"It feels like I'm starting over," Jessica Lea Mayfield tells me, sipping a morning Coca-Cola on a couch in her publicist's office in Manhattan. "It felt like I had the pause button hit on my life, and someone just hit play." The singer-songwriter is explaining the awakenings that led to her fourth studio album, Sorry Is Gone. She gets excited about the little things these days and mimics how she thinks she must sound: "It's a butterfly! It's a dog! It's a Coca-Cola! I'm appreciative of everything a psychotic amount. I'm just thankful to be alive. I'm alive, and drinking this Coke. It's weird to be emotionally comfortable, and also to have such an overwhelming amount of appreciation. In spite of where it came from, I'm glad I have it."
In July, Mayfield took to her Instagram to reveal that she'd been hospitalized to have surgery on her shoulder, which had been broken during a domestic-violence incident. In the post, she wrote, "My silence helps no one except the person who did this to me." Because of ongoing legal issues, Mayfield has asked that certain details remain private. However, she does want to talk about the ways that her life and her lyrics dovetail in hopes that the music will become a site for healing. Sorry Is Gone is clamorous and dynamic, reflective of Mayfield's rare gift of seeming equally steady and chameleonic from album to album.
Songs like "Meadow" plead for privacy ("I'm afraid of the party, please leave me alone") while becoming their own loud, thrashing events. The acoustic ballad "Safe 2 Connect 2," the album's jarringly delicate center, was one of the first songs Mayfield wrote for Sorry Is Gone . Mayfield seems primed to enjoy not only another strong album but to harness its moment in the service of others. She hopes that "if someone reads this and they're still too scared to leave, remember that I left, that I talked about it. I wanted somebody to speak up for me. I wanted someone to make noise, and I realized that had to be me."
Thora Siemsen: I want to commend your bravery in speaking out, and I wish you a continued recovery.
Jessica Lea Mayfield: Thank you. I can't lift my arm all the way over my head yet. There were weeks where I couldn't even move my fingers or use my arm at all, and it was rough. Now it's just physical therapy, five months of recovery. I have other injuries that I'm still dealing with. My right arm would continually slide out of place every time I moved it. I had that injury for three years because my abusive husband wouldn't let me go to the doctor.
When I did start going, the doctor didn't believe me. I found another doctor who believed me, and they recommended a surgeon. The surgeon didn't believe me. The second surgeon didn't believe me. The third surgeon ordered an MRI and saw what was happening and was like, "How have you been living with this for so long? This is unbelievable." I had people who just thought I was trying to get drugs. That's the way they look at women. It's unbelievable that these things have to be so difficult. The scary thing about that is the majority of injuries to women are domestic-violence-related. These women go to the doctor with their domestic-violence-related injuries, and then the doctor doesn't believe them. They think it's not a real thing. Everyone's afraid to talk about it.
TS: Your posts spotlighted the MusiCares Foundation, which is the Recording Academy's charity that "provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need." I'm deeply sorry for the circumstances leading to that assistance, but I'm glad that they were there for you and that other people — musicians in need — can learn about them.