In this special edition of the Kitchen, we chatted with Jordon Lee from Mutual Benefit before his London gig about skipping stones, hope, acceptance and how to overcome writers block.
Artrocker: Your debut album was the first Bandcamp offering to get best new release on Pitchfork; how has the transition from bedroom recording beginnings to touring and recognition been?
Jordon Lee: It’s definitely a strange switch. I’d been writing music as Mutual Benefit for five years before Love’s Crushing Diamond came out, so I was very used to touring living rooms and basements. I’ve worked at recording studios before; there were some things that were surprising in the music industry, so many people with specialized jobs [and] figuring out which things I want to take part in and things I’d like to do differently. There are other parts that are mostly the same. We still recorded a lot of the new album in the bedroom.
AR: Before your first album you talked about having writers block; did the new album come easier?
JL: (Laughs) No….I’m starting to learn that in order for me to write the songs that I write, it has to come from a less cerebral place and more something that’s underneath the surface. A lot of the process is to write in a journal in the morning and try to find a little phrase that gets stuck in my head or a core production that really makes me feel something. I try to figure out why it’s doing that. It’s almost like being a detective. Sometimes it takes a really long time to have a piece of work that feels like it’s worth showing. Also there is a lot of writers block. We toured for almost a year straight and then I was supposed to write an album the next year. I didn’t know what to write about or what sort of new ideas I could bring to the table. It took time to make it all happen.
AR: When LCD was released I read that you were at a point where you were crashing on a friend’s sofa and ten dollars was like a dopamine rush. (JL laughs) Do you have expectations attached to the second album? What would you like it to achieve?
JL: I don’t have expectations, because once you do then you’re either disappointed, or if it goes exactly right it just means that your expectations were met. The thing I hope for is to be able to make music for as long as possible. I think about sustainability a lot more than popularity. Being able to go to new countries, play our songs and have people keep putting out our records; I’m more interested in something like that instead of what magazines write about us.
AR: Did you get to see any of London? When I recorded you (at St. Johns, Bethnal Green) you said you were in and out and didn’t get to see anything?
JL: Yeah, we came in August a couple years ago and stayed for like ten days. We’d just go and play a festival and come back for a couple of days. So I got a pretty good sense of East London. This time we went straight to the Airbnb, did some interviews, woke up this morning and did the [radio] session. Yeah I’ve seen London this time, I love it.
AR: What’s it like being on the road for a year?
JL: The band is a pretty amazing thing that just adapts to whatever is happening. There is a rhythm to it. You wake up, get in the van, meet at the gas station, get to the venue for soundcheck, play, then meet some people and stay with them or find a cheap hotel. Someone will bring up this thing that happened and you can’t remember if it’s two days ago or two weeks ago. It makes my relationship with time a little bit strange. When the tour was over and it was time to stay put and write the record it was hard to readjust back into putting down roots and being a member of society.
AR: For the first album, you were moving around a lot whilst writing it. This time you were in one place, New York for half of the process; does that give it a different feeling, that you weren’t endlessly moving?
JL: Oh definitely, the songs I was writing about being on the road versus staying put were so different from one another that for a while I was trying to figure out how to make it feel like a cohesive record. Side A is about the feelings I had about touring and transience, and side B I wrote all in New York about the new feelings of trying to stay put.
AR: Is Skip A Sinking Stone as collaborative as the first record; how would you describe the progression between them?
JL: It’s definitely as collaborative as the last one. It’s a little different, because a lot of the collaborators were people I ended up touring with. We’ve become very close and they know what sounds I like, so in some ways [it] was a lot easier and we started working together earlier on in the process. [For] the record before, I would have the songs mostly down, bring it to someone, ask them to make sounds over it and then I’d edit it. This was a lot more like us functioning like a band, which I think makes it better (laughs).
AR: It’s more organic?
JL: Yeah, as far as the growing process it’s pretty similar to the last one. The only difference was that we spent a little over a week in the studio, ‘cause I thought that might make the album sound better. The workflow of that didn’t work well for me. ‘Cause if you have an idea there’s like a time limit attached to it, it feels like there’s less room for experimentation. So we ended up doing exactly the same as the last one, kind of bouncing between three different houses with microphones.
AR: What’s your take on the title of the new album? Is skipping stones a calming thing?
JL: I kind of hit on it a little earlier, it’s one of those phrases and moments that I knew was important, but I didn’t know why. A lot of the writing process was keeping that in mind. I think throughout the year it meant different things. I liked the idea of having expectations that things are going to go well, hoping your life will go a certain way. Things shift and hoping that they always stay perfect for you, that’s like skipping a stone and expecting it not to sink. It’s a way to set yourself up to be disappointed. I started the album by talking about skipping a stone and it ends with this image of watching the stone sink and it being okay. Not watching it and being sad, but knowing what happens and accepting it. That’s the message or the story I wanted to relay.
JL: (Laughs) Yeah.
My gig pick sees Kool Kitchen favourites The Telescopes in London, Friday May 20th at Zigfrid von Underbelly of Hoxton, 11 Hoxton Square N1, headlining Wall of Noise presents: Tremolo the Event that celebrates itself Volmue1; 7 hours of shoegaze, new-wave, post-punk, dream-pop art/space/noise rock. With able support from Fever Dream, Is Bliss and Whammy Jar Elixers, entry is £7 advance, £9 on the door and £5 for the after party. Bargain.
A bundle of DJ dates for the Kitchen starts with Thursday May 12th and Friday May 13th, at The Amersham Arms, 388 New Cross Road, SE14. I’m in the front from 9:30pm on both nights, playing all the things you want to hear ‘til late on Thursday and 3am on Friday. It’s free entry.
Next stop is Saturday May 14th at Paper Dress Vintage, 352a Mare Street, E8. There’ll be live bands and lashings of psych, soul and freakbeat from myself to take you higher. Its pay what you want at the door
I have a set at my favourite local, The Rose and Crown, 71-73 Torriano Avenue, NW5 on Friday May 20th. A cosy dive bar with free entry, I’ll provide the soundtrack from 7 ‘til 11pm.
Onto Saturday, May 21st at The Good Ship, 289 Kilburn High Road, NW6. Peace in the City presents a night of live alternative, indie and electronic rock from 8 to 11.30pm. I take the decks after until 4am, mixing the best sundae of new and old skool electronica, hip-hop and dance with a whipped cream topping of indie. I have an unlimited guest list, so please contact me on Facebook if you’d like free entry to this event.
Sunday, May 22nd it’s a Kool Kitchen brunch set at the Sebright Arms, 31-35 Coate Street, E2 from 3 to 7 pm. It’s free entry, so come down and enjoy lazy morning after sounds to accompany your hair of the dog.
For any who missed the Mutual Benefit London gig, here’s the one I recorded at St John on Bethnal Green in March 2014.