Jessica Lea Mayfield is done apologizing. The Nashville-based artist made her solo debut in 2008 with the album With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. Known for towing the line between straight-ahead roots (she grew up playing in a bluegrass band with her family) and snarling alt-rock, Mayfield delivered languid vocals that always remained afloat, transcending to another space. On her fourth full-length LP, Sorry Is Gone, Mayfield’s signature sound remains, but she is decidedly present. It’s the work of a woman taking her life, and her voice, back.
“I feel like women are made to apologize for their existence a lot of times, and definitely men expect women to bend over backwards and apologize and, ‘Oh, I’m sorry for being in your way; I’m sorry for disturbing you.’ Women are just made to feel bad for being women,” Mayfield says. “You’re made to feel like you’re gross and bad and dirty, you know? You’re just made to feel like you’re a giant sexual distraction and inconvenience and [that] you should always be apologizing and proving your worth.”
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Mayfield wrote the bulk of Sorry Is Gone in the wake of separating from her husband, working through the trauma of domestic abuse. Despite the vulnerability and pain that comes with reliving these harrowing incidents, Mayfield stays dedicated to sharing her experience.
“It can definitely stress me out or I can get a little panic attack-y, but the thing I realize and that I have to keep realizing is the bigger picture and why I decided to share personal details and be so personal with my music,” she explains. “Other people tell me that it helps them.”
An important aspect of the conversation that Mayfield has helped shape revolves around medical care for domestic violence victims. Unable to secure adequate treatment, she struggled with a broken shoulder as a result of a domestic violence incident for nearly two years. Most doctors, she found, were dubious once she revealed the cause of her injury.
“It’s like another assault—going through the medical system—and it’s not easy for women,” she says. “Before they would even x-ray me or look at me, I would tell them what happened and they’d be like, ‘Are you sure?’ Yes, I’m absolutely, 100 percent sure this happened to me. I’m not in a dream. I was injured by someone else. It happened to me. Put me in the machine and look at it. The fact that it took me three surgeons before I got there and then when I got my MRI, the surgeon couldn’t believe that I had let it go for so long.”
After finally receiving the surgery she needed, Mayfield posted a statement on Instagram encouraging other victims not to live in silence. But Mayfield’s biggest statement has undoubtedly come with the release of Sorry Is Gone last Fall. She teamed up with producer John Agnello, who has worked with artists like Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, and she recruited her longtime friend Seth Avett (The Avett Brothers) to lend backing vocals and keys. Mayfield rounded out the band with bassist Emil Amos (Grails, Holy Sons) and guitarist Cameron Deyell (Sia, Streets of Laredo). It’s a triumph of reclamation with an emphasis on self-worth, beginning by tossing all the “sorries” out the window.
“It’s really important to not apologize for things you don’t have to apologize for,” she says. “You shouldn’t condition yourself for that.”