Marriage has not mellowed indie starlet Jessica Lea Mayfield. Her third full-length, “Make My Head Sing,” released in April, has a tough tone.
Jessica Lea Mayfield is an ingénue no longer.
Since we last heard from the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter, Mayfield married her bassist and underwent a musical metamorphosis. While the 24-year-old’s previous two albums — both produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys — fit somewhere on the Americana-roots-country spectrum, her third full-length, “Make My Head Sing,” released in April, has a tougher tone.
The precocious, heartsick girl the indie music world fell for is no longer.
“I had my hands on this record more, so it represents what I’m into,” said Mayfield, who plays the Turf Club in St. Paul next Thursday.
The recording was a nine-month private affair in Nashville with husband Jesse Newport, who shares co-producing credit. “We were able to go into the studio together and have this intimate experience, being able to create whatever I desired,” Mayfield said.
Abetted by drummer Matt Martin, what resulted was gritty, guitar-driven grunge rock — not that Mayfield would label her music as such.
“I have a lot of influences,” she said. “I don’t understand where people get genres from. It confuses me because either you like something or you don’t.”
Born in the Ohio college town of Kent, Mayfield began performing with her family’s bluegrass band One Way Rider at age 8. She recorded her first solo EP, “White Lies,” in her bedroom at 15, and was soon discovered by fellow Ohioan Auerbach, who produced 2008’s “With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt” and 2011’s “Tell Me.”
The former album was inspired by Mayfield’s first boyfriend, who didn’t appreciate being her muse.
“Every time I’d write a song and he’d hear it, he’d break up with me,” she said. “He’d go, ‘You can’t say those things!’ And I’d go, ‘Nobody knows that they’re about you!’ ”
The relationship didn’t last, and Mayfield’s sophomore full-length was the result of her single-girl-gone-wild days. The singer’s confident, unapologetic songwriting caught the attention of mainstream tastemakers such as the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Associated Press, who wrote of the moody album: “If it doesn’t make Mayfield a star, that will be heartbreaking.”
Now she’s all grown up, as is evident from the 10 tracks of “Make My Head Sing.” Her gentle, echoey vocals, which once were center stage on her records, are often drowned out by distorted guitar. Her lyrics still cut deep, and several songs include violent undertones. Mayfield sings about “a stranglehold on my heart” in “Seein* Starz,” says “everything makes me mad” in “No Fun,” and claims “I could kill her with the power in my mind” in “Oblivious.”
The anger came from a fresh source: her role as a wife.
“My life is different now,” she said. “This record is a lot about the negative aspects that come along [with relationships]. When you get married, there’s all these wonderful things and there’s all these ways you have to adjust. The adjustment period can be a stressful one that has a wider array of emotions that I’ve never felt before. You feel more passionately about situations that happen with someone you’re serious with.”
Craziness remains a theme, too. On “Make My Head Sing,” she describes herself as “insane” but she doesn’t necessarily think of herself that way — at least, not anymore.
“When you’re growing up, you get to that point where you have to decide, ‘Am I going to be [messed] up or not?’ ... You’ve got to be careful not to get stuck in that hole.”
Her husband is well-acquainted with her confessional catalog, and she described him as open and understanding of her creative process. Being free to express herself is what seems to matters most to Mayfield, and that expression is ever-evolving. Don’t get too attached to her rock star façade; the songstress remains restless.
“I’m not a cartoon character,” she said. “I’m a human being who gets bored and wants to change things, you know? Who knows what color my hair is going to be tomorrow? I don’t care. Who knows what color my underwear is? I don’t even know if I have any on.”