‘Work harder than everyone else’: Storm Large’s route to success
Storm Large is a full-on, larger-than-life performer, part rock’n’roll, part cabaret, who scares men and doesn’t care about taking stick from feminists for using her sexuality on stage
Storm Large: ‘A lot of girls ask me how they can get to where I am. And they don’t like my answer.’ Photograph: Laura Domela
Storm Large is in Los Angeles. “There are a lot of really beautiful-looking people around, squinting in the sun, looking for raw, organic vegan food to not eat.”
Large’s description of her surroundings sums up her wry irreverence. She is an outsider, an observer, a grafter among the frivolous. Large’s humour and biting insights about the music industry and a society that doesn’t seem to know what to make of women like her makes her a great conversationalist. She’s also an anomaly: a gregarious, full-on, larger-than-life performer, part rock’n’roll, part cabaret, yet unaffected and down-to-earth.
On April 14th, Storm Large will join the RTÉ Concert Orchestra for Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins as part of the Music Town 2015 festival and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra’s Signature Series. The National Concert Hall has seen a more eclectic programme recently, and Storm Large is both an inviting, populist performer and someone who is distinguished enough to grace this rather fancy stage.
She was born Susan Storm Large (you couldn’t not be on stage with that name). She sings, acts and writes. She displays bombast and restraint, rock and refinement. As a child, she realised the value of performing when she befriended an older woman. “She was an old lady and had tea and was very proper, but get a couple drinks into her and she would swear like a sailor, and I found that to be divine. So I loved her. To make her smile I would recite Ogden Nash poems to her.”
At the same time, Large realised she could sing with a bit of control. She was a decent mimic, imitating songs she heard on TV or radio. “Most adults would find it enchanting and they would smile. When you’re engaging and making people happy, that became quite an addiction for me, because I didn’t have a lot of attention from my parents.”
But when the option came to make a living out of it, Large was at a loss. People told her she was a talented singer, but didn’t tell her she could do anything with it. “It seemed like such an impossible concept to have a job as a singer unless you were beautiful, lived in LA or New York, had connections. You had to be a famous rock star to have any career in singing.”
Starting a band
She went to theatre school, but as a punk she hated the musical theatre they steered people towards. So she moved to San Francisco, got caught up in drugs and bad relationships, “as you do in your twenties”. Eventually she stumbled on stage with a friend’s band and sang a Pat Benatar tune.
“I was 23, a bit old to be starting a band,” she says, “and four different people came up to me and said, ‘Holy shit, would you sing for my band?’ It was a high I didn’t need drugs for, and so I started my first band. We were terrible. I didn’t think I was going to make any money or a real career, but I’ve been poor forever; I’m not very money-driven. I just want to be happy and do what I’m good at. I feel this is a gift and I make people happy with it, so if it’s for free beer and maybe sell some records, I’ll carve out some kind of living for myself. So it’s been an amazing journey these 23 years that I make a living.”
After plugging away with bands, she rose to a new kind of TV fame on the American reality show Rock Star: Supernova in 2006. In 2011 she joined the band Pink Martini. Her 2012 memoir, Crazy Enough – which took its title from her musical show – earned enthusiastic reviews.
There’s a sense that, in her work, Large swings from trying to explain herself to channelling herself in an escapist fashion through other people’s songs.
She doesn’t hold back live. “There’s a weird thing about claiming your attractiveness. There’s a negative backlash, and I think that’s really bad for women, because it’s shaming or something, as if I was pandering to the patriarchy. If that was the case I’d have way more boyfriends, and I terrify the dicks off men.”
Is she worried about people objectifying her on stage? “I do that plenty good myself. I’ve always maintained a pragmatic honesty with how I present myself. I’m tall with big boobs that I bought, and I use my body sexually on stage just in terms of looking alluring. I always kind of have. I’ve never had a problem with nudity or sexuality. I’m very pragmatic about it. It goes away and it’s transient.
“It’s a superpower you have a few years . . . God knows there’s a gazillion younger, hotter women out there that I can’t compete with, but my spirit is uniquely mine, my brain is mine. I don’t pretend to be the hottest person in the world or the best singer. I get a lot of shit from feminists sometimes, but that’s bullshit.”
Usually when established performers are asked for advice on how they got to where they are, there are platitudes about being blessed. But Large is a realist. The main ingredient is always hard work.
“A lot of girls ask me how they can get to where I am. And they don’t like my answer. You need to eat shit for 23 years, you need to work harder than everyone else. You don’t get to take drugs every night. You have to sing and practise every day. You have to work with people who are better than you who make you feel like an idiot. You never will reinvent the wheel.
“Lady Gaga has worked her ass off. Madonna has worked her ass off. Maybe it’s a generational thing; maybe it’s because the instantaneous fame of the Kardashians . . . That looks like an achievement and an award, but that looks awful to me.
“People think they’ll become a celebrity without putting in time or work. That’s one in a million. The rest of us, we’ve got to work our butts off. We’ve got to work our asses off and show up at the venue, where you’re professional and respectful and you prepare and you do your job.”
Storm Large joins the RTÉ Concert Orchestra at the NCH for Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins and songs ranging from The Lady Is a Tramp to Total Eclipse of the Heart on April 14th. Tickets €18-€45. rte.ie/co, musictown.ie