It’s hard to mention Ohio-based country rock singer-songwriter Jessica Lea Mayfield without using cliches like calling her a “survivor” or repeating “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But the truth is, she’s been through hell and back.
Mayfield’s most recent album, Sorry is Gone (2017), shows her healing and reclaiming her life after leaving an abusive relationship. Sharing those experiences, singing lines about searching for “tips on how to feel more human” and washing off “every single DNA strand” of her estranged husband, isn’t easy to do again and again. Mayfield keeps hauling around her baggage in hopes that exposing it will help remove the stigma many domestic abuse victims feel.
Just before she released the record in September, Mayfield got in an accident that mangled her car and left her badly hurt. She had to cancel her October tour dates to recover. Though she’s still getting over the crash and trauma, Mayfield keeps moving forward, and she has just started out on the West Coast leg of her tour. She spoke with Phoenix New Times on the phone while on the road from Arkansas to Texas, before she travels to Phoenix for a show at Valley Bar on January 23.
New Times: How’s your West Coast tour going so far? It looks like you’re still recovering from serious car wreck injuries.
Jessica Lea Mayfield: I’m doing better. I still have some things going on from it, but definitely starting to do better, so that’s good. I got really rattled. I was just sitting completely still, and someone rear-ended me going about 60 miles an hour. They fell asleep at the wheel. My whole car just got trash-compacted, and I’m thankful I’m alive. They said that if anyone else was in the car, they would have died, so I’m glad that they didn’t hit somebody that had a baby in their car or something. That’s pretty much all you can be thankful for. It’s been a lot.
You’ve been really open about how Sorry is Gone relates to personal trauma that you’ve experienced. Now that you’ve been sharing these songs with different rooms of people on tour, has that changed what they mean to you?
Yes and no. They still have the same meaning, but I think it’s just, it makes it a different thing to be sharing it. When you record things, it’s a real private, small situation. You know, you’re in a room with a few other people and you’re expressing yourself. It’s interesting to play these songs for people at shows and to talk to them and sort of see how people have taken to the new album.
Is it hard to still be talking about these things?
Yes, it’s definitely been hard since I started, and I really deliberated as to whether or not I would be open about what happened to me. You ask yourself, ‘Do I want everyone to know my personal business?’ And the answer to that is obviously no, I don’t. But when telling everyone your personal business can help someone else and let them know that they’re not alone — realizing that if you can just get past that fear of being ashamed and scared about what happened to you and wanting to pretend like it didn’t happen — if you can get past that feeling and think about the bigger picture, it’s important to talk about it.
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Is there anything besides music that helps you feel at peace with it while you’re on tour?
Eating a big bowl of pho. That’s helpful. To be honest, if you’re asking me how I get through a really difficult day on tour, it would be a giant ass bowl of beef broth. That would make any day better, I think. Really, though, as cheesy as it sounds, it goes with taking care of yourself, and that has always felt like a constant struggle for me. It’s something that I’m always learning and working on.
Tell us about your aesthetic. It’s very dreamy and soft in all of your videos and photos. What inspires you when you’re thinking about representing your music visually?
To me, that’s just kind of the way that I dress and look, and then when other people work with me and we’re going to make something like a video or take pictures, other people know my aesthetic. It’s just one of those things where my favorite color is pink, and I love rainbows and glitter, and then everyone brings those things and it happens. That’s about as far thought out as my aesthetic goes. It’s just, ‘Oh, that’s shiny and I like it!’
Your video for “Sorry is Gone” has beautiful desert scenes. Why did you decide to film out west?
That was the director’s idea, but I do really enjoy the desert very much. I enjoy California a lot, and I actually just went out and made a video for “Offa My Hands” in Salton Sea, and I thought that was a really interesting town as well. Lots of California vibes. It’s a ghost town that smells like fish. It smells like somebody opened a tin of cat food, but it’s like really nice cat food, and the air hits you and it’s clean, but it smells like cat food.
Jessica Lea Mayfield is scheduled to perform with Sun Seeker at Valley Bar on Tuesday, January 23, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets to the 21-and-over show are $12. See Valley Bar's website.