Music

Weekly Q&A: Storm Large on feminism, fringe pioneers and why you don’t touch Lou Reed

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Storm Large: “I do push a little bit against the status quo.”

It’s not so crazy that Googling singer Storm Large brings up weather sites. She’s torrential, unpredictable, beautiful, resounding, fearless and covers a lot of territory in one fell swoop. There’s punk-rock Storm, “lounge-core” Storm (fronting Storm Large and the Balls in San Francisco in the ’90s), viral-video Storm (thanks to “8 Miles Wide,” her satirical song about her vagina/strong women) and off-Broadway Storm (for her one-woman show Crazy Enough).

More recently, she’s played the hilarious and wildly talented chanteuse, performing cabarets and classical music halls as a member of Pink Martini and now touring with her own band to promote her album, Le Bonheur. Large, whose repertoire ranges from Cole Porter to Lou Reed to Black Sabbath, will perform at Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center November 7 and 8.

So, cabaret. How’d this happen? That’s sort of how I was building my career. I was doing every kind of crazy thing I was offered, saying yes to things that, even if I thought I was going to suck and not be good, at least I’ll learn something. At least I’ll come away from this experience a better musician, a better artist.

Your road began at punk rock? I wanted to be a punk rocker. I wanted to have a punk-rock band that toured the world, that made punk-rock records. That was my romantic idea of what my life was going to be. Free beer and maybe gas money to get to the next gig.

What happened? I wasn’t really considered punk rock or metal because my voice was kind of pretty, and so pop people like Columbia Records, Interscope Records came around and they were scouting me. Never made me any kind of substantial offer, but always made these suggestions. You could be a pop singer. It was always kind of the same thing—you have to change fundamentally who you are and what you’re doing. So I just went from band to band to band to band doing my own thing. Finding my own way. I always had my fans. And those fans are still there.

How smooth was the transition to orchestra? When I started playing with symphonies people were very hesitant to book me. They were afraid that I was going to offend their subscribers, and they were afraid that I was going to get in front of their multimillion dollar endowments and whip out a dildo and start flailing people with it or pull out all this crazy commentary, not realizing that I’m fairly intelligent and articulate and that I know how to handle any audience.

Do you change your persona? I’ve never had like a stage persona. I’ve always just kind of been a jackass. And so now, in the cabaret world, that absolutely suits me and suits a larger audience. It works with the Pink Martini audience; it works with a symphonic audience; it works with a punk-rock audience.

What was it like going from dive bars to orchestra halls? I didn’t pay attention to the transition of playing the Kennedy Center because I was so hyper-focused on doing a good job for China [Forbes] and Thomas [Lauderdale]. I wasn’t, “Look at me, I’ve arrived.” I was, “Don’t f*ck up, don’t swear, don’t talk too much. Hit your mark. Do your notes. Be good. These people are counting on you.”

It seems to be working. I’m not really pushing any serious limits, but I do push a little bit against the status quo just by the very nature of my existence. There are people who are far more talented, far more creative than me who have come before. Amanda Palmer is a big one. Meow Meow is a big one. There are punk-rock drag queens and trans performers and people who are from the fringes who have been knocking down these doors for a long, long time. I have them to thank.

How’d the Lou Reed recording go down? I was very scared to do it, because Lou Reed—even before he died—was already canonized by hipsters and punk rockers. You do not f*cking touch Lou Reed. You quote Lou Reed, you’re a dick. Nobody touches Lou Reed. I was like, “F*ck you, I’m going to take the Von Trapp kids and a 7-foot clown named Puddles Pity Party and we’re going to sing ‘Satellite of Love’ with all the joy in our hearts and celebrate what Lou Reed was to us.” I’m going to send my love to him to whatever satellite he’s riding.

And the “my vagina” song? I used to have a chip on my shoulder about feminism in terms of music. I felt like there was a double standard. Because I’m a woman artist and I have sex appeal and I use my sex appeal, I’m not considered a very good artist by some feminist factions. When I was in San Francisco, there was a contest to open for the Lilith Fair and the criticism I got for my demo was, I was too aggressive, the music was too aggressive to open the Lilith Fair. And I was like, “That’s the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever heard, but whatever. F*ck you.” It’s a women’s festival, but you want them to be all vaginal and menstrual and sing about their f*ckin’ heart. That’s incredibly sexist and limited, so I started to make fun of womanly music. And so it’s a joke. But it became a hit.

Storm Large & Le Bonheur November 7 & 8, 7 p.m., $39-$50. Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, 702-749-2000.

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