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.
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.