Songwriting didn’t always come easy for Michael Archibald.
“I didn’t have the patience and probably didn’t have the confidence,” the 35-year-old said. “I’d think, ‘That’s not good enough’ and wouldn’t play it again.”
After overcoming self-esteem issues tied to alcohol abuse, Change Our Ways is the debut album for the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation member, which he independently produced while living in Timmins.
Michael’s music career began when he was 12 and his stepmother showed him some chords on her acoustic guitar.
“I learned from there and I started reading guitar magazines,” he said.
The guitar riff in Dire Straits’ 1985 single, Money For Nothing, inspired him.
“I used to always play air guitar to that,” he said. “Then I got into Guns ‘N Roses and Jimi Hendrix, and my sisters would listen to a lot of 70s music like Led Zeppelin.”
At 14, Michael bought his first guitar – B.C. Rich Ironbird – after saving up from a summer job. He then joined his cousins Conrad and Stewart Sutherland in jam sessions in the Sutherlands’ home. Looking back, Michael has an appreciation for their mother.
“She always put up with us, always jamming in her house,” he said. “We probably wouldn’t be musicians if it wasn’t for her.”
At 16, Archibald and the Sutherland brothers played their first live gig at the Jammin’ On The Bay music festival in Moosonee.
“We were doing a Metallica cover, I think, and Conrad was singing. Halfway through, he said into the mic, ‘F--- this’ and stopped singing,” Archibald recalled with a laugh. “So I started singing. And I’ve been singing ever since.”
Stewart recalled Conrad and Michael would try recording music in a homemade studio using a tape recorder.
“It looked like a disaster with wires all over the place,” Stewart said.
The trio continued to play together for a number of years. Though they went through several band names, most people referred to them as “the New Post guys,” reflecting the former name of their community.
In 2000, one of the Sutherland brothers wanted to rename the band “just to change the name,” Michael said. Their community, New Post, changed its name to Taykwa Tagamou, Cree for “water on top of a hill” in reference to a lake on high ground near the community. So the trio named their band Highwaters.
But they would not be a steady musical group for a number of reasons.
“We all kind of moved on and moved or had kids,” Stewart said.
For Archibald, one life-changing event affected him the most in a negative way.
“I was 18 and had my first child and I knew I had to be responsible,” he said. “Instead I started to drink heavily because it scared me. Booze took over and I was out of control.”
It wasn’t uncommon to see Michael at the local club or bar or at house parties in Timmins or Cochrane.
One of his low points was waking up one morning in someone’s home in Timmins and realizing it was Christmas and he didn’t know where he was.
“I was thinking ‘Where am I? How come I’m not at home with my kids?’”
A turning point came to him when he was drinking in a bar by himself.
“I looked around and I saw other people drinking and laughing and having a good time, and I thought ‘How come I can’t do this when I’m sober?’”
Then he began to think about the ones he loved.
“I felt guilty for not being a father to my children. I was always getting a babysitter on the weekends so I could go party. I thought it was normal, especially growing up when my parents did the same to me.”
It was after this realization that Michael sought treatment. He went to detox and attended a treatment centre near Six Nations in southern Ontario for four weeks. It was there that he had an educational experience.
“You learn about yourself,” he said. “What makes you tick, and you remember past traumas.”
It’s after his rehabilitation that Michael began to write music during his time off work in construction.
For this record, his newfound confidence allowed him to channel his creative energy and write songs about his past experiences.
The first song he wrote, Change Our Ways, is about “the pain and alcohol in our communities.” Another song, Slide, is “about my time in treatment. Although the words aren’t specific, that’s what I was thinking (when I wrote it).”
The songs were recorded with the assistance of George Witham, who, along with mixing and playing bass and drums, also acted as a producer.
“I’d come to him with the ideas, lyrics and arrangement, and he would say ‘work on the lyrics’ or ‘try singing the melody a little different,’” Archibald said.
While the album was recorded without the assistance of his old jamming buddies, they were quick to congratulate him on his accomplishment.
“I feel really proud of Mike for recording his album,” Stewart said. “That was always one of his life goals – to record an album – and he did it. That’s awesome.”
Archibald is working independently to promote his album. He has a Facebook page for his music and has submitted his album for the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards. Recently, his single, Together We Stand, entered the National Aboriginal Music Countdown Top 40.
Given the album’s theme, Archibald wants his next album to have a different feel.
“Now that they’re out, I don’t want to write songs like that again,” he said. “The next one will be more upbeat.”
Archibald said he doesn’t like to preach to people about how people should live their lives. “I’d rather let people live their own life,” he said. “I’m sure they already have people telling them how to live their life.”
But he does offer some advice.
“There’s a lot of low points you can come to in your life, but drugs and alcohol aren’t the answer. There’s a lot of help out there.”
Archibald has not smoked, consumed alcohol or done drugs for more than four years.
“Life is good being sober,” he said. “I’m enjoying life right now.”
Anyone looking to hear his music can find it on his Facebook fan page or by going to his Myspace at myspace.com/Mikearchibald.
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