Jessica Lea Mayfield
Growing up in Newton Falls, Jessica Lea Mayfield remembers racing around on the dirt go cart track in front of her family’s doublewide trailer.
These days, Mayfield is on a musical fast track with a new album, a new record label and a new tour that comes to the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland on Saturday.
“Make My Head Sing” is Mayfield’s third release. Her first two albums were produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and put Mayfield squarely in the alt-country vein with some rock and pop touches and an emphasis on her sweet, pure vocals. She appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman” and was dubbed an “Artist to Watch” by Rolling Stone.
On the new album, which Mayfield coproduced with her husband and bass player Jesse Newport, that voice instantly is recognizable, but it’s accompanied by a heavier, ’90s alt-rock guitar sound.
“When ‘Tell Me’ came out, I toured that record for awhile and got to the point where I was feeling bored and just didn’t really know what I was doing,” Mayfield said. “I hadn’t stopped moving for so long, flying by the seat of my pants, not even stopping a minute to mull things over.
“With this new record, I bought this Gretsch baritone guitar at the Guitar Emporium in Louisville. I wrote the song ‘Party Drugs’ – that’s where the title comes from – and just really fell in love with playing that guitar. It’s the most fun I’ve had doing anything in a long time, and if you’re not having fun then what the hell are you doing it for?”
Mayfield finished recording the album at Club Roar in Nashville before looking for a label, eventually signing with ATO Records, cofounded by Dave Matthews and home to such acts as Alabama Shakes, My Morning Jacket, Drive-By Truckers, Primus and Trey Anastasio.
“We did it ourselves. We didn’t want anyone else involved until afterward.”
The quieter bent of her first two albums, “With Blasphemy So Heartfelt” and “Tell Me,” was more a reflection of the kind of music she grew up with and the fact that there always were acoustic instruments around.
“I did what was accessible,” she said. “If we had had money for the stuff, I would have had more toys and fun gear back then.”
Her parents, David and Valerie Mayfield, had a country-bluegrass band called One Way Rider, and they moved the family from Newton Falls to Nashville when Jessica was 8 years old to pursue music more seriously (the family returned to Ohio when she was a teenager, and when she’s not touring, Mayfield calls Kent home).
Her older brother, David – who has gone onto a successful career leading his band David Mayfield Parade and performing with such acts as the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons – played bass with their parents, and Jessica started performing with them as well as they traveled in an old bus that once belonged to bluegrass legend Bill Monroe.
“I begged my parents and my brother to let me be in the band, probably before I was ready,” she said. “They would be practicing and I would come in and just start singing someone else’s song.”
Being a child playing music for adults wasn’t always wonderful, which she explores on “Make My Head Sing.” One of its most haunting tracks, “I Wanna Love You,” was inspired by a stalker who first started approaching her at her parents’ shows when she was 11 and continued to follow her as a solo artist.
“For a long time there was this dude who would come to my shows and talk to me at shows,” Mayfield said. “Then he started to come by my house – he found out where I lived when I was teenager – and he’d leave weird things at the house. He’d leave letters that insinuated a relationship between the two of us that never existed.
“It was very frightening to me. I wrote that song as a way of getting control of something, taking control of a fear brought on by someone else.”
Mayfield wrote all 10 songs on ”Make My Head Sing.” In the past, she’s collaborated with her brother and covered some of his songs (check out “Blue Skies Again” on “Tell Me”).
“I really respect him as a songwriter,” she said. “He’s one of the only people I’ve covered and am comfortable enough to cowrite with, and he’s put out songs of mine on his records … When I’m writing a song and get stuck in a rut, he’s one of the only people I’ll call.”
They took a break from their respective careers last year for a short “Sibling Rivalry” tour.
“I’d like to do something like that again,” she said. “It’s fun just to hang out and do a bunch of bluegrass covers, but it’s more important to support our original music.”