Fully recovered from vocal cord surgery, Sam Smith brings sad songs to the Schott

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

There's generally no mortality rate associated with the recovery from vocal cord surgery, but the process, which required three weeks of mime-like silence, nearly caused the death of admittedly chatty British singer Sam Smith.

"I hated it!" said Smith, 23, reached via email in early July (phone conversations are still strictly limited following May surgery to repair a vocal cord hemorrhage). "Lots of people lacked patience, and it frustrated me so much. If I ever have to do it again ([knock on] wood I don't), I will go to a silent monk retreat, if there's such thing."

Fortunately the time away - in the wake of surgery, Smith, who headlines a concert at the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday, July 29, was forced to cancel all of his May and June tour dates - helped the singer rediscover his enthusiasm for music, which had begun to fade as he toured extensively in support of his Grammy-winning 2014 debut, the stately, ballad-heavy In the Lonely Hour.

"I was so exhausted before the operation that I forgot what it felt like to enjoy singing," he said. "I was singing so much that in my down time I couldn't sing. So that meant singing in the shower, etc., wasn't allowed anymore. And that's when I love singing most."

In the weeks after surgery, Smith struggled with the fear he might never recover his full abilities - "As soon as I couldn't speak for three weeks, I remembered how important singing is to me … [and] then I got scared, I got really scared," he said - though these concerns faded when he finally belted out his first post-operation tunes: the latest from Jazmine Sullivan, and then classics by Chaka Khan, a singer he grew up idolizing, and an artist whose music still functions as something of a security blanket these days.

Of course, the downtime wasn't without its high points. Smith - the first openly gay man to win a Grammy for Best Pop Vocal album, in addition to collecting statues for Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year (the latter two for his ubiquitous single "Stay With Me") - celebrated right along with the masses when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage last month.

"I AM ABSOLUTELY ECSTATIC," the singer said, typing in all-caps for added emphasis. "The older [I get] the more I'm seeing how NOT okay the world is with equality in general. Every day men and woman are being killed around the world for doing something I do so freely. It's disgusting.

"As amazing as what's happened, there's still so much more to do! It should be normal for a boy to sing songs about boys, just as it should be normal for a girl to be able to put a ring on another girl's finger. But small steps forward are better than ten steps back, which is what is happening in some countries (writer's note: such is the case in Russia, a country whose harsh anti-gay laws have led Smith to boycott performing in the country). Sorry for the essay, but this is my passion. Love is my passion."

It's a passion that surfaces time and again on In the Lonely Hour, an album rooted in the various ways individuals come together and tear apart, as well as the unrequited crushes that can slowly ravage one's insides.

"Oh, I'm in love with you and you will never know," Smith sings on the sad, sumptuous "Leave Your Lover." "But if I can't have you I want this life alone."

"I find sad things and painful things more inspiring. Even things that make you so happy it hurts," said Smith, who grew up in a middle-class London home, raised by a banker mother and a fitness trainer father who also logged time as a caretaker for the disabled. "I think when you're sad or down that's when you feel things more."

Similar pains have fueled more recent songs, including "Scars," written about his parents' divorce, and an unnamed new tune that has pushed Smith's songwriting in an even more personal direction.

"I'm going more brutally honest than before. It's exciting," said Smith, who experienced his initial breakthrough in 2012 when he appeared on the Disclosure dance-floor anthem "Latch." "Because [In the Lonely Hour] has been so successful I have to remember to move forward as a person and an artist. I'd love to repeat the success of course, but I don't want to repeat the record. I want my albums to be like films: each of them a different chapter of my life. And that's what it shall be."