreams that I had let go of for a long time thinking I couldn’t do it because I was gay. Now I have a record I made myself and I’m really proud of and filled with songs of hope.
Sherrie’s comes out four days after mine. We also shot a Christmas video. We wrote a song called ‘Naughty or Nice’ and everybody’s calling it the new ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside.’ It’s super-campy. There are boys in Speedos. Her part is she’s in Australia and I’m in New York City and there’s a split screen so she’s being naughty and I’m being nice. She has all these dressed up Santas in Speedos and they’re all super buff and they’re feeding her grapes and fanning her.
Girls Who Likes Boys Who Like Boys premieres Friday, November 18th at 9pm et/pt on the Sundance Channel. For more on Shane visit his website.