ndie Rock singer/songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield is a northern Ohio native who has moved back and forth between Nashville, Tenn., and the Buckeye State a few times since her solo career took off. While a steady home might appeal to those who travel often for their vocation (as musicians do), Mayfield enjoys hitting the highway.
In fact, Mayfield loves being on the road so much that when I call her to chat before her MidPoint Music Festival appearance, she chooses to talk outside of her house. In the yard or on the porch? Nope — she talks from her van in her driveway.
“I’ve owned a house here in Ohio now for four or five years,” Mayfield says. “But, you never know. I’m more of a gypsy. It doesn’t really matter. I travel so much that I like hotels better than my house. I’m more comfortable. All of the problems that you have to deal with at home you don’t have to deal with at a hotel. It’s somebody else’s problem. If the roof leaks, you can’t just change bedrooms [at home]. If you find a mouse in the bathroom, you can’t go and complain to the front desk. You have to get a mousetrap, and that’s gross. You’re at home and you’re like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to deal with this place.’ I’d rather be in a van. It’s where I feel more comfortable.”
Mayfield’s latest album, Make My Head Sing …, marks a stark departure from her previous efforts in its sonic approach. Her two earlier albums, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt and Tell Me, both produced by fellow northern Ohioan Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, were more rootsy and folksy affairs. Make My Head Sing … finds Mayfield’s original songs surrounded by atmospheric electric guitar riffs and supported by her husband, bassist and co-producer Jesse Newport, and drummer Matt Martin.
Her earlier work with Auerbach brought some notoriety for Mayfield and she says it was a positive experience. But with Make My Head Sing …, Mayfield enjoyed the freedom that came with being in the producer’s chair with her spouse by her side.
“I think (Auerbach) and I were done working together and at the same time I wasn’t going to make this album with anyone unless I was doing it myself, just because I want to have the fun,” she says. “I want to hear my ideas come to fruition. It’s nice to be able to do everything on your own time schedule and in your own way. I just don’t want to feel like any doors are closed musically. Any sounds that I want to work with, I want those doors to be open.
“I couldn’t make a record the same as the last two albums if I tried. I couldn’t be that consistent because I would go insane. I try and practice, but I just want to work on new stuff. I’ll pick up the guitar and it’s like, ‘No, you have to practice the new record.’ But, I want to come up with new things. I can’t pay attention long enough.”
Mayfield’s songs for Make My Head Sing … came about using a specific songwriting pattern.
“With this record, I started a lot with the guitar, doing the guitar parts first, and then the lyrics came after that,” she says. “I would usually write the lyrics first and then come up with the music. But at that time I think I was focusing more on guitar than I was on vocals. That helps me get back into writing, which I really love.
“If anything, songwriting helps me out. I feel like when I have the chance to write, whatever I’m thinking about or whatever is troubling me, once I write a song about it, it’s off my mind. I’m over it. That is the way I have made songwriting work for me.”
Mayfield says once she records a new album and it is time to hit the road and tour, the music and her nomadic inclinations merge.
“I love the country and I get to travel it and see it for my job,” she says. “I’ve seen so many places, and a lot of times it’s like, ‘Cool, I get to see all of these places and it doesn’t matter where I live.’ But, sometimes it is like, ‘I wished I lived here.’ I’d love to live in Colorado, man. But it is so far away from everywhere else. It’s a bummer. I think they call it the ‘Colorado Bubble,’ or something like that, because you have to drive pretty far to get to another major city.
“There are a lot of things I like about Ohio. My family is up here, but sometimes the weather pisses me off. We like it up here, but who knows. Somewhere down the road, we’ll move somewhere else just to do it because we don’t like to sit in the same place for too long.” ©
JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD plays the MidPoint Music Festival Friday at Memorial Hall.