“I’m actually really shy,” insists Jessica Lea Mayfield. “Not musically, but personally.”
Kent, Ohio, native Mayfield broke onto the scene on the soulful duet with Dan Auerbach, “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” that memorably closed the 2008 Black Keys disc, Attack & Release. Auerbach discovered Mayfield through her 2005 EP White Lies, self-pressed in a single run of 100 copies, that she’d cut at home with her brother, David. Auerbach was impressed enough with this bedroom recording to contact Mayfield via her MySpace page, leaving a simple message: “Hi, my name is Dan, and I play with a band called The Black Keys out of Akron.”
Together, they embarked on recording Mayfield’s bare-bones first album, the independently released With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, which garnered an 8.2 rating on Pitchfork and uniformly enthusiastic reviews elsewhere. NPR’s World Café declared she has “a mature sound that seems evolved beyond her years,” while the New York Times added that her sound is “guarded, insinuating, mesmerizing … music that lets you hear all its details.
Mayfield has been performing since she was eight years old with her family’s bluegrass band, One Way Rider, and she was home-schooled along the way. As she dryly puts it now, “My parents made a point not to let school get in the way of my education.”The experience was as formative as it was unconventional: It contributed to the way I am now, having to be somewhere different all the time, every day. I was always being somewhere else; my sense of home and comfort was constantly being on the go. My songwriting, the manner in which I write my songs, was really inspired by playing bluegrass music and playing bluegrass festivals. Sometimes you will hear a bluegrass song that’s upbeat in tempo but really sad in reality. Like, someone is cheating on their wife, ends up stabbing their wife, then killing themselves…”
She has attempted to put down some roots, having earned enough to afford an Ohio farmhouse of her own. But Mayfield, as the songs on Tell Me make clear, is not quite domesticated. In her rare moments of downtime at her new house, Mayfield admits, laughing, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in that movie Home Alone. I wake up in the morning, turn up the stereo all the way, eat leftover chicken wings and, like, drink a beer and jump on the bed. Sometimes I go crazy like a kid because the rest of the time I have so much responsibility.”