Kent-area native returns home for Folk Festival

Lisa Robertson

Jessica Lea Mayfield is living the aspiring singer/songwriter’s dream. At only 21, she has recorded two solo albums, “With Blasphemy So Heartfelt,” released in 2008, and “Tell Me,” which is to be released February 2011.

Born in Ravenna, Mayfield spent her childhood moving back and forth between Kent and Nashville, Tenn.

After gaining some success and “a little bit of money,” she decided she wanted to buy a house, and made Kent her permanent home.

“I had to think to myself where home was, and it was definitely Kent,” she said.

Mayfield grew up playing music in her family’s bluegrass band, One Way Rider. She always loved to play music as a child, and after a memorable experience at 8 years old, she knew she wanted to make it her career.

“I was watching TV, and I saw the music video for “My Hero” by the Foo Fighters, and I remember having this thought of like, that’s what I want to do when I grow up. From there on out… there was no doubt in my mind that I was going to grow up and play music for a living,” she said.

Mayfield has two major musical influences in her life right now. The first is Dan Auerbach, who she has been working and recording with since she was 16 years old. His father passed along the tracks Mayfield recorded with her brother, and he connected with the young singer on MySpace. Their sessions produced a great deal of material for both artists, Mayfield said, which Auerbach suggested turning into her first album, “With Blasphemy So Heartfelt.”

Along with Auerbach, Mayfield credits her brother David as one of the biggest musical influences in her life, and is exuberant in her praise.

“If I didn’t know him at all… if I just met him today, I would be like, this is one of the most badass people in the whole entire world,” she said. “He’s just one of the best musicians and songwriters.”

Mayfield places a great deal of trust in her brother, and he is one of the few people she can collaborate with as a songwriter. She admits she’s hard to write songs with because her material is so personal, making it hard to explain to a stranger.

Two of the songs on her forthcoming album, “Tell Me,” are co-written with David, and she also covered one of his songs, “Blue Skies Again,” for the album. She wrote and recorded material for the album last February.

As a songwriter, she’s always considering how she has and will continue to grow as a person. She reiterated the fact that she was only 15 when she began her solo career, and as a result many of her early songs were about having her heart broken. Now she’s the one doing the heartbreaking and turning it into song.

“I can’t be 16 and get my heart broken over and over and over again. That’s stupid,” she said, talking about how she’s matured as an artist.

Her current musical tastes range from the late and lamented Elliot Smith, Hank Williams, Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age, plus a slightly embarrassed admission of Katy Perry. Then there is her favorite band.

“The band Alabama rocks my fucking world. I love every single song they have ever made. It’s perfection,” she said. “You cannot find one flaw with any member of Alabama. It’s like an odyssey or something.” Mayfield, currently opening for Jay Farrar, and later this year Justin Townes Earle, plans to headline her own tour in support of her new album February-June 2011. She and her team are talking about openers right now, which she describes as a surprisingly difficult decision.

“It’s always tough to figure out who’s going out, who’s going to come with you, because you can’t always bring your friends because you have to factor in like, who are my fans going to like, and who’s going to draw tickets,” she said.

Mayfield plays both solo and with a backing band while out on tour, which includes a drummer, electric guitar player, keyboard player and a bass player. Her band will be joining her for the Folk Festival show. Like other artists, she goes back and forth between wanting to be out on the road and in the studio.

“It’s one of those things where it’s like, when you’re at home and you’re writing songs and you’re recording, you’re like, ‘God, I want to get back out on the road,’” she said. “And then when you’ve been on the road for a few weeks you’re like, ‘no, I want to get, I want to go home. I want to record these songs I wrote. I want to be in the studio creating.’”

Mayfield plans to play songs from her past album and sample some of her new tracks during her Folk Festival appearance at 8 p.m. at The Kent Stage along with Tim Easton and Frontier Ruckus. She really enjoys playing her new material, she said, which usually results in her manager reminding her that fans bought tickets to hear their old favorites as well.

She’s excited to be playing in Kent, an experience she calls weird and exciting. Perhaps even more than playing a hometown show, she eagerly looks forward to returning to her own home after the show, instead of the usual hotel room.

As for the future, Mayfield said she just wants to continue with what she’s doing now. “I’m supporting myself with my music and getting to travel, and I think that I just want to continue doing exactly what I’m doing, and I just want the rooms to get bigger and the guarantees to be bigger, and hopefully make a little more money than what I’m making now.”

I can’t do anything else but this… and that’s totally fine with me, because I don’t want to do anything else but this.”

Contact Lisa Robertson at [email protected].