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Old 3rd June 2018
Gear Head

It's definitely possible to do it without damage. The distortion effect comes from ventricular folds (situated right above the vocal folds, AKA false vocal cords) vibrating together. If done correctly, it doesn't impede healthy vibration of the vocal folds. If you do it incorrectly, you'll get hoarse pretty quickly, but you'll get hoarse from singing with bad technique without the distortion too, so it's bad technique and not the distortion that causes hoarseness. Doing distortion is a pretty advanced technique and you should be in good control of your foundation technique before attempting it. Not saying that all the grunge singers were in control, but that's probably the reason some of them were losing their voices
If it hurts or tickles in your throat while you're doing it, then it's incorrect.
In general, it's usually safer to practise with a very light sound color at first until you're in control of the effect and can get a feel for how much you can darken it.
The effect requires a lot of support energy, so make sure to give it that energy. CaptainNovember mentioned that you need something to scream about first, which is a great comment since that emotion will also make sure that there is enough energy to perform it correctly.
Practise in short intervals until you feel comfortable enough with producing the effect.
Couple of tricks that may or may not help you to initially locate the effect:
- imitate an evil witch
- do a karate chop (don't go hitting bricks with your palm untrained though ) with sound
- pull the tongue back and up, creating a very small passage between the tongue and the back wall of your throat.
Try all these with a light sound color and a lot of energy. Trust your body, if it feels wrong, it is wrong and requires further adjustment to get it correct.
You can find more details in the book (or the app) Complete Vocal Technique by Cathrine Sadolin.
Also, there's some info here that might help you -
For sound samples, scroll down to distortion in Overdrive and distortion in Edge. I think those are the ones you're looking for probably.