Joelton Mayfield has grown up, both in age and music.
When he left Marble Falls more than four years ago to pursue a degree in music business management at Belmont University in Nashville, he was a good musician covering songs and playing guitar along with a handful of other instruments. But he wasn’t really writing anything of his own.
“I probably could have stayed in Marble Falls. I could have kept playing, covering songs, and even playing guitar for others,” said a reflective Mayfield, now 21. “It would definitely have been different. … I don’t think I’d be the (song)writer I am, though, had I stayed.”
Songwriting led to his first EP, “I Hope You Make It,” which is available on streaming sites such as Spotify, Bandcamp, Amazon, and soon iTunes. Released December 3, it features five songs written and sung by Mayfield.
He and his band toured the Southeast for several weeks promoting “I Hope You Make It.” Recording the EP and touring were learning experiences for Mayfield, but it all started with a musical awakening at Belmont.
Mayfield was surrounded by creative people at the Nashville school. Struck by the volume of talent, the Marble Falls native and Faith Academy graduate did not let it overwhelm him.
“I had never been that surrounded by music and by people whose brain is constantly thinking about and analyzing music,” he said. “The talent is so concentrated in Nashville, and you either can start being inspired or get scared of it all.”
He chose inspiration.
It wasn’t easy. As Mayfield dove into his music business management courses, he discovered the major didn’t fit him. Instead, literature tugged at his creative heart.
“I fell in love with reading for the first time,” he said.
He had the freedom to explore the written word and discovered Southern Gothic literature. The influence of the settings on characters and stories in the genre resonated with Mayfield. He also found inspiration from musical storytellers such as Guy Clark and Sturgill Simpson and, of course, the songwriting haven that is Nashville.
Mayfield began writing — some poetry but a lot of songs. He wrote about things that mattered to him, which is reflected in his EP.
“All the songs, it’s kind of a coming of age. That’s a common theme,” he said. “Family is a big part as is growing up and all the anxieties that come with that. But, ultimately, it’s hopeful.”
He wrote those songs over a period of several years, but he didn’t know if he’d record them. Recording, after all, meant money, something a working college student doesn’t have.
But one thing Mayfield does have is a network of supportive friends, several of whom he pulled together for a band.
Friend and audio producer Alberto Sewald produced and recorded the EP. It was a challenge without a well-equipped, professional studio. They started the process in Sewald’s home but had to find a new place when the property owner decided to knock it down for a new building. In all, recording took place in five different locations, including two more homes.
“Alberto did such a great job capturing everything. He knew how to capture the songs in the way they’re meant to be,” Mayfield said. “And people, when they listen to it, can’t believe it when they find out we recorded most of it in houses. Eighty-five percent of it was recorded in a house. That’s how good Alberto is.”
Mayfield graduated from Belmont in May 2019 with an English degree. He changed majors midstream after realizing, and accepting, that music business management doesn’t line up with who he is.
“I have to write; I have to make music,” he said.
And, as you listen to his EP, you hear his love of writing.
“I Hope You Make It” is also being released on cassette.
“It’s making a comeback,” Mayfield said with a laugh. “Cassettes, they have a sound that’s unique to them. And there’s a lot of people, especially college students, who are buying cassettes.”
Music is not quite yet paying the bills, so Mayfield works at a Nashville hardware store as well as a few music venues. In between, he’s writing songs and lining up shows.
He keeps plugging along.
“You have to do what you love or else you won’t be happy,” he said.
Mayfield pointed out fellow musicians in Nashville working other jobs, from coffee shops to retail.
“Music, art, or whatever the creative stuff they’re working on is taking up most of their brain space while they’re pouring coffee. I think that doing something you’re drawn to creatively is worth taking seriously.”
While Mayfield and his band are taking a holiday break before returning to Nashville, he is performing a couple of solo shows: 7 p.m. Thursday, January 2, at Jules Design Bar, 12700 Hill Country Blvd. in Bee Cave; and 6 p.m. Saturday, January 4, at Silver Creek, 310 E. Main St. in Fredericksburg.
For more on Mayfield’s music, visit his website.