The following is written by the fabulous Imade Borha and it will appear in this week’s edition of 72 Hours. If you dig, you can follow her on Twitter here. Enjoy!
“That’s my real name. Thank you for not laughing.”
Storm Large, the dynamic chanteuse, was speaking with a parking lot attendant. I was on the other end of the phone, ready to interview her as she was picking up a rental car before an appearance in Austin, Texas. Large playfully warned that the car’s navigation voice may join her in the interview.
This didn’t happen, but when speaking to Large, I came to expect the unexpected. Large’s stage banter, which audiences will experience during her Sept. 29 concert at the Weinberg Center, can be provocative and sexually explicit. Large said her stage presence has put more than a few audience members in the mood for some after-show romance, so she’s heard.
Large tours for the majority of the year and doesn’t have plans to stop anytime soon. The New England native is a musical chameleon. Large became a darling of Portland, Oregon’s music scene beginning in 2002 by performing punk rock standards cabaret style a group called The Balls. In 2006, Large achieved fame as a gutsy rock singer on CBS’s competition, “Rockstar: Supernova.” She was a finalist on that show, but Large later let her voice, which is both elegant and powerful, guide her to genres like cabaret and theatrical music that are more suited to her.
Large is known for often being a guest vocalist for the orchestral ensemble Pink Martini, but she has a band of her own in La Bonheur, which is also the name of her 2015 album. The 48-year-old artist talked to 72 Hours about finding her voice and romance.
I read that there was a point when you didn’t like the sound of your voice. When did that change?
I don’t all the time. When I started out, I was trying to sound like what I heard in my head and I ended up hurting myself a lot. I have nodes [benign nodules that form on the vocal cords] now. A lot of singers have them, and I’ve had them for years and years and years.
I love my instrument and I try to take good care of it, but I’m also trying to improve it. I tell people, it’s like being an athlete. You have to take care of your whole body. Everything affects it. If you don’t sleep, you eat wrong, you have heartburn, it can screw you up.
You talk about a time when you were using drugs. What did you sound like then, or could you not notice a difference?
I sounded like sh— when I was on drugs. I quit heroin before I was in a band.
I couldn’t even talk. I sounded like two croaky balloons rubbing together.
I was high as hell and a boyfriend recorded me singing something by Billie Holiday. I was like, ‘I’m on heroin; I’m going to sing Billie Holiday. Billie Holiday was on heroin!’ Just some dumb junkie logic. And I think I did “Strange Fruit” and I was so high that everything felt great and I thought I was amazing. And he played it back for me and that was … awful. I was so embarrassed. I was like yeah, this is a pretty powerful drug that can make you think you got it going on when you sound like you’re dying.
When did you get your voice back?
It took me a good solid year. And I didn’t even do heroin for a year. I did it for seven or eight months. I was a weak-ass junkie.
Luckily I got away and went and kicked [the habit] and figured something else out.
I found my voice. Within two years of me kicking [the habit], I was in a band.
You’re so honest and forthright about your life. What is the weirdest audience reaction to your stage banter and what was your response to it?
I don’t do anything to shock people, I’m just looking for ‘funny,’ and sometimes what I think is funny is really upsetting and shocking. I developed a pretty decent skill in reading an audience.
The weirdest reaction is usually people. It unzips people, and they want to tell everything about themselves. They get incredibly vulnerable. So instead of like, ‘Oh my God, that’s gross’ … sometimes they do that, but mostly I’ll get women specifically coming up to me bursting into tears like, ‘I had a miscarriage today and I can only talk to you about it.’ They’ll only want to talk to me about it and that is very, very difficult.
That literally happened to me after a show. … She had just gotten out the hospital. She said, ‘I just lost the baby and I just need five minutes of your time.’ And I’m like, no, you don’t. You need to go back to bed and you need to take some iron and you need to be with people who know you and love you. I’m a singer. I’m not your friend. I’m a singer and I’m glad you feel this emotional release, but I can’t help you, really.
That’s an extreme version, but most of the time, people get sexually liberated and happy and goofy.
How does love and romance change when you reach your 40s, or 30s even?
I realized that your sexual peak is in your 30s for real and in your 40s a bit, too. And romance is just a state of mind. There are romantic moments and beautiful things that can happen, but because I’m on the road 250 dates per year, I don’t really have the equipment or the wherewithal to have a solid, singular, monogamous relationship. And I tried [for] years and years and years.
The meanest trick in society has been forcing people to think they have to hang all their love on another person and that this other person is going to make them happy and give them fulfillment. That’s horse—. You gotta make you happy. That whole phrase ‘you complete me’ is terrible. You gotta show up as a fully cooked person, man. I’ll show up done, and you show up done, and we’ll have a party.