“Start small, talk to everyone, and don’t be an asshole.” It’s blunt advice, but it’s how semi-local electropop experimentalist Jordan Lee got the ball rolling in 2009 under the moniker Mutual Benefit. This week, MB released its debut full-length “Love’s Crushing Diamond” on Brooklyn-based label Soft Eyes.
Lee says the album’s title was pulled from a “dumb magnetic poem” he made on a friend’s fridge. “For some reason that phrase really stuck in my brain for months,” says Lee, 25. ”I think it relates to how the people you love the most can also cause the most pain in your life but getting through it is always worth it.”
There’s attention to detail on Mutual Benefit’s new record that makes it not just well-written, but well-crafted. Lee’s constructions mix dazzling, empowering doses of strings, with a gentle sense of vulnerability that still shines through in his vocals. It’s the latter that makes this album so relatable, and one that deserves immediate attention. Stream it below.
Q. You’re a bit of a traveling man. What effect do you think that has on your songwriting?
A. I suppose being in unfamiliar places leads to a heightened sense of awareness. I find it much easier to feel inspired when in that state, to let a sense of wonder take the place of my usual malaise. I think it is impossible for one’s surroundings to not deeply affect their art, whether I’m passing through Vermont and get a sudden urge to write lyrics while under the shadow of a mountain or in a punk house in Ann Arbor trying to record a melody on a perfectly-broken piano.
Q. You’re releasing the new album through Soft Eyes, which seems to be relatively new. How did the label get started and how did you link up with it?
A. Yeah, Soft Eyes is Marc [Merza] and Cory [Siegler], who also make super cool music/visual art as Lizard Kisses. We sent music back and forth on the Internet years ago, when I had a brief stint in suburban Ohio and started collaborating regularly on both of our projects once I moved to the East Coast. I jumped at the opportunity to do this record with them since I like balancing a business-y relationship with an artistic one. In fact, Marc plays electric guitar and Cory sings on a majority of the songs on this record.
Q. You’ve worked very closely with FMLY in the past and present. I’ve noticed they prefer the DIT (Do It Together) ethos over a DIY (Do It Yourself) one. How do you think this album encompasses that?
A. Yup, I love my FMLY, they are a constant source of inspiration and joy in my life. Honestly, I’ve worked on two pieces about DIY over the past couple weeks and the more I write, the more meaningless it feels. DIY, DIT, anything that makes people re-think systems and feel empowered is amazing and vital, but at this point, I’m just super weary of speaking on behalf of broad labels and mass movements. Lately, as a white dude in America, I’ve been trying to get better at shutting up, being aware and, in small ways, trying to reverse systems that give one person a louder voice than another. Musically, I love working with people who are either too modest to self-identify as an artist or musician or perhaps didn’t have the same encouragement and support system that I had growing up. I suppose what makes DIT more attractive than DIY to me is that idea of radical inclusion, where we actively seek out perspectives that are different than our own to make the thing better as a whole. I’m definitely not trying to sound self-righteous though, I’ve got a long way to go.
Q. You moved up to Boston shortly after the “Drifting” EP was released. In what ways do you think Boston is a good place to get started as a musician and in what ways do you think it held you back?
A. My experience in Boston may be similar to others. I loved the undercurrent of political activism that permeated the scene. I loved that a handful of highly-motivated people were bringing through amazing touring bands and having them play in packed basements for a suggested donation. I am grateful for the smaller art/loft spaces like dreamhaus and Muthership which brought together so many amazing people and encouraged me as a performer. The downside is definitely the culture of transience due to the large college population. This last year has been brutal in both friends moving away and historic house venues getting shut down by the [police], though I’m convinced more youngsters will come in and make something new eventually.
Q. What tips do you have for a young new band or artist who are touring on a low budget?
A. Start small, talk to everyone, and don’t be an asshole. Buy groceries instead of eating out every day, keep a journal, don’t have expectations. Be grateful to what is given to you, try to wake up early and do something special in each town, read parking signs very carefully in [New York City], believe in karma, and hydrate.
[Photo Credit: Emily Reo]