by Dawn Duncan
On an ice cold December day, we did our cover shoot with Elise Wunder just a day after her treacherous drive back to Colorado from Friday Harbor, San Juan Island off the coast of Washington, which left her stranded in Rock Springs, WY, for two nights until the roads re-opened. She had departed in mid-October for a writing sabbatical and a mission to heal her damaged vocal cords. She stayed on the island in a private home donated by a generous Portland couple and hunkered down to write, play guitar, and find a new sense of self, one that would fuel her into the next phase of artistry, but also as a person shifting into their true being.
We drove an hour up the Poudre Canyon to the Kinikinik Store, a quaint haven of little cabins, nestled next to an expansive meadow and offering one of those Colorado backdrops that even state natives still find takes their breath away. Clad in a velvet jumpsuit and her signature bohemian style of vintage coats and feather-bedecked hats, handmade jewelry, and lace up boots, Elise Wunder rode along patiently as I navigated the canyon over icy roads and against whipping winds.
She spoke of her two months on the island spent in relative isolation, less the occasional visit from friends and family, including the pleasure of entertaining guests over Thanksgiving. These little breaks from being alone were salvation from going too far down the rabbit hole in terms of getting inside her own head, and offered peace and calm from the writing and instrument playing process.
During her time on the island, Elise worked with renowned vocal coach, Ron Browning, who resides in Nashville and whom she met at Song School this summer in Lyons, CO, and who is the coach to such greats as Carrie Underwood, Allison Krauss, and the Judd sisters, to name a few. Working in Skype sessions with Browning, she learned to retrain her speaking and singing voices and evolve into a stronger vocalist.
Elise elaborated on what exactly happened as the result of her time away from Colorado. “I had a major breakthrough on guitar. I was able to really focus. In a way, I needed to get over some of my own self-doubt and not just play, but to start to feel like I am really doing something special with my guitar.” Additionally, she commented on the vocal evolution. “There’s always so much more to learn when it comes to training my voice, but now it feels like a different entity; learning how to speak and sing differently made me realize that this issue with nodes (vocal cord nodules) was really the best thing to happen to me. This ended up offering major growth spiritually, mentally, and also musically for me.”
Elise commented that now, instead of singing “at someone,” she feels she is more conversational when singing. “It’s the key to my vocal health, but also the magical way I can connect with the people who are listening to me.” She describes her journey as humbling, discouraging, awakening, and enlightening, all in the same breath. “I had to overcome a lot. I had to stop dead in my tracks and take time out, which isn’t easy when you’re a very active, driven performer. But, I think now, people can expect a more intimate, connected experience when they see me play live. My interaction with fans will be much more open hearted.”
One primary source of inspiration for Elise has been “The Art of Asking,” written by musician and iconic persona, Amanda Palmer. “In reading this book, I learned that the “alter persona,” that “stage person,” still needs to connect through the heart. I used to think of things like social media as a chore, now I see this as a tool to connect with people who are interested in me and my music; a simple and pure connection.”
Off to write more songs and kick off her performance schedule again, most notably with a show on February 6 at Avo’s with special guests, Lunde Station, Elise is ready to rock our world once again. And this time around, it’s going to be even more epic as she not only found ways to strengthen her voice and guitar playing, she found herself, her inner soul, on that island and we can only imagine what magic that will bring. Check out Facebook.com/elisewunder and elisewundermusic.co .