It’s easy to lump Montreal’s Michael Feuerstack into the confessional singer-songwriter category. On the surface, he fits the bill; he’s a guy who travels the world playing guitar songs under his own name. Sometimes it’s with a rotating cast of musicians and other times — like in June when he tours Europe — it’s just Feuerstack and his music. Instead of confessions, Feuerstack is the one asking the questions leaving it open for the listener to make the confession. His music is chill and at times the lyrics weigh heavy.
On Feuerstack’s fourth full-length album, Natural Weather, the artist offers the chance for the listener to become like an adventurer on a scavenger hunt. Observations and clues are left, but the questions remain open-ended.
“Even when there’s a narrative in one of my songs, it’s usually not that linear. It’s not mapped out very clearly,” says Feuerstack.
“I’ll provide elements of narratives and then people can kind of piece it together for themselves.”
Take “Heaven Bells” for example. The fifth track of the album describes different heavenly sounds but keeps coming back to the questions “How do you get the light to bend?” and “How do you mark the time?”.
The pensive approach continues on the next song, “Bird of Prey” where questions are asked and requests made in the same verse. Third track, “Jerome & I”, alternates between verses of questions and a chorus with three lines that start with the phrase “I know.”
“It’s not about finding answers or laying anything out, it’s about playing with the material that we have. Whether that’s musical ideas or poetic ideas, or questions about big topics or questions about little topics. It’s a lot more interesting to just mull things over than it is to preach at people.”
Music as a balm
Naturally, the new album has a gentle pace with room to meditate and let the words marinate. To borrow from the title of his 2016 EP, Adult Lullabies, Feuerstack has a way of producing comfort through song.
“As far as (the album) being relaxing, to me that’s just a byproduct of what I want out of it. I find carry a lot of anxiety day to day, playing music is something of a balm for that. It’s one of the things I enjoy playing with some music. But I still like to throw some jagged edges in there too once in a while.”
A veteran of the Canadian indie scene, Feuerstack has recorded music for over close to 25 years as Michael Feuerstack and under his retired moniker Snailhouse. No stranger to the recording studio, the Montreal artist recorded Natural Weather at his own home with drums recorded in the basement of Jeremy Gara (Arcade Fire’s drummer). He says recording at home allows him to work at his own pace and it’s affordable.
“When I’m at home and I’m performing only for the recording, it captures a different kind of spirit (than the studio).”
Along with drums from Gara (who also helped record and mix), the album features backing vocals from Camille Delean, Michelle Tompkins and Mike O’Brien. Gara’s Arcade Fire bandmate Sarah Neufeld plays.
“Nobody who’s on there isn’t a dear friend already. It was kind of a no-brainer,” says Feuerstack of the guests on the record.
“It’s people who I’d be just as likely to have over for a drink.”
Recording at home also led to a slight change in the song-writing process, although Feuerstack didn’t stray too far from his normal flow, with songs coming together as they were captured more than in the past.
“Due to the fact it was made largely at home, it sort of allowed me to be a little looser with arrangements. I’d start recording a song before it was written for example. I think that’s unique to this record. In the past, at least for the most part, songs would be more or less mapped out before I even started to commit them to a recording.”
Touring after a break
In June, Feuerstack on a nine-show solo tour of Europe (with Canadian dates to be announced) and will help produce and record an album by The Fire Harvest, a band from Utrecht, Netherlands. It’ll be his first string of shows in months after he paused to collect his thoughts after finishing Natural Weather.
“The main thing I’m looking forward to is just playing my songs. It’s kind of been a while.”
Press photo by Nick Wilkinson