A Woman Of Constant Sorrow

The Sad Stuff Inspires Singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield

Kent's Jessica Lea Mayfield started performing at age 8 with her family's band, One Way Rider, and, to hear her tell it, she knew right then and there that she was born to be a singer in a rock 'n' roll band.

"It was great. It was what I wanted to do," she says via cell phone while walking through a Nashville shopping mall. "My parents and brother were doing it. They would be practicing in the bedroom, and I would come in and sing my mom's parts. I was never a shy little kid. I was extraordinarily outgoing when I was a child. I remember saying, 'I wanna get onstage. I wanna get onstage.' It was the start of me knowing what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a rock star. I remember that. I pretty much am [a rock star] now. I have that personality, anyways."

And after issuing a couple of albums as Chittlin' and embarking on a national tour with the up-and-coming bluegrass jam band the Avett Brothers, Mayfield has finally gotten a break. Her new album, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, comes out this week on Polymer Sounds and is getting a push from a high-powered New York-based PR firm.

"It's different, having things out of my hands," she admits. "It's different having a manager and doing less on my own. I play music, and that's it. It's good for me to have people tell me where I'm supposed to be and what I'm supposed to do. Other than that, I'm an airhead as it is. It's like, 'What? I have a show today, really?'"

Produced by the Black Keys' singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, the disc comes across as a mix of Cat Power and Neko Case, with doe-eyed harmonies and somber songs about falling in love and getting dumped. Songs such as "I Can't Lie to You, Love" and "Is This Love?" feature haunting vocals that suggest Mayfield is wise beyond her years.

"It's hard for me to talk about and understand myself," explains Mayfield. "I don't have myself pegged yet. I'm young and just turned 19. If I had myself pegged down, that would be impressive. Everything I write is about me. I don't have the talent of writing from other people's perspectives. I've had a lot of relationships. I got into the dating game a little young. It helped with my music, but on a personal level, there's lots of regret. There's so much more I could have been doing instead of being in serious relationships at 15 and 16. At 17, I moved out of my parents' house and in with a dude."

She says her entire life has consisted of "music and dating," but her love life hasn't come together as quickly as her music has.

"My music put me in adult situations," she says. "I'm touring and doing shows. I guess I assumed I would find the love of my life and get married at the same time. It didn't work out that way. Now I'm glad, but when I was younger, I thought everything would go along smoothly."

Mayfield says the album's title, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, which is a line from the tune "Bible Days," is an accurate description of her own perspective.

"It's a good overall representation of what I'm about," she says. "I drop a lot of 'GD' bombs. The whole song 'Bible Days' is blasphemous. It's about how ridiculous I think it all is. I'm definitely blasphemous."

There's also a profound sadness that runs through the tunes.

"Most of my music is sad because I'm getting my feelings out," she says. "When I'm happy, I go through a dry spell of writing songs. I have been writing songs since I was 11 years old, and I have two happy songs that I don't really like. I rarely play them. If I'm upset, I can sit down and write a set of four songs. As I'm getting older, I just meet someone and I can project what would happen. I think we would be together, and then I'd leave. I can already write sad songs about things that haven't even happened yet."

Throughout it all, there's a rural, bluegrass-informed sound that Mayfield is quite proud to say will always stay with her.

"No matter what I do, even if I started a metal band, you'd be able to sense my background," she says. "I love bluegrass still. I listen to so many different genres, but it's the one. It always comes back to me, and it's where I get my songwriting style. The majority of bluegrass songs are sad. Maybe that's where I got the idea. I don't really like happy music. I'm not putting in a happy CD. When I hear something happy, I think, 'What is this shit? What are you listening to? Something about having a happy day in the park? This is crap.' I wanna hear about somebody getting killed. I want to hear somebody's heart break. I wanna hear about anger."

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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