We spoke with Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit before his performance in Vancouver earlier this month.
Read on as Lee explains reflects on our first interview in 2011, holographic music, Alan Lomax’ recordings, and the existential panic of being a musician.
KV: I wanted to start off going back to our first interview when we talked to you in 2011. Back then you described your music as “self medicationcore” which was a great answer. Would you say Love’s Crushing Diamond still fits into that category?
Mutual Benefit: Yeah definitely. It’s great to use sounds to deal with feelings.
KV: How has the self medication been going personally?
Mutual Benefit: I guess a little better. It tends to be more exciting to focus on creating things instead of having to have a day job that I don’t like. It’s been very positive lately.
KV: After releasing so many LPs what drove you to release the full length Love’s Crushing Diamond?
Mutual Benefit: I think it just felt like the right time. There was enough material and once I had a theme in my head it needed to have lots of songs, if that makes sense.
KV: You’ve mentioned that C.L. Rosarian comes from the experience of looking at ripples on a pond. Does nature usually play a big role in your music?
Mutual Benefit: I would say indirectly. I guess there’s a feeling that people get when they’re in nature, when they’re isolated in nature especially, where you let your train of thought go a little bit longer and there’s a lot of stimulation. It’s helpful to clear your mind and be able to write. I think you can get that in the city as well, it’s just harder to do with all the distractions of the city.
KV: Is that what drew you to Alan Lomax’ recordings?
Mutual Benefit: Yeah, with the Alan Lomax recordings there are a lot of things that make those compelling. A lot of times he was going to isolated mountain communities that were still cut off from any sort of national media. In the same way that animals in Australia are different because it’s an island, I feel like there were some really great types of American music that could be found in those mountain communities. I like it for that reason, and because of the production. You’re just hearing people do their thing.
KV: Is there a way for you to distill that raw feeling into your music despite the extra amount of production in your work?
Mutual Benefit: Yeah I guess it’s about keeping a balance between having mistakes here and there and then having things exactly the way I want to. I’m a little turned off by some of the new tools that exist for musicians like Autotune and all the stuff that takes a little bit of the humanity out of music. I try to avoid any of those kinds of things.
KV: Did the Lomax recordings influence you to put your own field recordings on Love’s Crushing Diamond?
Mutual Benefit: I don’t think consciously it did, I really don’t know why I did that honestly. I guess it’s kind of cool to write a song about a moment and actually have a piece of that moment in the song. It makes it hyper-real.
KV: Is that one of the ways you try to get the most genuine feeling into a recording?
Mutual Benefit: Yeah I guess you could say that.
KV: How do you think that compares to performing live to an audience?
Mutual Benefit: I guess at least on this tour I’ve been really aware that things are different than they were before. I didn’t mean to do it, but I’ve found a way to deal with it. I just try to be really silly on stage and antagonize the crowd, even just making fun of what it’s like to be treated more seriously. We played this venue in Chicago and there was this big green room and there were all these towels and none of us understood why they gave us so many towels. Then when we got onstage there was the fog machine going crazy and there was an overzealous light guy doing a show for our songs and I couldn’t take any of it seriously, so I was making fun of it. I don’t know why I do it.
KV: I guess it’s a release in one way or another.
Mutual Benefit: Yeah. I see a lot of other bands that are doing the same thing that we’re doing and they’re very career-focussed and very much looking at things like a ladder. They’re focussed on playing a bigger venue next time, or signing to a bigger label, or selling more records. The only way I know how to differentiate myself is to be a clown about it.
KV: So it that type of career advancement something you try to push to the back of your mind and focus on the music?
Mutual Benefit: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t aware of that stuff. To me it’s just a matter of how much you let that factor in to what you’re creating.
KV: You released Love’s Crushing Diamond to your label very quickly after having finished it. How did you know something like that is finished?
Mutual Benefit: I never feel like anything is finished so I set an arbitrary deadline. Up to a week before I didn’t think it was finished, but we had a tour lined up and we needed merch to sell for the tour and so it had to get finished. I think I finished the record three days before it got sent to be pressed.
KV: Tell me about the recording process. I know you’ve mentioned that the album got happier both sonically and lyrically as you went on. Is that something you did intentionally?
Mutual Benefit: Not particularly. It wasn’t good enough for me to make something good, I only know when it’s bad. You know what I mean? I’ll hear something and think “this is bad” and then I’ll try and do things to fix it, and so that’s how it came about. Say a song is missing something, then I’ll try and add things to make it better. Hopefully I’ll get more efficient with that.
KV: So is it about getting to a place where you are happy with it, then letting it go?
Mutual Benefit: Exactly. One of the things I appreciate about the process is that I can be honest with myself about whether something is good or bad.
KV: You’ve mentioned the existential panic of being a musician, especially brought on by the success of Love’s Crushing Diamond. How much does that emotion drive your music?
Mutual Benefit: I think existential panic has basically informed almost all my actions and feelings. I think the world is a really weird place.
KV: You covered Wanda Jackson’s Funnel Of Love for LYFSTYL’s Mad Love In Crazy Times compilation and I know you’re in the habit of saying yes to everything, any future covers planned?
Mutual Benefit: I guess I say yes to fewer things now just because I feel like I don’t have any personal time. I’m a lot more conscious of making sure that I have time to process things before I jump into them. I mean Wanda Jackson is pretty awesome so maybe I would say yes to another cover like that.
KV: Is it a luxury to be able to turn things down now that you’re a bit more focussed on what you want to do musically?
Mutual Benefit: Yeah, I guess it is.
KV: Funnel Of Love is the first Mutual Benefit song with a guitar solo in it. Any plans to get to a more guitar-centric sound in the future?
Mutual Benefit: Who knows? The future is wide open.
KV: In 2011 we asked you about what you expect to be doing five to ten years down the line and you mentioned holographic music. Any other crazy plans?
Mutual Benefit: Man, I was a lot funnier back then, I feel so tired right now. Holographic music – that was a pretty spot on prediction I guess. There was the TLC tour, I think there was a holographic Tupac recently, and then there are the Japanese holographic pop stars. I guess I stick with my original prediction.