Mr Night Sky

Thu · July 26, 2018

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$10.00 - $12.00


This event is 21 and over

Honesty is Chris Mansfield’s most powerful tool. He pours his everything into writing songs as Fences, musical missives that hold a mirror up his foibles, his heart, his hurt, and his confusion. His songs document experiences. It’s the raw yet poetic quality of his music that piqued the ears of Sara Quin (of Tegan & Sara) who heard his first EP, Ultimate Puke, on MySpace and was instantly intrigued. She went so far to as to befriend Mansfield, producing his self-titled debut, released in 2010. It was a record that quietly, yet resolutely resonated. Built largely on Mansfield’s acoustic guitar strummings and his sweetly torn vocals, his songs vacillate between self-loathing (“Girls with Accents”) and romance, relationships unfurling and breaking apart (“Hands,” “Your Bones”), not to mention figuring out his feelings towards his father, who he met for the first time at 16-years-old (“The Same Tattoos”).

But it was Mansfield’s follow up, 2015’s Lesser Oceans, which elevated Fences to a mainstream concern. Still crammed with sparkling confessionals, his second record offered a broader sonic palette, his hooks were bolder, and of course there was that little hit “Arrows,” a collaboration with his old Seattle pals Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (nearly nine million YouTube views and counting). Which brings us to Mansfield now: a new father to a baby girl called Cedar, probably a few new tattoos, a new clutch of songs in the form of six song EP, To The Tall Trembling Trees. If Mansfield’s in flux, feeling his way through new beginnings, so too does this collection signify a new chapter and total autonomy. Free from the machinations of a major label, Mansfield went back to basics. He whittled down 40-odd songs, parsing away what he calls audible diary entries from actual compositions and recording the entire EP in his Brooklyn apartment in just three days.

That’s not to say that To The Tall Trembling Trees sounds like lo-fi bedroom pop, but the intimacy in his musical storytelling appears magnified, a tone set in the spoken word intro. Recorded into his phone as he walked home one night, Mansfield recounts a memory from his childhood before seguing into “Hunting Season.” Hinged on a gently emotive piano line, Mansfield—with the complementary tones of Lauren Zettler—tells a story that uses his mother and former stepfather (an accomplished hunter) as the jumping off point.

Mansfield’s music has always been visual, his words inspire wistful, sometimes nostalgic snapshots; the melodies make them stick. On “Cedar Wesley,” named after his daughter and penned when his partner was pregnant, he sings simply: “Both our lives collided and they caused a new one.” “Like a Feather” he describes as “just a simple love song,” while the EP’s centerpiece “Buffalo Feet,” with its skittering beats and sing-along chorus, offers instant pop appeal. Sometimes the springboard is a phrase lodged in his brain, sometimes it’s a feeling.

“I try to give myself goose bumps sometimes and that’s so hard to do,” he explains of his process. He recites the following lyrics: “‘You made me cry the night you walked the stream, now it runs your hair, ears and palms of your feet.’ When I wrote that I was like, it’s so beautiful, it’s my favorite thing: it was me trying to dig deep to get the prettiest snippets of words. It’s really a pop song too, so I was like well great, I wrote a pop song and got to exercise my lyric writing to the fullest of my current ability.”

Mansfield’s childhood was an itinerant—an only child raised by a single mother he describes as “very much not a single mother.” There was always a man around and their travels, drifting across the States—Florida, Arizona, California, Washington—was often precipitated by his mother following her heart. But at 16 Mansfield made a life altering decision of his own: he sought out his biological father, a man he never knew. Mansfield moved to Boston to live with his dad and found himself face to face with a man who was foreign, yet ultimately familiar.

“It was super weird not only on an emotional level, but I had gone through puberty and sort of looked like an adult man and he looks so much like me,” he explains. “You’re like, ‘Oh that’s where I got my eyes and my mouth and my nose.” For years he couldn’t quite bring himself to call his father, dad, but it was his father that provided Mansfield with an environment where he began to thrive musically. While his friends were listening to Rancid he was drawn to jazz, and the mathy, ambitious sonic sprawls like Yes’ 1973 double album Tales from a Topographic Ocean, jazz fusion group Return to Forever, the experimentalism of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and Jaco Pastorious. When popular music was in the thrall of nu-metal, Mansfield was studiously applying himself to learning the double bass.

“I was drawn to the anonymity of jazz, the chaos of it, and that you can really hide inside of this and rely on pure physicality of my hands and no one has to know what I’m saying,” he says. “I was just so shy I thought I’ll never sing, I’ll never write a song,” he recalls.

It was only when Mansfield was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music, that he had his utterly unexpected Eureka! moment. “My roommate John put on Elliott Smith in the dorm room and I was like, ‘Oh fuck.’” He laughs. “It’s funny how it really does come down to a moment of hearing him and thinking, ‘Wow, he sounds really fragile, really shy, he’s singing about stuff that I’m feeling. It was this super crazy awakening and I literally sold my basses, bought an acoustic guitar, started writing songs and playing basement shows and I dropped out of school.”

Here he pauses: “I’ve always said I’m really grateful to Elliott Smith and also sort of mad at him too.” Once he ditched school Mansfield moved to Queens, New York. He’d crash out on a mattress on the floor, he’d drink 40s, and write sad songs. He worked at CBGB’s to make ends meet. Or as Mansfield put its, “I was just working as a dishwasher and drinking every night; I didn’t have a cellphone, I was just a fucking punk.” But he kept writing and writing and after two years he returned to Seattle, and started Fences, a nickname his friends gave him. And the rest is history.

So now we have Mansfield’s new EP, To The Tall Trembling Trees, a title which he says is a metaphor for nervous people: “Someone who’s been still in their life, they’ve been in the same place for so long that they’re so tall, and they just fucking grow and grow, but they’re anxious.”

Just as Mansfield is an open book in his songs, so too he talks openly about his struggles with anxiety, using alcohol as an anesthetic—a few beers to buoy his confidence so he can perform, so he can make peace with the spot-lit glare. “David Foster Wallace called the brain the great and evil master like how do you silence your mind?” he says by way of explanation. “You sacrifice a bit of your personal life and your health to appear completely relaxed and to do a good show. Now it’s trying to figure out how not to buckle and how not to be emotionally bankrupt.”

Which begs the question why does he continue to do it? What pushes him to create and put himself and his music out there to be loved, yes, but also scrutinized?
“Because yesterday I wrote the best song I’ve ever written, I just do that, it’s not really a choice,” he says without missing a beat. “I just talked to Sara [Quin] about this the other day and she’s was like, ‘You could never quit. Even if you painted houses you’d come home and write a song that people need to hear.” I was like, shit, yeah, I can’t really not, that’s totally why: because I just do it.”

To The Tall Trembling Trees is out on Votiv Music on September 9
Mr Night Sky
Venue Information:
Chop Suey
1325 E Madison St
Seattle, WA, 98122