In his band Mutual Benefit, singer-songwriter Jordan Lee found a space to experiment with pop in a collaborative setting. He spoke with Recess editor Lauren Feilich about Miley Cyrus, raw meat and the thrill of the making music together. Mutual Benefit will perform at Local 506 in Chapel Hill February 6.
The Chronicle: Have you ever played in North Carolina before?
Jordan Lee: ...It was a house show in Greensboro. There were three bands traveling together, and we got to the house, and it ends up they wanted us to play in this really tiny kitchen. Almost everyone traveling was vegetarian, and there was a big uncooked t-bone steak with flies buzzing around it sitting on the counter, so we played next to this piece of meat and it was really surreal. We also played in Chapel Hill in a basement, a space mostly for females making experimental and noise music, so they tried to focus on bringing females to the space, that was a really amazing show as well. I think it was called Ladybird Basement. They actually didn’t like me very much because I played pop music, but we had this book of Mad Libs in the van for a long drive, so we did a collaborative Mad Lib, and I think we were all on the same team by the end.
TC: What was your earliest project?
JL: Starting out, I was mostly making pop music under my own name...I was really into, you know, verse chorus bridge verse chorus chorus...I guess I still am.
TC: I heard that your latest album [“Love’s Crushing Diamond”] became the first Bandcamp release to be named "Best New Music" by Pitchfork.
JL: It’s exciting that there’s a platform where you have 100% control over it. There’s less gatekeepers or whatever. But also, when I saw that in the press release, it kind of made me cringe. My friends put the record out on vinyl at the same time it went out on Bandcamp. There’s probably plenty of people who have been on that site who released a small batch of vinyl and Bandcamp as well, but I agree with the sentiment. If you went back five or six years, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who put their heart and soul into a recording with no PR and have it be talked about nationally. It’s still really exciting.
TC: Yeah, I actually found out about you because of the show you were doing with Frankie Cosmos and Krill, both of whom I found on Bandcamp.
JL: [In what we call] the “DIY circuit,” there’s all these house shows that throw enough shows that they start to get known by touring bands. The joke we have is that once you’ve been on the road, you start to feel like there’s only 1,000 people in the world. You talk about the same vegetarian restaurants and the same spots—it starts to feel like a really small world.
TC: I know there has been a rotating lineup on who plays as Mutual Benefit with you, do you have any thoughts on that?
JL: If I could never play a solo show again, I’d be really happy. It’s not very fun at all. There’s no dialogue with the other players onstage. I enjoy the resources to be able to have enough people to give the songs justice. Since the record’s come out, it’s the first time I’ve been able to play with a six-piece. It was difficult at first to navigate. Six people making sounds 100% of the time is too chaotic. More and more, we’re learning when each of us should not be playing. But still, it’s starting to get to the point where I like the live arrangement more than the record arrangement, which I didn’t think would ever happen.
TC: Have you heard Miley Cyrus’s new album, and if so, what do you think about it?
JL: So, we got a tour van. It came with only a CD player, but we don’t have any except our own, so we were only listening to the radio for the first three or four days. I think there were a handful of Miley Cyrus songs that came on a lot of times. They’re pleasant enough. I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other. But at a Montreal show, this performer Sea Oleena—she’s incredible, she’s gonna drop her album and it’s gonna be great, her live set is a lot of droning, textured guitar stuff, and she sings over it in slow motion—right in the middle of her set, she played a Miley Cyrus cover. It took me two minutes to figure it out. One of the themes of our tour has been Miley Cyrus. I’m not sure what kind of omen it is yet. Maybe she’ll be our undoing. Maybe she’s just, like, beckoning us into the pop world.
TC: Do you remember what song it was?JL: ‘We Can’t Stop.’ I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room.