An inspiring conversation with the American songwriter...

When you first discover Jessica Lea Mayfield you feel like you’ve come across buried treasure, or an abandoned theme park in an unassuming country. You want to extract all of its preciousness and brandish your bedroom walls with it, your days become haunted by the knowledge that someone with such inhuman sensitivity exists. While others are good with ideas, thoughts, words, Jessica is a genius of feeling. "I'm at a point in my life where all my friends are dying, so just to realise that life is short, it's so important," she tells us.

You’ll no doubt hear her backstory reiterated over and over - since she was first able to talk, she toured the country with her family of bluegrass musicians, having to sing for each supper.

Speaking today, she seems remarkably fresh, receptive. “I sip a Coca Cola now and when I do I think, fuck I’m alive and I’m drinking a Coca Cola! People are surprised I'm so upbeat, but I've come to realise that I don't have to feel certain ways if I can help it, because a lot of the time, you are the one who is driving the emotional car. I don't think people realise how much they can control their surroundings".

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Her new album, ‘Sorry Is Gone’ was written on her baritone guitar, in a thin-walled apartment, with her abusive partner in the other room. Two months ago, she posted a picture of herself in a hospital bed, with a bandaged arm - the result of years of torment. "I struggled for a long time to post that. There were a couple different times where I’d write something, and then I’d go to post it but wouldn’t".

This was only a small window into her hell, but the album relays the violence with a terrifying starkness: “The shotgun’s under the futon, this is not my idea of fun”, she sings on ‘Maybe Whatever’. "The things that have happened, and I remind myself of this daily, is that talking about it is difficult as well, and I definitely had to get to a point where I was able to talk about it. Nothing good can come of what happened to me, other than talking about it and maybe helping someone else. I think too, when I was going through all of this, I needed someone to speak for me".

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I became the friend that gave myself the pep-talk.

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“If everyone would talk about it/No one would be ashamed” is the first line of the album, and as the songwriter points out: "Over 80% of injuries to women are related to domestic violence. Like, when a woman goes to the hospital, most of the time it's related to domestic violence, and they don't realise that half of the population is tormenting us, yet we're supposed to feel ashamed to talk about it".

With no one speaking for her, Jessica decided to speak for herself, and to everyone who has been a victim of domestic violence. "When you're in that situation, it feels like no one cares, and they probably don't. I became isolated. I didn't really have anyone to talk to because the friends you do have are afraid to talk to you because of the drama and they don’t wanna be involved in that, so I ended up writing my feelings down and talking to my notebook and coming up with this album. I became the friend that gave myself the pep-talk".

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And while domestic violence is being talked about more, we live in a culture where women are only praised for their resilience, for their ability to brush themselves off from it. "No one asked about it, because they couldn't understand why I stayed," Mayfield tells us. "I've been in a lot of abusive relationships which makes me weigh up the pros and cons. If I end up with someone else, they could be even worse. Like, what if this happens and that happens? I mean, I've had to uproot my whole life and basically start over".

"I go to these support groups and they recommend you don't take anything – it's like a flood, or if your house burned down. I am talking about it and it’s not to call anyone out, but at the same time it scares me to talk about it because I know there’s a risk".

Now Jessica Lea Mayfield wakes up each morning, glad to be alive. To quote from her previous album, she is standing in the sun. "A lot of my friends have noticed that,” she tells Clash. “I had just been surviving for so long – and not living, at all. I still get in that mindset sometimes. You can get so removed from the situation that you're on the outside looking in. But when you're right in it, it's hard to keep track of anything; you don't know what's going on, you don't have a sense of reality".

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It scares me to talk about it because I know there’s a risk...

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Yet she's still in the process of uprooting and healing, recently moving into her third house since the separation. "As cheesy as this sounds, it's a lesson in learning to love myself, and to really have that confidence to apologise and to not allow people to treat me badly. When they did, I'd often think, OK this must have something to do with me. Now, I'm like, OK well if someone treats me badly then they're not going to be a part of my life anymore".

Telling her that this will be a huge 'fuck you' to the person who treated her badly, she says, "That's not the point of it, but it is a part of it. That's the part that comes on its own. But it's hard, I'm still working through this, and I'm trying to work through this publicly too”.

“I'm gonna go through this with everyone, because other people need this too and I'm not gonna hold back, because it's only hurting you. If you're worried that what you're saying might make someone else feel uncomfortable, that's their problem".

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'Sorry Is Gone' is out now.

Words: Emma Madden

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