The project of singer/multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lee, Mutual Benefit blends folk, psychedelic pop, and experimental recording techniques into fragile, hopeful songs that evoke the work of Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, and the Microphones. Lee grew up in Columbus, Ohio and began writing songs inspired by the likes of Elliott Smith while still in high school. After graduation, Lee moved to Texas and took his music in a more experimental direction, incorporating field recordings and found sounds into his songs.
For his most recent album, Growing at the Edges, Lee brought in two crucial collaborators: his first-ever co-producer in multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Birnbaum, of Brooklyn’s Wilder Maker, and violinist Concetta Abbate, who contributed string arrangements. The interplay of Birnbaum’s jazz and country riffs and Abbate’s chamber-folk arrangements leant Growing at the Edges a live ensemble feel. With their vast musical vocabularies, Lee’s abstract ideas were made concrete.
Other collaborators include guitarist Jonnie Baker (Florist), vocalist Eva Goodman (Nighttime), standup bassist Nick Jost (Wilder Maker, Baroness), and drummer Sean Mullins (Wilder Maker, Sam Evian). Written over five years, the album took root with two artist residencies completed in 2019: one at a former watchtower in Northern Ireland where Lee was commissioned to compose a soundtrack, and another in Gainesville, Florida, both allowing him time and space to experiment, to spontaneously explore, and to live inside his emergent songs.
Lee began writing Growing at the Edges at a creative crossroads, but it led to his most intentional, adventurous, and realized album, a world to enter. In writing, Lee was thinking about areas of life that capitalism deems to be valueless, how the reality of relentless extraction creates what are perceived to be wastelands.
“We’re at this point in time where there are so many ‘wastelands’ because value has been taken from so many places, so many art forms. I was thinking about the growth that’s happening right on the edge of that wasteland, and how that, to me, is the most beautiful and interesting area. That’s where important things are going to happen.”