Thursday, June 23, 2011

STORM LARGE : A Talent Eight Miles Wide


STORM LARGE. It’s an unusual name.

When I saw her show Crazy Enough listed in the Adelaide Cabaret Festival guide I wondered where I had heard that name before? A quick trip to Google and it all came rushing back to me. She was the brassy rock chick from Rock Star Supernova. The first series of Rock Star was looking for a new lead singer for INXS (they found J.D. Fortune). In the second season (2006) the idea was to find a singer to front a super-duper mega group featuring Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), James Newstead (Metallica, Gilby Clarke (Guns N’Roses) and Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction/Red Hot Chili Peppers). Eventually won by Lukas Rossi, amongst the most popular contestants were Toby Rand from Melbourne and the powerhouse, six foot Vargas pin-up Storm Large. She made it up to the penultimate week, and it looked like she was poised to be swept up by hungry record companies who were looking to package her as a modern rock diva. Turns out Storm had other ideas.

”I don’t have any regrets. Before I got on the show, I considered what I may regret. I knew it was very corporate, very Hollywood, it’s not really me. It’s not even terribly rock’n’roll, it’s very phoney and it’s not my style. But it was an opportunity for millions of people to see me and make up their own minds about wether they liked me or buy my records. It was a three month long advertisement for all of us who managed to stay on the show for that long. I had a full and rich career before hand. I was independent, making my own money and working as a singer for six years before Rock Star. So I already had a career, but it definitely increased my international profile and brought me a much larger and more varied audience. A lot of people who get most of their entertainment through television don’t really go to concerts. So it didn’t change my audience just made it bigger.”

That was in 2006 and five years on you are heading to Australia for the first time and doing a very different kind of show. What was the journey from hanging out with those LA rock dudes to a punky cabaret show with some dark overtones and a cheeky sense of humour?

“Everybody assumed that after Rock Star I would get a record deal, make a rock’n’roll record and tour as a rock’n’roll act. But that’s never really been me, or at least not all of me. After I put out the Ladylike ep, I toured it for a year and I got really tired of it. I felt like the audience was looking at me expecting me to bring something different than I was wanting to deliver. I felt too old to be going back in time (Storm was 37 when she was on the show) to try and manufacture that fire and indignation that fuelled me in my 20s and I’m not going to pretend to be a young kid and pretend to do this rock thing. I have the energy and the chops for it, but it wouldn’t be true. So I resisted. I got offered the role of Sally Bowels in Cabaret. I said no for a while. I wasn’t an actor and didn’t think people would believe me in that role. But….Sally Bowels is a fucked up club singer and a drug addict and had experienced a lot of the things I had been through myself, not the war and the Nazis, most everything else.”

So what changed your mind?

“Eventually I said yes because I liked the idea of being home. It was in Portland, Oregon so I could ride my bike to work every day, go home and sleep in my own bed. I won’t have to worry about where I am going to sleep, where am I gonna get some food, where’s the gig, who’s the promoter, who’s going to pay me? All that pain in the ass touring stuff. Which I had being doing on my own and it’s a rough gig. Big rock stars have people who take care of all of that, but when you are independent you are booking the gigs, driving the car, navigating, negotiating, stage managing, carrying your own gear. It’s a fuckin’ pain. So this theatre gig sounded pretty sweet. I did it thinking I was going to hate it, but turned out I loved it. It was fantastic actually. I loved the other actors, I loved the music and the whole process and we did that show for six months. Then the artistic director of the theatre approached me and said he thought I should write a one woman show. I thought it would be a sex, drugs and rock and roll kind of deal and he said ‘No I think it should be more about your mother and growing up the way you did.”

When she was nine years old a doctor told Storm it was likely she would end up with the same mental health issues as her mother. It was to affect her life in myriad ways. It was not, however, something she saw herself bringing to the stage.

“I thought it was a dumb idea. It’s a sad story. Who would want to hear that? But he said ‘you would be surprised’. If he and my musical director James hadn’t convinced me it was worthwhile, and it took a lot of convincing believe me, we wouldn’t be talking about it now. There is sex and drugs and rock and roll in there, but it is really about the sort of things that makes people make the choices they do in life. What drives you as an artist? And the idea that a lot of people have to find their voice as an artist in order to NOT go crazy and to find a reason to live. Singing and performing and stomping around saved my life in a lot of ways. And a lot of mistakes were made and terrible unhealthy choices, but no worse that you find in Tommy Lee’s book or the Keith Richards one. My story is fuckin’ My Fair Lady compared to those guys, but it is an emotional journey of a girl finding her voice.”

Hearing something like that when you were nine must have cast quite a shadow over the way you developed as a person?

“Well yeah. Often when people hear that story they go ‘Man that doctor was EVIL’. And he really wasn’t. He was trying to comfort me. He was saying ‘well it is hereditary, and you will end up like your mother but we can take of it when you start developing symptoms in your twenties or whenever you have kids, whichever comes first.’. The only thing I knew was my mother. I knew she looked just like me. She was the only woman in my proximity. She was very focused on me and loved me, but was a fuckin’ mess. She was always trying to kill herself. She was always gone in a hospital. So 80% of the time when I did see her she was in a mental institution, so I had already made that connection that it was a potential in my future. So growing up I spent a lot of time thinking about what it would be like. Would you be watching TV one day and suddenly you are in the TV. Talking to people and them not understanding you. And to this day if somebody looks at me like they don’t know what I am talking about or think I am crazy I shake, and get really frightened and I am 42 years old. But the process of putting this show together I believe that she wasn’t actually mentally ill. She had some depression issues for sure. But I think the doctors prescribed more and more drugs and became a drug addict. I have a lot of respect for psychiatric medicine, but the brain is an infinitely complex thing, and I think they kept pushing her further away from the one thing that could help her which was love. She never had any piece of mind.”

I guess thirty years ago they would lock people up who these days would be considered ADHD or bi-polar…

“..or eccentric or wacky or just different. They just think differently. They are not dangerous or certifiable. People used to get burned as witches for being good singers or being able to dress a wound in Aloe Vera.”

It’s clearly a very powerful show. Cathartic for you and very moving for your audience, some of who come to see Crazy Enough over and over.

“It still boggles my mind. I still can’t put my finger on the appeal to people and I sort of don’t want to know. I’ve had a lot of people who have experienced some of the things that I have a lot of psychiatrists and councillors want to talk to me after the show and share their stories with me. It’s not an uncommon story but it resonates with so many people as something they have experienced. It’s like this show gives people some release, or permission to grieve and celebrate their flaws. Some people have felt like they have been fucked up their whole lives and then they realise that they just don’t look like their neighbours. But show me somebody who is completely buttoned up, together and normal and they are fucked. The straightest, most well heeled person is the one going to the dominatrix and having a Black Harvey shoved up their ass while they get beat with a rolled up newspaper. It doesn’t make them crazy either. Life isn’t about being safe or normal. You have to let yourself lose it. Life is messy and life is crazy. Life is confusing and lonely and scary. We walk around trying to keep our shit together but sometimes you just can’t. And that is the thing that scares us, the idea that we won’t come back. That it won’t be alright and people will stop loving us and we will die alone. It’s just not the case. I think the reason people like the show is that I show my throat. When people look at me they see some hot, fuckin’ pin-up, tits and ass, I get whatever I want, I look kind of glamorous in pictures, but I am a fucking mess. I have been on my knees. I have done terrible things to myself to feel a scrap of love and that I belong somewhere. I have allowed terrible things to happen to me out of feeling that I don’t belong. Ultimately though it makes me realise I do belong, because everybody does that on some level.”

Superficially people would see you as a strong and beautiful person confident in your physicality and sexuality. I notice on the Wikipedia page you are described as ‘sexually omnivorous’.

“Ha ha ha. Yeah they wouldn’t let me put opportunistically omnivorous because it made me sound too whore-ish.”

Whilst some of the stuff covered in her show is quite dark it’s also full of love & bawdy humour. She famously swears like a trooper and if the video for Eight Miles Wide is anything to go by then it may well ruffle a few feathers in the Festival Centre. The instantly catchy chorus means I’m predicting the biggest sing-a-long at the theatre since Sing-A-Long Sound of Music. I have been annoying the neighbours singing it at the top of my lungs for days.

“That’s great!” says Storm “It’s one of the great things about living in the internet age. is that I can make a video with my friends in Portland and you can be annoying your neighbours with it in Australia. Before the internet, you would have had no idea how wide my vagina was! (laughter).”

WTF? You may well be thinking. I thought this was an interview with a rock cabaret performer whose show is about mental illness? Well it is, but it’s also very funny, raunchy and cheeky. The song in question is about empowerment and has a chorus that goes.

“My vagina is eight miles wide

Absolutely everybody can come inside

If you frightened you can run and hide

My vagina is eight miles wide.”

There’s a great nod to The Pixies Gigantic towards the end, that I am sure would be appreciated by Kim Deal.

After singing for twenty years with bands like Storm & the Balls, doing original material and covers by Bon Jovi, Billy Idol, Motorhead she finds herself sharing the Cabaret festival with somebody else she used to cover, headliner Olivia Newton-John.

“I KNOW I can’t believe that. It’s pretty weird – I want to sing Hopelessly Devoted to her!”

I hope she gets the chance.

Storm Large Crazy Enough has three shows only at the Space Theatre on June 23-25 and one show in Sydney at the Vanguard on June 29 and June 30 in Melbourne at Red Bennies.

Ian Bell

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