‘I was born to be on the stage’
Having mastered pain and addiction, Laura Smith is back
Sixteen years ago, Laura Smith was a rising star. Her beautiful, smoky alto voice was the talk of the Canadian music scene and she was tabbed a sure thing on the heels of a beautiful version of My Bonny and her first two albums.
But she stumbled, literally. And fell. The accident, which happened in 2002, was followed a few years later by another fall in 2006 and then another that same year and years of crippling pain.
“I fell in a hole, I slipped in a pool of grease. I twisted my spine, lacerated my spleen and (suffered) whiplash. All kinds of things that just are niggly. I was on heavy narcotics for quite a while.”
A friend in Ireland calls her a “hazard diviner.” She can laugh today, but the pain led to painkillers — a potent mix of OxyContin and morphine — and the drugs led to addiction and struggle throughout much of the first decade of the new millennium.
She did some musical theatre in Prince Edward Island and she did perform occasionally, including a tour with Cindy Church and Susan Crowe in the trio Brava, but eventually Smith had to set the music aside while she tried to cope with her pain and her demon. Thinking she would never be able to perform again, she tried academia and studied music therapy at Acadia University, but she says she was unable to finish be- cause the pain was too intense.
The thread of hope never fully unravelled for Laura Smith, however, and by the end of the decade, she was off the opiates and coping with the pain in a non-narcotic way. And that’s when the music re-entered her life.
The voice over the phone is a little world weary, but resonant and hinting at its power. “I love the stage, I was born to be on the stage,” she said in an interview. She has just released a new album under the Borealis label called Everything Is Moving.
“It’s one of those things that even when I open it and I have it in front of me and when I listen to it, I really can’t believe that it’s come to pass. It’s still sinking in in a way.”
The album is a collection of traditional and original songs built on music that people had sent her over the years. She also wanted to record some of the songs that people had not heard before.
The genesis of the album was a brace of songs sent to her and to her eventual producer Paul Mills by a colleague named Roddy Campbell. Mills finally surprised her when he raised the idea of a recording in Oc- tober 2011. Work started on the disc last August and finished in January.
As she prepared for recording, Smith says, “the more I thought about it, I thought I could put whatever I want on an album as long as I feel in my own heart that I’ve picked great songs and done the best I could with them.”
It has to move her, she says, and it has to connect to what she calls her “invisible ancestors.”
That last statement has additional poignancy for Smith. She was adopted as an infant and was not aware of that until she became an adult.
She found her natural family after she made her last album in 1997. She made the call in 1998 that many adoptees make. She was born in London, Ont., and was left in the hospital by her mother. She had six brothers and sisters. What she found when she started to look was that her elder sister had been looking for her. They connected via letters and finally met. Smith says she is not close to her adoptive family, so finding her natural family has given her an anchor.
Things are moving forward. This month, she will portray the Nova Scotian music historian Helen Creighton in musical concert called If I were A Blackbird. Creighton is credited with finding many folk songs, including the famous Farewell to Nova Scotia.
When she thinks about rising again, Smith is grateful.
“It’s grace in action, really,” she says. “I’m being given this incredible opportunity to be what I was meant to be. I tried to ignore the pain of not doing it again because I didn’t feel I had much choice.”
But now she is singing again, “thanks to some lovely people in my life who knew better than I that I could do it.”