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Jessica Lea Mayfield: Purging The Sadness

Meeting, matching, looking for love and struggling to keep it are all subjects for songs on Jessica Lea Mayfield's new album, Tell Me. Mayfield is just 21, but her songs are wry and blunt; they ring with bitter experiences. These songs are unmistakably about heartbreak, but this time around, it's not always Mayfield's heart getting broken.

"This is a turn of events for me as I'm getting older and being less susceptible to heartbreak, and more dishing it out before it happens to me," Mayfield tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon.

These more recent experiences of rushing into and falling out of love have turned into a set of songs that are more honest and raw than they are sad or sentimental. Given Mayfield's musical background playing bluegrass at a young age in her family's band One Way Rider, these darker songs may come as a surprise. But Mayfield says that bluegrass is often mistakenly labeled as lighthearted.

"A lot of bluegrass songs are sad, but they have upbeat tempos, and people think they're happy," she says. "One of my favorite bluegrass songs is a Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver song, and it's like, 'Why did God ever make me? And why can't I lay down and die?' I just love that kind of stuff, and I think I definitely learned from that."

In "Our Hearts Are Wrong," Mayfield uses this same formula. While the music maintains an upbeat tempo, the lyrics convey a bleak outlook, outlining a liaison that carries on despite being doomed from the start.

"It's definitely about realizing that you and this other person are too much alike in a bad way to be any good for each other," she says.

Mayfield takes these stories of hopeless and failed romances and, instead of internalizing the hard feelings, sets them to music.

"Music is the only thing that I truly know how to do and enjoy doing," she says. "Songwriting definitely helps me when I'm really sad, and it's a way to purge myself of the sadness and get it out of me."

In spite of the emotional darkness of Tell Me, Mayfield says she still has a lot to be happy about. In fleeting moments of sadness, though, she says she can still find comfort in her art.

"I have a house and a cat and a dog, and my parents love me — I'm happy," Mayfield says. "There are just moments and love-related things that make me periodically sad, and I'm happy that I have the ability to write about them."

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NPR Staff