The Label Makers: House of Wonders

House of Wonders founder Adam Fuhr. (photo: Ally Gonzalo; art: Jim Di Gioia)

The Label Makers is a monthly feature that puts the spotlight on independent record labels from across so-called Canada. Up First: Winnipeg’s House of Wonders.

When it comes to House of Wonders, founder Adam Fuhr likes things to be uncomplicated. But that hasn’t always been the case for his creative pursuits. Fuhr is the guitarist and vocalist of Yes We Mystic, an art-rock band described as “maximalist” in press materials. Yes We Mystic’s second LP Ten Seated Figures was an expansive record and art project that involved casting an alternate version of Yes We Mystic and having them participate in interviews, music videos, and a live performance. The album was also Fuhr’s debut as a producer. 

In a press statement about House of Wonders, which is both a label and a studio, Fuhr says that he’s opting for “a grounded approach” for his latest endeavour. “That [grounded approach] came from a tough point for myself with Yes We Mystic,” Fuhr explains from the House of Wonders studio space in Winnipeg. “The creation and release of the second album was personally too much. It was too ambitious and we were trying to do too many things. We were lucky enough to have a team working with us in different capacities but personally the amount of work — I could never do anything just like that again.”

The idea for House of Wonders began when Yes We Mystic was recording their 2016 debut record Forgiver with producer, Breakglass Studios co-founder, and the Besnard Lakes member, Jace Lasek. “I remember asking [Lasek], ‘How do you do this? How do you run a studio? Did you go to school for this?’” Fuhr says. “And he was like, ‘No, I never went to school. I just figured things out and bought things and used them until they broke and then learned how to fix them. I’ve always known what sounded good — that’s all you really need.’ And I was like, ‘What?! That’s all you need!’ [Running a studio and label] definitely became a long-term goal for me then because I only realized it was a possibility at that point.”

In February 2020, House of Wonders officially launched by announcing that they signed Amos the Kid (Amos Nadlersmith), an alt-country artist who Fuhr had seen charming rooms throughout Winnipeg for years. Amos the Kid’s debut EP Mountain View was released that spring and his follow-up, No More New Ideas, was released in 2021. In a little over a year after launching, House of Wonders signed two more bands and released their debut EPs: alt-rock band Julien’s Daughter (“They have so much energy and life to their performances,” Fuhr notes) and bedroom pop-rock trio Virgo Rising (“They’re a very eclectic band and they take lots of musical risks,” he says). All three House of Wonders acts have been embraced by online audiences, racked up streams, and landed coveted spots on Spotify’s curated playlists.

“They balance each other out really, really well,” Fuhr says of the label’s roster. “It’s a nice place to start from.”

Fuhr affectionately calls House of Wonders’ headquarters a “shack room” and at one point during our conversation, he says that a rat ran by and I’m not totally sure if he is joking. The label started as (and continues to be) a project Fuhr manages by himself from his laptop. It’s this DIY, bare-bones approach that helps Fuhr and the label’s acts keep their focus on the music. Sometimes the most wonderful things are made with the simplest tools.

“What matters at the end of the day is the music and if it’s good and if people are responding to it before you write the bio or take the right picture or come up with some wild scheme. It’s like, ‘Are people going to like this thing at its beginning?’ That’s the important thing,” says Fuhr. “I’m trying not to get caught in the current of trying to outdo oneself or your peers or trying to impress for impressiveness’ sake. That’s a much healthier way to live, I think.”

This past November in Winnipeg, the label had its first live showcase. Tickets sold out in eight minutes, and Fuhr admits, laughing, the night included “eight instances of crowd surfing.” In a different timeline, this show would have been a pretty normal occurrence (okay, maybe not the amount of crowd surfing), but instead, it offered a taste of what the future may look like. It also affirmed that House of Wonders had found success despite the limitations that have been in place almost since the label’s beginning. Until the latest round of pandemic restrictions are lifted, House of Wonders will celebrate its second anniversary next month by signing a new act and, for now, is happy to hunker down.

“This label has existed almost entirely where shows aren’t a thing that you can do, and so that has been tough, of course. But I think that [we] really illustrate how much you can do without a show. There’s a lot of pressure from grant systems. Once you put a recording out, you have to go out on the road and put on shows. We’ve been showing, in our little way, that you don’t really need to do that. I get where it comes from, this idea that you have to go out and play shows. But it means so many people that could access the small amount of grant funding to make a recording won’t do it because they can’t get time off their job, or it just doesn’t make sense with where they are at. So there was this suspension of this rule under which pretty much all of this music has come out. None of the bands that I’m working with are, at the moment, set up to tour right now. While that will change, and it always shifts with bands, I’m just proud of how we have been able to turn some eyes to these groups without tour dates or anything like that.

“I know that everyone is in the same boat, but these bands have been built from scratch, so it’s nice to be able to say, ‘Look, all of these people in all of these places stream your songs! And it’s not because they were in the bar down the street, it was because of the things that we did on the world wide web.’”

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