An Interview with Christopher Mansfield from Fences

Fences, hailing from Seattle, Washington, is an American indie rock band led by the talented vocalist and guitarist Christopher Mansfield.  The group also features guitarist Benjamin Greenspan, bassist and vocalist Lindsey Starr, and drummer Elliott Garm Chaffee.  They introduced their debut studio album, titled Fences, in 2010, followed by Lesser Oceans in 2015, and Failure Sculptures in 2019.  Just last month, Fences released their latest album, Bright Soil, and following the launch of the new LP, the critically acclaimed singer-songwriter also published his debut book, The Horses in Montana.

With the unveiling of his debut book and the launch of his latest album, I seized the chance to ask the multitalented artist a few questions.  Christopher shared with me some insights into the inspiration behind his collection of short stories and the life experiences that have shaped his artistic journey.

The Inspiration Behind “The Horses in Montana”

Offering my congratulations on the release of his very first book, “The Horses in Montana,” I start our conversation asking Christopher about the origins of this collection of short stories, and what are the life experiences that have influenced his journey as an artist.

He offers a contemplative response, “Paper tombstone, or a will, or a note on a napkin to a beautiful waitress—I have an unwavering and almost maddening desire to carve my name into the giant tree,” suggesting his profound connection between his artistic creations and the ever-present yearning to leave a mark on the world.

What “The Horses in Montana” Offers

Christopher further shares his insights on his writing, commenting on the mix of dark and hopeful elements in the collection and addressing my comment on how impactful the shorter pieces feel.  “It seems to me the younger I am in the book, the longer the narrative thought is.  The older I am, they become, as you said, ‘impactful in brevity.’  Probably because as we edge closer to death, we have an urgency,” he muses.  “At best, we maintain grace within this urgency.  With this said, the book is the prettiest way I could describe my life.  I hope my daughter reads it.”

The Evolution of “Bright Soil” and the Influence of Fatherhood on its Creation

Wanting to learn a bit more about the new album and the impact his personal life has had on its creation, I shift our conversation to his music.  Since Bright Soil has been praised for its cohesion, I ask Christopher how the process differed from his previous work.  His response was straightforward but filled with unwavering confidence: “Jeremiah Green.”  Jeremiah Green is the founding member and drummer from the indie rock band, Modest Mouse, who died on New Year’s Eve Day last year.

There was, however, another important person in Christopher’s life that made a big impact; during the making of this album Christopher welcomed his daughter, Moody, into the world.  The artist reflects on this life-altering experience, “The impact of that impacts everything.  It would be interesting to ask her what she thought when she is much older.  The short answer is ‘life.’  The album wasn’t there, and now it is.  Moody wasn’t there, and now she is.”

The Concept Behind “Werewolf Palm”

The artist’s new music video for his song “Werewolf Palm” has garnered attention for its unique and captivating visuals, so I ask about the concept behind the video and what he hoped viewers would take away from it.  In his characteristic style, he replies, “I don’t have a specific message in mind.  I just appreciate when people engage with my work, whether they love it or critique it.”

Crafting Meaningful Songs

Curious about his song writing process, I ask how he creates emotionally impactful and introspective songs like those on Bright Soil.  Being unapologetically himself, he advises: “Be as sad as fucking possible, then move your hands and mouth.”  This raw and unapologetic approach to song writing speaks volumes about his creative process, and it’s also a good reminder that, in the realm of music, authenticity often arises from embracing the full spectrum of one’s feelings.

Personal Growth and Collaboration

Approaching the culmination of our conversation, I ask Christopher about the most significant artistic or personal growth in his journey and how it has shaped his creative path.  Succinctly, he shares: “Working with Bonnie Prince Billy.”

Words of Advice for Aspiring Artists

As a conclusion to our conversation, I ask Christopher if he has any wisdom to offer aspiring artists navigating their creative journeys.  His response, distilled to its core with the words of Vic Chesnutt, “Don’t suck, don’t die,” draws a direct line to the importance of tenacity and commitment along the artistic path.  It’s a concise reminder that enduring resilience and unwavering dedication are the foundation of success in the world of art.

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