Advocate Interview: David Mayfield of the David Mayfield Parade

Before hooking up with Cadillac Sky, David Mayfield, a native of Kent, Ohio, was a bluegrass prodigy from a family of musicians (his sister is singer Jessica Lea Mayfield). His debut solo album, simply titled The David Mayfield Parade, highlights Mayfield’s soulful voice and ability to write songs you feel like you’ve always known. A new album, recorded in Nashville’s Studio B (where Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” was recorded) and featuring guest musicians Dierks Bentley and Seth Avett, will be released in early 2013. Mayfield plays at New Haven’s Cafe Nine with Hoots & Hellmouth and Elison Jackson on October 30.

Q: Where are you speaking from today?

A: I’m in Northeast Ohio. I just bought a house up here. It’s a little fixer-upper. I was in Nashville for the last eight years or so. I played something like 214 shows last year, so I wasn’t home much. So when I was home, it seemed kinda silly to be eight hours away from all my family and friends. I came back and I love it.

Q: I’m sure you’ve been asked more than once about growing up in a musical family. Was there ever any question that music was what you were going to do with your life?

A: Not really. I had toyed around with other ideas early on. But I think I was around 15 years old when I decided that a professional musician was my destiny. I really don’t have any other skills. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I’m a highschool dropout. It seemed like the only way. Luckily I think I made the right choice.

Q: When you grow up in a musical family, playing music with your parents and siblings, how do you rebel? What was your musical rebellion when the time for that stuff enters your life?

A: It’s kind of strange. We grew up playing bluegrass and bluegrass gospel, and my parents were also into what they call “new grass,” which would have been Sam Bush and Bela Fleck and Peter Rowan and that kind of stuff. So that’s really all I new. I didn’t listen to the radio. I wasn’t really aware of modern music. I remember going to a Goodwill and buying Bridge Over Troubled Water on vinyl, which is the Simon and Garfunkel album. I just bought it because it was a quarter, and we had acquired a thrift store turntable, and I thought it would be fun to play around with that stuff. And I just fell in love with that stuff and that music, and it’s stuff that my parents didn’t listen to. So I really felt like I was a rebel listening to Simon and Garfunkel. I also thought that I discovered them. My dad came home one day and I said, “Check this out! Have you ever heard these guys?” And he said, “Oh, I think they were pretty popular for awhile there.” I had kinda thought that I had discovered Simon and Garfunkel.

Q: When did you write your first song?

A: I was writing since I can remember, but I didn’t write something that wasn’t absolutely terrible until I was probably in my mid-20s. I remember the first song I wrote was called “Hang ‘Em High,” and I wrote it after watching Clint Eastwood in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. I wrote that when I was about nine years old. My mom has a little recording of that song somewhere. I didn’t really get serious about writing until I was in my mid-20s. I discovered Dylan and Randy Newman and Tom Waits and those kinds of guys, and I started thinking, “Hmmm, these guys write their own music. They just come up with it.” As opposed to the bluegrass world where most people find songs or adapt songs.

Q: If people didn’t know better and they listen to your record, they wouldn’t necessarily know that you were something of a bluegrass prodigy. Was there a desire to leave part of that off the record, the virtuosic playing?

A: Yes, I think so. Before I made that record, I was in a band called Cadillac Sky that was a progressive bluegrass group, and we were all about the extended solos and flashy arrangements. So I think when I made that record, I made a conscious effort to step away from the heady music and the very arranged intricate solos and just play pop music, fun, simple songs that people can tap along to. That was the kind of stuff that I had been writing. Before Cadillac Sky broke up, we were working on a new record, and some of those songs were planned to be on it, and they were taking a more flashy, bluegrass vibe, and it felt forced. So when I went to do my own project, I wanted to let the songs dictate, and that’s where that more simple approach came from. The new record -- it does venture more into bluegrass territory.

Q: How would you characterize that move into bluegrass: more playing, more solos?

A: There’s some banjo and fiddle. The last record is more about those great classic guitar tones and then some strings and things like that. This new record is more acoustic stuff and more fiddle and banjo and dobro and harmonies. The songs still come out a certain way. [The new sound is] something that developed with the live show. Since I started touring, the live show has taken more of a rowdy approach than the previous record. In an effort to translate that into an album, that’s the natural turn that it’s taken.

Q: Listening to some of your songs, even the opener “Blue Skies Again,” there's a real sense of restraint, but also mixed with passages of this unbridled enthusiasm and excitement, all within one song. It’s something the Avett Brothers do really well too. Do you often feel the pull to pack all those different emotions within the world of a single song, or are there songs where that’s called for and others where it’s not?

A: If anything, I often feel like I try to do that too much and I try to let a song just be a single emotion or a single feeling. It’s easy to be writing a song and have a pure sentiment, and then through the songwriting process, I start to question myself. I start to feel differently about what I’m writing about, and then I feel the need to add that perspective into the song. And then a lot of times, for the sake of the song, I’ll say, “Well, just because I had this particular revelation doesn’t mean that it belongs in this song and that I can expect the listener to go there with me.”

Q: I was watching the video of you at Bob Weir’s studio. Were you aware of the whole Grateful Dead world growing up?

A: I wasn’t aware until I heard bluegrass bands cover “Friend of the Devil,” or something like that, “I Know You Rider,” those kinds of songs that had a foot in the bluegrass and folk world anyway. I kinda traced back from there and discovered the Grateful Dead, and I had a period where I listened to a lot of that stuff, exploring it in my early 20s. It just wasn’t something that I was aware of growing up. But then to discover that wealth of music all at once was pretty awesome, and to go there and meet Bob Weir and get to be a part of something like that was pretty cool.

Q: Can you talk about some of the musicians who participate on the new album and if you have a sense of when it’s coming out?

A: We’re shooting for late January 2013 release, or possibly early February. The beginning of the year. It’s kind of like the last album, where there’s a parade of musicians -- that’s where the title came from -- and the band. There’s people who tour with me live that play on the new record. There’s also Seth Avett from the Avett Brothers on there. Dierks Bentley, a country musician. There’s a bluegrass/gospel man, Doyle Lawson [from Quicksilver], who was just inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, who was my idol growing up. I met him in the last year and he came and did some wonderful background vocals with his band on the record. My sister Jessica Lea Mayfield is on there. Bob Cesar, the drummer from the last record, who’s done a lot of stuff with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. He’s one of my favorite drummers. He plays on a lot of the record. It’s a wide mix. I like doing that in the studio just because there are so many ideas that come with these different musicians. I produce these records myself, and I can only hear things the way I hear them. If I had one band, I think, the same people on every song, it would rely a lot more on my vision, which I don’t always trust, you know? There are better ways to do it than what I come up with, so it’s really cool to bring people that I really respect and trust and see what they come up with.

Q: Sure, why not rely on these great musical minds that are in the mix as well?
A: Oh, yeah. I look at producing as being a shop foreman. You delegate responsibility. I might not know the best arrangement for a string section, but I know that strings would sound good here, so I’ll bring in somebody who does and not try to do everything.

Q: Do you ever think you might not produce a record in the future, to relieve yourself of some of that work?

A: Absolutely. This one I produced almost out of necessity more than anything, and I had a very clear idea. We went into RCA Studio B, the famous studio in Nashville where Patsy Cline recorded “Crazy” and lots of old hits were done. We were able to go in there and use all the same microphones and the same gear. This record really had a clear vision. But I think for the next one, absolutely. I would love to just show up and worry about, “Is my guitar in tune? Is my singing in tune?” and not have to facilitate all the details.

The David Mayfield Parade w/Hoots & Hellmouth, Elison Jackson, Oct. 30, 8 p.m., $10, Cafe Nine, 250 State St., New Haven, (203) 789-8281,,

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times