Dress by Hildur Yeoman, Stole Stylist’s Own, Earrings by We Who Prey, Barrette + Circle Ring by Odette, Pinkie Circle Ring by Alta Ora
On July 10th of last year, alt-country/rock artist Jessica Lea Mayfield took a break from posting her usual retro-style pastel-laden photos on Instagram, sharing the following in a text post instead: “Last week, I had a surgery for a broken shoulder related to a domestic violence incident. I had been suffering with this injury (and others that still require surgeries) for [three] years. This is not uncommon. I want to tell anyone who is protecting their abuser that it’s not worth it.”
Mayfield takes those words to task in her fourth album, Sorry Is Gone, shredding the insulation she had once created for her abuser in excruciating detail. The album was written and recorded during and immediately after the disintegration of her marriage. In its eponymous track, she gently mocks cohabitation, musing “It’s nice to have a guy around / For lifting heavy things and opening jars / Should we really let them in our beds?/ Chain ’em to a little house outside.” But jest mostly stops there.
When I caught up with Mayfield, mid-tour somewhere between her home state of Ohio and Kentucky, I asked her if giving the world access to what read like pages out of her diary was daunting. She replied, “If I’m nervous about singing about it or talking about it, I realize that’s the important stuff. The stuff that you question whether or not you should sing about, that’s what you should be singing about.”
I wondered if she had felt those nerves while writing the track, “Maybe Whatever,” because if you blink, you can miss the scene she’s building. Obscured by deadpan delivery and sweet crooning, are the jolting lyrics, “The shotgun’s under the futon / This is not my idea of fun / I wish happiness on everyone I know / The human body’s an amazing thing / Bruises heal and your mind can change / Can we convince ourselves we’re not what we need?”
“When we look at domestic abuse statistics, we say one in three women are being abused, but we don’t say one in how many men are abusers,” Mayfield asserted. “We put all statistics on women, so when you’re talking about domestic violence, you don’t know the faces of the men who committed these crimes, and you don’t know who they are. Most of the time, they get to be hidden or protected or not even charged for what they’ve done.”
That peeling back of protection is captured sonically in the album’s fifth track, “Soaked Through.” It shares the same sentiment that The Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” and Led Zeppelin’s “When The Levee Breaks” did decades before, with rushed lyrics and quick guitar strumming, then balancing it out with slow rhythmic drumming. This is an effect that leaves you with the perception of a recklessly fleeting moment which is still paradoxically endless. The lyrics, “I tried to leave / He wouldn’t let me out / He shook me, and he cried, and he said ‘please stay’/ So I stayed a little longer” perpetuate the track’s ominous tone. The whole damn thing is uncomfortable. And it’s meant to be.
“I felt very isolated [while recording this record] and like there was no one who I could talk to, so in the true form of a crazy person, I would talk to myself, but with a guitar. I would sing what I wanted to say to myself…when I was writing the songs, by the time I got halfway through writing the album I realized the subject matter of the songs and got the message I was trying to tell myself. I was buried, I was just a ghost walking around in a Jessica shell, and by the time I realized what I needed to tell myself…I think writing these songs was what helped me to leave.”
The timing of the album, released around the first days of the #MeToo movement, seems refreshingly if not tragically appropriate. “It’s great that we’re talking, talking can lead to change,” Mayfield said about this season of accountability. “I hope that it does. I hope that in every scenario where women speak up, I hope someone is listening.”
Sorry is Gone is a track-by-track revelation of what it means to be a woman who speaks without permission and what it sounds like when a woman writes her own story. With each track shining a focused light on a new stigma, Mayfield hones in on the transformative ability of folk music, because, as she recounts in “Wish You Could See Me Now,” “If everyone would talk about it, no one would be ashamed.”
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