A renaissance woman of the most varied and often contradictory sorts, singer, performer, author, and unrepentant badass Storm Large brings her act to the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts Saturday night for a one-night only show where just about anything can happen.
It’s a complicated fusion the 48-year-old, originally from Boston, whose given name really is Sarah Storm Large, says can be best defined as ‘theatrical punk rock cabaret.’
Her career highlights include fronting the popular traveling act Pink Martini for five years, starring on the CBS reality show “Rockstar Supernova” and penning a 2012 memoir called “Crazy Enough” about being raised by a mentally ill mother and how that upbringing led her into a life of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll.
Large said in a phone interview recently that rock star dream came to an end for her after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to that she’d been trying to make it in a world of ‘fucking bullshit whiny music of the 90s,’ pointing specifically to the band 3 Non Blondes as a prime example.
“It wasn’t like the planes hit the towers and I just quit. It sent a ripple through everybody; it changed priorities of everybody around the world,” Large explained. “Our bubble was burst. America’s bubble burst… It was a really successful terror offensive and the war and the response and all the shit that followed made everyone kind of change their priorities. I was trying to please all these different gods, trying to make a band successful and waiting on some hit song. But I realized, I don’t know how to write hits.”
Large reacted to those changing priorities by piling her belongings into a van and leaving San Francisco for Portland, where she figured she’d attempt to enter culinary school. When that proved too expensive, she started tending bar and learning a life not predicated on chasing fame. Letting go was easier than she could have imagined.
“My friend, who owned the bar, kept hen-pecking me to keep singing and I kept telling him, ‘I don’t do that anymore,’” Large said. “He needed a band, a cover band… he said, ‘please help me.’ And well, you helped me, so I’ll help you, and therein lies the rebirth of me performing.”
Not just singing covers but teeing up hits of all types for her dynamic, huge voice, proved to be a way for Storm to find her onstage niche. Couple her voice with the complex mashup of her salty banter between songs and classy appearance, and Storm Large quickly emerged as the kind of act you just couldn’t find anywhere else.
“I always had a big, theatrical voice,” Large said, crediting Nina Hagen and Lena Lovich and other goth/punk rock chicks with big voices as influences. “I wanted to be a punk rocker, and I still kind of do with my rock ’n roll singing, but the pretty singing voice has served me really well. I get to sing with symphonies, which is just divine music; it’s taught me so much about music. Everything is basically a love song — it’s all a cry for love, and music is so healing, it literally saved my life. I was such a piece of shit dirtbag, the fact I could sing and the fact that people loved hearing me sing is the only reason I was alive.”
Doing mashups of songs and splaying the whole thing with comedy, Large, in 2006, made her breakthrough on TV on the CBS reality show Rockstar: Supernova.
“Unbenounced to me at age 37, they cast me on the TV show to be the tits and ass of the group,” she said. “They were expecting me to be this sexed-up, drunk, unhinged Courtney Love character, so they were disappointed to find I was a professional, kind of clean person. But that was the most famous thing I did. Here I am on TV; everyone thinks I’m a rocker.”
That persona hounded her some after her run on the show ended.
“It was a misleading slant on my career,” Large said. “People thought, ‘oh, she’s a rocker. We’re going to hear Aerosmith covers. Maybe Tommy Lee will show up. But I kept playing, kept working.”
Then one day, the singer China Forbes, a friend of Large’s, and the frontwoman for the well known touring band Pink Martini, lost her voice before a tour, and asked her friend to take her place. Once again, helping out a friend who’d helped her helped launch Large’s career further.
“(Forbes) said, ‘I need you to learn 10 songs in five languages in four days? Can you do it?’” Large recalled. “’No, but you’re fucked if I don’t… that was six years ago.”
That opportunity to tour with Pink Martini allowed Large to establish her cabaret style with her own band, which will be accompanying her onstage Saturday night in downtown Anchorage.
“This is not my first time to Alaska, but it is the first time I’m bringing my band,” she said. “Alaska is one place the boys are dying to go. Some are coming early and staying later to do some exploring, asking dumb questions about moose and bear.”
Large insists, that her onstage persona — who often takes the stage in genteel settings like the Center for Performing Arts — doesn’t try to offend or make audiences uncomfortable.
“Often times I’ll get a talking to from my artistic director. He’ll say, ‘maybe you could keep it above the belt?’ and I absolutely will. I don’t do things to be shocking; I don’t do or say things to be gross on purpose or gratuitous,” Large said. “My brain is a little off; sometimes my brain gets past my mouth — maybe there’s an F-bomb or a dissertation on the etymology of the word vagina. I don’t have Tourette’s is the short answer.”
In 2012, Large discovered a new way of expressing herself, when Simon and Schuster contracted the concept for her memoir, ultimately published as ‘Crazy Enough’.
“It’s like taking a dog and making it be a cat,” Large said of writing. “I was used to the gratification of getting on stage and then people clap and you get money and beer and maybe get laid — awesome, then go do it again in a new town with brand new people. It’s like a Groundhog Day with all new faces, then all of a sudden, you have to sit alone and come up with shit that is basically a performance where you won’t be there. Somebody is going to read that, and not with my voice in their had. I had to decide what voice I sound like, especially with such a personal story.”
That story details her growing up with a mentally ill mother and how it led her into a young adulthood full of debauchery. Large was more comfortable spinning yarns about sex, drugs and rock n roll, but, as it turned out, that wasn’t what her editor — a friend, sportswriter, and former Phillies pitcher Larry Colton, whose baseball career ended when he broke his arm in a bar fight — was interested in.
“I was like, ‘don’t you want to hear about sex and drugs and fun? And he was, ‘no, I want you to write about your mom — that was a traumatizing thing and writing it, I was super-insecure,” Large said. “I was dragged kicking and screaming into writing it.… I grew up in a very manly household. I was six-feet tall when I was 13 and ugly and punk rock and stupid awkward and no boobs. I had to fight or at least be funny just go get by, so vulnerable was not my thing. Then I realized the process of writing stories was about being vulnerable. It broke through something, I guess. It seemed like people responded so much more to a quiet moment when you’re revealing something they don’t expect, as opposed to the bombast of a drum kit. That’s kind of what art is about — it’s about people gathering in the dark together and having a common emotional experience that they wouldn’t normally be able to articulate.”
Anchorage’s change to share such a moment with Storm Large begins at 7:30 Saturday night.