Jessica Lea Mayfield On Sad Songs: "I Don't Want to Listen to 'Walking on Sunshine!'"

Jessica Lea Mayfield

is only 21 years old, but her songs feel like they've been around much longer than that.

Dark and heartbreaking, Mayfield's songs have a weight missing from many performers in her age group. Tell Me, Mayfield's sophomore full-length effort, came out this past February and features a rather harrowing collection of songs that come across like a female, Americana version of Nick Cave.

Speaking from a rest stop somewhere in West Texas, and in anticipation of her upcoming show at Dada, Mayfield recently spoke to DC9 about her tortured muse and other sunny subjects.

You've been playing music since you were eight years old. Do you feel older than 21?
I only have one friend my own age. The rest of my friends are all in their 30s. You see, I didn't go to school. I've been working my whole life. I know a couple of people who are 24 and they kind of act like kids to me. I guess I am more mature than most 21-year-olds.

Were you home schooled?
Yes. I am a home school student/high school dropout.

Almost every review of your music describes your songs as dark and sad. Do you agree with that?
I do not thing all of my songs are necessarily dark. I do write a lot of sad songs, but I think that's a good thing for me. These sad songs help me not feel sad anymore. I don't want to write songs about being happy. If I feel that way, I'll just go out and be happy. It's easier to dwell on a dark feeling you might have.

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So you write directly about your own bad experiences in order to feel better?
Definitely. I only write songs that are very literally based on my own situations. Sometimes, they may use words or phrases that were said to me or that I said to other people. They are all very personal. The best songs are the sad ones. I do not want to listen to "Walking on Sunshine!"

You've said that your music draws from country and rock. Do you lean more in either direction?
I listen to a lot of '90s rock music and '80s country. Somehow, my songs come out like Americana. I love bands like Alabama. I love people like Keith Whitley. But I also love Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden. It's a big mix of things that somehow come together in my music.

You've said that Dave Grohl was one of your biggest influences. Any Foo Fighters songs in the set?
No, not yet. Maybe someday. I was influenced by him, but I've never met him. But I don't care about meeting people. I like the work certain artists have done, but I have no desire to meet them. I have people who enjoy my music and they come up to me and tell me how lucky they are to meet me and I tell them that we are all humans. No one is better than anyone just because they make music.

Is it true that when you played with your family in the band One Way Rider that the tour bus you used once belonged to Bill Monroe and Earnest Tubbs?
Yes! And now it sits at my aunt's house. I had a bunk instead of a bedroom. I didn't get my own room until I bought a house two years ago.

How did you end up working with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys?
He heard an EP that my brother and I put out, and he made the first contact through Myspace. We met up and we recorded eight songs on the day that we met.

Auerbach has compared you to Nick Cave. Is such a comparison both a blessing and a curse?
I don't think it is a bad comparison. I am not a big fan of being compared to anyone, but Nick Cave is certainly one of the better ones.

How has your songwriting evolved from your debut in 2008, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, to your newest effort, Tell Me?
Well, some of the songs on my first album were written when I was still a teenager. The natural progression is both mental and physical. The experiences present themselves much differently to someone who is 21, almost 22.

Some of your songs have been featured on a Starbucks compilation CD, and other songs of yours have made their way on to television shows like CSI: NY. When will you think that you have officially made it?
I was on Letterman, and that felt pretty great. The fact is that about the only way a musician can make music these days is if you can get a song into a movie or on a television program. It feels good when people come to a show and say they first heard my song while watching a show or getting some coffee.

Jessica Lea Mayfield performs Tuesday, July 26, at Dada

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