Storm Large can’t be contained.
After nearly blowing the roof off the intimate Club Hancher setting in October 2018, she’s coming back to the wide open spaces of Hancher’s front lawn, known as the Hancher Green. She’ll perform a free concert there Friday night (9/6), with her rock band, Le Bonheur.
The band has had the summer off and she has been touring Europe singing with Pink Martini, so she’s thinking she and her bandmates most likely will dip back into their own sultry, passionate spins on the Great American Songbook.
“We’ll make a fun set list for everybody and just rock it out, man,” she said by phone from her home in Portland, Ore. “I was just doing a bunch of outdoor concerts in Europe and it’s fun.”
The key to moving from small to vast venues is to “make sure you include everybody in the scope of your energy and your eyes, and you see everyone,” she said. “You’ve got to literally rise to the occasion and get big enough to fill up the space, and make sure no one is excluded and everybody can be a part of it.”
Large, 50, a Southborough, Mass., native, learned early on that she doesn’t fit into all the pretty boxes of convention in the performing arts realm. Instead, she’s cut her own roundabout path, twisting in the winds of fate.
Her life has been as tumultuous as her middle name, Storm. Her first name is Susan, after her mother, who was mentally ill and in and out of hospitals during Storm’s youth. How that shaped her is chronicled in her 2008 one-woman show, “Crazy Enough,” and in her 2012 memoir of the same title.
After high school, Large enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, where she learned “very quickly” that she’s not an actor, she’s a musician, and she was “not commercial.”
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“Their bread and butter is people who become actors in soap operas,” she said. “They loved classically trained, pretty, skinny, traditionally superhot people for television, and I was literally the opposite of all of that.”
She enjoyed studying theater history, the science of phonetics and Shakespeare — earning A’s and B’s for the first time — but gravitated to the more underground music scene and clubs in New York City, listening to industrial music, punk rock and heavy metal.
Those genres “spoke more to my emotional reality than this candy-coated, happy ending, manufactured ‘this is how everybody should feel and look’ kind of aesthetic. That wasn’t me,” she said.
“I tell this to kids all the time who want to be artists: ‘You’re going to learn a lot faster who you aren’t than who you are, and take those lessons as just steps to who you are.”
The road to discovery was a long one for her.
Hitting the club scene in San Francisco in 1991, she said she came to hate the music business, too.
“The industry was a heartbreaking, horrible meat market,” she said. “Again, if you’re wanting to have any success at all, you need to be pretty, skinny, small, and sound like her or her or her, and not like you. Basically, you’ll make it if you’re just anything but who you are.”
Then the tragedy of 9/11 hit, and she felt called toward a path of service. So she moved to Portland, Ore., in 2002 to study nutrition so she could become a chef and make up her kind of own Meals on Wheels.
But fate intervened when she was working at a friend’s bar, instead. After a couple of months of bugging her to play at his establishment, the owner pleaded with her to step onstage when someone else canceled. So the self-described “rock ’n’ roll-punk rock balladeer” finally said yes.
“I said I’ll see if I can put together some ragtag musicians from my dirtbag friends,” she said, “and it was a huge hit. I did it as a favor, and everybody was super-excited and happy about it, and then we started doing it weekly.”
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That was in 2002. Three or four years later, someone sent a video of her in action to CBS. The network called, and Large landed on the “Rock Star: Supernova” reality show in 2006, vying to be lead singer for a supergroup with hard-rock stars. Even though she was cut on the last show before the season finale, it brought her a measure of fame that she discovered she really didn’t like.
“It gave me a real international audience,” she said of the television show, “but it was kind of an interesting fame blip. It was the first time I’d ever actually been legitimately what anyone would call ‘famous,’ and I did not like it.
“I didn’t get into this business to be famous or to make money. If you think you want to become a musician because you think you’re gonna be rich, you’re absolutely insane. You don’t make any money for at least a decade. They are rare exceptions, but really, seriously rare exceptions.
“The fame thing was super weird and scary.”
The television show focused on a narrow aspect of her abilities and tastes, she added. “I love rock ’n’ roll music and I started doing punk rock music. ... I’m a much broader kind of artist in terms of how I present myself on stage.”
She embraces stories and comedy, and writes songs “more emotive and more nuanced” than the unified, crystallized ideas presented for the hard-rockin’ competition show.
When she tried to break that mold and tell some stories, some viewers loved it and others did not. Those who embrace her artistry call themselves “Storm Chasers” and follow her career. That smaller fan base suits her just fine.
“I’m really happy that I don’t get chased through airports, and that I can eat dinner with my boyfriend and not have people interrupt us all the time,” she said.
“People equate being famous with being loved. That is not the case. If you’re famous, there’s going to be somebody who just wants to hurt you because you’re famous. They don’t care who you were or what you’ve ever done. They want to hurt you because they’ve heard your name too many times. It’s a weird psychological thing, like how we like to build up and tear down celebrities. It’s a sport in the media. It’s weird, but it’s kind of human nature. To be that visible, you’ve got to have that kind of grit.
“I like my semi-fame. It’s nice.”
WHAT: Storm Large
WHERE: Hancher Green, outdoors, 141 E. Park Rd., Iowa City
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday (9/6)
ADMISSION: Free, no tickets required; bring blankets, chairs
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: stormlarge.com