Annette Conlon: Turning a Tragedy into a Brand New Album
By Cynthia Brando
Annette Conlon is a medical marvel. In 2014 she discovered that she was suffering from Retropharyngeal Abscess-an abscess that occurs in the tissues of the throat. If not diagnosed in the early stages, it can lead to potentially fatal complications, which is what occurred in Annette’s case. Over lunch in North Hollywood, Annette tells the story of multiple surgeries and recoveries that led her to finally releasing her pivotal work, aptly titled, “Life, Death and the Spaces Between.” I spoke to Annette about her musical journey, health struggles, and the release of her new album.
M.E. “Have you been singing since you were little?”
A.C. “When I was young I was in a lot of different choirs. I think my mom stuck me in choir when I was seven because I was always singing to myself when I was little. By high school I was in church, school and city choir; including madrigal, show, and music theater; the whole thing.”
M.E. “Do other people in your family sing?”
A. C. “In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I’m visiting my parents is going to church with my family; especially at Christmas. My dad and I would start singing harmonies together to the hymns. My dad and I, it’s kind of funny, we would boom the songs out, doing dramatic interpretations and having a good time, my mom, of course, would be embarrassed, but we were having a good time! My mom sings too, and has a really pretty voice, but she thinks she burned out her voice as a cheerleader when she was a kid. I think she has a pretty voice, but she says it’s never been the same since then. My brother and sister both have great voices, but they don’t like to sing in front of people. My dad is retired from the military, but played in a military band, and they toured a bit when he was younger.”
M.E. “What kind of music did you do when you were older?”
A.C. “I did alternative rock, psychedelic and alt rock in the 90’s to the 2000’s.”
M.E. “What musical artists are you into?”
A.C. “I love 70’s music-that is probably my favorite; not disco, but the melodies-Karen Carpenter was always a favorite, and then country artists like Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. I also like Concrete Blonde and Pink Floyd. I also love Julie Andrews.”
M.E. “Speaking of Julie Andrews, she is not able to sing anymore because of surgeries that damaged her vocal chords. You had some procedures that also debilitated your ability to sing.”
A.C. “I had three surgeries on my throat due to the Retropharyngeal Abscess. After one of the surgeries, I couldn’t speak. My right vocal cord was damaged and became paralyzed, so I had to have a procedure. The Retropharyngeal Abscess was an abscess located between my esophagus and cervical spine that was the size of a large lemon. Because of its location it was difficult to diagnose, and, while I became symptomatic in April it wasn’t found until August when I was septic. So, because of this I had emergency surgery, and another subsequent surgery to make sure the bacteria was gone, draining the abscess again, and a third surgery to repair a tear in my esophagus that formed during all of this.”
M.E. “So how did all of this affect your singing voice?”
A.C. “Well, as I said, I did have a vocal cord affected from the surgeries, so they did a procedure called Radiesse for Voice, where, when the cord is paralyzed, the doctor injects a long needle through the throat, into the vocal cord to inject the Radiesse for Voice material directly into the cord. During this procedure I was awake and there was a camera threaded through my nose and down the back of my throat as the needle went into my vocal cord. Then the doctor says, “O.K.-sing!”and I croaked, “I can’t sing with a needle in my throat!” But he injected the Radiesse for Voice, which is similar to the filler that dermatologists use - but it’s made specifically for vocal cords, and then while I was vocalizing, he injected it to thicken up the cord. I’ve had a lot of swallow, voice and speech therapy at UCLA and singing therapy with Jan Linder-Koda. My right vocal cord is stiffened now from the Radiesse, and I’ve learned how to use my working cord to the fullest. I think the right one might move a little sometimes and have some functionality, but the left one really does all the work. I take care of my voice and don’t push it too hard and keep it lubricated.”
M.E. “Your new and first solo album has original songs that you wrote in the aftermath of all of these health challenges-Did you always write songs?”
A. C. “I used to write poetry-tons of poetry and short stories from when I was little. My mom has songs that I wrote when I was a little kid.”
M.E. “Did you perform these songs?”
A.C. “Yea, I was always putting on shows with the neighborhood kids and my cousins, and I would choreograph dance moves; and then when I met my husband Doug, that was the first time I started playing in a band. In high school, I had received a music scholarship to go to college, but my parents really wanted me to go to a “proper” school and get a proper education, so that’s what I did. Music wasn’t what they thought was a proper education back then, so I got a degree in English, and I kept going back and forth trying to figure out what to do; I thought about journalism, but I really liked computers. Back then there weren’t a lot of computer classes, but I took all the classes in computers my school had.”
M.E. “So you never really thought about music as a profession?”
A. C. “I was so excited to be offered that scholarship, but my parents were paying for college. I even run away to Nashville to be a musician when I was sixteen, but they brought me back home. After college, I married my first husband - he was in the military, and when I got married I stopped singing; because now I was a military wife. I would sing around the house, but that’s it. When we moved back to Colorado Springs- I auditioned for the city choir, and the leader told me I needed to go back to voice lessons - and it was really crushing to think I wasn’t good enough for the choir anymore! But then suddenly I had to recover from blowing out my knee from skiing. A couple of years later I’m divorced and have met Doug. Doug was doing this rock band, and he while he would be rehearsing, and I would sing along and make up harmonies. He suggested I join him for an acoustic gig, and once on stage I realized I was petrified to sing in front of people. I hadn’t really sung to anyone outside of church or school, and it had been years, so I had stage fright all of the sudden. I’ve played with Doug in different bands through the years, and I like to be super creative. In the band Love Garage I picked out the outfits and shoes and did the choreography, and had all the background vocals and harmonies figured out. I helped Doug edit songs but I wasn’t writing so much then, but I would come up with changes, and then as time progressed, I would start to write a little bit here and there, with Somebody’s Sister, but mostly Doug was the head writer. When we moved to Dallas and started another band, Eden Automatic, an alternative rock band, I really started writing more.”
M. E. “The music and writing style of your new album seems influenced from the older country music you said you loved.”
A. C. “When I started making this album, it was like going back home, the album is like what I listened to growing up. I got to the point where I grew tired of the rock and roll stuff I had been doing; it wasn’t really what I was listening to anymore. I also started writing these songs after a bad concussion. I was under doctor’s orders to not watch T.V. or use the computer. It was quiet and I started writing like crazy; I would play the guitar and try to figure out the chords, and then I started feeling better and started playing the guitar more, and Doug was like, “Oh my god-these songs are better that anything you’ve ever written-how is this happening?” I was like, “I have no idea!” I think I just bonked my head so hard that it opened up a whole new part of my brain. Some days I would write two songs. There are ten more songs besides the fifteen on this album that I never even finished because I liked these better. I put the songs on the album in the order that I wrote them, and I know the exact day I wrote all of the songs. I have a story about what each song means and why I wrote it. I started working with Ted Wulfers, my producer, who we met through a monthly group called the Acousters, where we would all get together and play. Also, Ted played some of the NetteRadio shows I put on, and he was really liking these new songs a lot, and could really see the difference between some of the older songs we were doing and the new songs, and could feel the direction. He said, “I would like to produce a couple of these songs for you”, and it was such a compliment because I think he is really fantastic. So it started out that we were going to do a couple of songs, and then all of a sudden I said, “I want to do an album!” I hadn’t written all of these songs yet, but I wanted to do a whole album."
M.E. What kind of instrumentation is on the album?”
A.C. “When we would go into the studio, I would play the acoustic versions for Ted, and we’d lay down my tracks. I had a list of instrumentation Doug and I wanted for the record, like pedal steel, banjo, mandolin, or dobro, for example. We also have some craziness - yodeling, and percussion on a filing cabinet! We wanted it to sound fun, full; maybe a little different, but yet traditional. We realized that I needed to do a kickstarter to finish, and it was successful, much to my relief! I’m really excited about it.”
M.E. “Any future plans with the album?”
A.C. “I am starting a radio campaign in June, and we’re performing the songs out, and we’re also going to do some mini tours so I can stay healthy and not wear myself out. I’m very excited. I’ve never done anything like it. This is more focused, and hopefully people will really like it…I hope!”
Check out Annette’s new album, “Life, Death and the Spaces Between” on online retail stores. You can also check out a live show in Los Angeles, where Annette has been performing songs from the album with a full band, solo, and with her husband Doug Conlon. Stay tuned for more info on when Annette will be coming to your town on her tour, where you can enjoy the uniqueness of her beautiful voice live.
Singer-Songwriter Annette Conlon, creator of NetteRadio, has taken life’s lessons to heart with her debut record, “Life, Death, and the Spaces Between.” Her journal of dark and sweet stories wrapped in light melody (by way of Country, Americana, and Folk,) takes the listener along as she discovers what is most important.
“Life, Death, and the Spaces Between,” released 4/17/15, one year to date from the fateful concussion that led Annette to look inward, and examine her darkest fears born from the life-threatening illness she faced in 2012. The self-penned songs provide the listener some insight into Annette’s journey.
Annette can be found in and around Los Angeles performing solo, and with husband Doug. She has performed at several notable LA venues including Genghis Cohen, The Mint, Kulak's Woodshed, WitZend, and Cinema Bar, as well as festivals such as WorldFest (VegFest) and Venice Summer Fest. She has also played the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN. Her monthly residency at MUSE on 8th in Los Angeles plays host to NetteRadio's Songwriter Showcase. She previously hosted a monthly NetteRadio fundraising showcase for over six years at The Talking Stick in Venice, CA helping over 50 charities. As a member of the alternative rock band Eden Automatic, Annette released four CDs, toured Texas, Louisiana, Colorado and Oklahoma for ten years, and played the Main Stage at the Texas State Fair for seven years.
She is a vegan, an advocate for animal rights, rescues stray kitties, and is passionate about everything she pursues.
Endorsements: Daisy Rock Guitars and Shubb Capos
Membership: ASCAP, NARAS (voting 2001), and Americana Music Association (voting 2015)