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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Meeting, matching, looking for love and struggling to keep it are all subjects for songs on Jessica Lea Mayfield's new album. It's called "Tell Me."

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Jessica Lea Mayfield is just 21, but her songs are wry, blunt and ring with bitter experiences.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Be the One That You Want Someday")

Ms. JESSICA LEA MAYFIELD (Singer): (Singing) My brain is speeding faster than my mouth can move. I'll sit and silently observe the room. All I can think about are things I should not do...

SIMON: Jessica Lea Mayfield joins us from the studios of member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Oh, thank you for having me.

SIMON: Now, interesting theme in this album. These songs seem to be about heartbreak, but yours is not the heart getting broken, is it?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Right. This is a turn of events for me as I'm getting older and realizing, you know, being less susceptible to heartbreak, I guess, and more dishing it out before it happens to me.

SIMON: These were songs about you breaking somebody else's heart, to be blunt about it.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Yeah, pretty much. I don't let other people break my heart anymore.

SIMON: You know, I speak from just being older than you - rather more experienced maybe than what you might have - it's not a mutually exclusive process. I mean, just because somebody breaks your heart doesn't mean you don't break theirs, and you're never beyond getting your heart broken.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Well, I'm hoping, you know, I'm hoping that somebody will come and sweep me off my feet. But until then, I'm pretty skeptical of boys and that's pretty much what this record is about.

SIMON: Yeah, I'd say it is. Well, and Happy Valentine's Day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Let's do a song on the album called "Trouble," OK?

Ms. MAYFIELD: OK.

(Soundbite of song, "Trouble")

Ms. MAYFIELD: (Singing) Now the clouds are crying snow. Here in Ohio, I lie 'cause it's what I know how to be. Should have listened to my friend and the words they told you. That girl is trouble. She's a player and she'll play you...

SIMON: OK. Revealed in this lyric, let me give you my homebrew diagnosis of what the problem is, OK?

Ms. MAYFIELD: OK.

SIMON: Love works when it's not - it might be playful but it's not play. It's not a game. You feel something. You don't pretend you're feeling something.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Right. I guess. I mean, I feel every emotion there is, though, so, sometimes it's hard.

SIMON: You do feel every emotion, right?

Ms. MAYFIELD: I have to write a song about something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Now, you grew up in a musical family, right?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Yep. My family had a bluegrass band called One Way Rider.

SIMON: And you were performing professionally. Did you have the idea that you grew up fast?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Yeah. Sometimes I feel like it's weird. I just bought a house in Kent, Ohio where I consider my hometown and I feel like it's that movie "Home Alone." Like, I feel like I'm a kid and it's like one big giant bedroom.

SIMON: You mean so the parents aren't at home so you can stay up late and...

Ms. MAYFIELD: Right. It's like I feel like I'm not grown up enough yet. Like I didn't get the opportunity to grow up.

SIMON: What do you think you learned by performing bluegrass as young as you did?

Ms. MAYFIELD: A lot of bluegrass songs are sad but they have upbeat tempos. And people think they're happy, but if you read into them, they're usually, you know, like, one of my favorite bluegrass songs is a Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver song and it's like (singing) why did God ever make me and why can't I lay down and die? You know, I just love that kind of stuff and I think I definitely learned from that.

SIMON: Well, let's play one of your songs, which has an upbeat tempo.

Ms. MAYFIELD: OK.

SIMON: But I think it's safe to say the song's a bit dark. It's called "Our Hearts Are Wrong."

(Soundbite of song, "Our Hearts Are Wrong")

Ms. MAYFIELD: (Singing) Hate has brought me up the stairs into your house. I'll not let hate be the one to make me make it for you. My self-esteem is heating up the room. You're intimidating as all hell but I ain't scared of you. I know how you work. I am just like you. Don't matter what you say, our hearts are wrong, our hearts are wrong.

SIMON: I mean, you hear this song as a listener and you kind of shout out, get out of there. It's no good for you. But your song suggests that that's part of the attraction.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Yes. It's definitely about realizing that you and this other person are just too much alike in a bad way to be any good for one another.

SIMON: Yeah. But it doesn't end there, does it?

Ms. MAYFIELD: No. When I listen to that song, I still can't decide how I feel.

SIMON: So, is music the one thing that gives you hope?

Ms. MAYFIELD: I guess that's a good way to look at it. It's kind of the only thing that I truly know how to do and enjoy doing. And songwriting definitely helps me when I'm really sad and it's kind of a way for me to purge myself of the sadness and get it out of me. And it makes a socially happy person.

SIMON: May I ask you a very blunt question?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Sure.

SIMON: You're 21, just bought a new house, you're successful, you're getting critical claim, I don't mind saying you're pretty - I say that in a fatherly way.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Ah.

SIMON: What have you got to be so cynical about?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Well, I've had a lot of just awful relationships. I'm a bad dude magnet. I've got an ex-boyfriend who's in prison. Like, I just give up.

SIMON: Oh my. You know, I guarantee you that's nowhere in my notes.

Ms. MAYFIELD: I broke up with him 'cause I said this dude is crazy. I don't trust him. You know, he's going to fly off the handle and then, you know, we break up and then on the front page of the newspaper and on the radio - my dad calls me and he's like I heard on the radio that your ex-boyfriend stabbed somebody. And I was like, oh, that's it. Now, I just, you know, I'm pretty straightforward with guys, and I make sure they don't have any green tattoos or, you know.

SIMON: Any green tattoos?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Any green prison tats, yeah.

SIMON: Oh, I see. Prison tats, yeah, yeah. You must have a lot of responsibility now with a career.

Ms. MAYFIELD: I mean, I have to get to the venue and get to the hotel and, you know, play shows. And the responsibility that I have is basically just making sure that I, you know, that I do what's best for me.

SIMON: Do you sometimes envision yourself as being really happy?

Ms. MAYFIELD: I am. I mean, I'm happy. I have a house and a cat and a dog and my parents love me.

SIMON: Of course.

Ms. MAYFIELD: I'm happy there. It's just there are certain moments and things and mainly just love-related things that make me periodically sad. And I'm happy that I have the ability to write about them.

SIMON: Yeah. You're brought your guitar along, right?

Ms. MAYFIELD: Yes.

SIMON: I'm told that maybe you could take us out with your song "Sometimes at Night."

Ms. MAYFIELD: Yeah, I can do that.

SIMON: Thanks so much.

Ms. MAYFIELD: Oh, thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Sometimes at Night")

Ms. MAYFIELD: (Singing) I broke some little curb in a boy's heart...

SIMON: To hear more of Jessica Lea Mayfield's music, visit NPRMusic.org. Her album, "Tell Me," is out now.

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