MIKHAIL LAXTON ON MIKHAIL LAXTON
The singer-songwriter returns to his roots after finding a new home in Canadian music
smART MAGAZINE | OTTAWA | HOMEGROWN
JUN 27, 2023 | ISSUE 12
You’d need a compelling reason to leave paradise on your own accord. In creating distance from his upbringing in a sparsely populated sugarcane town in northeast Australia, country and soul troubadour Mikhail Laxton’s decision has seemingly been validated. No one’s ever mistaken the Ottawa area for a tropical utopia, but that’s where Laxton, flanked by his wife and young son, has anchored his musical career for the past seven years.
That push and pull between where Laxton’s been, and the life he’s built, lies at the heart of his self-titled debut album. Even as he moves forward — as an artist, husband, and father — he can’t help but stare back at the rear-view.
On “Mossman,” Laxton reminisces about ocean breezes, sugarcane fields and sunsets with his childhood pals. It’s “the kind of place you never want to leave; Lord knows she’s been calling me,” he sings over electric country rock chords. “I’m talking ‘bout paradise. … That’s where I want to be.” Yes, there are feel-good reveries about beachside bonfires and summer love─the sort of tunes that sound best while cruising up a one-lane highway for a long weekend at the lake.
But Laxton also never shies away from the painful and confusing moments of his young adulthood. He revisits his relationship with his father, a man whose addiction subsumed his own musical talents — and, ultimately, his life — in “Dying to Let You Go” and “Four String Cowboy.” Bad breakups and personal betrayals take centre-stage on other tracks, demonstrating that even Australian cowboys get the blues.
At a new stage of his life and career, and thousands of miles from the world he left behind, Laxton possesses the degree of removal necessary to process and appreciate his highs and lows. There’s a nostalgia for all of it.
www.mikhaillaxton.com | @mikhail.laxton
Mikhail Laxton Cover Art
sM | How do the songs on your self-titled album reflect the influences of your sound?
ML ─ The album is very influenced by country music, but it's equally soul, with a bit of R & B and blues in there. I'm a country boy through and through, from the bush in far north Queensland in Australia. As a bit of background, my grandfather is a German man that came to Australia back in the early fifties and learned how to farm from reading books, and he raised his kids and his grandkids that way. I was fortunate that I got to grow up on the farm and learn all about it. He married an Indigenous woman, so I'm an Indigenous Australian as well. I remember somebody once asked me why someone like me was doing country music, I looked at him and said: I'm probably the most country person you’ll ever meet. I grew up with mud, trucks, hunting and fishing. So yeah this album is about me getting back to my roots.
sM | The pandemic changed people in so many ways - both as a collective and individually - how did that period redirect the kind of connections you want to make in the music you make?
ML ─ During the pandemic I think all of us had to face some crap that was within us that we hadn't had the time to deal with. My writing and singing has always been a therapy for me and it felt like the world had basically ended at that point. I picked up my guitar one day and I wrote this song called “Naked”, it was the first song where I didn't filter anything out. I kept writing and writing and writing after that. There was music inside of me that had just been sitting there, I hadn't allowed myself to let it come out.
sM | “Dying to Let You Go” is both a memory and a conversation with your late father, told from his perspective. He was also a musician, what do you remember about the last time you played together?
ML ─ The last time I saw him play was in my apartment when I was about 17 or 18 years old, he just popped up at my house out of the blue. I was making spaghetti and he just sat there and I was like, can you play this song, can you play that song? Can you play Gary Moore? Can you play this? He was a bass player but he was an amazing guitarist as well, really blew my mind. Two weeks after that, he was in the hospital and I didn't see him conscious ever again.
sM | “Mossman” is a song about your hometown in Australia; how does this sense of belonging define your identity?
ML ─ My tribe is the Kuku Yalanji people of far North Queensland, specifically from the town of Mossman. My tribe comes from the Daintree Rainforest, which is the oldest living rainforest in the world. It’s a really small town, everyone's all up in your business 24/7, but, at the end of the day, people will help you when shit goes down. I've been in Canada for seven years and this song was a way for me to reconnect with home. As much as I love my hometown, I'm probably not going to ever live there again but I can go back there in my mind. I'm very proud of where I came from, it's such a different world with the big Indigenous community there. You can kind of do anything there as long as you're not hurting anybody. It was a good place to grow up if you're a wild little Black fellow like me.
CANADIAN MUSIC INDUSTRY
sM | What is it about the Canadian music scene that inspired you to make the long journey over?
ML ─ It sounds weird but when I was 18 I knew that I was going to be living in Canada someday. I didn’t even try to make it happen, I just eventually ended up here, I was doing quite well in Australia, booking some good festival gigs. I ended up on The Voice in Australia, this was actually what drew that line in the sand for me. I got in for two or three episodes before I got the boot. It aired in July of 2015, I was in Canada by February 2016. But one of the other bigger reasons why I left Australia is that the Australian music industry is so unkind to the singer-songwriter, they don’t care about original music. I had festivals hitting me up, willing to pay thousands and thousands of dollars to have me come play. And they would say in a contract: “could you make the set 60% covers and 40% original?” The first couple of times I played at open mics here in Canada, it was the complete opposite. The audience was like, “Oh man, those covers you did were really cool, but man, your original stuff, that's fantastic.”