Mutual Benefit

An Email Correspondence with Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit
by John Noyd
August 2014

Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit

Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit

As the mastermind behind chamber-folk collective MUTUAL BENEFIT, Jordan Lee epitomizes the wandering minstrel, moving from Ohio to Austin, Boston and Brooklyn where he encountered musical scenes and collected a cavalcade of talented colleagues. The songs on the band’s full-length debut, “Love’s Crushing Diamond,” reflect his restless curiosity with scenic side-trips and unexpected twists stringing epic adventures between imaginative art-pop canvases. We caught up with Jordan before he resumed touring to better prepare ourselves for his visit to Wisconsin, September 29th at Madison’s The Frequency.

MAXIMUM INK: Your tunes are full of light yet also very deep. Is this an accurate reflection of you who are?

JORDAN LEE: I suppose you can say that but I don’t know anyone who would be able to describe themselves accurately; our eyes are cracked mirrors after all!

MI: Did you always aspire to write long winding songs or did something happen to change how you write music?

JL: I started out listening to straight forward three and a half minute pop songs and wrote pretty similar music, in fact most of my early songs were really short because I had this internal rule that I’d rather a song end quickly than for someone to get bored of it. I’m not quite sure when the compositions started getting longer. I guess it was when the musical ideas started getting larger over the past couple years.

MI: While not completely surprised to read how much field recordings played a part in your album, my initial impression was that your compositions came from deep inside you. How do field recordings affect the creative process?

JL: I think this was the first album to incorporate field recordings and I’m not sure I’ll do it again since I don’t want for it to become “my thing” but for that span of time it seemed to really make a lot of sense… If I just sit down with a guitar and try to play chords I never get too inspired but little conversations or sounds can trigger the part of my brain that feels compelled to make art.

MI: Your full-length debut, ““Love’s Crushing Diamond,” was pick up by Other Music from another label and reissued due to high demand; why do you think it ended up connecting with so many people?

JL: I have absolutely no idea! It is still so surreal to go to places like Norway or Belgium and meet fans of the band. It is kind of messing with my head as I try and write new songs.

MI: What’s the next thing you’d like to tackle musically?

JL: Because all the other records have come from a position of limitation whether it be time, money, or instruments I’m having trouble conceptualizing what I want to do with more ability to make exactly what I want to. Maybe collab with a whole string section for a couple days?? Brass and woodwind?? Modular synths? I have no idea.

MI: Your itinerant lifestyle suggests you make friends easily and yet much of, “Diamonds,” emanates from a somewhat introspective perspective. Do you ever have trouble balancing your public and private personas?

JL: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I think I can easily connect with people on a surface level but never staying in one place too long can definitely lead to a feeling of deep down isolation and loneliness. This year has felt different since I’ve mostly been traveling with the same band and I have a wonderful partner back home… More than ever we all just feel like a weird little family.

MI: How has it been touring with the same people for an album where there was a rotating cast of participants?

JL: I think it was initially a struggle to settle into a routine since I spent the last couple years vehemently avoiding routine and sameness to chase freedom and inspiration but now it feels pretty great to have such amazing players around me putting their energy into translating the songs.

MI: You played Pitchfork Festival this summer along with several other big shows. Do you prefer a big open venue or something more intimate?

JL: There are pros and cons to big and small shows, but I still think I prefer the little living room ones. It feels more natural and there are so many more opportunities to make life-long friends. At their worst the bigger shows can just feel like some spectacle meant to make someone else money.

MI: Was this tour the first time you played Europe?

JL: February of this year was actually the first time I’d visited or played Europe. This tour is our third this year which is pretty unbelievable. I think we’ve gained a larger measure of popularity in the Europe than in the states so it’s funny to get on a plane and go to this alternate universe where beer, cheese, and chocolate are amazing and people love our music. It would be paradise if everything wasn’t so expensive.

MI: Your 2011, “Cowboy Prayer,” EP is being reissued this fall. Is it strange to revisit music you made years ago?

JL: That EP is near and dear to my heart so I’m pretty thrilled that Other Music re-mastered it, gave it fancy packaging and is re-sending it out into the world. I think I’d be a little more weary if it was even older music.

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