Jessica Lea Mayfield Is A Singer For Girls Who Are Over Not Being Taken Seriously

I learned of Jessica Lea Mayfield after a friend sent me a Jessica Lea Mayfield song that they’d heard on the HBO’s show, “Animals.”

That feels appropriate, because when I get on the phone with Jessica, my new favorite musician, she tells me of how she’s just moved 30 minutes outside of Nashville, and that she expects to “see more animals than people for a while.”

There’s just something about her music that feels so familiar, but also not at all. It’s folk music with a backbone; she’s girly, and serious, and her influences — Metallica, Nirvana, Elliott Smith — are transparent in her own work, though still managing to steer clear of sounding derivative.

After we hang up, she texts me a photo of a tiny lil’ bunny, one she found on the mountain in Nashville she’s currently living on, confirming my feeling that if I only saw animals and listened to Jessica Lea Mayfield songs for the next month, I’d be happy.

Read our exclusive interview with the singer-songwriter below.

What’s your musical background? Is there a certain type of music you’re more drawn to?

The first music I was ever introduced to was country and bluegrass. My parents moved to Nashville when I was a kid, and we lived on an old tour bus, traveling around to various places and playing as a family band. I was busking on the street from when I was 8, until I was 13.  But you know, music is music, regardless of the genre. It always confused me when people would talk about the music I listened to growing up, versus the music that I’d found and liked, or the music I liked before. I don’t even care where it comes from. If I can feel someone’s emotion in something, then I like it.

And now you’re married, right? Can you talk about that?

We met in DeMoines, Iowa, and my husband was on tour with a band called The Generationals, and we ended up at the same festival, and were introduced through friends. I was like, hey, who’s this cute guy? and we ended up hooking up in some green room camper, but he didn’t ask me for my phone number, which I was confused about. He ended up texting my friend, asking for my phone number, and my friend waited 3 whole days to give Jesse my number. Then 10 minutes later he called me. He was too scared to leave a voicemail, so it was just like nothing [laughing]. Anyway, the tour ended, and he came to our last show. We met in July of 2011, and were married in December.

What’d you wear? 

I wore a dress from Free People, pink fishnets, cowboy boots, and I had a hot pink mullet [laughing]. We’d been talking about marriage for a while, but basically, we just woke up and were like, let’s get married. We called our parents, and were like, “Don’t be mad, we got married!” and then we ended up having a big party. And we’ve been married for four years.

I guess you got married pretty young. Though recently, I realized that absolutely nothing is normal in terms of dating anyway. I think people are struggling a lot to figure out how to connect with one another these days, so maybe getting married young is the move. 

It’s funny that you mention that, because I feel like I’m finally at a place where I’m old enough to be married. But that makes sense, because socializing these days really does involve just scrolling through your Instagram feed and then binge-watching Netflix.  I get panicky sometimes, because I realize meeting people, or just being around people, is a really different thing than it used to be.

I wonder how it affects the music industry also. 

I went to see a show the other night by myself, and the whole place was full, but nobody was talking to each other. In between everything, everyone was being extremely awkward [laughing]. Seriously though, it’s like, how did people ever meet people and start conversations?

Do your dreams influence your music?

I haven’t had too many musical dreams, but I do hash things out in my sleep. If I’ve been fretting over something, or just been thinking a lot, I might have a dream where something bad is happening, or have to sort of face whatever fear I’m dealing with in my dream. Our dreams are set up by our thoughts, and I realize a lot of my dreams involve or deal with my insecurities. Which is also why I try to not obsess over them too much, and also why I have to write about whatever’s going on in my life. It’s the only way I can get those dreams to stop.

And so what kind of things are you writing about for your new album?

Loneliness, that’s one. I’ve been really singing about feminism a lot more, as it’s become really important to me to be more vocal about things like this, which have always bothered me so bad that I’d never known how to verbalize them, and usually I’m pretty good at that sort of thing. ‘Cause we still live in a world where women are not taken seriously. It happens in music all the time. I’ve just gone through so many instances of being in the studio, and I’ll have an idea, and I’ll say it, but nobody really is into it, and then a few minutes later, one of the guys says it, and it’s the best idea ever until anyone’s ever heard—

That’s so real. 

Yeah, and I mean, it’s ultimately more than just about my experiences too, because unfortunately I think too much about a lot things I can’t control, and just worry a lot about things that don’t affect my personal life directly. I’ve had a really rough life, and while things are finally at peace, I do tend to get really upset about certain things, because thinking about other people feeling bad feels so awful.

How has your songwriting style developed or changed? 

I’ve almost gone back to a way of writing that’s more like when I first started, and I’ve been listening to a lot of the music from when I first started, like Elliot Smith. For the last album, I wrote everything on instruments first, using music as the emotion, and then adding in lyrics. But now I’ve been more into starting my songs with words, by thinking about what I’m trying to say, and then figuring out what the background music is for what I need to say.

What’s the best part of the process for you?

I really like to be in the studio. Touring gets a little much for me. I get anxious. Touring can leave you feeling depressed and weird. There are some nights where I don’t want a room full of people staring at me. I was able to ignore it when I was a kid and even when I was a teenager, but sometimes when I’m performing, I’ll look out at the audience, and I’ll get upset in the same way that I do when there’s an old man staring at me creepily in the grocery store [laughing]. You know? I’m really excited about the privacy of the studio, and that creative time for recording my next album.

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