Storm Large is pretty in punk
The Portland singer-songwriter drops F-bombs, talks money and really, really doesn’t care what you think
Be warned: Storm Large is remarkably candid—frank and brash and unafraid to drop a well-placed F-bomb. Or a dozen.
At age 46, the Portland musician has clearly moved past any point of caring what others think of her, even just a little bit.
And why not? The punk cabaret singer-songwriter, who performs July 5 as part of the Music in the Mountains SummerFest in Grass Valley, boasts a career that spans 23 years. In addition to fronting bands (Storm & Her Dirty Mouth, Storm Large & the Balls, et al.), she also sings regularly with indie darlings Pink Martini, has performed with symphonies around the world and made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2013. She even went the reality-television route during a 2006 stint on the CBS music contest Rock Star: Supernova.
Despite the accomplishments and accolades though, Large says, it’s been an uneasy road as a woman in the music industry.
“I wasn’t hot enough. I wasn’t cool enough. I just had this voice, but nobody cared about it,” Large says of her early days.
Oh, that voice. Sultry and robust, shot through with confidence and smoky notes of longing and, sometimes perhaps, fury.
She’s been singing since childhood—even when her parents told her not to.
“I always knew I had a really good voice,” she says. “But when I was 5, it was like, ’Children should be seen and not heard.’ I was constantly being yelled at [for singing].”
Growing up, she says her parents discouraged what they saw as attention-seeking behavior.
Large, who chronicled her experiences growing up with a mentally troubled mother in the 2012 memoir Crazy Enough, started experimenting with drugs and “crazy sex.” At 17 she ran away to San Francisco where she sunk deeper into drugs, but eventually found an artistic outlet after a friend brought her onstage to sing with his band. She belted out Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” and the club went crazy.
“I thought, ’I guess I can do this,’” says Large.
Still, there was that matter of not being pretty or sexy enough.
Statuesque with platinum blonde hair and the kind of face that graces ads for all-natural face cleansers, Large says she was just a “fat punk rocker” with a bad attitude.
“I was really angry—and even if I was pretty, that’s the only thing women are [evaluated] on in this industry. In anything.”
In some ways, however, she found such expectations liberating.
“Because I didn’t fit in, I didn’t give a fuck,” she says.
That attitude worked.
“A lot of industry people told me what to do to be successful. They were all fucking wrong.”
Indeed. In addition to the bands and albums, that 2006 run on Rock Star brought Large bigger fame. A semifinalist, her performances of rock classics such as The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” brought the singer an international audience. It also resulted in a collaboration with one of the show’s judges, the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Dave Navarro, who played on the song “Ladylike” on her 2007 album Ladylike, Side One.
While that record had a decided rock bent, Large’s latest album, 2014’s Le Bonheur, is a showy punk-cabaret modern classic featuring originals as well as covers of Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.”
The album was distributed via Heinz Records, Pink Martini’s label, and marks a slight departure for the artist who until now has only released music through her own Big Daddy Large imprint.
It’s not that she doesn’t want to work with one of the major labels for more money—she’s just not sure if the right situation would ever exist.
“In order for a label to make money, they want your publishing [rights], they want everything and I’m not willing to give everything,” she says.”
Besides, she’s been doing just fine without them. “I probably make more money than half of the A&R people in L.A. so they can suck me,” she says.