After 16 years in the business, Mike Feuerstack is no newcomer to the Canadian indie scene. However, Feuerstack, better known under the moniker Snailhouse, is still playing in small towns and in modestly-sized venues.
While an artist’s inspiration and goals may change with time and experience, Feuerstack assured that he’s still the same person he has always been. “I try not to worry too much about who the audience is in advance,” he said. “ Obviously you want to reach as many people as possible, but when I’m making music, my policy hasn’t changed. I’m just trying to make it as good as possible.”
Feuerstack is one of those under-rated musicians who has managed to slip under the mainstream radar in spite of the substantial amount of material he has released, either individually or collaboratively. He has nonetheless maintained a faithful following and has been lucky to work with some successful Canadian artists who double as his longtime friends.
Since the mid-’90s, Feuerstack has been the guitarist for the Ottawa-based, Juno award-winning band The Wooden Stars. At the same time, he has been making music as Snailhouse. His solo work, for which he has released six records, has featured collaborations with other notable Canadian artists like Julie Doiron, who contributed vocals on the 2001 album The Opposite Is Also True. Also, Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara not only played drums on the same album, but also produced his last album, Lies On The Prize. The latter was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2008.
Lies On The Prize was the only Snailhouse album to ever gain any critical recognition.
With regards to the music that he has produced over the years, Feuerstack believes that it’s just gotten better. “It’s aged, like a fine wine,” he laughed. From his first release in 1994, Fine, until Lies On The Prize, Feuerstack admitted that his style of music has developed. “It’s become at once more subtle, and also more approachable or easier for people to take in.”
The musician noted that it has become increasingly difficult to get noticed in today’s market. “There’s a lot more music now that is available for people, and a lot more ways to make music available for people,” he said. “So I think it’s pretty saturated. Listeners are not as eager to check things out, but at the same time there’s kind of a nice side of that where the stuff that you put out has to be pretty good in order to get attention.”
This isn’t something that seems to worry Feuerstack, however. In fact, he seems content with the medium level of fame that he has acquired. With a new record entitled Sentimental Gentlemen coming out in May and a regular spot on the bill at various small-scale Canadian music festivals, such as Sackville’s Sappyfest, Feuerstack is arguably a staple in the wider Canadian indie collective.
Like many artists who have “been around the block,” so to speak, Feuerstack has self-released two albums under The Snailhouse Institute for the Recording Arts. The label, he assured, was more of a means to an end than a business venture, since the project dissolved after the release of A New Tradition EP and The Opposite Is Also True. “I wanted those two records to come out and I didn’t have any collaborators who were offering what I needed to put them out, so I just put them out myself,” he explained. However, “I always wanted to have collaborators and partners to help me bring [my music] to the people. I expend enough energy making records and touring. I don’t necessarily want to be dealing with distributors and all that stuff.”
Interestingly, the musician requires that he be able to exercise a high level of autonomy as much as he feels a strong need for co-operation, collaboration and community. This is why Snailhouse music has been an important musical outlet on top of his ongoing work with The Wooden Stars. The former allows him to experience both. “The Wooden Stars is a collaborative effort,” he said. “It’s four people who have more or less equal say in the direction things go.” he said.
As Snailhouse, “even though I have collaborators, things have happened under my direction [and] my artistic vision. The collaborators that I work with are there to help me to make the record that I want to make.” In Feuerstack’s opinion, this difference causes Snailhouse music to come out sounding completely different than the music he makes with The Wooden Stars.
Being Montreal-based, the singer can understand why the city seems to breed artists. “It’s friendly to artists and it’s a place that you can get by fairly cheaply but still be in a big, international city. I think that that attracts artists of all kinds.” However, he did not choose to live there to be part of the scene. “I sort of ended up there for reasons more personal than professional,” he admitted. “Even though I have lots of musical friends there, I don’t necessarily feel like it’s the musical community that is the reason I’m there. […] I really love the city and I plan on staying.”
Snailhouse will play with The Luyas at La Sala Rossa on Feb. 24.