Mike Paxton is from Sydney, Australia, and has been composing and recording music since his teens. As well as being an excellent singer, he is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. Mike has a talent for producing organic sounding songs that are full of depth and meaning. He is currently up for nomination at the Australian Independent Music Awards, proving that his music is being noticed by the right people. With a talent such as Mike’s he is destined for longevity in the industry and just needs that big break. Mike tells Soft Concrete all about his musical beginnings, talks us through the ideas behind his songs and lets us know who his muses are and who he would love to work with.
SP: So Mike, you’re a multi-instrumentalist, tell us what instruments you play, your favourite and how you learnt?
MP: I play guitar, piano, bass and drums. Basically any stringed instrument I can have a good dig at. I don’t mind dabbling in some percussion and hand claps as well, but my favourite would have to be piano. I always begin a new song with piano and vocals and go from there. I was self-taught on all instruments – I practiced guitar after school every day for years.
SP: I’ve read that you used to record yourself singing when you were younger – can you remember the first recording you made of yourself?
MP: One time I remember, I was around eight years old and ‘Santa’ had given me a tape recorder. After I got that, I would sit in my room hitting a lollipop jar with two pencils like a drum and sing nonsensical lyrics as if I was the next John Lennon. I would listen back and critically analyse my crazy songs, in a way only an eight year old can. I still have those tapes somewhere.
SP: Can you give us a brief overview of your musical career to date? How did you start? Any stumbling blocks? How did you overcome them?
MP: I began music very early on, recording myself with a Sony mini-disc on a Technics keyboard which allowed me a four bar loop with five instrument tracks.
I then started a band with some friends from school, we would meet up every week and learn a cover of our favourite track at the time. Later, I thought I had what it took to write original songs, so I started writing and writing and writing, I haven’t stopped since. In terms of stumbling blocks, I never got a lot of support when I was younger, music was never seen as a valid career choice. Did I listen? No. My main band broke up after five years and that was a big set back. I was the only one who really wanted to keep pursuing music. To overcome these obstacles, I really took the time to think about my options. Music seemed like the only one that made me feel truly happy. Music has helped me deal with a lot of different emotions. Being a songwriter can really be tough sometimes, as you always wear your heart on your sleeve. I now have the environment to express my feelings freely without being judged. I also went back to Uni and studied music, which was a turning point for sure. Recently I’ve started to see the hard work pay off as I was chosen by the sound house Smith & Western to sing the theme song for Channel Ten’s drama ‘Wonderland’.
SP: Talk us through your song “Beginning”.
MP: That song has been with me for a long time and it has taken many shapes and forms. It was the first track I recorded on my own once venturing out solo. The lyrics were actually my mission statement for a music collective I was dreaming of creating… never happened (laughs). The music itself was made up of two different songs which on their own felt lonely and inadequate. So I put them together and it just felt very real and complete. It’s about being comfortable in the world around you, not letting little moments in time get the better of you, the bigger picture was in mind when I wrote this. By the bigger picture I mean the person you have become, or the person you want to be in your eyes. At the end of the track you can hear me singing ‘enough, had enough’, this was me letting out frustration about dealing with that issue head on.
SP: Which of your muses do you most aspire to be like?
MP: Jeff Buckley has got to be my number one, he had the voice everyone wanted, especially me, an engaging personality and was an incredible storyteller and songwriter. I believe every note he sang was from the heart.
SP: Talk us through the concept behind the video for “Foreign Land”. Did you enjoy the whole video making experience? Did you get involved with post-production, too?
MP: “Foreign Land” was my first video clip, it was directed by Jason Thomas who has directed three of my clips now. That video was our first time working together. I think we are both very happy with the outcome. My wife had gotten me into arty films by that stage and that inspired me to go all ‘film noir’, black and white. The experience was so much fun, I had always wanted to be in a music clip. I really like the California colours, which appear once I stumble upon my favourite tree. The hardest part was singing the track 200% faster, so that we could play me back in slow motion and in time. This was a new experience for me. In terms of post-production, I had a few ideas that I added but it was mainly Jason pulling the strings.
SP: What song are you most proud of and why?
MP: Of the tracks I have released, my favourite track would be “Beginning”. I really enjoyed writing and recording the track in my home studio. I spent hours and hours on the guitar work, so much so that I almost quit on the song because it was so challenging. I especially like how the song evolves very organically and doesn’t follow the common ‘pop’ structure that feels all so familiar. No offence pop you’re still cool.
SP: How is social media working for you and your music?
MP: Social media is amazing. To be honest, I was one of the haters at first when it came to Facebook and Twitter. But now I’m all for it, I wouldn’t be having this interview if it wasn’t for social networks. Also, I was very lucky to be discovered through my Triple J Unearthed page by Smith & Western who eventually had me sing on a few tracks of theirs.
SP: What fellow Australian artists do you follow/listen to?
MP: I’m really loving Lorde right now although she’s technically from New Zealand, but Australia always seems to steal acts away. Andy Bull is another that I’m really interested in especially since he has just made waves so I am keen to see what he does next.
SP: Any producers you’d like to work with?
MP: I would love to work with Rick Rubin. I would also love to sit with Nigel Godrich who works with Radiohead and just talk about anything and everything. The first time I heard ‘Kid A’ I was blown away. In a perfect world I would love to be back in Abbey Road studios in the mid to late 1960’s, sitting with George Martin and Geoff Emerick while the Beatles do their thing.
SP: What drives you?
MP: I have a passion for expression and get inspired when I see someone stand up for something they believe in or someone who strives to be the best. I always loved Michael Jordan, I remember him saying once, ‘I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed’. I’m creative, I live to make something new. Everyday I’m writing down lyrics, thinking of melody lines or coming up with chords or fragments of a song. I never stop.
SP: Describe your music to us. What is Mike Paxton’s sound?
MP: I like to think of it as an organic meld, I try to blend acoustic instruments (guitars, mandolins, cello) with my computer’s ‘never-ending possibilities’ instruments. I always write with the intention to connect to people on a very personal level, whether it’s about looking at yourself or the people and events around you. It’s real music with heart and soul.
SP: What would you like 2014 to bring for you?
MP: I would love it if I could collaborate with local and international artists/producers. It’s always rewarding working with someone else in your field. I would like to get some radio play and begin performing in Australia and possibly overseas at festivals and sideshows. I want to get more music and video clips out there to anyone who wants to listen.
Watch Mike’s video for “Foreign Land” below:
Follow Mike and his music on the following links:-