Of The Ohio by Kevin Embleton

How do you write about reflux? How do you write about missing home? How do you write about feeling like a failure in the music industry? I don’t know either. And the questions keep getting bigger. These health issues, homesickness, and career failures, I’ve been learning how to deal with them. But as life gets more complicated, my vision clouds, and I have less to say about fixing my (or your) problems, especially in a song.

How do you write about a loved one who struggles with substance abuse, an uncle who has cancer, a grandpa who has dementia? Increasingly and lately, I don’t know how to say I’m hurting other than to just say it. Sure, I hope you relate in some way. I’ve shared every song I’ve ever written with at least someone, for no other reason than to experience a moment together. But as I’ve written this new batch of songs, I needed to write them for me first. There is no real message here, other than how my unique experiences lately have caused me to hurt.

Henri Nouwen says you cannot know yourself until you’ve sat in solitude with the difficult questions of your heart*. What am I yearning for? Why do I hurt? How do I make sense of what has transpired? Only after you know who you are can you move forward, and begin to be a good gift to others. Knowing yourself also paves a way for prayer. I’m not saying you have to articulate everything perfectly for God to hear you. Quite the opposite, actually. I’m saying when you’ve sat in solitude with yourself, it’s easier to turn upwards and pray with simplicity, like a child, honest and true.

Of The Ohio is part of my process of getting to the core. By the end I don’t have the answers to my problems, but I think I’m a little closer to something. Listen here:

Spotify: https://tinyurl.com/oftheohiospotify
Apple Music: https://tinyurl.com/oftheohioapple
Bandcamp: https://tinyurl.com/oftheohiobandcamp
Tidal: https://tinyurl.com/oftheohiotidal
Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/oftheohioamazon

*This concept comes from Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of Spiritual Life

Everything About This Feels Temporary by Kevin Embleton

A month and a half ago I wrote an update about my voice, detailing some of the problems that have kept me from recording a lot of new music, playing shows, and doing more in general. The amount of encouragement and support I received from that one post was unreal. Your love lifted me, and I’m gaining hope each day as I move toward surgery and ultimately recovery.

I’ve continued writing through all of this, and I even put some of the songs to tape when I was feeling up to it. I felt so encouraged by your love and support that I decided to share some of the songs I recorded on my own this year. These tunes represent where I've been, and the tension I feel not knowing what's ahead. I’ll be releasing the first song, “Everything About This Feels Temporary” on December 31, 2017. When I wrote the line that would become the title for that song, it felt heavy. At first it was just for me, but then I realized that it might also mean something to so many others who have had a tough year. While I didn’t have the opportunity to add to the chorus of Christmas songs this year, “Everything About This Feels Temporary” is my advent cry. I’m excited for you to hear it.

Cover art and design by Luke Shuman

Cover art and design by Luke Shuman

When you get what you want...(sort of) by Kevin Embleton

Surgery to remove the vocal cyst is scheduled for January 24, 2018, or sooner if someone cancels and they can squeeze me in before then. 

Last Thursday I saw an otolaryngologist in Oakland. As he and a young resident entered the room, I was both nervous and excited to finally get some answers. The appointment started out like they usually do... I felt the clock ticking, like I had to convince them of the problem in a couple of minutes or they'd just shuffle me over to speech therapy and call it a day. I brought all of my previous laryngoscopy DVD's and they asked to see my most recent. As they watched the video, they located the cyst and also noticed some asymmetry in the left cord in a still photo.

Without much hesitation, the doctor said he could remove the cyst if I wanted him to, but cannot guarantee 100% that surgery will fix the problem. I was hoping for more clarity than that. However, as I described how the cyst is affecting me and elaborated on my theory, the doctor said, "It's best to trust how you're feeling, especially when it comes to how it practically affects you, and the way you describe it makes sense...". He said it's possible that in certain shapes or during certain kinds of tension, the left cord might brush up against the cyst, causing the paralysis. 

I can't tell you how good it felt to hear him say that. For almost two years the doctors have had no answers other than "you're stressed" or "you have some reflux". I finally found a doctor who listened and was willing to take a closer look. Much to my gag reflex's chagrin, I had them scope me one more time just to make sure things hadn't changed since August. Still there, and more ready to come out than ever.

There is a 10% chance the cyst comes back after they remove it. There is a 1-2% chance things go terribly wrong like they did for Julie Andrews. Recovery will most likely demand 3-4 days of vocal rest and then anywhere from 2-10 weeks for full recovery. The doctor said we won't know exactly how long it will take to recover until we see how surgery goes. Even though I should be able to produce sound within a few days after surgery, singing and talking well could take time. I imagine I might need some more speech therapy, but I'm not sure.

I got what I wanted. Yet, as I processed things over the weekend, I had to reckon with the fact that surgery must be my decision. When something's messed up inside, it's easier to wish for the circumstance where a doctor says, "we have to operate on this in order for things to get better; don't worry, son, I'll fix you up". Take the decision out of my hands, you know? In my case, however, it's totally up to me.

I could probably survive living in this discomfort and even continue singing to some degree, but I think it's worth getting the cyst removed. Still, it's tough not knowing exactly what the outcome will be, and it's easy to be bummed out about the two and a half month wait. If this is what it takes to get better though, a few months of waiting won't really compare to the lifetime of singing I'll hopefully have after the surgery. So now I wait, and figure out how much I can accomplish (or not accomplish) before then.

Thank you so much to those of you who have sat with me, listened to me, prayed for healing, and encouraged me. I didn't realize how alone I felt until last week when I posted that blog. I was in a pretty hopeless space, and your love lifted me. Something shifted inside of me as you reminded me who I am and what's important. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have hope again. Please continue to pray, and I'll talk to ya soon.


What am I going to do about my voice? by Kevin Embleton

I don’t know what I’m going to do if I can’t figure out what’s wrong with my voice... singing hasn't been fun in a long time.

What I’m about to share is very personal, health related, and kind of long winded, so prepare yourself ;). There are reasons why I’ve been so slow to release any new music or play many shows in the past two and a half years. But it’s not out of lack of desire, passion, personnel, or even new material. As many of you know, my wife and I left Ohio in summer of 2015 to move to San Francisco. I had taken a job as a Music Minister at a new church, and Jocelyn and I were excited to experience a part of America we’d been dreaming about for ages.

My job fell through within a few months of being here, and we needed to decide whether to stay or move back to Ohio. We decided to stay, and we both hustled to find work; I taught guitar lessons and worked at a coffee shop in the Tenderloin to keep us afloat during the transition. Jocelyn found a job doing customer service and eventually marketing for a local, online retailer of neckties and bowties. After being underemployed for months in the most expensive city we’d ever seen, I found a new job, and we started catching up with life.

In all the transition, I started experiencing some major vocal and throat discomfort. I had tons of post-nasal-drip and irritation in my throat. My voice would often cut out during conversations and during performances. During one performance, I completely lost my voice. During another, everything felt so constricted I could barely sing. My voice became fatigued rapidly, and I didn’t know what to do. When I finally shined a flashlight light back there, I noticed (with horror) several huge bumps on the back of my throat. I thought it was cancer at first, but later found out it is called cobble-stoning, a condition where parts of the throat swell up due to drainage (they haven't disappeared since).

I scheduled an appointment with Kaiser San Francisco's Head and Neck department. My first ENT agreed with my primary physician’s prognosis: allergies. I found this strange, because I’d only ever had allergies a few times in my life, and when I did it was a runny nose, not Post Nasal Drip. They prescribed allergy pills and a whole nasal rinse routine, and I did that for a couple months. The voice issues continued and even worsened. The next year and a half resulted in 6-7 visits to the ENT for multiple laryngoscopies (where they stick a camera through your nose, down your throat), a visit to the allergist, speech therapy, finding out it was not allergies but rather acid reflux, then overcoming acid reflux, stress, and muscle tension. To no avail. You can read the longer version with more medical detail here, but no pressure***

For much of this time, I was also seeing a holistic voice coach, who was helping me correct some of the bad habits I picked up along the way. As my muscles in the larynx tightened to protect from the acid reflux, I developed some bad habits of pushing the sound out, using muscles rather than air to phonate (make sound). She essentially helped me learn how to breathe again – truly life-changing stuff. Relearning vocal techniques and ensuring proper vocal hygiene have definitely made the pain more bearable, especially since my jobs as a music minister, guitar teacher, and performer have required me to sing or talk several times a week for the past two years.

Sometimes things got easier, but I was still having trouble not just with singing but also with talking. When my voice cuts out, it irritates and wears out my vocal cords. This fatigue is different than the fatigue caused by post-nasal-drip. It’s like you’re winding up to pitch a softball and someone hits your arm while it’s in motion and throws everything off. You then have to try again, adjusting things so as not to be hit again. It’s probably a bad analogy, but that’s been my life for ages now -- this odd cutting out of the vocal cords, mostly while talking. A feeling that something is stuck in my throat. Tension in my larynx.

When I went back to the ENT for a checkup this past August (2017), he noticed some kind of lesion or cyst behind/underneath my left vocal cord. I thought, “Yes! Finally some answers.” But the ENT said he didn’t think it was affecting my cords, and he was hesitant to operate. He encouraged speech therapy and also set up an appointment for me to see another ENT in Walnut Creek. The second opinion was the same: “I don’t think it’s affecting your cords. Just do speech therapy and come back for a checkup in a few months…”. As an aside, I went back and looked at the videos from my original laryngoscopy, and the cyst has been there this whole time, he just didn’t see it the first time. To me, this explains why the problem has been there for so long.

My speech therapist simply thinks I should move out of the city – that I’m too stressed. I try to explain that my stress mostly comes from the discomfort in my voice, not the city itself, but she just thinks I need to get out of here. How can moving guarantee that my voice problems will go away? That doesn't add up.

I’ve been doing the hard work of trying to get better, and even at my “healthiest”, things are still so difficult. And that’s the thing: I’m healthy. My body feels good. My breathing is good. I eat well. I exercise. I run. I bike. I skate. All of the pain and discomfort is located in my larynx. It’s like I can feel my cords hit the cyst when I’m in my low range. When it cuts out, I have to try again, pushing more air through. When I push more air through, I think the cords maybe vibrate more efficiently and faster, causing less movement around the cyst. When the cords are relaxed, vibrating slower, they brush up against it and experience brief paralysis. My theory is that I need surgery to get this cyst removed so that I can recover.

Singing doesn’t bring me life like it used to, and it hasn't in quite some time… it hurts, and it’s unpredictable, even when I think I do things right. Talking is even more painful. It cuts out in conversation with strangers, during meetings, or at home with my wife when we are trying to catch up on our day. I just want to be silent. But that’s what’s difficult. I talk and sing for my living. Honestly, I’ve been hoping I can have the surgery to remove the cyst so that I’ll be put on vocal rest for a few weeks, maybe longer. My heart is longing for a break.

I’m going to see another ENT next week in Oakland. I’m not leaving that room until I have answers. I’m not leaving until he sees, definitively, whether or not my cords are hitting that cyst. And whether they're hitting or not, I want him to give me every reason why he wouldn’t operate to remove it. Either way, I’ve done my research, and cysts can cause vocal dysphonia and paralysis even in cases where the cyst is not directly on the patients’ vocal cord/s.

If he just says, “Kevin, you have a vocal disorder and you’re just going to have to deal with it….”, I don't know what I'll do? I’m losing hope. Am I going to have to quit music? I’m not sure I can continue singing and making music if I can’t figure this out. I don’t know if I have the strength to push through this anymore. At this point I might consider starting another career. But that’s the thing; I don’t really have skills outside of music and communication.

I recently stepped out into another job change. I’m starting a recording studio that will hopefully serve as a really cool hub for building community and providing resources and encouragement to artists in San Francisco. I’m also serving as one of the music ministers at a smaller church in town and teaching some guitar lessons again. Other than the fact that I have to talk and sing a lot, I feel I'm taking a step towards long term goals.

But my insurance runs out at the end of the year unless I can come up with the extra cash to cover our premiums through COBRA. Our current insurance is great and allows me to see a specialist for next to nothing. I’m not sure what I’ll do if I lose that coverage. This isn’t a plea for money. I’m just trying to tell you what I’m up against, and why there is seemingly no movement in the creative part of my life.

It hurts too much to create.

It sucks when I think about how I’m falling behind, unable to release my best work right now. I have an entire record written and partially recorded. I even have the studio time covered through the investment of a dear friend. But how can I put out a record if it hurts so badly to communicate?

So there it is. I’ll attach a picture so you can see the cyst. If you’ve read this far you deserve to see it. Feel free to comment. Even if its advice or some kind of connection to someone who can help. Maybe I’ll try it, maybe you're struggling too. Just hearing your voice will help me feel less alone in this.

Here’s the pic. See the “V” looking shape. Those are the vocal cords The lower range happens towards the bottom and the higher range happens towards the top. Look towards the bottom of the cords, to the right. There’s the cyst, underneath my left vocal chord. That shouldn’t be there. Cysts, polyps, or lesions can form from yelling or screaming (like if you suddenly hurt yourself), from continual vocal abuse, from exposure to stomach acid, or for other reasons unknown to me. People just get cysts sometimes.

Infamous Embleton Vocal Cyst/Lesion

So that’s it. Hopefully I can get some definitive answers next week. I appreciate your prayers, thoughts, comments, and everything. It’s difficult for me not to feel like I’m wearing out my welcome with the people who are closest to me. I sometimes fear that they’ll just write me off for being too high maintenance. They’ve been there through thick and thin, and I’m forever grateful for that. Jocelyn, you are my rock. I love you. If you had no idea about any of this, it’s time I shared it with you. I’ll update you soon.



Sharing what I know about playing guitar by Kevin Embleton

I recently decided to share some of my cherished guitar insights on the ol' Youtube. Rather than sharing what I think people want to hear, I'm just sharing my techniques and guitar hacks that have been life-giving to me and have kept me inspired. It's been super fun so far. Here's my second video, if you want to follow along:

13 years by Kevin Embleton

"we should expect a couple twists and turns, there and here, and you know they sometimes last for years, but it's so much easier to make it through when you're not trying to see the end."

Nashville Woman by Kevin Embleton

On my best days I believe these words. I’m not entirely sure it’s possible to pursue a career in music with totally altruistic motives, but I do think it’s possible to pursue success while still being authentic and remaining aware of the needs of the people around you. And for me, striking that balance hinges on my ability to say “but I’m getting to the point where I can live without you…” It’s a frightening notion, but to remember that I’m not entitled to a career doing what I love, it’s an important one.

I think it’s also important to grapple with the idea that I may not actually be that good…. or if I am, there’s still loads of room to grow. But even if I’m not that good, it shouldn’t ever stop me from locking myself away in a room to play guitar and sing for hours on end. And then after I’ve written a song I’m proud of, I’ll share it with the closest person to me because I love sharing my heart. It’s only ever been about that. But having to pay my bills, that’s the part that blurs my vision… maybe yours too.

But back to “being able to live without”… It’s been those words that have actually freed me up to chase my dream/s with clearer vision. It’s helped me remove the ticking-time-bomb syndrome. It’s freed me up to set goals with open hands. When I was afraid that someone or something might take away “my dream” I held on so tight that I couldn’t see two steps in front of me. But when I realized that I’m not entitled to this dream, I started to enjoy the journey again. They can’t take away something I don’t own, or something I’m willing to give up if it’s the best thing for me and my family. 

The rat race is overrated. You can have all the money and success in the world and still be poor. God, give me strength to remember that.

Mr. Williams (B-Side Tape Session) by Kevin Embleton

It was a rainy Saturday in San Francisco, but I was thinking about snowy Ohio, remembering friends and digging up old recordings to pass the time. When I first started Embleton I tracked a few singles before I decided on a direction for the album. One of those singles was Mr. Williams, a B-side tracked live to a cassette tape machine at the Alta House in Canton (where we later recorded It Did Me Well). 
The wonderful Anya Rose lended her vocals for this track, and I sang harmonies. The song hasn't been available anywhere for a while, as I thought I'd eventually put it on some kind of B-Sides album. Who knows, maybe I still will. At any rate, there's no use keeping it tucked away on a rainy day like this one. 
It's about how the news is always so terrible, and we even end up blaming the news for our messed up world, all the while forgetting that we're the ones who write the story... The tape machine creates a wavy and even sometimes distorted sound; I think it's the perfect aesthetic for the song.

Stream and download for free here: https://soundcloud.com/embletonmusic/mr-williams-b-side-tape-session

Here's a glimpse into the music I made pre-Embleton by Kevin Embleton

My old band, A Minor Bird, just sent out our first email in over four years. We re-released a Deluxe Edition of an ep we put out over six years ago. It's packed with six new songs. I have a feeling you might recognize one of them. Check out the email below!

Where The River Breaks Free (Deluxe Edition) Out Now!
A Minor Bird is on Spotify. FINALLY!
["A Minor Bird"]

After six years of laying low, we're breaking the silence! We are happy to announce that A Minor Bird is now on Spotify. And what's more? We released a Deluxe Version of our EP, Where The River Breaks Free, with six bonus tracks! Check out the tracklisting below and follow us on Spotify. You can also grab the Deluxe Version on iTunes if you wish!

With Love,
A Minor Bird

Where The River Breaks Free (Deluxe Edition)
1. Rising Moon
2. Int: The Dark Room
3. World of You
4. Ask The Clock
5. The Yellow Room
6. Int: Breath in Her Lungs
7. Fortress
8. Int: Reprise
9. Occurrence at The Well
10. She's Not There (Demo)
11. Dance in Place (Demo)
12. Woods
13. Mr. Tornado (Remix)
14. The Bird and The Bear (Acoustic)
15. Ask The Clock (Alternate Mix)
Get it on iTunes
This email was sent to feciklikestobe@gmail.com
You received this email because you signed up for A Minor Bird's email list
at a show or by downloading our music from Noisetrade/Bandcamp.
We respect your privacy.
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Be At Peace With Yourself by Kevin Embleton

"At the end of the day, there ain't nobody else, gonna walk in your shoes, quite the way you do..." - Bill Fay

Thanks for the reminder, Bill Fay; I come back to this one often. The fatherly wisdom here keeps me focused on what is true and steers me away from what is not. I've wanted to do a rendition of 'Be At Peace With Yourself' for a while, so I took a trip over to South Sunset a few weeks ago to see what I could capture. Though jarring from technical standpoint, the ocean roar and loud sporadic traffic proved a perfect backdrop for this song. In a city bursting with activity, it's difficult to find solace sometimes, even near the ocean. Life is noisy, the pressure is high, competition is fierce, and most of the time I'm pretending to know what I'm doing. All too quickly I start listening to the voices screaming "You're not good enough!","Give up!", "You don't have what it takes!". Those voices are hard to silence. So we need voices like Bill Fay's, recalling us to louder truths and shining light on darkness, often with only a whisper. I wish I could do this song justice. Thanks Bill, I hope to meet you someday. Here's the original. Here's my rendition: