Vocalist Storm Large to perform at Bankhead
By Lou Fancher
After the 2016 presidential election, Storm Large was disturbed by the polarized climate. The vocalist and former Bay Area resident now based in Portland, Oregon, wanted to stop singing.
“I wanted to volunteer in Syria, brush up on journalism and my civics to protect vulnerable people,” she says in a phone interview. “I felt what I was doing doesn’t matter, because the social environment was so us-versus-them. There was little room for self-expression to be worth anything.”
Thank goodness friends and colleagues ganged up on Large to say, “No, you need to keep giving joy.” People in an I-won-you-lost atmosphere, they reminded her, need protest and protection.
Large will bring dual tones of happiness and humanitarian spunk May 19 to the Bankhead Theater. The show will feature music from her latest album, “Le Bonheur” (Happiness), also the name of her four-member band. The eclectic mix includes original songs written by Large; sparkling big-band swing renditions of American Songbook classics like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “The Lady Is a Tramp;” a cool-to-thrilling exploration of Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love;” a riveting “N.I.B.” by Black Sabbath; bewitching ballads like Jacques Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and Alex North’s “Unchained Melody;” and a don’t-miss, sensual, tender cover of the muscular, hard-core punk rock Bad Brains’ “Sacred Love.”
Large says, “They’ll get that — and surprises.”
Audiences will also get from Large a performer who listens. Not just to funk, classical, hip-hop, rock-n-roll, jazz, folk, world and other genres but also to people in her midst.
“I just kind of create an event at every show where every person in the audience is a part of it. They’re not just watching the band. I speak in universal commonalities about the silliness of being alive. People feel heard, seen, comforted. I’m not trying to turn anyone or change their minds — I’m just hired to make them feel good. That’s my service to my fellow man.” Later she adds, “I can take their temperature: Is it jokes, ribald humor, or just songs? I give them what they want.”
On tours that recently have taken her to Turkey, Germany, France and Indonesia, she has listened to people whose conversations include memories of what she says is “the rattle of war.” The rage, racism and the anti-Muslim, anti-Christian, angry, hate-filled medley is what nearly tipped her into silence.
“I thought, maybe I should sing love songs. Just remind people there’s something we all agree on.”
Even then, she listened. “Back at home in the United States, I listened to people who voted for Trump but don’t like him. But they hated Hillary. I try to keep my heart open, which is hard.”
Uplifting messages arrive, mercifully.
“I hear from people who want to kill themselves but come and hear the music and choose a different way. If we can feel better for a moment, there’s an immediate sphere of influence.”
It’s arguable, but likely, that Large developed an ear sensitive to people’s pain and diverse personalities out of harsh childhood experiences. Her mother suffered severe, undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Large wrote about living in a home with a parent with mental illness and her own struggles with addiction in her book, “Crazy Enough,” an Oprah Book of the Week selection and winner of the 2013 Oregon Book Award for Creative Nonfiction. A one-woman theatrical version of her autobiography sold out for 21 weeks in Portland and left her with a desire to someday return to similar projects.
“I write every day. I call it the brain drain, to get my ideas, dreams and to-do list out of my head.”
But writing and acting require a different set of synapses than touring and performing as a musician, she says, so for now, songwriting is in the forefront.
“Every piece of art is a step to the next. I almost never sit down with an idea and write consciously, unless I’m writing a song for someone else. I start with a lyric or rhythm that sounds cool to me. I don’t try to draw linear connections.”
If she did, the line would likely curve to form a circle or spiral that is fluid and morphs according to its surroundings. Or perhaps it would resemble the human ear, which if studied closely, is soft and weirdly shaped but wonderfully designed to listen to the muscular, chocolaty sound of a 21st century songbird.