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Queen of the Highway



    Jessica Lea Mayfield is sitting in front of a gas station somewhere in New Mexico and drinking some spicy V8 juice when we first start talking.

    "We just made a pit stop so I could do some phone interviews," Mayfield told me in the very matter-of-fact way she talks about most everything. "I don't like doing them in the van. It's like trying to talk on the phone in a cage full of animals."

    Mayfield giggled a little bit when she said that last part, knowing she had gotten away with saying it (at least this time) response-free.

    But if there's something the 21-year-old singer/songwriter knows, it's life on the road. Making trips all over the country with her parents' bluegrass band as a child, shes been a bona fide traveling musician since the time when her closest peers were learning their first multiplication tables.

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    "I've toured with my parents since I was 8 years old," Mayfield said. "And now I've done a lot of it by myself. I'm very used to the idea of traveling. But it's always for work. It just blows my mind when people travel for fun. I just want to be home."

    Home is Kent, Ohio, the place where fellow Buckeye and Black Keys' frontman Dan Auerbach first heard Mayfield's White Lies EP –- six songs the then-15-year-old recorded in her brother's bedroom. Auerbach liked it so much that he has gone on to mentor Mayfield and produce both of her full-length releases, 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt and this year's Tell Me.

    It's all amounted to even more touring, but her birthday last August helped to change things in that department for the better.

    "I've always had nightmarish memories of touring out here," Mayfield said. "But this is my first West Coast tour as a 21-year-old. Before, they would escort me into the building a minute before I went on. Then they’d escort me onto the stage, I would play my show, and as soon as my last song was over, they’d escort me off of the stage and outside. It just seems so silly.
    "That said, I think I've actually reached the point where I don't even want to hang out anymore. I've just been on the road so long. I only get about four days home a month.”
    While Mayfield relishes the idea of just relaxing on the couch and spending time with her dog and cat, the nomadic lifestyle is something she takes in stride because it's all she's ever known.

    "Touring affects every aspect of my life," Mayfield said. "You've just got to learn to adapt. I'm stuck in a van all day, then I get on a stage and everyone stares at me, then some of the people who come to the show review the show and do things like criticize the way I stand. It'll be something like, 'The stance of Mayfield was slightly awkward.' You've just got to be prepared for all of those weird things that normal people like bank tellers don't get."
    You won't find Mayfield in a 9-to-5 anytime soon -- it's just not the family way. In addition to her parents, older brother David –- who helped out on her records and tours on his own as the David Mayfield Parade -– makes his living on the road. Their shared experiences breed a true camaraderie and help to produce an even tighter-knit family bond that Mayfield says makes all the difference.
    "I've never had a job before," Mayfield said. "And I've always supported myself with music. My whole family has never had money. It's always been one of those things that we've done for survival. Our whole family works on a system. We’ll ask, 'Well, who's doing the best?' And if I'm doing the best, then I'll help out. And if I ever need it, then they help me. A lot of families don't know how to work that way. It's one of the reasons I'm happy that I grew up doing what I’m doing. Our family is a unit. We all work together. It brings closeness and a respect for one another. And that's amazing."