Like most people with face tattoos, Chris Mansfield exudes a certain unnerving sketchiness. At first glance he looks like the type of guy who would organize a GG Allin fan club or burn down a church.
Fences With Richie Young, Campfire Ok. The Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., 441-7416, thecrocodile.com. $10 adv. 21 and over. 8 p.m. Thurs., Sept. 23.
Instead, the 27-year-old Seattleite plays against type by making somber, pretty pop music under the moniker Fences.
In person, Mansfield is quiet and slightly aloof but personable, which makes you feel like an asshole for thinking he'd burn down a church.
The gulf between his sound and his look is his most obvious contradiction, but far from his only one. Mansfield's a much-admired musician about to release his first studio album, yet he claims to rarely go out, drink alcohol (he's a rehab vet), or maintain friends in the local music scene. He writes moody, painfully earnest songs about alienation and heartbreak, but he names Canadian indie-pop princess Feist as the artist he strives to sound like.
"There's so much fucking stuff in America to be into," he says sadly. "I mean, I have face tattoos, but I really like Meryl Streep movies and I like reading stupid books and I have a Pomeranian."
Despite Mansfield's suspect taste in movies, books, and dogs, there's no denying his talent for crafting polished, introverted pop songs, which he demonstrates throughout his self-titled debut album. The 10 songs on Fences, which Mansfield put together with help from Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara, are at times so raw and emotional that you almost feel embarrassed about listening to them.
On the album's best song, "Girls with Accents," Mansfield dives headlong into his pessimistic side, emoting about how he just can't get his life together. In the confessional chorus, he says he's fucking up everything, and you believe him. Mansfield says most of his lyrics are literal, which makes you wonder if the guy is capable of keeping it together long enough to make a go of it in the music business.
Even Mansfield's PR representatives seem to be hedging their bets, making special note in his official bio that he is indeed a fuckup. Mansfield admits he's had some down times—he's done time in rehab and gone AWOL from shows—but he says he's in a good place right now, ready to see where his music will take him.
"Right now I'm definitely not a fuckup," he says, smiling quasi-proudly. "I wake up early and work hard for the band, so right now I'd probably change the bio to 'Chris Mansfield is a driven and positive person.'"