Jim Drake’s Entertainment Blog: Storm Large on wanting to be good, paying your dues, and the luxury of time

When can someone say that he, or she, has finally reached the top of their game? What events in your life have to occur to say that you have finally “made it?”

It’s still an open-ended question for singer Storm Large, even after reflecting on 25 years of being on the music scene.

“When I started singing onstage with bands, I never thought I would ever be playing with symphonies, I didn’t expect to be at the Kennedy Center or the Royal Albert Hall or with the BBC Orchestra in London. I never imagined any of those things. I just wanted to be good,” Storm said in a recent phone interview (that was punctuated by sounds from an extremely high-traffic area, by the way).

Storm stressed it wasn’t her intention to be successful when she first started out, but it was obvious that she has a long-term view of her career that currently involves world-class venues and mixing with well-known bands like Pink Martini.

“I’m incredibly grateful, but it doesn’t mean for a second that I’ve ‘made it; because I’m still working,” she said. “There’s so much more I want to do, and when I say that, I don’t mean I want to play on Mars, or I want to sing for the President’s children. I don’t have success notches that I’m looking for. I want to be a better songwriter, I want to be a better performer, I want to be funnier. I want to be healthier, I want to be able to work into my seventies, and have it not be embarrassing. I want to be good. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be.”

For what I believe will be the second time, Storm and her electric rock band will be returning to Hood River to play with our own Columbia Gorge Sinfonietta on May 7.

She was honest about what to expect.

“It’s my usual show, but I dress a little nicer, and I swear a lot less,” Storm joked.

She probably wasn’t joking, but really, she spoke at length of the unique sounds that come from the combination of rock and classical instruments.

“I feel like it’s a bigger, more grand, lush musical experience to have that many trained musicians on stage. I don’t really play super hard rock music anymore, and the orchestra enhances everything. It brings a younger audience, and it’s also very exciting to an older audience, because it’s different. We do a rock and roll cabaret style, so we’ve got electric guitars and a drum kit, and sometimes I might sing a little bit loud, and a little bit growly, but in general I’m using my grown-up singing voice, and it just works, it works really well. Most people leave happy,” Storm said.

I asked Storm what is it like playing at bigger places like the Kennedy Center, which is on her schedule for the end of April.

“It’s a little more nerve-racking. I’ve performed at Carnegie Hall a few times and I’m also returning to the Kennedy Center. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty intimidating, because of the level of artistry that goes through there, and the level of attention that is paid to those venues, they’re just such storied halls. I get nervous and excited about every show, but shows at those places are an added layer of expectation, so you really can’t f— up. You have to really show up with your A-Game,” Storm said.

Sorry, so much for less swearing.

Storm and the Sinfonietta will be playing songs from her new album “Le Bonheur” (The Happiness) which critics say is a “record designed to capture sublime and subversive interpretations of the American Songbook.”

Storm said the recording process for this record was a welcome change because of the luxury of having time to think about everything.

“‘Le Bonheur’ was a wonderful experience because it was the very first time I had ever worked slowly and taken my time with each piece. I curated it slowly, I took my time with the deciding process of what songs were gonna be on the album and how I wanted to approach each song,” Storm said.

The two-week project was spread over several months due to her touring schedule, which left time for critical listening in between takes.

“To say it was decadent is not accurate, because there are people who take months to record an album, but for me, to take that much time and be able to go home with some mixes and listen or realize that I want to take another approach to a song — to actually have the luxury of being able to take my time was enormous, it was great,” Storm said.

I thought it was interesting to remember that Storm’s early music days included a bar in Hood River called Savino’s. I was fairly certain that I had seen a few minutes of one of her shows there, and without doing research I think we’re talking about 10 years ago.

“Or 15 even, we used to play there once a month, and yes, it was always a good time. I love going down to Hood River, it’s got amazing restaurants and it’s so beautiful down there,” Storm said.

I wondered if she was getting any inspiration to move on to the bigger venues when she was playing in places like the corner bar in Hood River. Surprisingly, the answer was no.

“Back then, I thought I would hardly make enough money to live. My inclination was — OK, I’m a pretty good singer, and I’m a nice person, and I work hard, so at least I know (if I do this) that I’ll always have friends, beer, maybe something to eat and people will be happy to see me,” Storm said.

“It’s been a long, crazy journey. When young artists ask me how do you get to where you are, I say you have to work your a— off, harder than anyone else.

“You have to tour, and not make money. You’ve got to play shows and not make money, you’ve got to fight club owners to get gas money to get to the next gig, you’ve got to starve, you’ve got to take many, many hits on your pride, and yeah, Savino’s was part of that, but everything is part of that,” Storm said.

Does the hard work pay off in the end? How serendipitous that right before my interview I see an announcement from the Oregon Zoo for a Pink Martini concert, featuring Storm Large.

“Singing with those guys is fantastic. Pink Martini is a large group of incredibly talented people and they are so welcoming and so fun and such great people, it’s a blast. I love playing with them. It’s always joyful.”

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