Letters to Snailhouse- An Interview

Interview by Andrew Sisk with illustration by Kristian Bauthus

Mike Feuerstack’s project Snailhouse released its first album in 1994 and is now celebrating it’s 8th release, Sentimental Gentleman. Feuerstack has been a part of such notable bands as the Wooden Stars and Belle Orchestre while collaborating with numerous other artists like Julie Doiron, Land of Talk, and many more over his musical career. Known for his sense of humour and for enjoying life, his blog (snailhousemusic.com) is worth perusing for some laughs and insight into life as a touring musician.

SS: There is a different feel to your new album, Sentimental Gentleman, compared to previous Snailhouse records, what did you do differently this time?

MF: Well the biggest difference would have to be the musicians (Mike Belyea, Nick Cobham, Kyle Cunjak). They are the band that played many of the shows for the last record together with me. Our rehearsals and shows went so smoothly that I wanted them to be the band on the record – in fact, I wanted to make it as though we were a band – involving them in the arrangement and producing their own performances and sounds.

The other difference is that we tried to work as quickly and easily as possible. I wanted it to be fun, which for some reason is a rare experience in the recording studio. We achieved our goal!

SS: You’ve been touring your new record in Europe and Canada since your new album was released. What have been the highlights of performing this new album live? Where are you touring next?

MF: Honestly, I don’t want to sound precious, but every show with the band has been a highlight. I love playing solo – I’ve done it for years, and I’ll do it for many more years, but being on tour with these amazing musicians and great people has been nothing but fun. Next I will be doing solo shows in Western Canada, then band shows in Eastern Canada in October, and then touring as a duo with drummer Mike Belyea in Europe in November.

SS: I have heard you say that creating music has become a spiritual thing for you. What made you come to that realization? Was the making of your new album part of that realization?

MF: Where did you hear me say that? It’s true that I feel that way, but it’s also true that it doesn’t make such a big difference from the outside. It hasn’t changed the content. It’s just that after watching some friends and acquaintances go through changes of a religious sort, I realized that this was fulfilling that same role for me. Not such a big deal, and not such a new idea, but kind of a revelation (for lack of a better word!) for me.

SS: You have worked with Jeremy Gara (Arcade Fire) on several of your albums now, how does that collaboration affect the end result?

MF: Jeremy is just the most musical and generous person I know, and that’s the Snailhouse way. Ha. He makes Snailhouse way better, regardless of his role – whether he’s engineering, mixing, singing, playing drums, guitar, keyboards or whatever. He’s got a lifetime membership for whenever he wants to be involved.

SS: You were a songwriter in the Wooden Stars for most of your music career, now that they aren’t active how has that affected Snailhouse records?

MF: I guess I have a bit more of a craving to reach extremes musically, in terms of dynamics, style and theatricality. It only manifests itself ever so slightly in Snailhouse, but I can’t say it hasn’t had an effect that I haven’t had that other outlet in the past couple of years. I do play in lots of bands and I find my self in varied musical environments, but the gap that the WS left has been felt for sure.

SS: What are you currently working on?

MF: Currently, I am stockpiling songs. I’m not really sure what for. I am thinking of home recording an acoustic record, and I also have plans for a more collaborative record with another batch of songs altogether. I’m not sure yet what shape that will take. I’ve also been working a little bit as a producer. I just finished a record with Paper Beat Scissors, which turned out beautifully. It’s something Tim can be proud of, and I am proud for helping it to happen. Now I am beginning a record helping out Sami Basbous, a Montreal songwriter, singer, painter, playwright and filmmaker.

SS: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. wrote “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” You’ve been an artist respected by your peers for over 17 years, what are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned along the way?

MF: I agree! Ha. But I suppose there isn’t much that Vonnegut said that I find hard to agree with. Most valuable lesson? Making it work takes a little longer, but making it great takes forever.