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Q&A: Singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield

BY LINDSAY DOUGLAS | JUNE 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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Jessica Lea Mayfield, an Ohio-born singer/songwriter, started performing with her family band when she was just 8. By 15, she had made her first album. And now, at 21, she has opened for the Black Keys and finished recording her second full-length album. The singer is set to perform at the 80/35 music festival in Des Moines onSaturday.Then,Mayfieldwill head toIowa City for an 8 p.m. performance July 3 at Gabe’s, 330 E. Washington St. Admission is $10 at the door.

The Daily Iowan: How long have you been performing?

Jessica Lea Mayfield: I started performing with my family’s bluegrass band One Way Rider when I was 8 years old. I sang gospel quartets and harmonies until I was around 11, then I started playing rhythm guitar as well. I grew up touring and playing bluegrass festivals

DI: How old were you when you started your solo career? What pushed you to do this?

Mayfield:I started writing songs around when I was 11, sort of how most girls would write in a diary. As a way to get my feelings out of my head and into something else.

DI: What’s your favorite song to sing? Why?

Mayfield: Oh dear, of mine? That varies night to night I suppose. I have to sing the same songs every night, so it’s hard to get excited about the song itself. I more look forward to performing with my band.

DI: I read an interview that said you wrote a lot of your music when you were 15. What was going on in your life that inspired you?

Mayfield: My entire first record was written about a lot of firsts … first kiss, first heartbreak, first awkward intimate interactions, etc.

DI: I also read that you think of yourself as a bit of a dark person. This translates in your music; why is that?

Mayfield: Oh, I don’t think I’m dark at all. A lot of people try to drape this “queen of darkness” thing over me, I guess because my music has minor chords or something.

DI: Talk to me a little about the cover art of your albums. Owls?

Mayfield: I collect owl figurines. I have more than 300 of them.

DI: What was it like recording with the Black Keys?

Mayfield: Fun. I love Attack and Release and was really excited to have the opportunity to be a part of that record.

DI: Who else would you like to collaborate with?

Mayfield: I’m not a big jam/collaborate person. I enjoy playing music with my friends and family when it comes naturally, but I definitely don’t have any sort of super-group jam fantasies.

DI: Have you always known you wanted to be in the music industry?

Mayfield: Yes. My whole entire life, this is all I’ve worked toward … and all I know how to do. It’s a weird lifestyle.

DI: A lot of your songs are obviously about love. What previous relationships have given you material to sing about?

Mayfield: All of my dudes have given me something to use in my songwriting. The record experiments more with writing about being in love with a certain, unlove-related feeling … as well.

DI: Do you have a special place/time that you like to write?

Mayfield: I have to be alone, but aside from that no, not really.

DI: What comes first — the music or the lyrics?

Mayfield: It’s different every time; there is really no set formula to my songwriting.

DI: What’s next?

Mayfield: Just this same thing, writing, recording, and touring. I’m not gonna quit anytime soon.

DI: How long is your current tour?

Mayfield: I’ll be gone for a little over a month. But it’s OK, because my parents have the dog, and I concocted Cat Food Mountain for my kitty.

DI: Do you have a favorite performance that comes to mind right away?

Mayfield: There are just too many to choose just one … sometimes everything just feels perfect, and you have a lot of fun up there.


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