For those of you that follow the Americana music scene in Fort Collins, you may have noticed an absence lately of one of the best local voices, Elise Wunder. After learning that Wunder was struggling with nodules on her vocal cords, she had to take drastic measures to ensure that she can continue her career as a musician for the rest of her life. We caught up with her to discuss her vocal break, the healing process, and her recent return to the stage.
Entertaining Fort Collins: Explain what was going on with your vocal cords.
Elise Wunder: I had started noticing the longevity and range of my voice was being compromised. I was doing music full time, performing long sets three to five times per week. So, performing a lot on top of using poor technique, I was overworking my vocal cords. Nodules are essentially callouses that develop from straining too hard on your cords. They are just two delicate little guys, and the callouses prevent them from closing all the way and therefore, impedes the process of producing a full and healthy sound. I was fortunate enough to not need surgery. Being the least invasive as possible is always the best option. In order to heal, I needed to rest my voice, take speech therapy — essentially relearning how to speak — and study with highly esteemed vocal coach Ron Browning out of Nashville.
EFC: How long did you need to take time off from music? What was that like?
EW: I ended up taking about 19 weeks off total from performing. During this time I was fortunate enough to go on a sabbatical in San Juan Islands, WA. Here, I was able to achieve solitude on a majestic island. I went on this journey to confront myself of sorts. I was swimming in murky water. I needed some clarity. I needed centering. It has been a very personal journey. I was in a place that I thought was solid. I thought I had come into my voice. And to find out that, in fact, I need to take a break from performing and relearn how to use my voice, felt quite unstable. Who I thought I was, and worked hard to build myself into being, I had to change. Essentially, I was flipped upside down onto my head and turned inside out. It was humbling. The lessons that I’ve learned through this have been elemental.
EFC: Was it hard to not sing and perform for so long?
EW: Yes! I love to sing. I love to perform. It was, however, a much needed break that I am ultimately very thankful for. I would not have given it to myself had I not been forced to stop.
EFC: How are you now that you’ve healed?
EW: I’m good! Not out of the woods yet. Now is where the rubber meets the road. It takes constant practice and awareness. I am finding I really need to shape my whole life around my vocal cords. I must sing for the rest of my life. My heart has to, or else it would die.
EFC: Has this issue changed the way your singing voice sounds at all?
EW: Absolutely. The first thing Ron (vocal coach) ever said to me was “you have a big box of crayons with all these beautiful colors, and you are using them all at once.” I studied with Berkley proffessor Pat Pattison who told me essentially that my voice was so beautiful that it was distracting from what the song was actually trying to say. I have learned a ton about song servitude, realizing that even my singing could get in the way of the story. If rhythm is the heartbeat, story is the blood pumping through the life. We build our lives around stories. We change the world through stories. Learn that and serve that.
I had to realize that what I thought was my voice was really just me finding out how to blend all of my hero’s voices together really well. I still wasn’t settling into my own voice. I had all these layers I put on my voice. I had to strip my voice, along with my ego, down to its bare nakedness. I thought I knew what vulnerable was, and I found I really didn’t at all.
Now, it’s all about using the colors very intentionally, for a special moment, and then put it back in the box. As much as I hate to admit, I’m not sure I’ve come into the fullness of my real voice. It is a journey, a process. Learning and experiencing. It is all tied together. From creative writing and the song itself, to audience, performing, living and loving.
EFC: What are your music plans for the near future?
EW: I will be recording a single this month, to be released within the next few months. The single may accidentally turn into a four to five song EP. I am in the process of revamping my business model. I have a lot of big decisions to make for myself, so really deciding what I want so that I can figure out a rough estimate of how to get there. I have grown to understand more and more the magic medicine of music. I want to help the world, heal the planet.
EFC: What shows do you have coming up in Fort Collins?
EW: Avogadro’s Number Feb. 6 and Sonny Lubick’s Steakhouse Feb. 26.
EFC: What advice would you give other musicians to avoid having vocal cord health issues?
EW: Love yourself. Listen to what your body is telling you. Accept when life challenges you, be open to change and learning.