Christopher Mansfield of Fences on Awkward Moments in Bed and Being Forever Bummed

Categories: Interview
Fences.jpg
Kyle Johnson
Christopher Mansfield of Fences
The incessantly morose Seattle band Fences is coming up fast. Their self-titled album was released at the end of September 2010, and ever since then the band has been popping up on a variety of you-oughta-know lists.

Christopher Mansfield, the songwriter and voice of Fences, had the pleasure of co-producing the album with Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara. The band is also enjoying their time on the road with Against Me!, who they'll be opening for tonight at the Nile Theater.

Up On The Sun spoke with Mansfield about melancholy, collaborations, and drawing inspiration from Seattle's music scene.

UOTS: You've opened up for St. Vincent and Mark Kozelek, and you're going on tour with Against Me! and Cheap Girls. What artist would be your dream pick to worth with?

Christopher Mansfied: I think I said a long time ago that two of my real long-term musical goals were to play with Bonnie "Prince" Billy and to be on Conan O'Brien. Bonnie "Prince" Billy, I just want to play a show with him. Starting out, he was one of my favorites. I met him twice. I think the first time I met him, I wasn't able to talk, and the second time I think I may have cried afterwards or something.

UOTS: You also got to work with Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara. What was that like?

CM: It was really cool. We sort of developed a good rapport before working together, so it wasn't going like going in to work with a stranger necessarily. She had a lot of respect for the songs and wanted to further the songs really honestly the same way that I did, so she sort of had similar integrity with the music, as well as [with] me even though she didn't write it. She had heard the old demos, so she maybe has some sort of attachment to the purity of the song and didn't want to just blow it out [into] this big pop extravaganza. Musically, we have a lot of similarities stylistically, so it was super painless and really fun.

UOTS: Your self-titled debut album was on SPIN's list of 10 Best Albums You Might Have Missed in 2010, and you're also being featured in Alternative Press's 100 Musicians You Need to Know. How did you suddenly catch fire in the industry? What was the turning point that led to all these people are finding out about you now?

CM: Well it's a funny thing because I think to people who aren't in my immediate circle, be it business or musicians or friends, it seems very out of nowhere. It happens pretty slowly, so when it happens, it feels like that's what's supposed to happen now. Obviously there's probably some sort of commercial market that has been reached with the help of someone like Sara, but in general it's just been kind of grassroots. I try to write good songs and hopefully people like. Some people have liked them a lot and some people haven't.

You just kind of keep doing it, and someone hears it and shows it to someone else who shows it to someone else. It's sporadic. Someone showed it to Sara, who showed it someone [else] who might've showed it to someone from SPIN. It just kind of works like that. It's actually not as hard as I thought it would be. It's cool that you can kind of put your head down and focus on the artwork, and people will find it as they're supposed to.

UOTS: Your music is sort of melancholy. Why be "forever bummed?"

CM: I don't know. It's not really how I feel as a person. If Fences were a person, that would be the emotion of Fences as a band. I'm not really a depressed guy at all. This morning I was sitting by the ocean and it's sunny and beautiful, but I was writing a terribly depressing song. That's just how it is with this band. I could one day play in a different kind of band, but I just feel like when I'm in the creative realm for this music, it comes from a place like that. It's fun to me to get to go there a lot. I guess I'm a dramatic person, so it feels good to be dramatic.

UOTS: You recently tweeted that you bought a Moog. Do you plan on incorporating it into some of your future music?

CM: Yeah. It's actually on the album a lot. It's a low bass synthesizer. My bass player's been using it for a few months. We were actually renting one for a while. Then he had something called an ARP, which is a low bass synthesizer, but it's really vintage and we didn't want to tour with that. So I bought [the Moog]. It's on the record. Sometimes you can't tell what it is. But even on something like the chorus on "From Roses," the low sustaining note is a Moog.

UOTS: The band is from Seattle, which is a city with an unbelievable musical legacy. How do you work the greatness of Seattle's famous artists into your own music, if at all?

CM: I don't think that any of us directly draw from Seattle music intentionally. Not to be cliché, but it feels like there's something in the air sometimes. There are just a lot of cool bands. A lot of our friends are in amazing bands. That's not to say that every city doesn't have amazing bands and stuff. It seems like that's what people do: you might work at the bar or a coffee shop, but you might be a genius. I know some people in Seattle that have the most amazing potential [who are in] super impressive bands. A lot of transplants go there too. Maybe [people] weren't doing so well where they were from, but then they came to Seattle... It's really conducive to music. I can't really put my finger on it.

UOTS: I loved the repeating line about talking with your hands. What's the story behind the song "Hands"?

CM: It feels juvenile to me now because that was one of the first songs I ever wrote. The metaphor [can be] literal. When you pick up on something that someone does and you love somebody, [maybe] they do really talk with their hands. The way a girl talks and she looks to the side or [touches] her hair...the little things that you really like about someone when you have a crush on them or whatever... I also [was referring to] the awkward [experience] when you're first in bed with somebody and you're exploring and touching each other. It's really weird. You don't want to literally speak, so that's kind of what I meant. I wrote that song when I was a love-obsessed young man. I find that song kind of corny to me sometimes. [It was] a weird little phase.

UOTS: You had a pretty busy end of the year in 2010. What's next for Fences?

CM: The album came out in October, so it's been out for a few months of the last year. We're going to do this tour and do South By Southwest. We got booked on Lollapalooza. There are a bunch of tours we're trying to catch. It's all up in the air. As far as new stuff, we've recorded maybe five songs in the studio. We're going to keep doing demos, and maybe by the end of the year we'll go in to record. But for now we're going to keep working this album and keep touring with it because new mediums are finding out about the band. I don't think [the album] has seen its full potential. There are still so many more people that haven't even heard this first record.



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11 comments
OG
OG

I bet that 2 bit 3 holed freak Sonny Barger wrote those comments pretending his God is prejudice. Sonny and his fake gang of Mo men and make belive 666 crew.

I guess the Big bad 3 holed Sonny bargers hells angels just beat and kill women and children and support child porn .

Lets see the Coward hells angels brand of 666 and nomads Kill a real man . USa Hells angels just cowards and punks that sit around thinking of cool ways to scare people using their gang.

Looks like just One 666 The real Kind of 666 Mike 666 scares the hell out of Sonny barger and his make believe hells angel Girlie men of the USA.

lek
lek

@alaina...you're reading the articles and continuing to talk about these artists. Isn't that what a true artist does...make people talk/think?

alaina s.
alaina s.

every single interview I read about this dude / this band says the same exact stuff. krystyn, I have heard this band. a lot. I gave it a shot and it's just not worthy of all the hype it's getting. and there's a huge part of the music world that agrees with me. they burn bright for a sec but lack substance. kathy, I'm not saying he name-dropped. everybody name-drops. what I'm saying is that if every single piece of promotional material that went with this release didn't have t & s on it, that about 1/10th of the people would have paid attention.

Krystyn L.
Krystyn L.

This is a truly talented band who have worked hard to get where they are. If you really listen to their music and give it a chance you will see that it's not as simple as it first appears. They are really a nice bunch of guys doing what they love, making it work for them and entertaining fans along the way. If you don't like them you don't like them, but no need to be bitchy and rude, just don't listen.

Kathy
Kathy

In most industries, who you know is almost as important as what you know. So why not name drop? However, in this interview he didn't "drop" the names. He just answered a question.

alaina s.
alaina s.

bands like fences don't just happen. behind this snoozegazer bullshit is a long line of people burning bridges and handing out blowjobs. if this kid couldn't drop teagan and sara in every interview and every promo pitch, he wouldn't be much. don't believe the hype.

alaina s.
alaina s.

lek, yes: but true artists get people riled up about content, their art, etc. this kid is generateing all this press because of a hype machine.

to all the haters, the reason I am making a point of this is that I (and many people) are sick to death of all this bullshit fences propaganda. they are a tired, mid-level band that would not have gotten nearly the amount of press that they have without an asskissing management team and the t & s "stamp". fences as a standing thing is dumb, boring, and played out. and for christ's sake, stop comparing the kid to elliott smith. he can't even touch his stratosphere. "ooh, I'm so tortured with all my tattoos and my white kid problems." give me a break already.

lek
lek

As I'm nearly a virgin "commenter", I placed my thoughts on this discussion above, as a new comment...

Lenni Rosenblum
Lenni Rosenblum

You don't necessarily need to drop names like Sara Quin to get around in the industry. Sometimes things just fall into place after a while. There are some musicians who are legitimately talented and make it on their own, you know.

alaina s.
alaina s.

and it's not just my opinion, either:

Fences We get it, Chris Mansfield is the tortured musician. His melodramatic delivery amidst a band clad in plastic animal masks and flesh dressed in tattoos may or may not be proof of Mansfield’s tortured soul, but boring is boring, and clichéd is clichéd. Fences — a buzzed-about Seattle band — are nothing more than that: public-relations buzz and image maintenance. The live show doesn’t parallel the somber tones of Mansfield’s tunes, and frankly, how is it still possible to trot out tongue-in-cheek gimmicks such as masks and members whose sole purpose is to beat on a bass drum? Call Fences an Animal Collective/Dashboard Confessional/Antony mash-up if you must, but know it’s the worst each has to offer. It proved an off year for local bands but Fences took the shit crown.

alaina s.
alaina s.

there sure are. this kid isn't one of them. nice write up, though.

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