While Doug Strahm has been making music for as long as he can remember, his recent change in tune has made him an international sensation. Some of Strahm’s earliest memories include taking requests from neighbors, earning a quarter for every song he sang. He wrote songs in high school, did a stint in the marketing business penning jingles and even hobnobbed with some of Nashville’s independent recording artists and publishers.Now the Fort Wayne native and vice-president of facilities at Sweetwater Sound is gaining worldwide attention as a voice of the gay community.
A little bit country and a whole lot of heart, work from Strahm’s debut album Everything Has Changed has been nominated for three RightOutTV music and video awards. At the time of our interview, he had just found out the video for his single “Leaving It Behind” won for the Most Moving Video category.
“I wanted to send a profound, heavy message about loss of life and love. It is very exciting and validating to see the message is hitting home,” Strahm said of the honor.
The video for “Leaving It Behind” shows the story of a gay soldier deployed on active duty. As the scenes unfold and Strahm’s sorrowful voice belts out the lyrics, it becomes clear how much he misses his partner back home. Originally written about a long-distance relationship, it is a song about love and loss, a theme transcending sexual preferences. The video’s powerful ending depicts the ultimate loss in life.
But not all of Strahm’s songs are this weighty.
“Better This Way” is a feel-good song nominated for Best Video from RightOutTV. This fourth release from Everything Has Changed depicts two construction workers (Strahm and model Chris Miklos) wrestling with being open about their relationship. The video pushes the idea of cultural boundaries and expectations and delivers an accurate portrayal of the balancing act many gay couples feel pressured to maintain, especially in such a masculine profession. Eventually, love wins out. As the couple comes out about their feelings for each other, Strahm’s voice sings that it’s “better this way.”
And he would know. He has been with his partner Bruce for more than 17 years, giving him plenty of fodder for songwriting.
“All of the album has some autobiographical truths woven into the songs,” explained Strahm. “Some of them are from my own experiences, my friends’ experiences and even my overactive imagination.
“For example, ‘I’ll Be There’ is a song I wrote right after I met Bruce. The lyrics have gone through some changes over the years, but that song has always been about our relationship. ‘Better This Way’ is a song that I wrote partially about what I used to feel like when I was in the closet and partially about two friends of ours whose relationship paralleled the video. They both have a happy ending, obviously.”
Unfortunately, Strahm says, not all members of the gay community enjoy this type of openness, which is why music like his is important. Russia recently passed legislation prohibiting the promotion of nontraditional sexual relationships to minors. Or, as Strahm puts it, “It is now illegal to be gay,” which he says has given rise to vigilantes going on witch hunts for those suspected of being homosexual.
“There are videos online of them being beaten and tortured, which is pitiful,” he expressed. “I received a message from the Moscow bears that they posted my music on their website and use it as a courage mantra. I teared up when I got that message. Heck, I am worried about acceptance and equal rights in the U.S. – which are very important – and these poor humans are being beaten regularly for being who they are. It is very, very sad.”
There’s also work to be done right here in Indiana. Strahm grew up in a Catholic household in Fort Wayne where being gay was deemed a “mental sickness.” He learned to play the part of a straight man to avoid conflict, even marrying and having four children. But he had suspected all his life that he was different from this persona. With the help of a support group, Strahm divorced his wife and gained full custody of his children.
“You know, as time goes on, gay relationships are becoming more accepted, but we still have a long way to go. Fort Wayne has been pretty accepting for the most part. We have a strong community here,” he said. “However with the legislation HJR-6 attempting to amend the state constitution, I’m ashamed of our lawmakers who are trying to push this through. Our state, unfortunately, is always one of the last to embrace diversity. I look forward to the day when Indiana legalizes same-sex marriages and I can marry the one I love in my home state.”
And that’s what the heart of Strahm’s music is all about: a positive message of acceptance, tolerance and love.
“I do think that, most importantly, the album’s message is to normalize love between same-sex couples. Whether it is a gay or lesbian relationship, love is love,” Strahm said. “And my love for my partner is no different than the love a married couple shares. The problem is some people are not exposed to this type of relationship and don’t understand it. Out of that lack of understanding comes nonacceptance, fear and even hate. If my music can put even a little bit of positivity out there to combat that, then I consider that a success.”
Strahm is currently booking tour dates. You can find out where to catch him live and download his music at www.dougstrahm.com.
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