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Arts and Entertainment

Jessica Lea Mayfield returns to Kent
Kent Stage hosts one of our own. Young singer shares where inspiration comes from.

Kabir Bhatia
With a new LP, "Tell Me" getting raves, Jessica Lea Mayfield is the Great Platinum Blonde Hope of Kent.
Courtesy of Dawn Einsel
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Jessica Lea Mayfield is the latest Northeast Ohio musician to land in the national spotlight. This week, The New York Times made her newest CD a critic’s choice. Associated Press calls “Tell Me” enchanting and mesmerizing. And “Rolling Stone” gave it three-and-a-half of five stars. WKSU's Kabir Bhatia talked to Mayfield this week about Kent, the Black Keys and her cat...

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Welcome to unpromising interview starts, with Jessica Lea Mayfield.

“(MAYFIELD)…I’m tired of telling people, just, you know, answering all those questions I guess…”

The Ohio-born, Tennessee-bred Mayfield seems bemused by all the attention coming her way. A product of the Buckeye slingshot which brings people back to the state, she’s touring heavily with the release of her second LP, and major label debut, “Tell Me.” But Kent is still home.

“(MAYFIELD)…I got to see my cat, Doyle, and I named him after Doyle Lawson. I didn’t get to see my dog, who’s named after Elliot Smith. I like touring, and I enjoy the routine, and it becomes harder when you get older and become less of a gypsy and you start to develop a home life and you have a home to take care of. I own a house here in Kent, Ohio…”

Mayfield’s big break came in 2007, when she dueted with fellow Ohioan and Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach on their LP, “Attack and Release.” She’s clearly tired of re-telling the story of Auerbach's discovering her first EP on MySpace and the whirlwind career that ensued. He's produced both her full-length albums, which have been described as everything from emo synth-pop to alt-country ballads. The New York Times has settled on “sort of Gothic Country.”
To the public-at-large, Mayfield seemingly popped out of nowhere, fully formed. Yet the 21-year-old started singing and touring with her family at age 8.

“(MAYFIELD)…We toured around on the bus, going to festivals and things. I learned how to play guitar by watching other people and accepting the environment around me. I’m a home school, high school dropout…”

That bus belonged to bluegrass legend Bill Monroe at one time, and with awards and glowing reviews, this is the point at which most "wise-beyond-their-years" artists meet a tragic end. Yet her appearance at the Kent Stage on Tuesday the day “Tell Me” was released, was far from a farewell show.

“(MAYFIELD)…It’s not technically a farewell show, because I’m on tour right now, but it’s definitely a return home gathering of family and friends for the release of my new record…”

Though Mayfield looks like Debbie Harry's cool daughter, she channels Frances Farmer with her sad songs, sadly played, and sung with, well, sadness. Yet she says…

“(MAYFIELD)…I’m a happy person, I think I get all my sadness and all my crazy out in my music, and it kind of helps me purge myself of that, and then I can be fun and happy and approachable. I think if I was sad all the time then I’d have happy songs. People who sing about dancing in a field of flowers and being happy all the time probably want to slit their wrists…”

The delight peaks out from the depression when she talks about what’s next in her bustling career.

“(MAYFIELD)…Definitely busier than I was last year, the year before. I’m excited that the record is getting good reviews. I just hope the fans like it as much as they like the last one…”

Those fans include Garrison Keillor, who invited Mayfield onto "A Prairie Home Companion" last summer when the show visited Blossom Music Center.

"(KEILLOR)…You wrote your first song at 11? What do you have to write about when you're 11?"
"(MAYFIELD)…Stuff you don't learn about till you're 20…"

Mayfield is now 21, and despite her recent visit to Kent, she's back on the road with Justin Towne Earle and the Avett Brothers till the end of the month.

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