By Olivia Ladd, Studio M staff //
Jessica Lea Mayfield spent her childhood moving back and forth between Ohio and Tennessee, playing in a family bluegrass band. This year, the confessional singer-songwriter returned to Nashville for a new start.
“I grew up in Tennessee, but it’s definitely a lot different now than it was in the late ‘90s,” she says in a phone interview. “I’m experiencing new Nashville in a way that I hadn’t.”
Recently the artist moved from her Goodlettsville, Tennessee, mountain home of the past two years into the city, after a rough separation with her former husband.
“When I moved into town, I was, like ‘Fuck this, I’m gonna go live on a mountain.’ And now that I’ve been kind of forced into living in town, I actually really like it,” Mayfield says. “I like being able to walk places, and there’s a lot more to do than there was even five, six years ago.”
She says she’s attended friends’ shows, spent time on the East side and gone to a Nashville Sounds game– all part of gaining back her independence.
The singer-songwriter’s latest LP, “Sorry Is Gone,” reflects these big life changes.
On July 10, the musician opened up on Instagram about her experience with domestic violence, which required her to have surgery, after visiting multiple doctors before being taken seriously.
“I think I’ve been learning a lot in the past two years about boundaries and self-love and self-esteem and all of those things that adult women need to have,” Mayfield says. “I’m resolving a lot of issues. I’m finally able to advocate for myself and speak up for myself.”
“Sorry Is Gone” is her dialogue on this. With lyrics like “But I deserve to occupy this space without feeling like I don’t belong / I’m done excusing myself / I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but sorry is gone,” the singer’s confidence comes to surface.
“It was difficult at first to get a lot of these things out,” Mayfield says. “This album wouldn’t have happened had I not put the work in on getting in touch with myself.”
“Sorry Is Gone” is written like a letter to herself– a proclamation of self-worth.
“It does feel like I am mentoring my inner teenager a little bit at this stage in my life,” she admits.
In addition to Jessica’s recovery from domestic violence, the singer was involved in a drunk driver accident in Nashville, causing physical and neurological injury, leading her to cancel her October tour dates; one step forward, two steps back.
“I have PTSD related to domestic violence incidents,” Mayfield says. “So when this car accident happened, it really made everything come back. I got injured and I couldn’t separate it from other bad things that have happened to me.”
Mayfield spent October attending physical therapy and visiting her neurologist to fully recover.
Though she wasn’t able to see her fans’ response out on the road, Mayfield is grateful for the reception to the album since its late September release.
“I feel like everyone’s been really supportive and it’s created a good loop of reaching out. Other people have been reaching out to me and talking to me about their problems,” Mayfield says. “I’m glad that people feel like they can talk to me about what happened.”
Mayfield reiterated the opening lyrics to “Wish You Could See Me Now,” driving the point home, “It’s just good to not have to keep everything in a hidden, secretive place. There’s no reason to be ashamed about any of this, so why don’t we all just talk about it?”
The record is softer but more self-assured than 2014’s grungy “Make My Head Sing,” recorded in the midst of her abusive situation and co-produced by her then husband.
“With ‘Make My Head Sing,’ I was going through a lot of really heavy things that I felt like I couldn’t talk about, so I ended up speaking through my guitar instead of lyrics,” Mayfield says. “With this record, I was able to get back more into the songwriting and worry about how it would sound later.”
The album is produced by John Agnello, who has worked with everyone from Alice Cooper to Kurt Vile to Dinosaur Jr., and it features a stellar lineup of musicians — including longtime friend Seth Avett and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth.
“I had no worries working with (Agnello). I wanted to be more involved, but I was bummed that I didn’t need to because he got me, and I liked every single idea that he had,” Mayfield says. “It was almost too easy.”
Mayfield echoed a similar sentiment toward Natalie Neal, a director “specializing in women’s stories” and the mastermind behind the candy-colored “Meadow” video.
“Natalie is another person where, when I went to work with her, I immediately felt like she understood me and my aesthetic and what I wanted,” Mayfield says. “I felt very comfortable working with her.”
The video was filmed at Bob Baker Marina in Los Angeles, complete with marionette dolls. Mayfield says it’s one of her favorites.
“Sorry Is Gone” is the result of years of personal growth for the artist, who has been making music her entire life.
Over the past decade, her sound has grown from stripped-down emotive Americana to punk influenced roots rock with a ‘90s grunge flare, which really shines through on her latest album.
Mayfield recorded her first EP in a bedroom at age 15 and was just 18 when her debut album “Blasphemy So Heartfelt” came out in 2008.
After a decade of success, she shared advice with her younger self during our conversation.
“I would say, ‘Hey, take it one day at a time. Everything isn’t the end of the world, and if someone wants you to do something, and you really don’t want to do it, and it hurts your stomach and you feel like it’s wrong, then trust your gut.’”
She’s broken away from the darkness which defined her early songwriting, and now it’s her self-worth that does the speaking.
“It’s weird, because the way things happen, they lead you to other places, but I definitely felt like I didn’t have a lot of confidence back then, and other people saw that and took advantage of that.”
She adds, “I don’t succumb to pressure as easily now.”
Olivia Ladd is a senior in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.