Storm Large will perform at Salina's Stiefel Theatre on Saturday, Feb. 8.
The multi-faceted Large continues to impress with her range of talents, including acting, writing and playwriting, though singing remains central to it all. Her musical performances are dynamic, dramatic and cover a wide range of material.
Large is also a member of the acclaimed Portland, Oregon-based band Pink Martini, in which she shares vocal duties with co-founder China Forbes.
Large spoke with KMUW while in Chicago for a performance there.
Where did singing start for you? Was there theatrical influence?
[Laughs.] I wish it was an altruistic, amazing Lou Reed answer of, "I can only speak in art" or whatever, but I was just a really lonely kid. My mom was mentally ill and always locked up in a hospital. My father was pretty preoccupied with that, pretty understandable. I had two big older brothers who were pretty good at sports, and I was weird.
I was a weird little kid, and I was really lonely. But I discovered, pretty early on, that I was a really good mimic. So to entertain myself or anybody else that would take a moment to listen or pay attention to me, I would do all these Mel Brooks skits and Monty Python bits. I could do accents and animal noises and things.
That parlayed into me singing along with the radio, and I started to realize I could match my voice [to the music]. A couple of times, when I was singing, I noticed grown-ups looking at me, like, "Wow! Wow! Wow!" I caught it and I realized, "OK, I've got something. Even though I'm being told to shut up and stop looking for attention by my family, if I do this, I'm going to make some people happy and then they'll want me around and that's kind of what I'm after."
So I started singing out of loneliness. That sounds so sad. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] I find that that's a common thread for artists, needing something to keep themselves company.
I just realized that in the last couple of years. People say, "Why are you singing?" I say, "Well, I'm un-hirable at this point. It's pretty much all I've been doing since I was 21. That's 29 years of my life." It was about a need to feel like I belonged. Our job is to ask people to love us and love what we're doing. Or to care. Or at least pay attention.
You spent a long time singing in clubs. In that environment, not every audience is necessarily going to be eating from the palm of your hand. How did you figure out how to win them over?
The idea is that you walk out and you own. What I learned pretty quickly is that the audience is actually rooting for you. Well, I take that back. I need people who are starting out in bands to understand this: There are people who will actively try to dissuade you from doing anything. You might open for a more popular band and people will throw things at you or cross their arms and glare at you, intimidate you. You might win them over; you might not. A lot of the times people just have a chip on their shoulder.
But, for the most part, audiences want you to at least be confident in what you're doing because there's nothing worse than being in a room with everyone staring at one person who is so self-conscious and unsure. But I'm not cool. I'm very hammy, very emotional, very on my sleeve. That's anti-cool. To be cool is probably to seem above your emotions, a sexy detachment. There's a rock 'n' roll bravado to that.
But I do care, and I don't pander and I don't pretend to be something I'm not. I'm a crappy liar, so I don't bother.
When you prepare for different tours or different legs of a tour, how do you prepare? Do you think, "I'll do something different on this run"?
I just take the temperature of the room when I get there. We were in Detroit last night. We've been there a bunch of times and I have a really rabid fanbase there. I can really relax. Salina, I've never been. I have to feel people's threshold. There might be people who only know me from Pink Martini. There I sing in 17 different languages, wear beautiful gowns and don't talk very much on stage. If people are coming expecting something very classical or American Songbook-type stuff, I will definitely dial back my potty-mouth and my tendency to get into some ribald humor. I'll just be gentle with the audience until I can feel where they want to go. It's fun. It's like virgin territory. It's doing a little dance with a bunch of strangers in the dark. Orgy rules, I guess.
What was it like to be invited into the Pink Martini universe? And I think that's the best word for it because it's such a particular group.
I was friends with China [Forbes] and Thomas [Lauderdale] for a decade before they asked me to join — when China injured her vocal cords. I said no so many times. I said, "Your fans will hate me. I'm not anything like China." China is this very perfect, trained, beautiful, very classy, stylish, whip-smart woman. I'm like Boobzilla Hooker Pants.
Then with the fans [there's a certain dynamic]. People are very protective of female vocalists. If you are a big fan of one female artist you might say, "I don't like her because I like her. Imagine that in the same band where the singer you are pinch-hitting for is a superstar for that band. I was totally steeling myself for rejection. There were a few people who said, "I can't like Storm because I love China," even though China and I are friends.
It's been really wonderful. It's taught me a lot about music, it's taught me a lot about myself and my abilities. It stretched me. I didn't think I was, honestly, good enough to be in a band of that caliber. And I am.