In the seven years since 6-foot singer Storm Large started performing at Dante's with her band, the Balls, she has appeared twice on the cover of this paper, been a contestant in the CBS reality series Rock Star: Supernova, starred in a production of Cabaret at Portland Center Stage and the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y., sung "We Are the Champions" on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and inserted herself into local politics, singing "Stand By Your Sam" and "Amazing Grace" in front of city hall after Mayor Sam Adams admitted in January to having an affair with Legislative intern Beau Breedlove. She has become one of the most recognizable faces in a city bereft of real celebrities, the biggest fish in a very small pond. On Friday, Large opens an autobiographical solo show, Crazy Enough, at Portland Center Stage, in which she tells the story of her life, from learning at an early age that she would likely end up schizophrenic, through teenage sluttiness, heroin addiction, rejection by Lilith Fair and eventual success.
WW: How did Crazy Enough come to be?
Storm Large: Chris [Coleman, PCS artistic director], he talked about doing a one-woman show with music. I thought, well, you know...it's kind of a one-woman show with [the Balls]—we play some songs and then I tell a funny story or a disgusting story and, yeah, I could do something like that. Maybe like a Bette Midler but dirtier and more opinionated....And then he said, "No, I'm actually really interested in the stories you've told me about growing up and your mom being mentally ill and whatever." And I'm like, "But that's a fucking sad story. No one wants to hear that." [But] James Beaton, my piano player in the Balls and my music director for the show, called me a chickenshit and said, "You should do it...what's the worst that could happen? It flops." So I ended up writing, writing, writing, writing, and finding the story in all of these different stories that we put together. Hopefully it turns out that it doesn't suck.
I listened to your album, Ladylike, Side One, and the songs in this show are much better.
So what changed?
When I got off Rockstar I needed something to sell....a lot of that was slapped together, literally, and it was OK for a demo, really, but it was more of just a vehicle to sell things.... I know this album, the soundtrack of [Crazy Enough], is going to please a lot more people and it makes me a lot happier in terms of its quality....I've never really thought of myself as a good songwriter. I've always been, you know, wind her up and throw her onstage and she's going to say something horrible and her boob's going to fall out of her dress and she's going to beat up your boyfriend....but with PCS and with James, especially, I have...people who think I'm talented and that gave me the permission to pursue writing, and being vulnerable and smaller and quieter, and writing lullabies and ballads and sweet little songlets that are little narratives of horrible things that happened in my childhood.
What happened with David Bowie?
[In Crazy Enough's ] drug overdose scene we had "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide." I wrote this letter to his licensing people through my lawyer, saying..."I think Mr. Bowie would appreciate it, with his history of chemical abuse"....and his licensing people wrote to my lawyer and said that they had explored Storm Large the artist and that due to her sexual irresponsibility and the lewd sexual content of the show they will not grant me the license to use "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide."
Are you content at this point in your career to be a big fish in a small pond?
You know what? I was on fucking TV and what I did in that mansion every night was stare north and pray to come home to Portland. Not because I'm such a big fat deal, but because I love it here. I just want to work. And if I become a huge fuckin' success in Europe and not so big here, I'll still come home to Portland. And I'll go buy my fucking $9 chanterelles and make a cream sauce for my pasta. And be stoked. And sit in my backyard and have a fucking Fat Tire with my friends. Because this place is awesome.
Since Rock Star, you've developed this public persona, hosting Candidates Gone Wild and singing at City Hall. Does Storm Large the person ever think, "Who the fuck is that?"
With the whole Sam Adams thing, I learned really quickly that politics is a lot uglier than music....If someone thinks your band sucks, they'll go and blog about you. But I got death threats about sticking up for Sam Adams.... I'm super reactionary, and when I sang ["Amazing Grace"] on the steps—the reason I had done it was there were a bunch of people with those "God hates fags" signs. And when I came out to sing they were gone. And it was just the lady standing there…"Sam Adams grooms kids for sex" lady. And I ended up talking with her on the steps and there were a bunch of cameras around and I said listen, um…and she said, "Shame on you for making this religious." And I was like, "Calm down. That wasn't for you. I apologize. That was for the 'God hates fags' people who were here and the 'AIDS is God's retribution,' and you and I are not going to agree on any of this. But I do apologize, that was inappropriate".... I'm telling you, Sam didn't do anything wrong other than lie about something stupid he did, but he didn't hurt anybody, and I guaran-fucking-tee he didn't touch that kid when he was 17. I think people let artists go a little bit with their silly whatevers. Because we're not expected to behave normally...we're histrionic, emotionally driven people. Sometimes I wish that I didn't have such a big fucking mouth. But that's my whole life. I've always wished I didn't have such a big fuckin' mouth. But I do. I do.
opens Friday at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, alternating 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays, through June 7. $25.50-$48.50.