Singer and songwriter, gentleman and liar, gadfly and firefly and fall guy, indispensable, Michael Feuerstack is a man who lives and makes music in Montreal. Long one of the Canadian scene's most revered songwriters, Feuerstack has turned his craft inside-out for his first collaborative release: Singer Songer gathers nine of Feuerstack's friends and admirers - including members of the Weakerthans, Constantines, and Little Scream - to perform songs he wrote for each of their voices.
Across almost 25 years, working under his own name and the past alias Snailhouse, Feuerstack has built an underground canon of crooked and beautiful songs. A little Rilke and a little Bazooka Joe, these easygoing tunes are like fields full of hedge-mazes - teeming with riddles, reveries and hiding places.
Feuerstack's reputation is also as a solid gold collaborator: playing guitar and lap steel, producing records, cracking wise. He is a member of Wooden Stars, Bell Orchestre and the Luyas and has toured the world with acts like Land of Talk, Bry Webb and the Acorn.
Feuerstack grew up in Moncton, NB, jostling with the young punks and ne'er-do-wells who helped build the east coast underground. His first band, the Underdogs, was a hardcore team-up with Rick White - future leader of Eric's Trip. But with a move to Ottawa in 1987, Feuerstack started writing his own songs; seven years later saw the release of Snailhouse's first album, Fine, as well as the debut record by Feuerstack's indie-rock quintet Wooden Stars. Rich with intricate, deliberate guitar-lines, Wooden Stars made five LPs in five years (and another in 2007), cresting with Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars, a 1999 collaboration which won a Juno for alternative album of the year.
Throughout this period, Snailhouse never went away. But Feuerstack's solo project won new life when he moved to Montreal in 2005. 2008's Lies On The Prize, the fifth Snailhouse album, was recorded with several new friends: singer Angela Desveaux, Arcade Fire's Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld, Bell Orchestre's Pietro Amato. This glinting, bashful LP won a Polaris Prize nomination and before long Feuerstack had joined Neufeld and Amato in Bell Orchestre. (He and Amato would also work together, and play handball, in the Luyas.)
Sentimental Gentleman would follow in 2011, and then the masterpiece Tambourine Death Bed in 2013. The latter marked an important shift: with Tambourine Death Bed, Feuerstack began releasing music under his own name. Made at home, this is volatile, grown-up folk album, full of breeze, shadow and squall.
Singer Songer, due on April 19 (Record Store Day) with Forward Music and Headless Owl, is another thing entirely. Recorded "fast, fast, fast" in the late summer and fall of last year, it features nine Feuerstack compositions without any Mike on lead vocals. "Imagining someone else at the microphone opened up a whole different way of approaching each song," he says. While several singers laid down their vocals at Feuerstack's apartment, others, in Winnipeg and Guelph and Berlin, sent them through the air.
The results are stunning. John K Samson is cast as a wry midnight watchman, Little Scream's Laurel Sprengelmeyer as a 1am dream. The Burning Hell's Mathias Kom has never sung so beautifully as he does on the album's opener, "Along The Way". In each case, the singer's natural cadence becomes a scaffold for Feuerstack's dry rhymes; these are trees garlanded in ribbons.
"In the end, I think the songs sounds like mine, but there is something fundamentally different, too," he says. "Maybe it's because of the process; maybe because I'm always changing." He pauses. "I like not knowing."