Jessica Lea Mayfield Is All-In With Music

Categories: Interview, Q&A

Courtesy of the artist
Jessica Lea Mayfield

Don't let the name fool you. Or the bluegrass pedigree developed playing in the traveling band that was her family. No, Jessica Lea Mayfield is an out and out rocker, owing as much to the Foo Fighters and Stone Temple Pilots as she does Bill Monroe.

While her first two albums, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt and Tell Me -- produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach -- admittedly had a slight county flair, her latest, Make My Head Sing... channels '90s alternative rock. Full of fat chords and powerful riffs, atmospheric vocals and dreamy layers, sonic overload and stripped down acoustics, the album is both brash and soft at the same time.

It fits Mayfield's persona perfectly. Despite the brooding look and heavy make-up of her publicity photos, she's also pretty giggly, as Up on the Sun discovered during a recent phone interview discussing traveling around with her parents like "wild gypsies," her opposing rock influences, meeting her future husband at a music festival and how he eventually became her bassist and producer. Not everything we talked about made it into our feature on Mayfield. Here are the outtakes from our interview with the singer, who is performing at Pub Rock Live in Scottsdale on Sunday, June 22.

Up on the Sun: First, is it Jessica or Jessica Lea?

Jessica Lea Mayfield: Jessica is fine.

Everything I read about you says you're a singer/songwriter, which, in my eyes and many others, is more folky than rocker. The immediate fuzz and heaviness of "Oblivious" surprised me. Is that label bothersome?

I have no control over what people say about me, including you. Then there's the opinions about all my work on the internet from journalists. I don't know what I'd call me and I can't necessarily let it bother me. What people think what I do shouldn't effect what I do or my mental state. It would be a tragedy. I've seen it happen to people. I've seen people turn themselves upside down based on what chart number they are. If people let all that stuff into their heads it can''t assist the art they are making. I think it's a tricky thing when people let it effect their self-worth and their creativity.

Fill me in a little bit on your background. How did you get to this point? Where did your career start?

I've been playing music and touring my whole life. I started out playing in my family's bluegrass band. We toured around in a bus that was owned by Bill Monroe at one point. We lived on this antique bus like wild gypsies [aughs]. I've been a musician for about 15 years. Got my start playing with my mom and dad [then] started doing solo shows that were just mine when I was 15 or 16.

When solo, was it mostly bluegrass-y or country?

I've been inspired by a lot of different music. The stuff that inspired me the most was '90s alternative. It would be covers of songs like Stone Temple Pilot songs and Foo Fighter songs. Then I started writing my own songs. It's the same thing with Elliot Smith. I'm a huge fan of his and a lot of people called him folky because he played an acoustic guitar. I think that I changed the type of guitar I was playing and it changed the genre. It's important to people what the genre is. They can't just listen to something and go, "I like it or I don't." If I had to change genres all the time that wouldn't be fun.

I agree... that just pigeonholes an artist.

It's not like I sit down with an instrument and think, "OK, I'm going to write a polka song -- here I go." I sit down and see what happens and create something. I'm not even sure what anyone is going to say it is until it's out in the air. Whatever's going to help you with your iTunes search [laughs].

You mentioned '90s bands and listening to your new album, Make My Head Sing..., I noticed that heavy '90s thickness, not quite grunge, but powerful and emotional. There's the simplicity of a straight-ahead rock vibe, mixed with a lot of complexity, nuance and fillers. When you're writing, what are your goals; what are you trying to achieve?

I don't necessary have a goal in mind, but I'll have an idea and go from there. If I have a lyric or a line I want to use I'll get that in there. Or I'll take out the guitar and come up with a melody. This last record, a lot of it was first coming up with stuff on guitar and becoming inspired by that.

The whole record is just me, my husband on bass and this guy [Matt] Martin on drums. Most sounds you're hearing are guitar and me interpreting guitar sounds in different ways and having fun with that.

I read somewhere that you're trying to get back to the basics of rock music. What do they mean by that?

I wanted to make things simpler for me in general and also wanted to downsize my operation. A lot of my all-time favorite bands are guitar, bass and drums. It's just a sound I'm really looking for. These days I'll be at a festival and pop over to check out another band and they've got so many members you can't even tell what's going on. Then you hear some sound and realize it's not coming from the stage but that they're playing along with a computer. And the drummer has headphones on so he's playing to a click track. Suddenly, the music's lost it's naturalness and has no feel and rawness.

It's not real. It's not what rock is all about.

Raw is what a lot of music should be about. You should see what you're hearing. Have fun with specifics and sounds, but don't take the moment out of it.

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