By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Seattle-based musician/songwriter Christopher Mansfield had never played in Austria before, but there he was, alone, in front of 150 people, in a room so tiny, the kids were almost on stage with him. Nobody could move.
Mansfield played “Sunburns,” a song from his 2015 album, ‘Lesser Oceans,’ which was produced by Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla, Jacquire King (Of Monsters And Men) and Ryan Lewis.
He didn’t even have to ask anybody there – they sang all the backup vocals. It was so loud, Mansfield got chills.
“This is just my greatest love and I can’t stop as much as I’ve tried before,” said Mansfield. “It’s like I’m gonna be writing songs until I’m dead. I think human emotions are all pretty similar. We have joy, pain, anger, ecstasy, jealousy, you pretty much have a handful of go-to emotions and I try and sort of reflect all of those in my music because those are what I’m feeling and if I can bring any of those emotions to somebody and let them sort of hold it up like a mirror and feel like they have a weird friend, that’s just an extra bonus and I’m happy to do it.”
Moments like that in Austria have defined his wild ride of a career. Better known as his alter-ego Fences, he became a household name after collaborations with Tegan And Sara (the latter produced his 2010 self-titled debut) and Macklemore, which spawned big hits like “Arrows” and “Otherside.”
To follow up ‘Lesser Oceans,’ Mansfield yearned for a darker sound. He hoped to finally create music that he’d actually listen to by choice.
On a night after the recording studio was already closed, he and his producer stayed up until daylight to work on a song. Once his producer later sent him the song, Mansfield was hooked by this beautiful music. He knew he found the sound he tried to search for his whole career. He intended to make music like that from the start, but he felt other people got in the way, so he never got the chance.
“It’s almost like you have a painting that’s perfect if you just leave it alone, and then you just keep adding on it and then all of a sudden, it’s lame and you’ve ruined it. I feel like that’s what I’ve done accidentally with a lot of music and that’s only because you’ve got a lot of money involved and different opinions and then all of a sudden, I kind of go, ‘I don’t really care anymore. I’ve got my words thrown in.’ They’re my songs and whether or not it’s perfect to me, it’s okay, because I’m just lucky to be here basically. My music sort of felt like an apology, but this [latest release], I wasn’t necessarily defiant, but I had no handcuffs on and I wanted it to sound exactly like this and it sounds like exactly what I want and that’s beautiful,” Mansfield said.
However, his creative process remained largely unchanged. All it still took was a simple tap into a ready “stream of consciousness.” He shared that method helped him make songs like “God Music,” which was written in one fluid take – words, chords, etc.
“I kind of just sit there and it just kind of comes out,” Mansfield shared. “I do that a lot and I don’t really know how I do it. It’s almost like a game like pool. If you’re just sort of loose and you trust your instincts, all of a sudden, you run the table, but if you really try too hard, you kind of get nervous and start fucking up and that’s a little bit about how I feel about how I write songs. They just sort of flow out like through the top of my head, out of my hands, out of my mouth and it’s almost frustrating at times because I want to know where the information comes from and because I can’t always tap into it, I’m sort of a victim of my own process.”
Fences sought to recreate that magic he felt on stage in Austria. He did a short run of solo acoustic shows on the West Coast ahead of the release of his latest album, ‘Failure Sculptures,’ which came out Jun. 21, 2019 via GRNDVW. He hadn’t toured for so long, he was just eager to get out there and do more than a private concert for “super fans,” but he said that’s exactly what it felt like.
“It’s like everyone that came, some of them even knew some of the new songs that were out and I was a bit confused, but yeah, they knew all the words and it just felt really intimate and it felt like I was in a room full of friends and that was really neat,” said Mansfield.
While he’s immensely proud of ‘Failure Sculptures,’ Fences already has new music written and is eager to see what the future brings at this point of his life.
“I feel like I’ve been doing this for most of my adult life and it’s been a lot of ups and downs,” said Mansfield. “I’ve put guitars in storage. I’ve tried to stop, but the songs, they just keep coming to me. I’ll be just sitting at the edge of my bed and I’ll just jump up and take the guitar out of the case and be like, ‘Alright, you fucking thing, I’ll play you!’ and then a song comes out. I’m never trying to bullshit anybody. I’m just doing this because it’s like I can’t stop doing it and I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s just what I know.”