The past two years have affected us all in ways we are only beginning to understand. We’ve had to confront our mortality, often due to the unexpected loss of loved ones. We’ve come face-to-face with the indisputable truth that relationships are fragile, and that expressing pure emotion takes courage. And for some of us, it’s been confirmed that the only real solace lies in the creation of art. The plague is receding, but not yet dead. It’s turned many of us hard and cold, suspicious and wary. It is now the task of artists to help us get back in touch with who we once were.
As 2020 got underway, Mikhail Laxton was set to open the next chapter of his life. Having moved from Australia to Ottawa upon marrying the love of his life, he had landed a record deal and made his debut EP, Real, a collection of Soul-folk gems reflecting that whirlwind transition period. But what should have been the wider world’s introduction to Mikhail’s immense talent—already established in his homeland through appearances on Australia’s version of The Voice—was lost in the cacophony of pandemic confusion.
Yes, it had seemed too easy, and cruelly so. As one obstacle followed another, Mikhail coped the only way he could, by wiping the slate clean and re-emerging with a new crop of songs drawn from the core of his being. His new album is simply entitled Mikhail Laxton, because it is who he is.
“My mind wasn’t even on the pandemic when it started because I was in Australia with my Mom, who was battling stage four cancer,” Mikhail explains. “My first single, ‘Hold On,’ came out 10 days before she died in July 2020, and it seemed like everything was completely out of my control. Things were supposed to be just beginning at that point, but honestly it felt like it was already over.”
Mikhail, his wife and young child were only able to stay in Australia for two weeks before being forced to scramble to catch a flight back to Canada. Upon landing in Ottawa, they faced a further two weeks of mandatory quarantine, a time Mikhail says he barely remembers due to complete exhaustion. Unable to play live, he took on manual labour jobs to keep himself busy until finally one day he picked up his guitar and wrote his first song in 18 months.
It was in that moment that he realized all the changes he had been through had naturally affected his songwriting process as well. “I didn’t intend to write a new album, I just started writing,” he says. “Even just prior to the pandemic, I think I was caught up in this idea of what the industry wanted from me, and the work wasn’t feeling as enjoyable anymore. I had to face up to the fact that I wasn’t being true to who I am—with a big part of that being my identity as an Aboriginal man. Once I reconnected with that, the songs started pouring out of me, containing the entire spectrum of emotions. Looking at it all now, I’m actually a little amazed at what I was able to do.”
In November 2021, Mikhail was ready to record. He once again enlisted the services of producer Aaron Goldstein (Lee Harvey Osmond, Daniel Romano), and after a week of pre-production with some of Toronto’s top shelf session players, they were able to capture the most cathartic performances Mikhail has committed to tape to date. He says, “The night before the first actual recording session, I was sitting in my manager’s kitchen and he asked how I was feeling. It hit me then that I’d never felt more prepared for anything in my life.”
Indeed, the contrast between his first EP and Mikhail Laxton is striking. On “Something That Was Gone” he takes stock of the past two years in meditative fashion, almost as if channelling Otis Redding’s “Dock Of The Bay.” “Maybe It’s A Good Thing” continues in that vein, suggesting that change always brings hope, regardless of the circumstances. Meanwhile, other tracks take Mikhail’s sound in new directions, such as the deep country-Soul of “Streams,” the sultry, vintage R&B of “Slow Motion,” and the driving rock of “Leaving You With Less.” Not only does Mikhail Laxton fulfill the promise of his debut, it firmly establishes him as one of the most vital new voices within the Canadian music scene. No matter what genre labels are placed upon him, there can be no disputing that Mikhail Laxton has his own timeless sound, the product of a unique life experience.
“Someone once told me that your body regenerates itself completely every seven years,” he says. “So, you are literally not the same person you were seven years ago. All that matters is this moment. Yes, those things you did then happened, but only once and now they don’t exist anymore. It’s a hard thing to accept, but it’s beautiful if you can. I’ve got two kids now, and as difficult as the past two years have been, I truly love my life, and I hope that’s reflected in these new songs.”