She can sound as old as the earth, bearing the wisdom of generations in her placid voice. The outsides of her songs smolder with twinges of firebrand psychedelia, like Mother Nature encroaching on an abandoned civilization and taking back what is rightfully hers. And there's a Spartan clarity to her music, a hard-working pioneer ethic that doesn't waste a single breath or note. But the real miracle of Jessica Lea Mayfield is that she does all this while maintaining the potent, heartfelt emotions of a teenager. Like the very best pop music, Mayfield's songs are motored by the hopes and desperation of adolescence, which stands to reason: She's only 19.
She's had plenty of experience, though. "I started writing songs when I was 11. But they weren't as bad you'd expect. Some of them I could sing now and someone would ask, 'Oh, did you write that yesterday?' And I'd be like, 'No, I wrote it when I was 12.' But I don't sing them anymore because I can do better. I didn't know what I was talking about!" she adds, laughing.
She's no stranger to performing, either. Mayfield first hit the road at age eight, when her family's bluegrass band One Way Rider traveled the festival circuit. "I never got nervous, ever in my life. I mean, I've been doing it since I was a little kid. I didn't really understand that was something that people could get nervous about. I just wanted to do what my whole family was doing. I'd say, 'Oh, let me do that. Let me get up and sing.' You know, my mom would sing, my brother would sing. Then I'd get up to sing gospel songs with them. I was so used to it.
"I get nervous in normal everyday situations but I don't get nervous onstage. That's the only place that I'm comfortable. But I'm not the kind of person who's afraid to express personal things publicly."
Mayfield hails from Kent, Ohio, and her new record, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, was recorded over a period of two years with the help of fellow Ohioan Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. "I wrote most of those songs when I was 15 and 16. I wrote 'For Today' when I was 15. And I met Dan when I was 16 and we started recording at a very slow pace. But the album didn't come out 'til last September, so all the songs are a lot older to me."
Auerbach first heard Mayfield on her White Lies EP, which was recorded in her bedroom with her brother David, and Mayfield has since guested on the Black Keys' Attack and Release album and Auerbach's brand-new solo record, Keep it Hid.
With Blasphemy So Heartfelt is the kind of album that could sit on the shelf alongside any number of genres—indie, roots rock, Americana, singer/songwriter—without ever fully matching any of them. Part of it is due to the diversity of Mayfield's influences, as she explains: "I never aspired to sound like anybody else. My influences don't sound like me at all. You know, I'm a big Foo Fighters fan. And I like Modest Mouse, Elliott Smith, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb. And then people will tell me, 'You must really like Lucinda Williams.' And I'm like, 'Uh, really? Why?'
"I'm not some kind of copycat," she adds. "I'm just myself."