Artist: Mikhail Laxton
Hometown: Mossman, Queensland, Australia; now based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Latest album: Mikhail Laxton
Personal nicknames (or rejected band names): Mik (Mick)
Which artist has influenced you the most … and how?
I had a lot of great artists that I loved when I was growing up. But when I was 18, I was introduced to an artist that pretty much changed everything.
I had just joined a music school that was made up of mostly international students. One day, I was relaxing on campus when I heard this amazing song. The style of the song is what gripped me at first, then came these beautiful lyrics. I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, so I started searching the campus, and as I got closer a friend of mine was just sitting there strumming her guitar and singing.
At first I was just so impressed with her skill and talent. She then told me she couldn’t take all the credit as the song was a cover. She gave me the name of the artist – Amos Lee. I spent the rest of that day and night watching YouTube videos of this guy, and I was just absolutely blown away by his music, his singing and songwriting. It wasn’t long before I was covering his songs and trying to emulate his voice. Not only did that ignite the fire of songwriting in me, it also sparked more interest in the idea of possibly pursuing music more seriously.
Since then, there have been only a few other artists that have impacted me the way he has (Chris Stapleton, and right there with Amos Lee is Glen Hansard). But Amos Lee’s self-titled album is what truly got things started.
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc. — inform your music?
Mostly it’s film and photography.
I’m a very visual person. When I hear music, I automatically start seeing visuals in my head like scenes from a movie, and my mind also works the opposite way. When I see something like a film or a photograph, my mind starts playing sounds in my head.
A little interesting side note: A few years ago, shortly after I got married, my wife had an interesting observation. She said, “I find it strange that you’re a musician, but you don’t actually listen to a lot of music at all.” At that particular point, we had been driving for a couple of hours without any music. I’d never taken notice of that before, but when I thought about it, I realized that it’s because most of the time there’s music playing in my head, whether it’s a well-known song or something my brain is working on. And usually if that’s not happening, I’m most likely writing songs and lyrics in my head.
What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a musician?
The very first moment was when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I’d started to show a real interest in playing guitar, and I kinda had a knack for it already.
One night, I went spear fishing with two of my uncles. We came back late that night with a great catch. One of my uncles was cleaning the boat, and I was fileting the catch with the other. After a while, the latter uncle looked at me and said, “Mik, you see that guitar over there?” pointing his fileting knife to an acoustic guitar leaning against the wall. “Can you eat it?” I was very confused and said, “No.” He went back to cutting the fish and said, “What about this fish, can you eat it?” Realizing what he was inferring, I said, “Yep!” He then finished by saying, “Always remember, you can’t feed your wife and kids with guitar strings, but you can always feed them with fish!”
Basically, he was trying to squash any ideas I may have had about becoming a musician. I remember staring at that guitar at that moment, and it just made me want to go for it. I never liked being told what to do when I was that age. I’ve always had a bit of a rebellious streak in me, and this incident, thankfully, was no exception, even if it was coming from someone I admired. From that moment on, I knew music was something that I wanted to take seriously.
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
I do have a “pre-game” ritual.
– If I’m hungry, I’ll eat no less than two hours before the show. I usually just perform on an empty stomach. This is literally just so I don’t belch into the microphone, ha ha!
– I like to get in my vocal warmups within an hour of performing. I usually do this either on the way to the venue or right before soundcheck at the venue.
– I then like to stretch and warm up my body. This includes cracking my back with some random and probably incorrect yoga poses. I love the way it makes me feel, and it’s good to manage any nerves I might have.
How often do you hide behind a character in a song or use “you” when it’s actually “me”?
Wow, this is a really good question!
A long time ago, early in my songwriting career, I was always extremely hesitant when writing songs that had some heavier content behind it — around then I had allowed my entire existence to be dictated by my faith and community of like-minded people. When I did start taking my writing seriously, I had tried to write without a filter, and I was heavily criticized by so-called friends and fellow musicians who felt that what I was writing wasn’t “nice” enough or was “too dark.”
And so I began to create a habit of censoring my writing accordingly by hiding meanings behind metaphors, and, yes, sometimes characters. Before too long, I found myself having constant bouts of never-ending writer’s block, and perhaps I developed a bit of an imposter syndrome. I felt like the music that I was creating wasn’t really art because I wasn’t allowing myself to freely create and say it how it is.
It took me a while, but thankfully I broke away from those influences. Art and music mean so much to me, and all I’ve ever wanted to do with my art is be honest, no matter how beautiful or ugly it can get. Our stories are worth telling in all their glory.
So, to finally answer your question, I do not hide behind characters. If the song is based on my own experience, you’ll know. But I also don’t mind telling the stories of others from a first-person point of view. I just use the song as a way to walk a mile in their shoes, I let those stories affect me emotionally, and I do my best to put that to paper as accurately as I can.
Photo Credit: Jen Squires