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How Becky Rae Dalton found her voice after throat surgery

Becky Rae Dalton will perform at the Hook and Ladder on Thursday.

Becky Rae Dalton will perform at the Hook and Ladder on Thursday. Tony Nelson

After 16 years of writing and performing, Becky Rae Dalton has finally released her debut album.

Ready or Not shows off Dalton’s pipes and pulls from folk and country influences. The Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter started playing piano in childhood at a music daycare. Drums followed in fifth grade, but after high school, she decided to focus on singing. Dalton got her degree in voice from McNally Smith and joined a few cover bands but wrote her own music on the side. Three years of focusing on her solo music finally solidified in a summery EP of five songs that feel cohesive but allow enough wiggle room for Dalton to stretch stylistically.

We spoke to the artist ahead of her summer music celebration at Hook & Ladder on Thursday.

City Pages: One of the things you’ve had to overcome in your music career was thyroid surgery that forced you to stop performing for a while. What was that experience like?

Becky Rae Dalton: That was a hard one. All of a sudden, I felt a lump on my neck. I went in to get it checked out and they didn’t think too much of it. But after about a year, it started to get bigger and it started to press on my esophagus. It made it hard to breathe and sing and talk and just do things you take for granted. After about two years of that, I had it removed, but then everything in my neck started to get super tight after the surgery. I couldn’t open my jaw and I could barely sing. It was so difficult and it was a really, really hard place for me because I couldn’t sing and express myself vocally, which is what I do. I took a break and I thankfully found this girl Carolyn Campfield, she teaches voice movement therapy, and I was able to do some really cool, interesting, different things in therapy that I had never done in any voice lesson. I was able to really express my pain. A lot of it had to do with forgiveness, my past, anger I had with my family. I was really able to express that and because I did that, I was able to heal myself. I was able to sing better than I ever have. I’m very thankful I went through that experience because I feel like it’s made me a better singer, not just vocally, but in my performance. I feel like I just give everything, really honestly. That was a very hard time in my life.

CP: Were you still writing during that time?

BRD: I was writing. I think writing was one of the key things that helped me to get through it, to be able to write through that emotion, get that down, have that documented. It’s really great when I look back on those songs and I remember what I went through. I can’t believe where I’m at right now. It’s a very different place.

CP: Forgiveness is one of the themes on your album Ready or Not. Where did that come from?

BRD: You could say initially it starts with forgiving a lot of men, but I think it definitely stems from my family. I don’t have the greatest relationships with my family, but I try. One of the hardest parts in the healing process is forgiveness. But forgiving them and understanding that they’re human just like you are helps you to move on. It doesn’t always change things with that person, but I think it helps to move on.

CP: When you say your “family,” do you mean your parents?

BRD: My parents and my sister. It’s been kind of rocky. There’s some stuff from my past and no one’s really every wanted to talk about it but I did my own healing and moved past it. My family never was able to do that with me.

CP: And yet, your album is pretty upbeat. Is happiness more of an inspiration for you than darkness?

BRD: I think in order to get to a happy place you have to go through the darkness, but you have to have that vision of light on the other side that makes you want to get there.

CP: Are the songs about love based on one particular relationship or were they an amalgam of different relationships?

BRD: “Ol’ Mississippi” would definitely be just about one person. That was kind of a roller coaster of a relationship. “A Little Longer” as well. Those two were about one. But the first one on the album [“Love Him All the Same”] is about a few people with some of the hard relationships that I’ve been through combined into one.

CP: When you write a song like “Ol’ Mississippi” about a particular person and you sing it years later, does it still feel like it’s about that person or does the meaning change over time?

BRD: Absolutely the meaning changes. Totally. You write a song and ten years later, it’s so completely different. It’s almost like I’m understanding it now. With my experiences that I’ve been through, it changes it so much, like, “This is such a cool song. I didn’t see it back then.”

CP: You develop more of an appreciation for it as it ages?

BRD: Oh, yeah. Yeah. The experiences that you’ve had come into it and play out a little differently within the song.

CP: Have you always been attracted to the country storytelling style or is that something that’s developed over time?

BRD: I actually really hated country music when I was a kid and growing up. After I went through my voice therapy, I wasn’t 100 percent, but I ended up finding this karaoke gig. I hosted karaoke for about five years. Karaoke is like 80 percent country music. It got under my skin. I just started to love it. It became a part of me, my singing style. I eventually joined a country cover band and that was so fun. It fits my voice, too. It feels so good, that feeling of sitting on a porch, drinking lemonade in the summer. So I eventually learned to love country music through karaoke.

CP: What is the biggest challenge now in your music career?

BRD: I’m not the greatest promoter. I’m not one to go out there and brag about myself. It feels a little bit uncomfortable. That’s something I work on every single time I have a show and try to promote it.

CP: A lot of artists struggle with the promotion part. They’d rather invest their time and energy in the creative process.

BRD: Exactly. But you have to have that if you’re going to perform, if you’re going to share your music with people, which is the ultimate goal.

Becky Rae Dalton
With: Smells Like the Nineties and the Pickled Beats
Where: Hook and Ladder
When: 8 p.m. Thurs. July 12
Tickets: $7, $10; more info here