Storm Large - The hellraiser crazy enough to visit the Edinburgh Fringe
The rebellious performer explains her inspiration
This article is from 2010.
When you’re born into a seriously dysfunctional family and seek sexual attention at the age of 13, something’s not quite right. But what if you turn that negativity into a wild music career that leads to an autobiographical stage comedy? Anna Millar shoots the breeze with Storm Large
Storm Large doesn’t do small. With her Amazonian stature and gallus gift for making the F-word sound lyrical, she is, in the flesh, larger than life. Whether as mohawked rebel teen, twentysomething heroin dabbler or a reality TV rock star in her 30s, Large has emerged stronger, flexing two pretty fingers to anyone who doubted that great things can come from what she casually, but knowingly, calls ‘fucking awful circumstances’.
Born to a mentally ill, suicidal mother, Large sought love and attention from an early age with music acting as her ‘gift’. As young as five in her hometown of Massachusetts, she remembers picking up harmonies from jingles and melodies, and singing them aloud, over and over, While she, her father and two brothers struggled to cope with her mother’s constant bouts of depression, Large would find comfort centre stage. ‘I just wanted to be loved, and get attention,’ she explains, her tanned glow and bleached blonde hair immediately catching the eye. ‘My father loved me very much, and tried very hard to take care of us, but he was so broken about my mum; he couldn’t fix her.’
Large rebelled early, losing herself in the local punk rock scene, running away from home and bedhopping to find the attention she craved. ‘By 12 I was watching porn, and learning how to do it. All I wanted was for someone to think I was special, so I started having sex really young, at like 13,’ she explains with a shrug. Her more conservative neighbours weren’t impressed. ‘Massachusetts is a Democratic state but it’s full of puritans. Women are supposed to be skinny, pretty and quiet; I was big, ugly and loud. I was always told: “Be quiet, take it down, you’re stupid”. That was fed to me all the time,’ she says, then pausing before unleashing a throaty laugh: ‘Fuck them; I’d like to see them now.’
A move to San Francisco in the 90s proved to be initially torturous and a brief dalliance with heroin gave her the wake-up call she so badly needed. ‘You get into drugs trying to keep the pain away. I never felt like I mattered. I thought I was a scumbag. I didn’t love me, so why would anyone else?’ Music, she says, saved her. ‘I was lying in bed, I was OD’ing a little bit, and I was scared I wouldn’t wake up. This voice in my head was saying if you were dead then you wouldn’t be so sad. But because my mother was always trying to kill herself, I vowed that that would never be an option, so I looked at the only thing I had that was positive, and that was an ability to sing and entertain people.’
Large started a band and opened a new chapter. ‘People see this fucking hot, Amazonian, powerful woman who doesn’t take shit, but I come from a very sad place. I made myself live by loving myself. I know that sounds cheesy as hell but I just had to find the one thing I could do.’ Large might sometimes sound straight out of a self-help manual, but she’s far from it. She is beautiful, and at a towering, slim 6ft easily looks a decade younger than her 41 years. Discussions of her childhood are not self-loathing but rather reflective and light of the obvious pop psychology pitfalls.
Her late twenties and thirties were a whirlwind of gigs all over the world, she explains, first with her band Flower, then later with Storm and Her Dirty Mouth and Storm, Inc, with 4 Non Blondes’ Shaunna Hall. Hard as she tried, that elusive record contract was never quite in reach. By 2002, spurred on by the need for a change, she decided to join the Culinary Institute in Portland. Slowly, she cut off ties with her life in San Francisco. She spent some time sleeping in her van, simply thinking.
Being a chef would become her, she decided. She could nurture her love of food and still be able to entertain people. But fate, once again, would intervene. She got a job as a bartender at a bar called Dante’s, in Portland. The pub occasionally put on live gig nights and the bar manager was a fan of her voice. When one of his acts pulled out, he talked Large into stepping in. Initially unsure, her joke band, The Balls, became something of a cult hit. They would play mash-up versions of Motörhead, ABBA, Billy Idol and Olivia Newton-John. ‘We called it lounge core,’ says Large, smiling at the memory. ‘We took punk, pop, metal songs and slowed them down to make them sexy. It was good fun and the crowd loved it.’
With her confidence at a high, Large found herself on popular CBS talent show Rock Star, quickly becoming a judge and audience favourite. Hosted by Jane’s Addiction frontman Dave Navarro, the show focused on 15 rockers singing it out to become lead vocalist for a newly formed supergroup, complete with Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, and ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke.
Her success on the show – she was knocked out just before the final – would give kudos to a career a long time in the making. Navarro liked her so much he penned the single ‘Ladylike’ for her. ‘I don't watch reality TV shows so I don’t know how popular it was. People of my age were the MTV generation when we were teenagers, but TV is still the number one advertising agent for everything. I played ‘Ladylike’ once on that show, it was then available on iTunes and the next day it was number five beating Justin Timberlake. Crazy.’ After the show the public loved this raw talent, but no one signed her up. Large wasn’t exactly surprised. Besides, she admits with a smile and a shrug, she always sings to her own tune anyway. ‘I was 36 when I finished Rock Star. Now I’m 41, I’m old as hell; I’m a cougar,’ laughs Large. ‘I've been a performer for 20 years and I’ve never been punk enough, pretty enough or thin enough. They [producers] would say: “I don’t know what to do with you.” So I would go off and tour and make it on my own.’
Of late she’s had her autobiographical musical Crazy Enough to keep her busy, the fruits of which Fringe audiences can enjoy this August. Funny, warm, poignant and with Storm’s extraordinary story and throaty growl at its heart, rave reviews have poured in. So has the show proved to be the cathartic experience she hoped for? ‘I did a lot of fucking stupid things, you know, but because I’m an artist I’ve been allowed to express that in a way that audiences seem to respond to. My mother loved me more than anything but she was just desperately sad. I think I’m frank about it because of the awareness that it can’t hurt me anymore. In a way my mother showed me the complete opposite of what I was going to be. And hey, I figure in this life if you can’t be a good example, be a good cautionary tale.’
Storm Large, Underbelly, Cowgate, 08445 458 252, 7–29 Aug (not 16, 24), 10.25pm, £10.50–£12.50 (£6.50–£11). Previews 5 & 6 Aug, £6.