Laura Meade

A de­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion al­most stopped Laura Meade from con­tin­u­ing her mu­sic ca­reer. But the singer-song­writer bat­tled through, and her new solo al­bum looks back on a dif­fi­cult jour­ney.

Prog - - Contents - Words: Dom Lawson Images: Madi­son Fen­der

The IZZ singer on com­bat­ing mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and start­ing a solo ca­reer.

In 2007, Laura Meade was di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis. A prodi­gious mu­si­cal tal­ent, best known as vo­cal­ist with NYC prog stal­warts IZZ, she faced an un­cer­tain fu­ture and the very real pos­si­bil­ity that the de­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion would put an abrupt end to her ca­reer. Fast for­ward 11 years, how­ever, and Meade is in great health and has just re­leased her first solo al­bum, Remedium. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing and fre­quently beau­ti­ful record that delves deep into the emo­tional heights and depths of the singer’s jour­ney from dev­as­tat­ing di­ag­no­sis to re­mark­able re­cov­ery.

“The di­ag­no­sis was out of the blue, as these things of­ten are,” she tells Prog. “I don’t know how much you know about MS or what it does, but it af­fects dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent peo­ple. It can take away your abil­ity to speak or, in my case, I was un­able to sing for a while, which was a very painful thing for me. So be­ing un­able to do what it is that I do, that was painful, but out of that ex­pe­ri­ence came this al­bum, even­tu­ally. At this point I can’t be an­gry about what hap­pened. I’m thank­ful for the di­ag­no­sis. And I’m feel­ing great now, which is a plus!”

The pre­vail­ing view of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis is that it’s a de­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion that few peo­ple ever de­feat, which makes Laura Meade’s re­cov­ery even more ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Af­ter that ini­tial di­ag­no­sis, she was pre­scribed the usual dis­ease-mod­i­fy­ing drugs to man­age the ill­ness, but some­thing in the back of her mind per­suaded her to take a less con­ven­tional route to well­be­ing. A decade ago, Meade was study­ing hor­ti­cul­ture at col­lege and stum­bled upon a po­ten­tial new ap­proach to com­bat­ing the symp­toms of her con­di­tion.

“Through my stud­ies I re­alised that what I re­ally loved about hor­ti­cul­ture wasn’t flo­ral de­sign or land­scape de­sign, it was herbs and heal­ing, with these medic­i­nal plants. I just be­came ob­sessed with learn­ing about how that could help any­one, but also how it could help me. It was a dif­fer­ent route to go down and you have to make a com­mit­ment, be­cause it changes ev­ery­thing. But through that I started mak­ing herbal reme­dies and I’ve found the thing that works for me. I make salves and tinc­tures, mostly for my­self but I give them away to fam­ily and friends too. It’s heal­ing to make the prod­uct. It’s so great to work with na­ture and nat­u­ral sub­stances.”

Buoyed by her herbal rev­e­la­tion, Meade was soon able to recom­mence her mu­si­cal ca­reer, and it soon be­came ap­par­ent that a strong idea was form­ing in her mind. Over sev­eral years, she be­gan to piece to­gether the songs and mu­si­cal pieces that would even­tu­ally co­a­lesce to be­come Remedium.

“Some of it ex­isted be­fore I was di­ag­nosed,” she ex­plains. “There were lit­tle pieces, phrases and frag­ments. It was all just hang­ing around in the ether, wait­ing to be made into some­thing more. When I put my mind to it, think­ing, ‘Okay, let’s make an al­bum,’ I started to see that it would be about heal­ing and about re­birth. Look­ing back now, the di­ag­no­sis helped the mu­sic but the mu­sic helped with deal­ing with and pro­cess­ing the emo­tions that came from the di­ag­no­sis. So they fed into each other

in this beau­ti­ful way that I think re­ally comes through in the feel of these songs.”

Remedium be­gins with a dis­tinctly pro­gres­sive flour­ish. A deeply at­mo­spheric 10 min­utes full of bliss­ful melodies and el­e­gant melo­drama, Sun­flow­ers At Ch­er­nobyl pro­vides prog fans with an in­stantly ab­sorb­ing en­try point. What may not be im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent is how the song’s theme harks back to Meade’s hor­ti­cul­tural stud­ies, once again feed­ing into the al­bum’s over­rid­ing con­cept of heal­ing and re­birth. Not con­tent with mak­ing great mu­sic, she also seems de­ter­mined to pro­vide us with ed­u­ca­tional ben­e­fits too.

“In one class we learned about phy­tore­me­di­a­tion, which is ba­si­cally us­ing plants to heal the soil,” she notes, her voice alive with en­thu­si­asm. “If you plant mus­tard seed or pep­per­mint or sun­flow­ers, they will leech tox­ins from the soil. That idea to me struck a chord and I couldn’t get it out of my head. What we had learned is that at Ch­er­nobyl they had planted sun­flow­ers. Now that’s not go­ing to heal the whole land – that would take much more than sun­flow­ers – but it was a start!

“They found that these sun­flow­ers were pulling tox­ins and lead and ra­di­a­tion from the soil, and I thought, ‘What a beau­ti­ful and hor­rific thing!’ You then have these ra­dioac­tive sun­flow­ers than need to be dis­posed of prop­erly, but the flow­ers have given the soil life.”

Part of Remedium’s sim­ple ap­peal is the way Meade seems able to in­habit many dif­fer­ent styles of song, all with a sim­i­larly ef­fort­less grace. While prog fans will in­evitably be thrilled by the al­bum’s epics – Sun­flow­ers At Ch­er­nobyl and the daz­zling, ex­ploratory Dragons – it’s the al­bum’s qui­eter and more frag­ile mo­ments that re­ally take the breath away. Most po­tent are the breezy jazz pop of Con­quer The World, the del­i­cate, ukulele-driven Home Movies and, most strik­ing of all, the clos­ing Ir­ra­di­a­tion: a shim­mer­ing, ethe­real bal­lad that brings the al­bum to a rounded and up­lift­ing close.

“I just knew, af­ter this roller-coaster ride of an al­bum, that some­thing sim­ple yet mean­ing­ful should be at the end of it,” Meade states. “It needed some­thing that sums up the al­bum and also that sums up my jour­ney. I’d been toss­ing around ideas and try­ing to write some­thing that would be appropriate, but it just wasn’t work­ing. Then John [Gal­gano, IZZ gui­tarist and Meade’s hus­band] came to me one day and said, ‘How about this?’ and he had the whole thing, the lyrics and the melody.

“He started play­ing it on the pi­ano and I started cry­ing, which I don’t do very eas­ily or very of­ten. I thought, ‘Okay, this is the song! It’s hope­ful. It’s all okay.’ That’s the feel­ing

I got from the song right away, and to this day I still feel like that when I hear it.”

With Remedium al­ready re­ceiv­ing pos­i­tive re­views, Meade is un­der­stand­ably ex­cited by her fu­ture prospects. Hav­ing faced the pos­si­bil­ity that her mu­si­cal ad­ven­tures could end, she clearly has no in­ten­tion of wast­ing a sin­gle sec­ond from this point on. There are new songs in the works, lots of IZZ live shows and other per­for­mance op­por­tu­ni­ties on the hori­zon, but per­haps what the singer is most look­ing for­ward to is the on­go­ing re­sponse to Remedium.

These songs hold such self-ev­i­dent mean­ing for Meade and her col­lab­o­ra­tors – most sig­nif­i­cantly John Gal­gano – that she sim­ply can’t wait to per­form them on­stage and ex­tend this ex­er­cise in heal­ing and cathar­sis a lit­tle bit fur­ther.

“I love per­form­ing live – I ab­so­lutely adore it, so the more the bet­ter,” she grins. “I just want as many peo­ple to hear this al­bum as pos­si­ble be­cause I’m so proud of it. I think peo­ple will un­der­stand it and get some­thing from it. Maybe some­thing will res­onate or change their mind and they’ll be like, ‘I to­tally get that!’ That’s my hope.

“At this point I’m hold­ing steady and

I’m feel­ing good. I’m in what you could call re­mis­sion. I man­age things that arise day by day and it’s on the up­side. Ev­ery­thing’s good, so I can’t wait to get out there.”

There will be few al­bums re­leased in

2018 that ex­plore such in­tensely per­sonal and po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing themes, and yet Remedium is an al­bum that pro­claims its cre­ator’s op­ti­mism and unerring spirit from first to last. But beyond the ex­or­cis­ing of demons and the un­rav­el­ling of emo­tions, Meade’s solo work also ex­udes great warmth and a strong sense of in­clu­siv­ity. Who­ever you are, what­ever you find your­self strug­gling with, there’s a mes­sage of hope con­tained within this mu­sic that may prove to be the best rem­edy of all.

“That’s the thing,” Meade con­cludes.

“You cre­ate things and here I am, cre­at­ing this al­bum and it did come from my own per­sonal jour­ney of heal­ing and my own ex­pe­ri­ences, but you can widen ev­ery song out and it’s so much big­ger.

“That’s the beauty of it. It can hit dif­fer­ent peo­ple in dif­fer­ent ways and in ways I didn’t in­tend, but that’s gor­geous. That’s why you do it. It’s a fan­tas­tic thing, to be able to cre­ate.”

“Be­ing un­able to do what it is that I do, that was painful, but out of that ex­pe­ri­ence came this al­bum, even­tu­ally.”

FLOWER POWER: MEADE’S NEW AL­BUM IS A MAG­I­CAL BLEND OFHOPE AND HOR­TI­CUL­TURE.

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