Annette Conlon Reclaims Her Voice on 'Life, Death and the Spaces Between'

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I’ve known songwriter Annette Conlon for nearly as long as I’ve been recording music. The Los Angeles based artist has long been an avid support of other artists as the host of ‘Nette Radio, ‘one of the longest running radio shows dedicated to promoting women in music.’  She’s also hosted many a songwriter showcase over the years and collaborated with her husband in duo The Conlons.
But after a harrowing few years of health challenges, Annette is putting her own voice front and center, embarking on a solo project inspired by the events she’s weathered, “Life, Death and The Spaces Between.” Amidst a crowdfunding campaign to support the project and some unexpected family events, Annette discussed her road to healing and writing her most inspired material.

Q: You’ve been so active in music, I didn’t realize you hadn’t recorded your own solo work. How did you know it was time?
Annette Conlon: I fell and hit my head on a trashcan on April 17, 2014. I suffered a pretty severe concussion and during my recovery I started writing. I had written an entire album’s worth of songs between April 17th and Sept 5th; but really by mid-June I knew I wanted to record the songs I has written thus far. These songs felt special to me, and to Doug, and seemed to really connect with people when we played them live. 
I told Doug I wanted to record right around my birthday in June. It wasn’t until we were in the studio and recording that we realized this was really my baby. Even though I had written everything, we went in with the intention of recording a “The Conlons” record; however, we realized that wasn’t what it was. Doug is fully supportive of my first full-length solo record, has generously played on it, and is currently working on his third solo record.  
Q: Backing up to 2012? Can you brief us on what happened? What was vocal therapy like — was it regaining or learning a whole knew toolkit? I gather you focused on physical recovery first and then the emotional work didn’t kick in until the concussion….
AC: I had a retropharyngeal abscess resultant from bacteria that was residing on some cervical fusion hardware put in back in 2003. I had three surgeries through my esophagus: two due to the abscess and one to repair a hole in my esophagus. During the second surgery my right vocal laryngeal nerve was damaged and the result was the right cord became paralyzed. My surgeon, who is a top ENT surgeon, used Radiesse for Voice, and injected that through my neck into the right vocal cord, having me sing while injecting the gel to move the right cord back into the middle.
Now my left vocal cord basically does all of the work and my right cord just kind of sits there, in one place. I had swallow therapy to learn how to swallow again as my swallowing muscles were damaged. I also went to speech therapy/vocal therapy sessions at the hospital to learn how to speak correctly again. (I basically went until my benefits ran out). I did all of the homework for swallow and speech/vocal exercises, and once I was given permission to do so, I began one-on-one vocal coaching with the amazing Jan Linder-Koda via Skype. I also used her vocal warm-ups on my own time.  I kept old mp3s of when I was first talking and trying to sing. It’s amazing to me how far I’ve come. I don’t have as big of a voice as I had before I got sick.
That power is gone. I have to remember not to push too hard or I will lose my voice. I get vocal fatigue easier – and I have noticed that if my neck muscles are tired my voice will change. All of those surgeries have affected me and I have had to learn to work with it and not fight it. That’s okay, it’s really a small price to pay to still be able to do something I love so much. Not only did I survive all of that, but I’m singing? I’m pretty lucky! I’m so happy when I sing, and I’m so thrilled to say I’m making a record without auto-tune. It’s authentically me. This new voice is purely me and I really like it.
I think the reason I didn’t focus on the emotional healing was that my “job” was to get well.
Some days I had 2-3 doctors’ appointments. Some weeks I went to the doctor 3-4 days of the week. Recovering from 3 major surgeries, the feeding tubes, the PICC line, all of the drains, etc, required so many visits, physical therapy, etc., that it was all I really did for a while. Not to mention the very real fear for the first year that the infection could resurface. I think emotionally I didn’t feel well for a long time. Physically, I was still not super strong even at a year and a half. When I had that concussion in April I was still not as strong as I am now. My legs collapsed as I stepped off the curb and down I went.
In August 2014 I celebrated my two-year anniversary of the first surgery. It really wasn’t all that long ago. It is remarkable to me know to look back and see how far I have come.

Q: How was writing a part of your emotional recovery? All these songs were written in this period. How are they different than your previous work? What do you hope listeners will take away from the work?
AC: Writing these songs was cathartic. I confronted, relived, and experienced… however you want to say it, thoughts and feelings that were veiled in my subconscious because I had focused all of my energy ‘getting well’. Once I had quiet time to just sit, without any outside input, my mind opened up, and I started listening. It was amazing to me to experience this as an artist/writer. I’ve always been a writer, but sometimes you try to force things. You tell yourself “I must write this song or finish this short story.” Instead, I merely listened and wrote. The words and the music came not independent from each other but almost in concert. I had to learn how to listen and convey this from inside my head to pen, paper and guitar. I’m still listening and writing, and I’m grateful that I’m able to stay connected to this inner voice.
In the past I didn’t have an inner voice, or muse, specifically guiding me as I do now. When I would have an idea of a poem, I would write it down, and then struggle with cords to come up with a song. If a melody came first I would sing it into a voice recorder or my phone, and struggle to convert it into cords. Sometimes weeks went by before I found words that made sense to that melody. Those struggles seem to be gone for now and I’m grateful. 
I definitely want the listener to take away that this is a collected body of work. There can be hope after sorrow; there is joy in overcoming struggle. While each song stands alone, I think together they tell a story. We are frail beings, we are strong, and we can take and make beautiful music out of really awful circumstances, which in and of itself is very healing.

  Q: Tell us about your plans for the record and going forward? Are you fully recovered from the events of the past few years? Will you be touring?
AC: I plan to release the record on April 17, 2015. That is the one-year anniversary of the concussion, and it seems like the perfect day for THIS record to be released! I really hope we make the Kickstarter goal…. I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me and donated thus far. We were doing really well at first and had a lot of momentum but my Uncle died on Nov 1 and I flew to Alabama to be with my family for the funeral. From Alabama, I flew to Colorado with my parents to attend the funeral of my mom’s best friend’s on Monday of this week. I’ve known this sweet lady since I was in kindergarten. Her daughter and I were in church choir together all through junior high and high school.
It’s been a long week of funerals and sadness. [And] I am still in Colorado due to the Arctic Front that moved in. I hope to be able to return to Los Angeles on Friday. … I am focusing my thoughts on the positive energy of all the support I have received thus far and praying that it works out as it should. I wouldn’t change a thing, because I put my family first, but the timing was rotten. That’s sometimes how life works out. I do hope your readers will check out the Kickstarter and find a reward they like!  There are some really great things there!  
Am I recovered? I think I’m as recovered as I’ll ever be although I can always get stronger, or in better shape, and I work towards that every day. I’ll never be like I was before I got sick. When they told me that at the hospital it made me so mad. I don’t ever want someone else to define me. I understand now what they were trying to say, to caution me and keep me from being disappointed.  This isn’t something I dwell on. I’m certainly much stronger now than I was in April and I hope that I’ll be stronger next April than I am right now.
I would definitely consider touring to support the record. I might do several smaller tours instead of one big tour. That seems like a good way to stay healthy, happy and strong.


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