Brothers and sisters don't always become best friends. But because they were both homeschooled while growing up in Kent, singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield and her singer-songwriter brother, David, who have both gone on to become national recording artists, bonded on a deeper level.
"My Barbies would always just so happen to have a run-in with his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," jokes Jessica Lea Mayfield in an email interview when asked about her childhood. "And we were always there for each other when we needed a musical counterpart for whatever songs we wanted to play."
Mayfield and her brother are currently touring together as part of what they've dubbed "The Sibling Rivalry Tour"; the 13-date tour's final tour is on Dec. 14 at the Kent Stage. In the concert, the two perform together, playing songs from their individual catalogues while throwing a few choice covers into the mix. Despite their longstanding friendship and musical partnership, it's the first time they've performed together in this kind of context.
Initially, Mayfield started performing at an age when most kids think stardom is completely unattainable. When she was 8, she hit the road with her family's band, One Way Rider, a bluegrass ensemble that played throughout the region. She fondly remembers one particular show. "Our bus was parked next to one of my and David's favorites, [bluegrass and gospel musician] Doyle Lawson," she says. "I had just gotten my kitty, whom I named Doyle, and Doyle himself was pleased to meet him and told me of his cats, whose names I still remember. They were Marmalade, Freckles and Spotty."
Mayfield eventually asked her brother to teach her how to play guitar, and she soon started writing her own original songs. She was all of 11 years old. Much like Cat Power, the indie singer whose lilting vocals possess a hypnotic power, Mayfield has a tender voice that carries a quiet intensity. Recording under the moniker "Chittlin," Mayfield quickly started to make a name for herself as she played small clubs and coffeehouses throughout Northeast Ohio. Her brother produced her first EP, 2006's
White Lies, and even though she reportedly only released a total of 100 copies of the album, it established her as a significant talent.
"David has always had a passion for capturing sounds," she says of the recording process, which took place in her brother's bedroom. "He always had some new gear, and by that time, software to play with! I was lucky to be a guinea pig and enjoyed making recordings with him."
That album then caught the attention of Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach, who signed on to produce Mayfield's major-label debut, 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, an album he recorded at his home studio, which at the time was located in Akron. The album's single, "Kiss Me Again," was featured in the hit TV series Gossip Girl. Music magazines fawned over the album, in part because Mayfield displayed the kind of vocal power that suggested Mayfield, who had dropped the "Chittlin" moniker, could hold her own up against alt-country chanteuses such as Neko Case or Emmylou Harris.
She followed the album up with 2011's Tell Me, which again paired her with Auerbach, who was so supportive of her ability that he constantly said good things about her in interviews. The album's opening tune, "I'll Be the One You Want Someday," suggests a certain maturity, and the distorted guitars sound like something out of a Neil Young song. It's a stellar effort that Mayfield says she hopes to follow up in the near future; she's currently in the process of recording a new album.
"I am very excited to be writing and preparing to record this next record," she says. "I am coming into my own musically and will be heavily involved in all aspects. However this next record ends up being, the end product will hopefully be a true reflection of who I am as an artist."
For now, however, she's still basking in the glow of touring with her brother, who fronts a band called The David Mayfield Parade. An award-winning guitar and mandolin player who played in the folk -rock act Cadillac Sky, he has started to experience success, too. His 2010 album self-titled album, which has much in common with his sister's albums, is a terrific indie folk release that commences with "Blue Skies Again," a gentle folk song that sounds like it could be a traditional number. He is currently at work on a new album as well.
"It's interesting getting back into the swing of the things," Mayfield says of the tour. "We've both come into our own and our stage presences are completely different. That said, we still know what the other one is going to do musically, and practices were minimal because playing together is almost engraved in our brains."