Jessica Lea Mayfield: Music Gave Me Things Most Take for Granted
When I listen to Jessica Lea Mayfield's music, I'm reminded of the glass wind chimes that glistened in the lake breeze at my childhood cottage. While her music can take on an ominous tone, her lithesome voice brings a reassurance that all will be well.
Mayfield is one of three children, all of whom played in the family band, One Way Rider. Her parents, Valerie and David Lee Mayfield, are currently touring the United States as the Bluegrass Sweethearts, and Jessica has recorded with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, Seth Avett, and others.
We talked recently about her life and music, the hardships, inspirations, and aspirations that have come with it.
WildesArt: What adventures in your life have led you to where you are and who you are, artistically?
Jessica Lea Mayfield: I've been touring my whole life, starting when I was 8 years old with my parents. I met Dan Auerbach [The Black Keys] when I was 16 and we recorded my first two albums together. I did not attend school, and have no formal knowledge of music, or what books everyone was forced to read. [laughs] Yet at the same time, I knew from a young age this would be the only way I would survive. I never could picture myself working at a diner or something, although in hard times I still try applying for straight jobs ... with no luck. I guess no one is interested in hiring a 26 year-old who has never worked a normal job before.
I would play music for no money, because I love it and it's my life. However, if I played music for no money I would starve to death very quickly.
Who inspired you as a teenager? How?
A lot of my early songwriting was inspired by Hank Williams, John Frusciante, and Elliott Smith. I have always loved '90s alternative [music] as well, but wasn't equipped with the gear and musical knowledge to make music that sounded that way. So, therefore, my music was predominately acoustic.
Who inspires you now?
I'm inspired [now] by a lot of what inspired me then and what I listened to as a child: The Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Soundgarden. I am inspired a lot by nostalgia and the way a song makes me feel. Things I listened to when I was younger ... some songs take on new meanings, and some bands and artists I used to love, I can't relate to [them] anymore, [because I've] grown up and changed my beliefs as a person. I pay more attention to lyrics than ever now.
With that being said, one of my favorite living songwriters would be T. Hardy Morris.
"In the positive aspects singing with my mom and dad can be as satisfying as it probably is for a pack of dogs to howl together. It holds a sense of naturalness and camaraderie."
What was it like, growing up in such a musical family?
In the positive aspects, singing with my mom and dad can be as satisfying as it probably is for a pack of dogs to howl together. It holds a sense of naturalness and camaraderie. I spent most of my childhood working very hard with them, and I always had the weight of an adult on my back.
We toured and lived in an old bus once owned by Bill Monroe. ... We had no running water. I slept on several inches of foam. And, at its heaviest, the work schedule would be us playing four shows a day, seven days a week. We lived in many random parking lots and campgrounds in the middle Tennessee area, and we didn't usually eat until the end of the day, after we counted the tips we made.
If you weren't creating creating and performing music, what would you be doing?
Well, something I still very much hope to do someday ... is to have an "old folks home" for dogs. I'd love to give elderly abandoned doggies a place to live out the rest of their lives in peace and comfort. My own dog, Elliott -- who is hitting the senior mark this year, at sevven years old -- has brought more happiness and love into my life than I could ever imagine.
I spend most days wishing people could be as good as dogs.
As I said, I never had a real job. The closest thing would be volunteer work, or the time I got in trouble for underage drinking and had to do a week of community service for the parks and rec [department] in Kent, Ohio.
What do you like to do to when you have some time to yourself?
Lately, I've been bedazzling shoes and making handmade items my fans can purchase on my website. I love making things for other people, but you can only make so many handmade gifts for friends and family before they run out of room for new things. So I sit and make things for people who might want something made by me.
I imagine as if I'm making something for a friend I love, which in a way I am -- just a friend I don't know yet.
Your collaboration with Seth Avett hit a beautiful note. Do you two have any further plans to work together? Is there someone else with whom you hope to work?
I've been having a lot of ideas about working with someone else. It's out of character for me, but [it's] something I'd love to do at this age. I think I am in a place where I would jump at the opportunity to be a part of a project that wasn't my own.
As far as working with Seth, that record took us a very long time to complete. We sort of worked on little bits and pieces here and there, when we had the time. I've known him for at least a decade, so I'm very comfortable working with him, and he is someone I thoroughly enjoy singing with. I think if we could find the time again we would, and may. But who knows when that could even be.
What in your life brings you the most joy?
My dog and my husband. Baking cookies! Taking baths with a million candles. Aromatherapy. Vintage guitar pedals, songwriting, and being in the studio.
Live shows can be iffy for me. I feel awkward being the person who everyone is looking at. I love meeting fans after the shows and connecting with them, though. That can make it worth it.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now? What do you hope to be doing?
[I'll be] 36. Hmm ... hopefully still surviving. I've never wanted big things for myself. I grew up working so hard just to eat and live. I've spent too much time homeless or below means. My husband laughs because I appreciate so many tiny things that others take for granted.
So, to answer your question, my whole life has been [focused on] rising up from the disadvantage of being an under-educated and very poor child. Everything I have now, I acquired on my own through my music. My whole life has been [about me] just striving for normal, basic things: a roof over my head, food in my belly, and people who love me. I have that here in Nashville now, and hope I still have that in 10 years.
Hopefully I'll have a car by then too. I hate driving a 15-passenger van everywhere!
What is your philosophy that guides your life?
Be kind to others!
What have you done that you are most proud of?
I'm proud of myself everyday, for keeping my head above the water. I've had lots of opportunities and performances and things in my musical career that are very impressive to some people.
I am proud of myself for making a life out of nothing. Most people have money from their families and education before they enter into the working world. That alone to me is mind-blowing and impressive -- that music gave me the things that most people take for granted.
What is it about your talented family that you would like the world to know?
My parents are very kind and talented. They go by the name the Bluegrass Sweethearts, and [they] still tour. I have an older sister, Amanda, who is very crafty and wonderful, and an older brother who I do not speak with anymore due to personal and political beliefs.
It's hard to have a sibling who also plays music, who I so greatly disagree with as a person. I hate the idea of people associating me with him. It hurts my parents because they want everything to be perfect, but I hate pretending. As a feminist, I have to draw the line at interacting with anyone who mistreats me.
To see more photos of Jessica Lea Mayfield, and to watch her recent videos, visit www.WildesArt.com/Jessica-Mayfield .