Perhaps her bio says it best when it describes singer/songwriter Storm Large as a performer of Wikipedian proportions. Honestly, truer words have never been written. For the better part of fifteen years, this multi-faceted artist has been capturing the minds of audiences around the globe. Most recognizable from her 2006 stint on CBS’ ‘Rockstar: Supernova’, she gained worldwide fame when her single, “Ladylike”, debuted at #5 on the hot singles chart in Billboard Magazine and became the number one seller on CDBaby. Storm rode the lightning of her newfound success for the next two years as her and her band, The Balls, hit the road. Life on the road took her all around the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Iceland and Singapore. After this exhausting tour, Storm returned to Portland, Oregon and set her sights on a new endeavor, accepting the role of Sally Bowles in PCS’ production of “Cabaret”. The production turned out to be a huge hit and Storm fell in love with the theater. This newfound love lead to the creation of an unlikely one woman show that was received with rave reviews. One thing lead to another and before she knew it, she was in the midst of writing her autobiography which would be published by industry giant Simon & Schuster in early 2012. “Crazy Enough” not only serves as a rock ‘n’ roll memoir of the highest caliber but as a tale of living in the shadow of mental illness. A raw and unfiltered piece of writing, the book not only thrilled long time fans but earned a stamp of approval from Oprah.com as a Book of The Week selection. Never one to back down from a challenge, she is currently touring the globe with Pink Martini, where she performs as the 12-piece ensemble’s vocalist. As an artist, she continues to push herself into uncharted musical territory and is preparing herself for a new symphonic record. With so many irons in the fire and an undeniable track record for success, the is no doubt that Storm Large’s future is very bright. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Storm Large to discuss her musical roots, the events that lead to the creation of “Crazy Enough”, her musical evolution and much more!
How did music first come into your life and what are your first musical memories?
My first musical memories are the same as how music came into my life. I could sing very early. I could carry a tune quickly and early in my life. If I heard a song that I liked, I could imitate it very quickly. The Beatles “Abbey Road” was the first album I listened to all the time as a kid that I remember singing all the words and the harmonies and all the guitar parts and all the string sections! [laughs] I would conduct the stereo! I would pretend to be a conductor because I knew when it would be in the left speaker and the right speaker. I was alone a lot so that is what I did! [laughs] I could also imitate animal sounds as well as people. I could imitate whatever I heard, I just had an ear for it. When I learned that I could sing and sound nice with my voice, I discovered people would be happy around me. I grew up in a house that was not always happy, so sometimes I would sing and it would be good and sometimes it would be bad because it would look like I wanted attention, which I did. If I sang for strangers, it would be, “Oh! Don’t you have a nice voice!” And I would be like [gasps] “Ahh!” and I would feel better for the day!
What drove you to make music your career, as opposed to taking a different path?
It was just something that I loved so much, to sing and perform. At the time, in my 20s, I was really messed up and doing a lot of drugs. I was in a lot of unhealthy relationships and abusive situations. I was just really lost, super lost. I couldn’t see anyway out and I had no education in terms of a career. I had gone to acting school. They told me I had a great voice and I was built for Broadway but I hated Broadway musicals, I thought they were terrible! It was not my kind of music and I didn’t see any other root to take in music to make music my career. It never occurred to me to make music my career. I just started singing with bands and I never considered it a career. I didn’t consider it a vocational choice. I didn’t even consider it as a smart move, it was just something I did because it felt good and I had to do it. I just HAD to do it — and I sucked. I made bad business moves. I made dumb artistic choices. I took everything super personally. However, I just kept doing it and kept doing it. Twenty years later, it has been a pretty lucrative business. I mean, I am certainly not rich and I am more like a blue collar, small business owner but it is my business and I am independent. I have learned quite a bit through the years and there is certainly a lot more to learn but it has given me quite a wonderful life.
Everybody has their ups and downs. What kept you inspired throughout the years as an artist? Has there been a guiding light of sorts?
Just the compulsion to be better. I hear other music or older music or I might sing a new piece from 1950’s Hollywood era, Rita Hayworth or something and that kinda “va-va-voom” inspires me, the sexuality without vulgarity. I have always been vulgar and ribald in my humor and to have that sexiness without garish, obvious dirtiness is very smart. It is a more intelligent way to present a piece and that inspires me — being challenged. Doing things that scares me inspires me. I am always inspired by something. I never feel like I am punching a clock or phoning it in. Some shows are definitely better than others but I always find joy in it.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process these days? Are you doing anything different these days than you were in the past?
I am doing something different all of the time because I am not a songwriter in the vein of Randy Newman, who wakes up, gets his coffee, sits at his piano and chugs through ideas and poetry, writing and constantly working at his craft writing songs. I will start thinking about a phrase or James Beaton will have a piece of music for me. Sometimes I will start to write a piece of music or something rhythmic will inspire me and I will start to write or something will infuriate me. I will start to write it down and maybe I will get a phrase, a hook, a word that is really exciting or some rhyming stanza that I feel needs to be in a song.
You recently wrote a memoir called “Crazy Enough.”
Yeah, it was really hard and I don’t recommend it, writing an autobiography.
That process didn’t start off in the way you might typically think. It started with a one-woman show. Can you tell us about that and how it all snowballed into an autobiography?
I was asked to do a one-woman show by Chris Coleman at Portland Center Stage. He said, “You should do it about your life!” I said, “That sounds great! It will be sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll — hardcore and fun! I can be dirty and everyone will love me!” [laughs] He said, “No, it should be about your mom.” I said, “Yeah, that is a terrible idea. It shouldn’t be about her, that is sad. I don’t want to tell a sad story and sing. That is stupid. Nobody wants to see that!” He begged and cajoled and bought me dinners and lunches and promised that it would be great. Then finally, he convinced me to do it, so I did. During the process of writing it, my friend, who is an author, wanted to see the script. I showed it to him and he sent it to his agent, who then started bugging me for a book proposal because he thought it was really good writing and it was a very strong and compelling story. I went about denying that by saying, “No, I can’t write a book! I am too busy and it is a stupid idea. I don’t know how to write a book and I am barely educated. Writing books is for smart people.” They kept bugging me and bugging me and bugging me, so I finally wrote a book proposal and got two offers right away. I went with Simon & Schuster, signed the paper and instantly started panicking that I had to write a flippin’ book! That scared the crap out of me, so I knew it was something I had to do. So yeah, it was kind of a backwards way to do it and it doesn’t come without a huge wedge of guilt. There are writers that have worked their whole lives to be novelists, to be memoirists, to be published authors. They have worked hard and it is all they want and they can’t get a deal and here comes Storm, whose just a singer and a bit of a loudmouth and she doesn’t want a book deal or to deal with all of the thinking and she gets handed this amazing deal from a giant publisher. The book is going to be released in paperback in October and even that is incredible. It is an honor and I am so grateful but I do feel a little guilty!
A lot of people who have written memoirs say the process can provide a new perspective on things. What did you learn about yourself while writing this book?
I learned something that’s kinda obvious, probably, to everyone and that is that a lot of the misery you encounter in your life is really your fault. I am not talking about accidents or abuse but a lot of things that I encountered that caused me the most grief were my own fault in terms of how I was acting and seeing life. I walked through life, limped through life, like a victim for a long, long time, blaming my misery on other people and feeling horrible, disenfranchised and lonely. I pretended I didn’t feel that way and I acted tough, tried to be cool and pretend that it was all OK. That created a lot of misery and a lot of bad choices, in terms of wanting to feel better and instead of taking a healthy route to explore why I don’t feel better, do drugs and fuck strangers. That is not healthy! [laughs] Everyone knows that doesn’t lead down a good road!
When you were deciding to write the book, did you have any reservations about doing a project seeing that it is not just your story but your family’s as well?
I was on the train from New York City to Philadelphia to go spend some time with my uncle. My agent called and said, “Simon & Schuster has offered this much and Random House has offered this much. You don’t have to decide tonight, I will give you my recommendations and you can sleep on it. Let me know in the morning.” I instantly called my dad and my brothers and I said, “This is happening. I got an offer for this amount of money. It is a substantial amount of money. Is this OK? You need to tell me now if I can do this.” My dad said it was fine. My brothers said it was fine. My oldest brother John was only worried about reliving all of that stuff. I mean, we weren’t set on fire and people weren’t putting cigarettes out on us, well, my mom’s father, my grandfather did … [laughs] but only once and he thought it was hilarious. My brother was just worried about going back over the past and not feeling good about it again. Other than that, they just said, “Tell your story. It’s not going to hurt anybody. It is what happened.” My other brother, who is a teacher, said, “Just don’t say anything stupid about me or about something I might have done!” [laughs] I said, “I won’t!” [laughs]
I assume you have no regrets. Would you do it again?
It is a miserable, lonely activity — writing. My job normally is about getting people to clap and be excited when I am in front of them. When you are writing a book, you are by yourself a lot and you don’t get people clapping. You might get your editor saying, “I love this piece, this is so great.” My editor and agent were both wonderful and reassuring but those were little e-mails. Then you have your friends that are like, “Go Storm! You can do it!” But it is kinda like they are cheering you on through kicking heroin or something! [laughs] No one is like, “You turn me on so much!” You feel like everything you write is stupid when you are not used to it. Most of my author friends, and you are a writer, you have probably experienced this, it can feel like a totally normal state of affairs to think what you are writing doesn’t matter. It makes you work hard and try harder.
What is going on with you musically these days?
I am touring with the band Pink Martini part-time. In July, I am going to be in Europe, all around Spain, Turkey, Portugal and Italy. Then, with this band, James, myself and our band are playing in New York City. We are getting ready to record. We have been playing with symphonies, so we want to start working toward making a symphonic record. I am also going to do some recording with Pink Martini. Starting next April, I will be performing Kurt Weill’s “Seven Deadly Sins” at Carnegie Hall. That will be fun!
Sounds like you have quite a busy schedule!
Yeah, I am booked well into next year! [laughs]
That is a good problem to have!
It is! It is a great problem to have and sometimes I complain about being tired but I catch myself and go, “You know what? People would kill for your problems, so I am happy that people want to kill me!
You touched a little bit on your love of performing live. What do you hope people come away with after seeing your live show?
At a show like this evening’s [a duo performance], I hope they walk away joyful. I hope I have given them some happiness, some titillation, something provocative. Pink Martini, I don’t get to necessarily use my personality that much, in terms of telling stories. It is a very chast, buttoned up outfit, not to say it is phony and it is not artificial or anything. It is “music” … just music and a little bit of talking about the music, the composers and where we are in the moment. It is lovely! It is very relaxing because when I am with them, I am the lead singer but I am more of just part of the whole experience — there is no one more important than another. All of us are soloists and it is a really, really great band. I always want to do my best and I always want to sound clear and channel happiness through me and convey it to others. I want to make them feel good, that is what I want — laughter and good feelings.
You have been at it for so many years now and explored so many types of music. How do you feel you evolved as an artist since starting out?
I have completely abandoned the idea that I will ever fit in anywhere! [laughs] When I lived in San Francisco and I started playing in bands, I tried so hard to be Alice In Chains, Jane’s Addiction or Soundgarden. I would hear a song and I would say, “We need a song where the bass and kick drum just chase each other up and down, like a monster running upstairs and I am gonna sing like someone set my ass on fire!” You know, when you are starting out, you are looking for an identity, not everyone but some people have their own indelible identity as a songwriter right away. Some people are a super authentic voice right out of the gate and know who they are and know how they want to sound. I was just looking to stimulate myself and was looking to fit in and for people to like me. I was like, “How do I get people to like me because they won’t like me unless I sound like someone else. So, over the last 10 years, I have completely abandoned any hope of fitting in or being anything other than who I am. I think who I am, if I had to categorize it, is a punk rock provocateur cabaret artist. I tell stories, I can sing in any style except for Beijing opera. I have this big, versatile voice that when I am really on point and super healthy, I can sing all fuckin’ night as loud and hard or as soft and sweet as I want. I can tell stories about happy ending massages or about how legislators in Michigan need to get over the word “vagina” and how they can do it. I can also give long dissertations on the esoteric nature of love or get into entomology and talking about language and words and shit, it is really free form, I guess because I have ADD or something! When I am in front of people, I own them, they are mine! They feel safe, good and comfortable and I show them a good time, most of the time. I think I have just evolved into more of myself, more of my authentic voice, which is still crazy and all! [laughs]
It sounds like you are in great place creatively.
I am. I was thinking about it the other day — bands like Sugar Ray specifically. They were this hardcore, Long Beach/Orange County punk band and they write some goofy song and suddenly, every song has to be goofy and you now have to write an entire album of goofy shit because they want to make it. In that situation they think, “If we can make it, maybe we can put our music out.” Pink did it the best! I think she did it the best and let me preface this by saying, I don’t know Pink. Pink didn’t want to be a pop artist. The word was that when she did the “Lady Marmalade” song for “Moulin Rouge” with Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim and Mýa, she was crying. She was like, “I am not the hottie pop chick in lingerie. That is not me.” But they were like, “Dude, they just need to hear your voice and associate you with this voice.” She did the pop thing and she did the pop thing and then she got enough cred, enough tokens of putting up with shit, to do her own thing.
That is very, very true. How many people ever get that opportunity?
Exactly! Very few. I don’t know if she did it in a calculated way or if she did it when she looked around and said, “Holy fuck! I can write my own ticket! Now I have paid my dues for sure and I can do my thing.” I mean, not a lot of people seeing it as paying dues, selling out stadiums but if you are singing shit you don’t believe in? I am not saying that is what her deal is but she is a punk, a rocker and she is fuckin’ raw. She was doing a lot of Cristal sipping kinda bullshit and I don’t know that it was necessarily her. Again, I don’t know Pink but I admire her and I think she has a bitchin’ voice! When record labels would come around me, they would want me to be cleaner or dirtier, like, “You are kinda too pretty to be singing about heavy stuff like this.” Or, “You kinda have this big rock voice but it doesn’t really work because it is kinda pretty.” Or, “We don’t know what to do with you. You don’t really fit in anywhere. Sorry.” Or, “You don’t have any songs.” You need to be a very specific, very cardboard cut-out for the mainstream. You have to be very categorizable. Someone will break through and become the hit. Then there will be a blast of artists that will kinda resemble that. Today, a lot of that has changed, it was that up through the ‘90s. That was what was going on for a long time. As soon as we hit the 2000s and the Internet was just unstoppable and brought in so many channels to find new music, to record music and to release music. You couldn’t stop it and the record companies were dying in the tar pits that they created. That has all changed now — thank God, that has changed! But that is how it used to be and I am glad it’s over.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to those just starting out and considering making a career in the music industry?
In this current market, really, really endeavor to figure out who you are. If you do something that doesn’t feel right, just don’t do it. Find your authentic voice because that is what audiences want. They want an individual. Radios stations, labels, Target and Wal-Mart will have you believe that people are dumb and they only want what they recognize. Now granted, there are people like that but there is plenty of bullshit out there to buy. Don’t be the bullshit, be yourself. Really figure out who you are. You can figure out who you are by the music you really identify with, like your heroes and the people that make your heart burst, maybe even with jealousy, like, “I can’t believe that guy wrote that song! I want to kill him it is so brilliant!” [laughs] Those are the people you listen to, that speak to you and they speak to you because that is where your vibration lies. Find yourself in the music that you love, in your friends and in things that move you, excite you and infuriate you. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are supposed to be. If you start to fall for that shit, you are going to be so unhappy and you are going to have the shortest career ever!
Thank you for your time, Storm. It has been a pleasure! We look forward to spreading the word on all you have going on.
Thank you, I appreciate it!