Singer-songwriter David Mayfield began his career by playing with his parents in One Way Rider, a local group that played folk and bluegrass at county fairs and festivals. Mayfield eventually branched out on his own and began writing his own songs; he moved from Kent to Nashville in 2006 (and just recently moved to back to Ohio) to have a go at being a successful sideman. But a tour with his sister, singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield, introduced him to folk revivalists like Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers. His new album, Good Man Down, is very much in the same vein. Roots rock songs like the Byrds-esque "Love Will Only Break Your Heart" and the twangy "Another Year" sound like they could be traditional numbers. Mayfield recently phoned in from a Memphis tour stop to talk about the disc.
Talk about the last two years and what stands out as some of the most memorable experiences.
I've just playing a lot of shows. I'm very blue collar when it comes to my outlook on music. You clock in and put on the best show you can. In the last two years, I've played some 300 shows. There's been lots of exciting things happening that I wasn't even prepared for. I opened for Willie Nelson and Los Lobos and played Bonnaroo with The Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. I played with them during their shows. I never would have expected I would have a chance to do that.
You've been playing music since you were a child. What are some of your earliest memories?
My mom and dad had a country band called One Way Rider that played around Northeast Ohio. They couldn't keep a bass player sober long enough to keep working. I remember being about 12 years old and saying, "I can do that." My parents said, "We don't have a bass but if you can learn to play the bass lines on this acoustic guitar, we'll buy you a bass." I studied and studied and obsessed over playing bass. I was home schooled so I didn't have anything else to do. I think my dad got an income tax refund and bought me a bass. I joined the band and was playing bars around Cleveland and Akron and Kent when I was 12 years old.
I know you were an influence on your sister. Did she influence you in some way, too?
Yeah. For the longest time, I was content to be a sideman. I moved to Nashville because I played a pizza place in Kent every Monday for five years. I have a friend who plays in Akron and he had been playing a place for 15 years. That night, I was on Craigslist looking for rooms in Nashville. I didn't want to play the same pizza place for ten years. It was while I was gone that Jessica really started writing great songs and that was inspiring to see. I was playing with a country artist in Nashville when she put out a record and went on tour with The Avett Brothers. I had a choice. Do I stay on this tour bus and play cheesy pop country music or do I take a pay cut and get in a dirty van and drive around the country with my baby sister. I decided to take the pay cut and that put me in the whole world of hanging out with The Avett Brothers and being told there is validation in presenting your own music.
Talk about recording this album in Nashville and what that experience was like.
It was incredible. We recorded about 70 percent of the record at RCA B in Nashville, which is where all Roy Orbison hits were recorded. Jim Reeves, George Jones and Dolly Parton recorded there. The rest we recorded across the street at the Quonset Hut Studio. Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan recorded there. So much music had been recorded at those two studios. I sang into the same microphone that Patsy Cline sang "Crazy" into. I am not a big vibes person, but it's undeniable when you're looking down at the ground and thinking about who has stood there.
The album's called Good Man Down. Is that a theme?
Yeah, I think so. It's definitely a darker sort of theme than the last record. I feel like if someone were to compare my albums to the Indiana Jones trilogy, I gotta feel like this is my Temple of Doom. It's the weirder and creepier album. There's definitely an underlying theme of depression and coping with that.
In the opening track, you sing, "I left Ohio and I thought I was a man." I assume this is autobiographical. Talk about the particular experience to which you refer.
That's when I decided to pack things up and move to Nashville. You watch a band on Letterman and you see the singer and at that point that wasn't even plausible to me. That dude in all black playing the simple acoustic part. I thought I could do that. But it dawned on me that no one would come to Kent and put up a flyer saying, "Hey, we need a musician to play on Letterman with us." You have to go and get under their noses. That's what I did. I moved in with strangers I found on Craigslist and started playing the honky tonks on Broadway.
That song with Dierks Bentley is incredible. How'd you get him to sing on the record?
It's funny. When my family was traveling around, he saw us play when he was just a couple of years older than me. He saw us play and later I was playing a secret after-hours show at [Nashville's] Station Inn with Mumford and Sons and Old Crow Medicine Show. Dierks came out on stage and we were on stage singing a song and he turned to me and said, "Were you in the band One Way Rider? I remember seeing you." It's crazy that he remembered that. He's a super cool guy. We got to talking about things and he said if I ever wanted to write a song or do something I should hit him up. It never worked out time-wise but when I started recording that record, he said he wanted to sing at RCA B. We didn't have time to write anything and we decided to do "Tempted" because we were both big Marty Stuart fans. It's a good light moment on an otherwise heavy record.
Do you think fans of Mumford and The Avett Brothers will gravitate to this record?
I have realistic expectations. I don't expect for one of my songs to blow up on the charts like [Mumford & Sons'] "Little Lion Man" because I don't have the big machine behind it. Since I've been doing my own project, I've opened for The Avett Brothers maybe 15 or 20 times. In every city that I opened for them, I can go back and sell the most tickets. It's very clear the boost I get from that. I'm not expecting to be any kind of overnight success. I just want to keep going back and hope for more people and to sell more records. I'm content to keep that steady growth going.