Earlier this year, singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield posted a note on Instagram about a domestic violence incident she experienced.
“I’ve struggled with posting this, but feel it’s necessary,” she wrote. “Last week, I had a surgery for a broken shoulder related to a domestic violence incident. I had been suffering with this injury (and others that still require surgeries) for 3 years. This is not uncommon. I want to tell anyone who is protecting their abuser that it’s not worth it. No one who hurts you loves you. No one should EVER hurt you. Don’t believe them when they say they are sorry. It will happen again. Leave after the first time. It only gets worse. My silence helps no one except the person who did this to me.”
The pain she experienced rears its head on her new album, Sorry Is Gone
. The album’s songs chronicle the breakup of her marriage.
“It’s definitely emotional and something that needed to happen,” she says when asked about the decision to write about her personal life. “I needed to talk and get these things out, so they bubbled up and came out.”
Speaking via phone from the porch of a temporary residence in East Nashville, Mayfield, says writing about her traumatic experience has enabled to move beyond it.
“I think that my last record was really heavy, and this one has hints of that,” she says. “I’m talking about heavier things but with a better attitude. I’m on the other side of it. I’m not sucked inside of the dark place anymore. I spent a lot of years feeling like a ghost. I’m definitely out of that place, and I feel like I’m back in my own body. I’m not going to have my life stripped from me or taken from me in any way. I am not going to have other people pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do. That’s been a consistent theme in my life.”
Mayfield, who’s almost 30 now, grew up playing music in her family’s band when she was still a child.
“I have always had to be an adult,” she says. “If anything, it’s made me a giant kid now. I’ve always had a lot of responsibilities. Adults would treat me as an adult. I saw things that kids aren’t subjected to. I didn’t go to school. People would come to me when I was 8 or 9 for advice. My parents and parents’ friends would come to me. I would say things like, ‘Here’s the deal. This is where you’re screwing up. You’re spending too much money. That person is not nice to you.’ As I got older, I realized I need to put the energy into my own. People would come to me and take and take and take, and I would just give and give and give. Now, I’m reserving more for me.”
Her family’s band played bluegrass music, and that influence continues to seep into Mayfield’s material. But she says she didn’t truly value the experience until later.
“What I listened to and played were two different things,” she says. “I was playing bluegrass in my family’s band, and I was listening to Soundgarden and Queens of the Stone Age. I was rebelling against my parents, but as I got older, I gained more of an appreciation for it.”
A producer/artist blind date helped her make the decision to work with John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Phosphorescent). He helped assemble the band that plays on the disc. The group includes Seth Avett on backing vocals and keys, drummer Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth, Sun Kil Moon), bassist Emil Amos (Grails, Holy Sons) and guitarist Cameron Deyell (Sia, Streets of Laredo.)
“We had brunch, and we spent the whole time talking about guitar pedals,” she says of that “date” with Agnello. “I was in New York. I had the chance to use the B Room at Electric Lady to write some songs. I knew he understood my vibe. I didn’t have to explain myself to him."
After a really long brunch, she invited him to Electric Lady, and they hung out there.
"It was one of those things where we just really hit it off, and I wanted to work with him more," says Mayfield. "Sometimes, you work with someone, and they don’t get your vibe, and you’re fighting to get your personality in there. It wasn’t like that with him. He complimented my ideas."
She wound up recording the album at Electric Lady and at Water Music in New Jersey.
"I love [Water Music]," she says. "I had a living space there. They have apartment areas where you can stay. It was important for me not to go home. I would wake up in the morning and shower and eat breakfast and walk 15 feet over to the control room and start working on the album.”
Mayfield recorded one other track, “Offa My Hands,” in Nashville with friend Patrick Damphier.
“He wrote that song for me, and I wanted to put it on the album,” she says. “We decided it would be a good idea to record it. I think it’s very complimentary. It meant a lot for me. When I was writing the songs for the album, I thought I was writing two different albums for an album. I thought it’d be an acoustic and an electric album, but the songs are brothers and sisters. They definitely work together.”
A song that sounds like it could be on a PJ Harvey album from the '90s, the disc's opener, “Wish You Could See Me Now,” features distorted guitars and hoarse vocals. Another highlight, the ballad “Soaked Through,” possesses a Mazzy Star vibe with its ethereal vocals and ominous sounding drums. "He shook me and he cried and he said, 'Please stay,'" Mayfield sings, clearly referencing a personal experience.
“It took me a while to be able to sing it,” she says of “Soaked Through.” “The ones that are the hardest ones for me to sing and come to terms with are the ones that I need to sing. It means I need to talk about it, and it will be worth it. When people hear that one or talk about, it’s fine. I’m now immune to singing it. There were times when I would try to sing it and cry, but that also helps me confront it. You sing something so many times, you become immune to it and it doesn’t own you. I own the situation now, and I can talk about it. I’m in control.”
With these songs out of her system, Mayfield says she’s not sure where the next album will take her. But with her broken marriage behind her, she says she’s not going to dwell on the past. In fact, she wants to embrace a new perspective on life and songwriting.
“I’m still writing and doing all sorts of projects,” she says. “I think if anything, I want to continue to be open and honest. I just want to be someone that other people can connect to. I always want to be real and have this level of relatable emotions. If one thing is consistent, it’s that with each year that I get older, I will continue to be open about what I think. The older I get, the more I don’t give a fuck.”