Jessica Lea Mayfield gets personal with her music, no matter the risk

Singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield performs at Cat’s Cradle March 13.Ebru Yildiz

Jessica Lea Mayfield, who released 2017’s “Sorry is Gone,” will perform at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro March 13.

Throughout Jessica Lea Mayfield’s musical history, the singer-songwriter never has been one to shy away from her own life for inspiration.

The content of her songs tend to be slice of life, if not in story form or themes. Her music has shown a maturity from a young age, when she first began releasing her own music as a solo performer, and had dark themes when she released “With Blasphemy so Heartfelt” in 2008 at the age of 19.

But with 2017’s “Sorry Is Gone,” she touches on a subject she hasn’t revealed before. In “Sorry,” several of the songs speak about Mayfield’s experience as a survivor of domestic abuse, as well as her separation from an abusive spouse.

Even for a performer known for the rawness of her lyrics, this subject matter does cause a bit of a balancing act when it comes to promoting the album’s release with the media. Plus, there’s the after-party encounters with fans, who are known to approach the songwriter with stories about how her music has touched their lives.

“Because my songs are so personal, I do get a lot of people who approach me that feel like they know me personally, and that can become either a good or bad situation,” Mayfield acknowledges with a laugh. She’s calling during a break from the tour that will bring her to the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Tuesday.

“I think people feel very close to me, so when I meet them, they have drawn their own conclusions on how close we are,” she said. “It’s always surprising, because I have a hard time not speaking up, but I think its a good idea to always talk. I know its difficult to have all these people approach me to talk about a very personal album, and it can be taxing sometimes. But I try to look toward the bigger picture of why I’m talking about it and putting these albums out.”

For fans who have been following the young songstress for a over a decade, the thought of Mayfield not releasing albums is troubling. She began a career in music at the age of 8 as a member of her family’s bluegrass band, One Way Rider. Her talents were discovered only a few years later by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who helped bring “Blasphemy” into the world.

Even in her teens, it was apparent that the singer was a breed of songwriter who harkened back to the female performers of the alternative rock world of the ’90s, when names like Tori Amos and Kate Bush were able to find commercial success. One listen to Mayfield, and it’s hard not to imagine what kind of impact she would have had on the charts if she were to have come two decades earlier.

A life spent on the charts isn’t one Mayfield has ever considered.

“I just do what I do, and people either like it or not,” she says. “I’m not up on the times, and actually feel old a lot of the times, because I can’t really relate to a lot of the music that is mainstream now. I don’t get it.

“I like bands; I like music with musicians, and not computers,” she said. “I want to see a band play music, and not one person (with a track playing on the sound system behind them). I’m definitely not trying to sound like anyone within the mainstream today.”

That love for live music rings apparent when you take into account her long working relationship with a musician very familiar to local music fans. Mayfield happened to meet folk superstars the Avett Brothers years before they exploded in popularity, and what began as a mutual admiration developed into a long friendship with Seth Avett, co-lead singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Concord group.

The two have worked together multiple times over the last few years, including 2015’s “Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliot Smith,” in which any questions of the late Portland-based musician’s influence upon the young singer were answered emphatically. Smith wasn’t a songwriter to shy away from the troubles of his life when composing, a belief that Mayfield has carried into her own career.

“That’s my favorite style of songwriting from anyone,” the singer says. “Just don’t water it down, and shoot straight with the listener. If this is something I feel needs to be said, about an important issue, then it needs to be said. Especially about women’s issues, because they still have a long ways to go. So I feel like someone has to be the one to sing and write and talk loudly about it. Otherwise, if we don’t talk about these things, people won’t really know that they exist.”

She continues with a laugh.

“If it makes you feel uncomfortable, and it scares you a little bit, then that’s not a good reason to hide it,” she said. “That’s a good reason to get rid of those behaviors. I have nothing to hide.”

Jessica Lea Mayfield with opener T. Hardy Morris

When: 8 p.m. March 13
Where: Cat’s Cradle, 300 E. Main St., Carrboro
Cost: $15
Info: 919-967-9053 or CatsCradle.com

Comments

Do you know what's happening this week?
Sign up for our newsletter