"I've pretty much been on the road since I was 8 or 9 years old," Mayfield says during a phone call before a headlining gig in Athens, Ga. "I was homeschooled, and I'm kinda used to the gypsy lifestyle. When I'm home for a good solid week, I start to go crazy because I'm used to everything being upside-down. When there's a routine, I get really anxious and antsy."
Mayfield got her start when an EP she recorded at age 15 found its way to Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Auerbach produced her full-length debut, 2008's With Blasphemy So Heartfelt. That album is full of angst-ridden love songs; it's deliciously moody.
"The first record is me being a teenager and discovering new feelings and being heartbroken," Mayfield says. Some of those songs, such as the crowd-favorite "For Today," she wrote for that first EP.
Her association with Auerbach, her vaguely Southern drawl, and her tours with alt-country dudes emphasize her rootsy side, but Tell Me, which Auerbach also produced, varies widely. The songs are more about sex than love, and they contain moments of psychedelic guitar feedback and bouncy, perky keyboards. On "Grown Man," there are some dub reggae effects. "I'll do anything; / I'm surprised that I'm not dead yet," says the narrator of that song to an older man.
"The song is so weird in the first place; it is so creepy that the music needs to be a little contradictory to that," says Mayfield, who says it's one of her favorites. "I think the artist always has their own personal favorites, and for me, it's the ones that are a little more off the beaten path. I think the ones that are easier to digest are everyone's favorite."
Mayfield doesn't want to be easy to digest or easy to pigeonhole. Tell Me is heavier and more varied than With Blasphemy, and her next album is likely to be something else entirely.
"With the new record, there wasn't any worry about sounding like the first record," she says. "I couldn't go back and make a record that sounded like the first record if I tried. I'm constantly changing. I'm still a young adult. My mind changes every two seconds; my hair changes; my clothes change. My opinions are constantly open to change. That's a good place for me to be in."
Drive-By Truckers with Jessica Lea Mayfield play at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Theatre of Living Arts, 334 South St. Tickets: $35. Information: www.livenation.com, 215-922-1011.