Much of Chris Mayfield’s success can be attributed to his ability to access the absurd and attach a deeper meaning. So it seems fitting that Mayfield’s musical musings began by stringing up a Tropicana juice box as a makeshift guitar in the third grade.
“And then I wouldn't put the darn thing down,” Mayfield chuckles. “On that I learned ‘Smoke on the Water’ and “Sunshine of Your Love.’”
Mayfield, a Gunnison resident and Western State Colorado University graduate, has made his way from makeshift guitars to making his first album, “Songs from the Van,” produced, as you may have guessed, from inside his van. That’s where he lived this past spring and summer.
‘Songs from the Van” sounds folk-inspired, deeply heartfelt and simultaneously upbeat. Mayfield also employs the kickdrum, inspired by one of his favorite one-man shows, Shakey Graves.
The van itself runs in the family. Mayfield’s older brother lived in the VW for a period of time before passing the torch, he says.
After graduating from Western and traveling to Thailand to teach English, Mayfield returned to the old van in his brother’s backyard and got the engine revving again.
“I kind of stole it from him, but he kind of gave it to me,” he grins.
Songs began to surface over the summer spent up Spring Creek, Oh Be Joyful, Washington Gulch, Hartman Rocks and other undisclosed camping locations from the van.
“A lot of the songs were written around friends, in the van or around the van, or around a campfire,” he explains. “Just trying to make my friends laugh.”
After kidding around, Mayfield realized he had just about enough songs to make an album.
Each song was recorded in the van, on a portable 8-track studio, which he describes as “about as simple as it gets I think. … I recorded each one a few times just to try to figure it out.”
Mayfield lived in the van to keep things simple, and the lack of distraction and the outdoors helped spur more songs. But there’s convenience to van life as well.
“Strip it down, and not pay rent,” he jokes. “That was kind of the big ticket item, not paying rent anymore.”
Van or not, for Mayfield “the guitar’s always been a part of my day,” and he’s working on producing his next album before he turns 25, he says.
As for his musical inspirations, Shakey Graves is high on the list, and for lyrics Mayfield finds you can never go wrong with the simple ballads of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. And of course, Bob Dylan.
“I can always return to his music, I don't get sick of it,” Mayfield muses.
Perhaps it’s the authenticity of each artist that speaks to Mayfield, who understands the complexity behind a song.
“You can try to be something that’s not necessarily what you are,” says Mayfield. “I had to learn that lesson if I wanted to write songs that I liked and could continue playing.”
Luckily, Mayfield hit the sweet spot for his first set of songs, which puts the listener on a pace of positivity and reflection, a good testament to the pure joy of making music.
“It’s really about not taking things seriously and being lighthearted,” Mayfield says.
“Songs from the Van” can be downloaded at chrismayfieldmusic.net for $5. However, contents of the lyrics may not be appropriate for children.
Mayfield will perform at the ICELab on Jan. 19, Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 at High Alpine Brewing Company.
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at email@example.com)