Malcolm Camsell

Stay at Home and Play at Home Dad: Malcolm Camsell’s Music Journey From the North to South

After growing up in a musical family, Malcolm Camsell is the dad in a musical family of his own. He lives in Calgary where he works part-time for FedEx and spends the rest of his time as a stay-at-home parent caring for his young daughter. He grew up in the north in Hay River and Fort Providence in a family that always had music playing on the stereo. Singing along with country and classic rock cassettes, he fell in love with music at a young age. 

Camsell got his start making music in public school, joining the choir and then band in grade five when his family moved to Saskatoon so his mom could get her education degree. He played the bass clarinet and learned punctuality, music theory, being in tune and how to play with other musicians. When they moved back to Hay River a couple of years later, he played saxophone in the band. What he loved about playing in the band was the sense of community. 

Outside of school, Camsell learned to play guitar from his uncle Tommy who was his mentor. They played Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix together, working from books and putting the music theory he learned in the band to work on his guitar pursuits. His uncle passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm and grief-stricken Camsell practiced for hours a day. These days, he still practices daily and it took him ten years of practice to find the confidence to get on stage. 

“If you're not nervous about it, and you don't care enough, then you don't have that edge of performance. You need just a little bit of fear to just push you into that really heightened performance state,” he recalls, reflecting on the thrill of performing for a live audience. 

"You need just a little bit of fear to just push you into that really heightened performance state."

The talent show circuit was his first stop and he was advised that if he wanted to win he was going to have to play old country. He wanted to play his own music but he followed the advice he received and tied for first. Camsell found a song that he won often with, The Auctioneer, but after several years he realized that talent shows were not a good venue to share his creative endeavours.  

After his talent show pursuits, he moved to Grand Prairie and lived with his cousin. He connected with a group of professional musicians and they made a lot of inspiring music together. “It was really a golden era for me in terms of musical creativity,” he beams. The group bonded and played together for five years before they each started going their separate ways, moving away, getting married, getting new jobs and so on. 

For his next musical venture, he decided to enter a battle of the bands to perform music he created but he didn’t have a band. Through referrals, he pulled together a group and they played his music. While the experience wasn’t collaborative, it did give him a boost of confidence that he was good at writing music and that he also had the leadership qualities to lead a band. 

Illustration by Shaikara David

Outside of live performance, Camsell aspired to record his music and to learn how to use the audio equipment so he could write, perform, produce and record every aspect of his music. He applied for and received an Arts Council grant and was able to record music. He also received funding from the Northwest Territories territorial government to go to recording school. 

At a certain point, Camsell’s family moved to Calgary so his wife could go to university and he transferred within the company he worked with. Sad to be leaving behind the group he was playing with, he focused on supporting his family and didn’t have time to look for a new band. When it came to music, he would play solo and acoustic and has been doing so for a decade. During the beginning of the pandemic, he connected with a group of musicians and found another creative burst. “It just felt like supercharged creative juices were flowing,” he recalls. 

Those creative juices have flowed right into the recording Camsell has always wanted to do. He’s been releasing his own music on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music. “Recording has gotten a lot more individual. You don't need the big studios in terms of releasing music,” he explains. Now he gets to live his rockstar dreams without a label and it’s something that helps him stand out from the crowd.  

His advice for Indigenous students who have to leave their home communities would be to put themselves out there and find people to talk to who share their interests. Reaching out and trying to connect with others and trying again if it doesn’t work the first time is what he would recommend to create a comfort level in a new environment. 

To maintain his mental health, Camsell remembers a quote that impacted him that says, “Only mediocre people are always at their best.” That quote reminds him to allow himself the bad days and to have the difficult feelings so they don’t compound and get worse. He tries to maintain perspective that the things he’s upset about likely aren’t the end of the world and also counts his blessings, remembering everything he has to be thankful for.  He leans into the support of family and friends through social media and otherwise and uses music as his therapy. 

Reflecting on how far he’s come, Camsell says, “I didn't sell a million records. It feels like I'm still growing my audience in terms of getting out there. I don't feel like I've arrived at any place where I can finally look around and be like, ‘Yep, I did it.’” What he has realized, though, is that the joy is in doing what he loves and he loves what he does.  

He grew up in a musical family and now he’s a stay-at-home and play-at-home dad, working for FedEx part-time and dreaming big musical dreams the rest of the time. Writing, recording, performing and exploring, he’s finding harmony in work, family and music. Sharing his talents and making the most of every opportunity, he’s making his own way in the music world and time for the people he loves.

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
    First Nations
  • Province/Territory
    Northwest Territories
  • Date
    April 16, 2024
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
  • Discussion Guide
    create to learn discuss

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