Storm Large, 53-year-old cabaret performer, will be sharing her stories at Spoleto Festival USA. Large’s extensive career includes appearances on the television show Rock Star Supernova, a reality singing competition, to performing internationally with the band Pink Martini. She is performing at the festival Thursday, May 26 through Wednesday June 1.
Storm Large spoke with City Paper about her career and the upcoming Spoleto show.
City Paper: How did you get your name?
Storm Large: It’s my real name on my birth certificate. My family is super waspy, blue-blood. My brothers got old family names, and my mom’s name was Susie, but my dad, who’s a teacher and a coach, had a friend with the nickname Storm. So he thought, if they have a girl, we should call her Stormy. Totally out of the blue.
When I was 13, I was almost six feet tall and just a punk-ass loudmouth with the name Storm Large. I got picked on a lot for my name, even now, people still ask what my real name is.
CP: Meow Meow was part of the original lineup for the 2022 Spoleto Festival, how did you come to fill the spot?
SL: Meow Meow (Melissa Madden Gray) is my tour wife [Large and Meow Meow have performed together since 2015]. She is in Australia, where it has been just hammered with Covid. There is no replacing her, I am a very different kind of performer than she is, but I just absolutely adore her. She is one of the kindest, smartest, crazily educated, sweet and feminine. Like Hedy Lamarr, just a beautiful woman who’s super brilliant and has all the answers in her beautiful head. But she’s just looking at you with these bewitching eyes and smiles but doesn’t share anything until it’s time. Plus she gives the best hugs ever.
CP: How did you get started in Cabaret?
SL: I started out as a punk singer in rock ‘n’ roll bands. What makes it cabaret, is that I tell stories. I spin a narrative whether it’s with my own music or an interpretation of somebody else’s music. It has developed and I started writing more, not just music but books, stories, and essays. Touring again semi post-Covid, I thought, “What is the show going to be? What should the journey be?” Because we’re still in it. I looked at all the music and thought the arc should be acknowledging what a difficult and troubled time this is. We see a glimmer of light, but it’s okay if you’re not thriving, none of us are.
CP: What is your favorite part about performing live?
SL: There is this perfect feeling that’s impossible to describe because every moment of this feeling is different. Every town, every theater and every song has a different feeling. In almost every show, there is a moment of this suspension. It’s tangible and fleeting. And that’s the part that keeps you addicted. The congruency of it is, I’ve got you. You’re mine. I am yours, and this moment is perfect. It’s fleeting, but when you get it, you get it.
CP: What is your process before your shows?
SL: If I have time, I like to work out and take a hot shower. I’ll start warming up my voice, have something small-ish to eat, and write out the setlist about two hours before the show. Depending on the performance, I like to make sure I have mental notes on each song and segue. I’m really out of practice since I used to be on tour 250 days a year. So having a residency like this is really cool. It makes it much easier to fall into a rhythm and a routine.
CP: Do you do your own makeup and hair?
SL: Oh, yeah. I’ve had makeup and hair done for photoshoots and shit. And sometimes it looks great, but most of the time I feel like I’m wearing pants on my face. But for this, I always do my own hair and makeup.
CP: Are you a storyteller through a persona?
SL: I don’t have a persona because I’m a terrible liar. A friend of mine told me I act bigger onstage, to get to the corners, but it’s really just me amplified. I have friends who are true cabaret performers in the old Weimar style and they slip into the character’s skin, almost like drag. I just can’t fake it that long. I can’t.
CP: I know you were on Rock Star Supernova and recently on America’s Got Talent, what made you decide to do that? Was it something you’d thought about doing for a while?
SL: Yeah, I was always nervous about TV because I don’t watch it, and reality TV is especially dodgy. I got cast for both shows. Before Rock Star Supernova, I had already been a professional musician for 11 to 12 years. On AGT, the music booker reached out and had to work on me a while before I finally agreed to do it. I’m really grateful for the opportunity, I wanted to be there representing the artists out there making a living, but you don’t know them. I want kids to know that they don’t have to be famous to be an artist.
I wasn’t that famous after AGT because I was only on it very briefly. I was on Rock Star for three months straight. When I got off that show, I was recognized all the time for about a year. It was really weird because TV is just in your house, you’re living your life while these characters and reality shows exist on television as if they’re part of your world. I’m happy they released me back into the wild where I belong.
CP: Have you been to Charleston before? Were you performing or just visiting?
SL: I have with the band Pink Martini and I remember loving it. There’s something very blousy and gothic and haunted about coastal Southern cities like New Orleans and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to getting to spend a week there to stretch out and walk around.
CP: What is something you wish people would ask you more often?
SL: Well, typically, I like to ask reporters how important live music is to their city. I always ask because, during lockdown, everybody missed going out to restaurants and bars, and they miss live music. As things come back, I want to see the awareness and the realization that we, as a society, need art. Art got us through the pandemic. Hopefully, when this thing is over people won’t take it for granted anymore and they will put more emphasis on arts education. There is development and support for everyone you experience online, on television and in your earbuds. I want more emphasis on creativity and artists and writers and the future of art and humanity.
It’s incredible to see the good you can do by gathering a bunch of people in the dark and making them feel better. Making them remember something or helping them forget, even giving them hope. It’s crazy difficult and hard work, but it’s magical.
Storm Large runs May 26-June 1 at Festival Hall. Tickets start at $54. To order tickets or for more information, visit spoletousa.org/events/storm-large.
Nat Bono is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.
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