September 26, 2012

Artist Interviews- Ben Bartel, A Mayfield Affair

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 I entered A Mayfield Affair lead singer and songwriter Ben Bartel’s office, somewhat lost and unsure of what to expect. The meeting place, Pacific Records, was a bit intimidating, but the man himself put me at ease immediately. It became clear that music was something he loved talking about, which made my job very easy. We began the interview with the story of the band’s formation which was unique. Bartel and his cohorts started the band on the premise of dueling male and female lead vocals. The female lead at the formation was not as committed as Bartel and the other members desired however, so they parted ways, for the better.

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Bartel made it clear that A Mayfield Affair is a band totally committed to their music as an expression and not a product. This can be seen in the manner in which he and Erin Lancaster (Mayfield’s female lead) began singing together. They were making music together before even hearing the other speak, being on opposite sides of the country. This dedication to a sound that is honest and unapologetic overcame thousands of miles to create an album that is both haunting and catchy. Bartel spoke about the band taking risks musically, and progressing in their sound, and this was exactly what they have done. The current, self-titled album is reminiscent of the old outlaw themes of bluegrass, with a strong Civil Wars’ influence. The instrumentals and vocals are a bit edgier than the indie duo however, teetering on the edge of hard rock.

A Mayfield Affair brings a new life to the bluegrass revival happening in the indie scene, with this brave straddling of the line between back-country jailhouse folk songs and hard rock. The album is an ongoing ballad illustrating the life, heartache, revenge, and death of Bartel’s creation Mr. Thomas Apollo Mayfield. The tale was spawned from a photograph of an old barn and a fresh romantic wound. Lyrically, the songs telling the story are forceful and bitter, while remaining melodically pleasing. Bartel commented about this strength of feeling, confessing, “It’s so much easier to write a sad song…the stronger the emotions, the better the song.” Perhaps this is why the last three songs on the album which are somewhat sunnier love songs weigh on the soul a lot less. When asked about his writing process, Bartel stated that the songs on the album felt like they had to be written, and perhaps that necessity is where all great music comes from. 

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