For our first feature of 2009 we'd like to introduce you to one of the brightest young stars we've come across in quite some time. Last year, a 19-year-old Jessica Lea Mayfield released her haunting alt-Americana debut With Blasphemy So Heartfelt. Produced by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, the album features Auerbach on various instruments as well Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy of Dr. Dog. Name dropping aside, this is all Mayfield and the album quickly became a Best Of 2008 for this editor. Truth be told, we'd be impressed if this came from a 40-year-old woman who fought off a string of drunken husbands and a lifetime of lost dreams. How a teenager pulled this off is beyond us. Jessica Lea Mayfield is one to watch in 2009. Get to know her.
JamBase: This album is emotionally heavy with a dark mood. What was the inspiration for these songs?
Jessica Lee Mayfield: I always look at things from a dark point of view. I'm an upbeat person when you meet me, but for some reason I cannot write a happy song. I don't like happy songs. When I get upset I write a song about it; it's a way for me to get it out. It's therapeutic. When I'm happy I have a dry spell of writing songs, and when I'm depressed or [going through] a breakup or things aren't going right in my life, then I have a million songs. I write a song a day practically.
JamBase: A lot of these songs evoke images of dying relationships. Were you going through a breakup during this album?
Jessica Lee Mayfield: There was more than one breakup going on during that album, breakups and just bad relationships in general. I started dating at a really young age and I got into the serious relationship aspect way too young. I started dating when I was 15 and had two serious relationships and ended my last one like six months ago. This is the longest I've been single since I started dating. So, I was just going through so much turmoil of being in a situation where I was young and I wanted to go out and do my own thing. And I was also in these serious relationships where the guy I was dating wanted me to settle down and stay home and things like that and it was really difficult.
And you're 19 now, right?
Yes, as of yesterday.
This is very advanced, sophisticated music. Do you feel old for your age?
I do, and there are a lot of different reasons for that. One, I never went to high school. I was home schooled as a kid so I don't have any friends that are my age. I have one friend [my age] and that's it; everyone else is in their late twenties, early thirties. Most of my friends are married, most of my friends have kids and here I am and I don't even know anyone my age. I've been playing music for over ten years with my family and I've been on the road and doing that and then having serious relationships on top of that. I don't really feel like I've gotten to do anything that normal teenagers do.
|Jessica Lea Mayfield by Lydia Chain|
What can you tell me about your family band, One Way Rider?
When I was eight years old my whole family moved to Nashville and lived there for about four years, and we played a lot of bluegrass festivals and a lot of shows; played everyday of the week someplace and just really worked really, really hard. I sang with them until I was eleven and then I started playing rhythm guitar with them, and it was like a bluegrass band.
And was that why you were home schooled?
I had to be because they [my parents] were doing their thing and we were all out playing music and it was really hard to go to school and say, "Hey, I'm gonna be gone for two weeks." We had Bill Monroe's old tour bus – don't make any Partridge Family remarks because they'll get mad – and we did all that and just worked really hard. When I was seven year's old I knew I wanted to be a musician. I always wanted to be a rock star.
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We had Bill Monroe's old tour bus – don't make any Partridge Family remarks because they'll get mad – and we did all that and just worked really hard. When I was seven year's old I knew I wanted to be a musician. I always wanted to be a rock star.
-Jessica Lea Mayfield
Is your whole family into music?
Yes. My brother, David Mayfield [age 25], he can do anything. He can play any instrument you hand him. He's always been a big musical influence for me. We've been playing together since I started and we've always liked the same kind of music. When I play songs for him, if he picks up another instrument he plays my ideas. Me and my brother think almost exactly alike, and it's the same thing when I go see my parents. Me and my brother and my mom and dad are all together and within three-minutes of "Oh hey, how are you? It's good to see you," we'll be singing a gospel quartet. It's always felt like my family is tied together like that. No one ever made me do it; it's just like the Mayfields, that's what the Mayfields do. They weren't like "practice." I never practiced, I just played because I wanted to.
|Jessica Lea Mayfield by Kevin Corkrean|
How did you find yourself working with Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Dr. Dog and The Avett Brothers so early in your career?
I'm from Kent and Dan's from Akron and he had heard some little recording I had done on my own. We met and we started recording and hanging out and collaborating. I've known him since I was sixteen.
I've known The Avett Brothers for about three years, and I opened for them in my hometown of Kent, Ohio and they really like my music and I really like their music, so I toured with them a bit.
What did Dan bring to your album as a producer?
He brought a completely different view. I'd bring him a lot of songs as I wrote them and he would bring his ideas, and he had ideas I would never think of on my own. Me and him look at things from two completely different points of view, so when he put it together the album came out like nothing I would have ever thought it would have because of his ideas.
Why did you decide to name the album, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt?
It's from the song "Bible Days," and the line is, "With blasphemy so heartfelt, I wish that I had found someone else." I thought it would be a good album title. It was the last song that I recorded for the album and I hadn't had any ideas for a title. Then, when I wrote that song I just felt like it was perfect. I felt like it was a good description of me, of how I portray myself.
|Jessica Lea Mayfield|
And how would you portray yourself, or more specifically, your music?
I don't think I could even do that. I like to think of myself as something different. I can't compare myself to anybody at all.
Can you give me an idea of your biggest musical influences?
Definitely the Foo Fighters. They were my favorite band, they still are. Foo Fighters really made me want to play music. I really like Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith - a lot of things that don't really go together at all.
What do you enjoy most about playing live versus recording?
I like the live shows because of the energy and the crowd and the people and how you can get aggression and anxiety out. You've been sitting in a van all day and then you get on stage and you're just like "Ahhhhh...." [a sound of pure release]. With recording it's cool because you can sit down and get all your ideas out and be really creative. It's a really good way to be creative; that's what I like about recording.
Where do you go from here?
I want to continue to do what I'm doing, and the touring is one of my favorite parts of it. I just want to be able to be on the road and tour and be able to come out on top and continue doing it like this as long as I can - just keep going out and playing shows, and for the shows to get bigger and the thing as a whole to get a little bit bigger and be able to go out and play these shows and have more people and more money because it's hard to come out on top, especially with gas [prices] these days, touring is almost impossible. But, that's what I like to do, I like to go out and play the shows.
Jessica Lea Mayfield kicks off a coast-to-coast tour on January 20. Complete dates available here.
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