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"?
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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.