by Maddie Hayes
Things you won’t find at a Fences show: Head banging, hair flipping, excessive jumping around stage, awkward stories between songs or a choreographed light show.
Things you will find at a Fences show: Tight pants, tattoos and passionately genuine musicianship.
On Feb. 5, 2011, Seattle’s indie group, Fences, played at The Knitting Factory in Spokane, Wash., in support of Punk Rock bands Cheap Girls and Against Me!, a seemingly haphazard combination of musical acts. The crowd was a weird mix of mohawks and flannel, with a few backward caps thrown in for good measure. Somehow though, the mix managed to work.
Saturday marked the first time Fences graced any stage in Spokane; playing at The Knitting Factory is definitely a good place to start. They opened the show with a solid 30 minute set, to a somewhat indifferent crowd. Some members of the audience danced around, and a select few were singing along. Seeing some obvious fans in the crowd, even if they were few, shows Fences has been slowly gaining some notoriety around town.
Fences is the moniker (the nickname, the title) for Christopher Mansfield, the brain behind the band. It includes Mansfield as the vocalist and guitarist, as well as other musicians he brings on tour. Having the alias of Fences instead of simply performing as Christopher Mansfield gives him options.
“I view it as like an umbrella sort of. It leaves me the opportunity to shift gears at any time musically,” Mansfield said.
Mansfield doesn’t view Fences as his solo act, and he wouldn’t tour alone and still call it Fences.
After listening to Fences’ self-titled album, released in September 2010, I anticipated a relaxed show with an acoustic guitar, some drumming and maybe the inclusion of some electric guitar. However, the set was taken in a much different direction, with no acoustic guitar to be found. The songs were the same as the ones on the album, but amped up and filled out. Hearing the songs live resulted in a completely different experience than listening to the recordings.
Nothing needed to be covered up by dramatics. Mansfield had a sort of brooding quality about him on stage, which contributed to the feeling that he respected his music enough to make the show about the music alone.
This is Fences’ first national tour, thanks to being asked to come along by Against Me!’s Tom Gabel, and the crowd responses have been good for the first go round.
“It’s like mild applause, and then there’s always a couple rows of kids who are singing words. I can totally spot our fans, for sure,” Mansfield said. “And they’re getting to be everywhere, which is really cool.”
Fences’ rise to the status as a nationally touring band has not been overnight, and hasn’t come without a lot of hard work.
“It’s been a slow, gradual thing, and now kids are coming to shows that are from the suburbs, which is great,” Mansfield said.
The self-titled album released in September 2010 was put out independently, with the support of the bands management team at Onto Entertainment. In four months, Fences sold 4,000 copies of the record on their own. While the band had looked for labels to release the record on, none of them would sign Fences.
“The thing with record labels is that they want to know that you’re a sure shot. With me, it was my first record, and it did have a semi-famous producer, and it had all of these cool little things,” Mansfield said. “But I had no touring history, so we ended up putting the record out ourselves.”
Now, four months and 4,000 records later, labels are coming to them.
Some may be surprised to discover Mansfield has attended post-secondary school for music, an unlikely quality in many musicians these days. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass.
“I actually really like the theory behind music. Me and [bass player] Terry are constantly nerding out on intervals and tones of things, so the actual mathematics of it I find super awesome,” Mansfield said.
Mansfield’s schooling has likely helped to give him the dedication to music that he projects today.
“I consider myself to be a real musician, I don’t do it to get girls, or hang out or whatever,” Mansfield said.
As a band trying to get their music spread to a wider audience, they’ll spend a lot of time touring to help expand their fan base.
When considering touring, Mansfield said, “I’d rather be in this weird room right now drinking this water than be at home watching TV. There’s no bad part.”
It’s a good thing he feels that way, because Fences have a busy year ahead full of touring, including playing the South By Southwest and Lollapalooza music festivals, a headlining tour on the East Coast, some dates on the West Coast and some recording.
“I’m doing some top secret recording with somebody that would seriously blow peoples’ minds,” Mansfield said.
Top secret, huh? That sounds intriguing. We can expect to see some big things from this band.
“We’re not going to go home and chill and plan our next attack or anything,” said Mansfield. “We’re just going to keep busy.”
On the up and up, it seems that Fences won’t be going anywhere any time soon.