Storm Large is in charge The singer on #MeToo and showing her throat
The singer on #MeToo and showing her throat
maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a six-feet-tall chanteuse named Storm Large encompasses — metaphorically, at least — the whole wide world. Where even to begin? Yes, Storm Large is her given name, although technically Storm is her middle name. (Her first name is the much more ordinary “Susan.”) She lives in Portland, Oregon, and performs internationally across a broad array of musical styles, from punk rock to classical.
Her résumé is extensive. She shares lead vocalist duties with China Forbes in the jazzy orchestral ensemble Pink Martini. In her live performances, she is known for covering an eclectic range of pop songs in a manner that builds upon and then utterly reinvents the feelings contained in the originals. Think Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” Large wrote an autobiographical musical and published a 2012 memoir about her life, Crazy Enough. She has also frequently performed Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Large appears with her own band, Le Bonheur, on Friday, Oct. 26, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center. On Le Bonheur’s self-titled 2014 album, Large sings a variety of standards, including “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Unchained Melody.” Large enjoys quite a bit of banter in her live shows. She’s funny and brash and she swears a lot. In fact, she swore so much in a recent interview that she wound upapologizing.
“I’m just packing up my hotel room before I leave for the next place and, like, yelling at you,” she said after talking about the #MeToo movement for several minutes. “I come from rock-and-roll and punk rock and that world,” she explained. “I’ve only known how to express myself in a very raw, spontaneous, instantaneous, compulsive, absolutely non-edited version. I wasn’t really trained in that. I’ve just been rewarded for behaving that way, I guess. It’s not considered very cool to be theatrical, to be emotive. But I don’t shoe-gaze. I audience-gaze. I care about what I’m doing, even though it’s quintessentially un[expletive] cool to care.”
"I've talked to wonderful man friends of mine for years about what a woman's experience is out there in the world, and how it isn't just about equal rights and equal pay."
Her mother was mentally ill and “locked up,” according to Large, for most of her childhood. She grew up in Massachusetts on the campus of St. Mark’s School, where her father taught history. St. Mark’s began admitting girls in 1978, but in Large’s early years, she was surrounded by boys. “I grew up thinking girls were weak, that you had to be strong and tough — and that meant no crying, no letting people know your vulnerabilities. Don’t show your throat.” When she was first singing for audiences, her worst fear was crying on stage. “And then I started trusting myself more as a performer, and trusting the audience,” she said. “The audience wants you to succeed. They want good music to deliver some sort of emotional and sonic experience. They need that.”
Large overcame a heroin addiction in the 1990s and began performing as a singer in San Francisco. She moved to Portland in 2002 and initially flirted with being a chef, but then came to realize — in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — that music was also a service job. “Like, creating happiness. Creating electricity and energy where earlier there had been nothing, and giving it freely. I started to realize that my softness and vulnerability, things about me that I think are flawed — everybody has those, and everybody needs to know.”
Publicly disclosing trauma and abuse has become somewhat less stigmatized, especially for women, since the start of the #MeToo movement in 2017, but Large has been revealing of her past for decades now. When asked if she had any thoughts on what seems to be a mounting sense of anger among many American women regarding sexual mores and ideas about consent, she did not hold back.
“You keep a cork in something too long, and it’s going to struggle against the pressure. A little hole got torn in the veneer for women — that we just have to quietly [expletive] take [expletive], brush off advances and assaults and insults and stalking, and be blamed for all that. And that’s just how it’s been. When I was really little and getting chased around by a pervert at a party, I tried to hide in the kitchen. I told my grandmother why I was hiding and she said, ‘Don’t flatter yourself.’ That’s been a woman’s reality. Now a little hole has been torn in that veneer, and it’s just gushing out.
“I’ve talked to wonderful man friends of mine for years about what a woman’s experience is out there in the world,” she continued, “and how it isn’t just about equal rights and equal pay. What about don’t try to [expletive] me when I’m walking to my car? How about don’t be a [expletive] monster?” Of her 2006 experience as a singing contestant on the reality show
Rock Star: Supernova, she said she is grateful to have been selected to participate, considering she was in her late thirties and was typecast as a hypersexual troublemaker. “They realized — too late — that I was actually just a mature professional. I wanted to have a good time living in a mansion in LA for the summer — and the exposure rapidly expanded my visibility. It was a three-month commercial, and all I had to do was not lose my mind and kill somebody or freak out and become the drama.”
Most people, however, don’t remember Rock Star. She doubts it is a factor for people who go to see the Seven Deadly Sins, and she thinks the Pink Martini gig has developed her audience far more than the TV show ever did. The audience is always Large’s priority. When she’s on stage, professionally lit and glamorous, she is larger than life while they are together in the dark.
“While they’re hanging all their hopes on the performer who is on stage, they’re hoping you have the same chink in your armor that they have. Because you’re up there making them feel good, making them feel like we’re all going to be OK — at least for the next 90 minutes.”