Fences is an indie pop outfit masterminded by Christopher Mansfield, an intense 27-year-old who now calls Seattle his home. Originally from Boston, Mansfield has the look of a scrawny punk, but the guy's music is a fascinating amalgamation of emo and alt-country. His songs have drawn comparisons to everyone from The Cure to Hank Williams, and tracks such as "Girls with Accents" and "My Girl the Horse" certainly show Mansfield to be a slacker songwriter of some note.
Currently on tour with punk stalwarts Against Me! the soft-spoken Mansfield took some time during a recent tour stop in North Carolina to talk to DC9 in advance of his band's gig at Trees tonight. After the jump, check Mansfield's thoughts on his recently released debut effort and what the future holds for an up-and-coming artist like himself.
On your album, you play all of the instruments yourself. Are you playing with a full-time touring band?
Yes, it's a touring band, but it's what I consider to be a semi-permanent band. It's myself and three other guys.
You are originally from Boston, but you've lived in Seattle for a while. Do you think the bad weather in Seattle affects your songwriting?
It's hard to say. I was asked a question the other day about why Seattle is such a music-centered city. There's just an awe to Seattle. I don't know what it is. There is a vibe to Seattle. I don't know if it's related to weather. I know, personally, that when I got there and settled in, I felt appreciated. I felt the city's creativity. Austin and Minneapolis also have that vibe. I've never been to either place, but I am looking forward to visiting both those places on this tour.
Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara produced your debut effort. What impact did she have on your music?
You should probably ask her that question. We have a similar writing style. I would give her an idea for a song and she would be able to contribute so much. We've known each other for quite a while.
You've described your genre as "wussy pop music." What other bands fall into this category?
I think that's something I just said on the fly. Those kind of statements just seem to stick around forever. When I tour with bands like Against Me!, the audience is not there to hear music like mine. My music is very sentimental and erratic. It's hard to categorize. It would be so much easier to say that we sound like whomever. So I threw out wussy pop music. It's just my thing. I wasn't concerned about fitting into any genre.
Playing before a much more aggressive band like Against Me! must be interesting. How have the fans reacted?
Ten percent of the fans might be there because they have heard about me. Hopefully another 20 percent will leave with a favorable impression of me. At the end of the day, it's just people who come to the show and listen to music. Some people ignore the opening band. That's just the way it is.
So no one has harassed you?
No, definitely not. It's been fun and positive. The guys in Against Me! are really nice.
You were involved in the design of your album cover and even in the design of promotional materials. Are you a bit of an obsessive workaholic?
Yes, I think you can say that. I like to have control of what I do. I put a lot of work into every detail of the band.
In the past, you have said your influences include Kate Bush, Johnny Cash, The Cure and John Coltrane. That's a pretty esoteric list.
It's kind of all the same. All of those artists make me feel good. It's music that I was exposed to by my parents. You can get different things from each of those people. I had a teacher who told me that it didn't matter what gear you used or what instruments you played. It was about the songs and the feelings you could bring to each song. It doesn't matter what style of music.
You've studied at some renowned schools of music. Are you hard on your bandmates about getting each song perfect?
No, the guys in my band are pretty good. They take care of themselves. They want to do it right and most of the time, they do.