TRACK BY TRACK: Mutual Benefit’s ‘Skip A Sinking Stone’
27 Apr 2016
Jordan Lee talks us through each track on his gorgeous forthcoming LP
'Skip A Sinking Stone' - the new album from Mutual Benefit (due May 20th on Transgressive Records) - is a strange and beautiful thing. Full of delicate, intricate textures, meditative lyrics and the kind of Sufjan Stevens-esque soars designed to cause a lump in the sternest of throats, it's an album that's clearly dense with thought and meticulous in its execution.
On the simplest level, it is a record about that oldest of muso gripes - the oddness of being on tour. "I did about a year of touring with the band and our longest break was for 10 days in a 10 months stretch," says the man behind Mutual Benefit, Jordan Lee. "Everything is this really fleeting tapestry. It lends itself to a manic existence because on one hand you can be somewhere new and meet amazing people and have this amazing moment where everything feels right and on the other hand you know you'll probably never see them again and it can feel very lonely."
But 'Skip A Sinking Stone' isn't a 'touring record'. Not audibly, at least. Within these ideas, Lee frames the narrative of a relationship as it grows and then burns out and a day as it dawns and then fades. It's an album of cycles, that looks at life's beginnings and ends and tries to find its place within them.
Here's Jordan on the thoughts and ideas behind each track.
"I live in a mostly Spanish speaking neighbourhood and was starting to feel like an asshole for not knowing how to speak it, and 'madrugada' [dawn] was one of the early words I learnt. I lived in this place with my partner with really big windows and we neglected to get curtains for a long time so I would wake up most mornings to the sun hitting me in the eyes. It was a really nice feeling and in an abstract way I wanted the album to feel like that, where it takes a moment to begin and there's a warmth to it."
"About halfway through our year of touring we were all exhausted and grumpy. We had this moment where we spontaneously stopped at a pond and skipped some stones and it really put us into a good headspace. It was an inconsequential moment really but it got lodged into my brain and was an image that kept coming back. I started to try and figure out why - it seemed like so many things were out of my control, but you learn to accept that things are gonna sink and that so much of the act of living is doing this temporary skipping across the water. It's kind of scary but also freeing to accept that everything is temporary."
"'Skipping Stones' is so chaotic and dramatic that I wanted this one to tell a really short, quiet story about feeling very connected to another person in a way that transcends words."
"It has a lot of guest musicians on who are mostly friends from around Brooklyn. Most of them have solo bands and they're great so it came about pretty naturally where someone comes over for a beer and I trick them into [playing on my album]. It's about getting lost in a daydream and hoping that the rest of your days are as good as this day."
"I struggle with [trying to make writing about touring accessible] and I was aware that probably a very small percentage of the population spent 90% of their time in a van the last year. I was talking to friends who aren't musicians and they said they enjoyed hearing that perspective about the headspace you get into – the types of observations are nice to hear even if you're not doing it yourself so that gave me confidence with this one."
'Not For Nothing'
"I enjoy making records and playing them but all the other things are deeply weird to me, so I let other people choose what are singles. On one hand it's not very representative of the record because there's no weird sounds and it's a fairly normal structure but I think it gives a good idea of the tone of the album."
"I wanted the album to feel like two different thoughts. There's so much hopefulness and warmth on the first side that I wanted the second to feel darker and more murky. I really like the sounds of crickets and I did a lot of recording [for this track] out in rural areas where a lot of cricket sound got into the mics so I figured I'd just role with it instead of it being a mistake."
"This song is about not being in touch with your own feelings and having a vague sense that you're on the wrong path and things are starting to go wrong but it's too painful to acknowledge. It's about not being upfront with yourself and the pervasive sense of doom that goes along with that."
"On some of Side A my sister Whitney does harmonies and on Side B - like here - it's just my natural angelic tenor. Continuing from 'Slow March', it has this idea that there's a part of you that knows what to do next and you don't always listen to it. Externally, there are a lot of signals that you get from the world that mix you up because we live in a pretty gross world a lot of the time, so I was hoping it would be a tiny bit like telling you to listen to yourself. Fuck everyone else!"
"'City Sirens' is the only time I've collaborated with someone on lyrics, it was with a friend called Trey Meyers who lived in this collective space in Brooklyn with me and he teaches kids about hip hop. Around this time there were really high profile police brutality cases and protests and I remember waking up one morning and someone had tagged a wall in New York with Eric Garner's last words as he choked to death. Sometimes it's easy to turn a blind eye to certain systems but that month it was everywhere. I wanted to write about these protests I'd gone to but I felt quite selfconscius as a white dude that moved to Brooklyn three years ago, so it was nice to collaborate with Trey because it came across a lot more poetically."
"This song and 'City Sirens' are very connected to me – I wrote them around the same time and they have a similar feel. 'City Sirens' is a very external song about really sad, awful things happening around but 'Fire Escape' is very internal. I got a little stoned and had a loop pedal and made this little ditty that I built a whole song around."
"This was the hardest song to write because I wasn't exactly sue what conclusion I wanted to draw on the record, but I wanted it to feel like a complete thought. I started to think about this idea of relishing uncertainty and acknowledging that things fall apart. There's a line “there is light where murky depths are found” and obviously we shouldn't strive for things to fail, but when they inevitably do there's still hope in that."
'Skip A Sinking Stone' is released on May 20th via Transgressive Records.
Mutual Benefit plays Bush Hall with support from Aldous Harding tomorrow (April 28th). Last tickets here: http://www.rockfeedback.com/concerts/detail/mutual-benefit3