Special to the Star
There aren’t many concept albums about working in the sex industry, but Storry is no ordinary singer and songwriter.
So, when the Juno Award-nominated, Toronto-born, Mississauga-based artist debuts the performance of her new 11-song, R&B-flavoured album CH III: The Come Up at the Lula Lounge on February 20, it will come from a position of triumph.
However, the adversity that Storry surmounted has little to do with the album, although the topic is certainly touched upon.
“’CH III’ is more about the current state that I’m in,” Storry, born Dina Koutsouflakis, but who prefers to be known by a single name, explains.
“It’s basically the experience of leaving the sex industry and getting into the music industry only to realize that both are equally misogynistic and problematic and dealing with all my relationships within that.
“So, it doesn’t really delve into the past and how I got into the sex industry or any of that.”
Instead, it has to do with an abusive relationship that she not only survived but transcended.
Storry’s story is too familiar to too many women: an exciting love connection that begins optimistically and deteriorates into a relationship defined by control, disparagement, bullying and a loss of individuality.
For Storry, it was an eight-year descent into hell that began when she was studying opera at the University of Toronto.
“I was in university and I wanted to continue my pop career,’ she explained recently during an interview in Parkdale.
“When you’re singing opera, you’re generally singing other peoples’ works. It’s very important for me to create music and
I met this producer. He was pretty legit. I found him online and he had done some work in the city, though not with anyone famous.”
What began professionally soon turned personal.
“I started going in the studio with him, and then I lost my virginity to him and fell in love,” Storry recalls. “A few months later he put me in a strip club and took all my money every night for a year.
“He was very abusive toward me – physically, verbally, emotionally – he told me that I wasn’t a good singer; that I wasn’t a good writer; that I was basically nothing without him.
“I had no friends. I was not allowed social media. I didn’t have a computer. I wasn’t allowed to read.
“Because I was young and vulnerable – it’s your first love. You really don’t know much else.”
When the relationship mercifully ended, Storry was left financially and emotionally bankrupt.
“When I left, he took all the music, all the hard drives and the studio and the money and left me with a debt.
“It was really hard. I basically had the clothes on my back – which were hand-me-down clothes. I never bought anything during the time that I was with him.
“I had that and my guitar and that was it. I moved back in with my Mom and I didn’t want to do music anymore.”
Up until that fateful romance, Storry had been sailing along creatively.
Although her Rexdale upbringing wasn’t easy – “we always struggled with money and I was a bit of a referee for my parents growing up“ – she says she was always a happy kid and that a singing career was always in the cards.
“Literally, when I was singing my A-B-C’s, people were telling me I had a beautiful voice and that I should sing,” says Storry.
“I don’t remember my life without singing.”
After choosing music over medicine as a career option, she relocated to Montréal, finishing high school and then attending Vanier College in Saint-Laurent to study jazz vocal.
But things didn’t turn out quite the way she planned.
“At Vanier they force you to do one year of classical music,” notes Storry, who also plays violin, guitar and piano.
“I ended up liking it – and a teacher told me I could be the next Maria Callas.”
Storry stuck with classical opera, returning her to continue her studies at the University of Toronto – and displaying enough versatility to explore some pop options.
“My peers loved the way I sang classical because it sounded really soulful,” she recalls.
“I find that a lot of people who do pop or R&B or soul don’t generally sing classical music and people who sing classical music can’t really sing pop and soul with that kind of authenticity.
“So, I think that’s one of my biggest assets. I think that’s one of the things that really sets me apart as an artist.“
The dark relationship followed – and once it ended, Storry hightailed it to India for a three-month yoga retreat with the full intention of becoming a yoga instructor and opening up a vegan restaurant with her aunt upon her return.
“Going to India was such a liberating experience for me,” Storry said. “There’s something about India that bombards your senses in every way, and so it really forces you to be in the moment.
“There were all these omens telling me specifically to get back into music.“
After a friend in Mumbai convinced her to pursue her muse, Storry returned to Sherbrooke, Québec in 2015 and called up her pal Yotam Baum, a classical pianist and Professor of Music at Bishop’s University.
“I said, ‘Hey, I know you don’t know what’s been going on in my life, but you’re the first person I thought of when I thought I needed to write a concept album about it.’ I trusted him and knew he would allow me to be my fully expressed self.
“We got together and catalogued over 100 songs and he is the co-writer and co-producer with me on this album.”
In the meantime, Storry reclaimed her life “by just working on myself,” attending Co-Dependence Anonymous meetings, meditating and seeing a therapist.
“If you find a person you can confide in and talk to, realize how much support and outside objective perspective you can get from that, and that will help you become more self-aware.,’ she advises. “We can’t see our blind spots – we need people to point them out.
“Also, just having a support system around me of people who really loved me and believed in me really helped.”
She describes the unflinching CH III: The Come Up as a “3-D version of an exotic dancer” and released “Leave My Heart Behind,” the first single to showcase her soulfully powerful alto, in May 2019.
Two more followed over the summer: the stigma-challenging “House and a Range” and “You Don’t Know Me (Nah Nah).” Her latest, “Money Ain’t Free” – a song that speaks about her return to the profession – has received airplay on numerous CBC radio outlets, including q, Fresh Air and Big City, Small World.
Surprisingly, Storry’s 2020 Juno nomination isn’t for CH III: The Come Up, but for “Another Man,” under the category of Best Reggae Recording: a collaborative track she recorded in Jamaica with producers and rhythm section legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare that’s included on their Pocket Book Riddim compilation.
“I had been going to Jamaica almost every year for the past 10-12 years – and I was supposed to go for only a month the last time,” she explains. “I was going to do a cleanse because my friend owns a raw vegan restaurant here. And one day he said, “I’m friends with Sly – why don’t you come by the studio?’
“So, I went and Sly asked me to sing a verse and a chorus a capella. He loved me right away and said, ‘OK, let’s work.’ I ended up staying for three months.”
As for her time spent as an exotic dancer, Storry, who describes her age as “ageless as music is timeless,” has mixed feelings about her former profession.
“I personally would never have been a dancer had I not been coerced into it in the first place,” says Storry. “When I was initially starting, I actually cried every day for two years.
“But going back to it, I was able to reclaim the space as my own, which was very important for me. I didn’t realize how important that was for me.
“I saw the empowerment that can be found in that job – and the freedom that can be found and there are parts that I really did enjoy. I loved the fact that I could go to work when I want, leave when I want. The flexibility was really important to me in order to do and fund my art.
“And if I didn’t like somebody and I didn’t want to dance for them, I could tell them to f&$% off. There’s not that many jobs where you can really do that, right?”
But Storry admits that she learned numerous skillsets she wouldn’t have acquired anywhere else.
“There’s definitely ups and downs and there’s a lot of exploitation in that industry,” she admits. “I do see a lot of women who have pimps and who are in bad situations – and a lot of the dancers don’t really open up to each other.
“There really isn’t that warmth and camaraderie – and I think that needs to change. There is also a lot of guilt and shame and regret in that industry as well, and I feel like women need to feel more empowered and feel good about the fact that they did do that job and it gives you a lot of skill sets that you can build on.
“I was an introvert when I went into that industry – and I learned how to be an extrovert. Now, it’s served me so well that I can go into a million meetings with just about anyone in the industry and not feel intimidated.”
Storry also wants to dispel the disgrace surround the sex industry and eliminate the self-loathing in a profession that clearly exists due to necessity.
“There’s still stigma, there’s still slut-shaming. I want all sex workers to realize that they’re all valuable,” says Storry. “We’re all worthy. We all just need to love ourselves.
“We have given value to the world. And just because people don’t want to appreciate that…and if there was no demand, then there would be no supply.”