Joseph Neale learned about overcoming obstacles at a young age. When he was barely out of his teens, his promising musical career – and his life – was threatened by lung cancer. He eventually beat the disease and was able to continue pursuing his dreams as a singer. Sadly, it wasn’t the first time his family had been impacted by the disease – Neale’s cousin was Haydain Neale, the former singer of the award-winning Canadian soul band jacksoul, who died after his own struggle with the disease in 2009. Joseph shared his story in a previous issue of The Edge, and this is an excerpt from that interview.
How did you get started in music? Who were your influences?
Music is one of the core values in my family. Before I was born, music was used to help us enjoy the good times and get through the bad ones. It was only natural that it would end up being one of the biggest influences in my life. Me and my immediate family would rehearse together, jam together and discuss music on a regular basis. I was taught guitar and piano but always stuck with vocals, which is my main focus today. My first lessons came from my father, who is a talented multi-instrumentalist. Dad played piano, guitar, bass guitar, saxophone, trumpet organ, and many other instruments. He has a strong musical sense when it comes to live performances, mixing, recording, managing, and it shows in his ability to play and sing in amazing ways. My father’s nephew, Haydain Neale, the lead singer of jacksoul, was my next biggest influence. He led the Canadian band to six albums and three Juno Awards and remained influential even after his death from lung cancer. Haydain’s life and journey inspired my own comeback after battling and beating lung cancer.
What were some of the difficulties you experienced when starting a band?
It was tough to acquire the right marketing and distribution without the numbers that major labels want to see. Eventually, we decided to create our own production company and label called GO7 Music Inc. We wanted our label to focus on talent and drive when signing an act, rather than just looking at sales numbers. The first act we signed was our own band, NEALE.
What was your day job before, and when did you make the transition to becoming a full-time musician?
We became more serious about music in high school. At the time, I’d held jobs at Wonderland, call centres, customer service in Best Buy. I also did a little bit of custodial work at an interior design company, Teknion. After high school, I was diagnosed with lung cancer, but managed to beat it after a difficult battle. During my time of diagnosis and recovery, I studied life insurance and today I am fully licensed in that field. I provide insurance advice at Passport Financial, while still being a full-time musician; the music never ends.
If it’s not too personal, tell me more about your battle with lung cancer and what you took from the experience. Has it influenced your music since then?
At 20, our band was a little different. My cousin Charles Neale (CN3, a rapper & producer), David Neale, and myself were features on CBC’s Cover Me Canada, a cover band show. We were selected with nine other acts out of 10,000 submissions. Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but we built a lot of great relationships and came out with some valuable experience. Shortly after that, we started work on an album for young adults from Chicago. I have some great memories of that time, but during that period, I became sick with a heavy fever, and a persistent dry cough. I was eventually diagnosed with lung cancer. As the condition progressed, I underwent multiple operations, while they tried to determine what the best course of action was. I was told that I’d have to lose my right lung, which meant no more singing. This was devastating news, and I wasn’t sure whether to be angry or afraid. The idea of losing my voice and my career at only 20 years old was too much. When I turned 21, however (on the Day of the Dead, October 31st, 2012), I was given another chance at a new life. Doctors performed a successful surgery that only removed two-thirds of my right lung. This allowed me to keep singing and pursuing my dream. After the operation, my family, including my young daughter, were all in attendance to celebrate and tell me the good news. Two months after that day, I performed for the first time again with my two brothers in a cover of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’.
I was blessed with a second chance to make something of our music, my voice, and my story. Everything changed after that experience. We created our band NEALE to shed a light on my life story and provide a platform to showcase our musical talent. Today, we honour Haydain’s life and many others battling cancer by dedicating our music to raising funds for cancer research.
Tell me more about the Lung Association and your role with them.
The Lung Association assists, educates, and empowers people living with or caring for others with lung disease. They provide programs and services to patients and health-care providers, invest in lung research and campaign for improved policies on lung health.
I volunteer as an ambassador for their national fundraising initiative called Breathing as One. As a lung cancer survivor, I’m in a unique position to speak on behalf of the one in five Canadians who live with chronic lung disease. I do things like media interviews and public appearances for them, as well as being featured in some of their campaign materials.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring musicians?
When you have a dream, there will always be obstacles that stand in your way. They aren’t there to make you give up; they are there to test your convictions and reinforce your belief in them. When the time comes that you are finally living your dream and you look back, you’ll realize how much you’ve invested and how far you’ve come, and you’ll appreciate it that much more.
A. Thompson | Contributing Writer