At the end of September—just days before the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment broke out across social media—Jessica Lea Mayfield released her fourth solo album, Sorry Is Gone. The Ohio-born singer-songwriter has a strong footing in Americana-adjacent worlds, having grown up playing bluegrass. But Sorry Is Gone, a shimmering and occasionally twangy rock record, is hardly just another artistic entry for Mayfield. It's her first record after escaping a violent domestic-abuse situation.
A few months before Sorry Is Gone hit shelves, Mayfield opened up in an Instagram post about getting out of an abusive relationship. The photo showed Mayfield smiling in a hospital bed, giving a thumbs-up before heading into surgery for a three-year-old shoulder injury—the result of a domestic violence incident, she said. Since then, she's spoken openly about her experiences, encouraging others to seek help and speak out against their abusers.
Sorry Is Gone is a striking document of a woman in recovery. Mayfield addresses lingering aches and anxieties, but she suffuses her songs with glimmers of humor and hope. Ahead of her Tuesday-night gig in Carrboro, she discussed some of the record's themes and getting back on her feet in the wake of a tumultuous few years.
I think with this album, it's been something to see how people have connected to it and are relating to it. That's been a surprise for me. I write these songs and I want people to feel like they're not alone. This time around, I feel like I'm not alone. People will send things in to radio stations that I'm going to be at and ask, will you tell her this when she's there? I'll get emails and Instagram messages and comments. People will talk to me at shows and tell me their experiences and how thankful they are that I'm talking. It puts things in perspective for me. I went through a really isolating experience. You feel like you're alone, but you're definitely not.
When bad things are happening in your life, it's easy to want to shield the other people in your life from that. While you're doing that, they're pulling away because you're putting yourself in these negative and dangerous situations, and they don't want to put themselves in a dangerous situation or condone that. You kind of isolate yourself and that pushes people back. I think it's something that really contributes to the ability to be mistreated by others, too—when you don't have a support system or anyone else in your life, and you feel like you're a burden on everyone, it makes it easy for one person to be controlling.
I still apologize for things I shouldn't apologize for, but I do it less. Women are taught to not be in the way and to apologize, basically, for their existence—what they didn't remember to do or what they didn't foresee. It's an unfair burden, and I've definitely felt that. I'm the kind of person that would apologize if you stepped on me. At some point, you have to say, "Do I have to apologize here?" It also lessens the impact of real, heartfelt apologies if all you're ever saying is "sorry." It was starting to become really damaging to me. I would apologize all the time and I didn't know why. It didn't make me feel strong.
I think it's great that women are coming out and speaking against these people. I don't think that we should have to, for one. I hope that something comes from talking about it. There's a shock value to women being abused and mistreated, and that makes it newsworthy. But I do hope that these conversations eventually help change things and make things safer and better for women, so we can just go to work and do what we want to do, and have fun and make music and live life and not have to feel like we're a burden on everyone. You shouldn't have to apologize for what other people do to you, and we're still there.
I'm always kind of fascinated by human connection. I always have these really intense connections with people, which can end up being good or bad. But it's always super right-off-the-bat intense. Connection kind of scares me because I know that it's this insane fireball of a thing. The way that I make friends and meet people and meet lovers and anything like that, it ends up being like "Hi! We're immediately best friends now!" I don't know what it is about me that makes that happen, but it's definitely an exciting and nerve-racking word.