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Jessica Lea Mayfield gets help from her friends

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Having first performed with her family's band One Way Rider at the age of 8, a life touring and being on stage is nothing new for Jessica Lea Mayfield. By the time she was becoming a teenager, she already had her heart focused on her own songwriting and efforts to branch out on her own.

Now, at age 19, Mayfield is spending most of her days on the road, having played roughly 300 shows in support of her debut CD, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, which was released in September of 2008.

"When I'm home, it's a little busier than when I'm on the road," Mayfield says by phone from her hometown of Kent, Ohio, while at a store purchasing items for her upcoming headlining tour. "Being on the road can sometimes be a break for me. I think I've had a total of three or four weeks off -- usually only three or four days at a time -- since the album came out."

She's been home for nearly two weeks -- her longest break she can remember -- but it's been a hectic one filled with getting ready for her tour, working to find a new guitar player, getting ready to buy a new house and finding time for the little things like buying socks and painting.

"You know what? You always have to buy new socks, no matter what," she says. "They always get ruined. The tour smell just will not leave."

As for painting, a hobby that helps clear her mind from the day-to-day clutter, it's an activity that she can't seem to find much time for these days. "I get home and maybe have like one night to work on half of a painting and then I work on it again a month later," she says. "I've got some paintings that I planned on using this time off to work on and I didn't get to it. It makes me really sad."

While one of her paintings of an owl wound up as the cover of her album, her first choice was artwork by a familiar name to Charlotte folks -- Scott Avett.

"We ended up using his artwork for the vinyl," she says. "Everyone couldn't agree on Scott's artwork -- it's a painting of me bleeding and crying. A lot of people said it wouldn't work or they didn't want to use it, so we decided to use one of my paintings. It was a long, rough battle that I lost miserably."

Mayfield, whose somber folk style fits into that branch of Americana so many artists are filling these days, has performed with The Avett Brothers on more than 50 ocassions, first opening for the band at age 17.

"They are like family to me," she says warmly. "They're my other brothers. They're some of the best friends that I've ever had. I hold such a high place for them in my heart. They're such good people to know."

Mayfield wound up going to Bonnaroo -- the Tennessee music festival where she's scheduled to perform this year -- with The Avetts in 2008 to watch them perform, and cellist Joe Kwon makes an appearance on Blasphemy. Another artist appearing on the album is Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, an artist who has given a big boost to her career thanks to his help with production on the album.

"He really helped a lot," Mayfield says of Auerbach. "I was still trying to figure out exactly what it was -- my niche. He really came in and gave me different ideas -- not necessarily changed anything, but we have such different thought processes that it was an eye opener to work with somebody so different. There's already plans to work again and he only lives about 15 minutes from me, so it works out good for me in that sense."

Mayfield has started writing for her new album, but there's no timeline in place yet. She says every time she and Auerbach plan to get together, one of them heads out on tour. She also has trouble writing while on the road. "I've been trying to figure out where I'm going to go with the next album," she says. "It's a slow process. It's impossible to write when I'm on the road because I'm not the kind of person who writes with my band. I'd love to do that, but I'm too shy about it. I'm really self-conscious about it. I have to write a song, play it a hundred times and then play it for one other person to see if I like it. Then I'll play it for everybody else and teach it to them.

"It's really hard when you spend all your time in close quarters with people -- green room, stage, hotel room, van -- and can never be alone. Slowly but surely it's coming together."

Mayfield still finds time to play with the family band around the holidays, but these days, all of her focus is on her own career. She feels people will work her harder because she's young, and even though she's been at it for over a decade, she knows there's still a long road ahead.

"I've been doing this for such a long time that it's nothing new to me, but I still know that because I'm young that there's a lot more work I'm going to have to do to prove myself to people," she says. "I may have been doing this for a long time, but it's just gotten me to the point where I can get started into something bigger."

Jessica Lea Mayfield will perform at 9 p.m. at the Visulite Theatre on June 8 with Among the Oak & Ash. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 on the day of the show.

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