Jessica Lea Mayfield knows a thing or two about life on the road. The well-seasoned traveling musician was playing in her family’s band before hitting her ninth birthday.
A nomadic lifestyle was cemented when Black Keys’ front man Dan Auerbach heard Mayfield’s “White Lies” EP - six songs the then-15-year-old recorded in her brother’s bedroom - and agreed to produce her first two full-length albums.
Mayfield, now 25, spread her creative wings with 2014’s “Make My Head Sing,” adding new sonic textures and self-producing with husband/bassist Jesse Newport.
But with tour dates for “Make My Head Sing” winding down, you’d think the perpetually homesick performer would take some time off.
Instead, she’ll head back out on the road to promote her upcoming, long-in-the-works Elliott Smith covers record with The Avett Brothers’ Seth Avett.
“We started it about four years ago,” Mayfield told DiscoverSD from her home in Ohio. “It was one of those things that we did when we could. I went to North Carolina, and Seth came up here, but it’s always hard to find that time -- especially for a project where we’re doing it for fun.”
Appropriately titled “Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith,” the project came from very modest beginnings.
“We were on tour together and just hanging around backstage,” Mayfield said. “Seth was playing the song ‘Twilight’ on the piano, so I started singing along. It really was born out of shared love for Elliott Smith’s music. Neither of us have ever done anything like this, but it’s something we definitely have in common.”
Mayfield also shares plenty of parallels with her muse. From guitar playing, songwriting and admission of unease in the spotlight, to the uncompromising, personal and candid lyrics of both artists, they share plenty of ties. But Mayfield admits that with Smith, it runs even deeper.
“I’ve felt a connection to his lyrics since I was a teenager,” she said. “But I meet people and they tell me that they relate to my songs. It always surprises me that people can attach their emotions to them. But Elliott Smith is one of the only songwriters that does that for me.”
After her solo shows wrap in February, Mayfield will hit the road with Avett in March. It’s undetermined whether additional dates will be added, but Mayfield is already working on her next album. And the strange paradox of a shy homebody who spends her life on the road will begin again.
“I can’t pretend to be normal,” Mayfield said. “I’ve made it this far in the real world saying what’s on my mind and I haven’t been locked up yet. Art brings out emotion. It’s embarrassing, interesting and intriguing. But a lot of times I want to hide all of these things inside me. I feel like I’ve given away too much insight and too many puzzle pieces. But I’ve put myself out there for a living. It’s strange, but it’s all I’ve ever done.”
Jessica Lea Mayfield plays at Soda Bar on Feb. 11. “Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith” comes out March 17.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.