Jessica Lea Mayfield on how nobody has the balls to ask if a song is about them
Jessica Lea Mayfield (due at the Fox Theatre on Monday, May 9) has literally grown up before our eyes. First performing at age eight with her family's bluegrass band, she began writing her own songs at eleven and performing them under the name Chitlin. Now at the seasoned age of 22, Ms. Mayfield just released her latest album, Tell Me, in February.
Much like her last album, 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, Tell Me serves as a diary page written by a young girl who immerses herself in a world of new experiences and is brutally heartbroken when theings don't work out her way. We recently caught up with Mayfield and talked about the new album and what's next for the young songwriter.
Westword: You've enlisted the help of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach again for Tell Me. How much different would these albums sound without him?
Jessica Lea Mayfield: How much different would the world be if I hadn't decided to get out and stretch my legs at exit 145? Maybe I would have gotten in a car accident if I hadn't stopped -- who knows? I'm sure I would have still recorded, but things would had been totally different.
In a recent interview, you mentioned that you almost cut a few lyrics because they were too personal -- particularly on "Sometimes at Night." Have those personal lyrics ever gotten you in trouble with the person you wrote them about? Have they been able to figure out they were written for them?
Most people don't have to balls to ask me if a song is about them, and those who do are usually wrong.
When you first started playing, you went under the name Chitlin. If you could, would you go back and advise your younger self to pick a different handle?
I didn't pick the name. It was a nickname my brother's friend Ronnie gave me, and it was how everyone knew me. There comes a time when you decide to escape your nickname or join the world of nicknamed people. I just don't have the personality to be a Sting or a Prince, obviously.
Many songs, particularly "Grown Man," splice in MIDI and digital elements, whereas traditionally, your songs were all acoustic-based. How were those songs constructed? Did you have that idea in your head when you started the songs, or was it something that happened during the studio process?
The digital aspect was all my brother David Mayfield's idea. We all thought that he was crazy at first, but his ideas turned out, in my opinion, to be spectacular.
A lot of your lyrics come from a place of romantic yearning and heartbreak. When you finally do settle down, what do you think you will write about? Will the content change, or will you always be able to muster up some level of heartbreak?
Actually, I've been single for the past three years or so, and none of the songs on Tell Me are about a relationship -- aside from the songs about one-night stands, flings and friends with benefits. There are quite a few songs where I sing to myself about how I feel, or directly to a particular feeling.
With your success swelling and your tour schedule becoming more demanding, have you changed where you live, or are you still living in Ohio? If you're still there, are there plans to leave anytime soon?
I bought a house in Kent, Ohio, when I was nineteen. I only get to be home about a week a month, if that. So, I like to be close to my loved ones during that time.
You have a long career ahead of you. What do you wish to accomplish in the future, both in your personal life and as a musician?
I don't really set goals for myself. I'm not a very social person and would probably be most suitable as various background music for different things.
Describe, in your opinion, the best show you've ever played.
I've played a lot of shows in my day. That's, honestly, unanswerable, because what might have been the best show at one point turns out to be nothing compared to another show afterward -- and, of course, as my own worst critic, I never walk off stage and think, "Damn! I rocked!" [laughs] I usually tell the band where I messed up and then start apologizing for the mistakes I made.