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Artist to Watch: Jessica Lea Mayfield's Disarming Blend of Country, Rock and Electronic Pop

The Black Keys' protege says her new album 'is kinda me being a dick'

February 1, 2011 9:00 AM ET

Who: A 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Kent, Ohio who will release her second full-length album Tell Me on February 8. The record is part of the young singer's ongoing collaboration with Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, who has produced both of her albums and provided her big break when she sang on the Keys' Attack and Release in 2007.

Sounds Like: A disarming collision of stark country balladry, dynamic alternative rock and arty electronic pop. Mayfield's vocal delivery often recalls the bold, plaintive drawl of Lucinda Williams, but her taste for oblique lyricism and unusual musical textures owes more to the anything-goes alternative country of Neko Case and Wilco.

Black Keys Protégé: Auerbach discovered Mayfield's first EP White Lies on MySpace when she was still in high school. "Dan sent me a MySpace message," she tells Rolling Stone. "He was like "Hey, I play in a local band called the Black Keys.'" Mayfield was only vaguely aware of them at the time, but her boyfriend was a big fan. "I was like 'You know that band, you gave me the CD? We're gonna go hang out.'" She and Auerbach hit it off immediately. "The day we met we recorded eight songs together – my songs, his songs, covers," she says. "There's something to be said about that, how easy it is for us to work together."

Becoming Mean: Since Mayfield began writing songs at the age of 11, all of her early romantic experiences ended up documented in music. "I wrote about every first," she says. "Every kiss, first boyfriend, first heartbreak, blah blah blah." With Tell Me, she says she's moved on to being more aggressive in her lyrics. "The new album is kinda me being a dick," she explains. "I put all the meanest actions and thoughts into my songs." Mayfield was afraid that she crossed a line when she made a reference to an ex's hometown on the track "Trouble", but Auerbach talked her out of softening her words. "I've found that it's important to be personal," she says, "so I now I try to trust my gut instinct."

LAST WEEK: Joy Formidable Revive Female-Fronted Nineties Rock

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Song Stories

“Vans”

The Pack | 2006

Berkeley, California rappers the Pack made their footwear choice clear in 2006 with the song "Vans." The track caught the attention of Too $hort, who signed them to his imprint. MTV refused to play the video for the song, though, claiming it was essentially a commercial for the product. Rapper Lil' B disagreed. "I didn’t know nobody [at] Vans," he said. "I was just a rapper who wore Vans." Even without MTV's support, Lil' B recognized the impact of the track. "God blessed me with such a revolutionary song… People around my age know who really started a lot of the dressing people are into now."

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