Love’s Crushing Diamond — Jordan Lee’s breakthrough album under the name Mutual Benefit — was only supposed to be a limited-run, physical release of 250 copies. But plans changed after the record was named Best New Album by Pitchfork and received attention from Rolling Stone. Because of the sudden high demand, Lee signed to Brooklyn-based Other Music Recording Co., and the record got a traditional wide release.
“I didn’t have a lot of ambition to be on a bigger label or anything,” Lee said. “This one got a little more attention and we had it be a bigger release. I don’t know. It’s kind of all the same.”
The 25-year-old musician started Mutual Benefit when he was living in Austin after graduating from high school in Ohio. After moving around to Boston, St. Louis and his current home in Brooklyn, Lee is returning to Austin. He is currently touring to promote the new record, and his concert Friday night at Mohawk will be the first time Mutual Benefit has ever played in the city where Lee’s music began.
“I saw so many bands at Mohawk, and it’ll be fun to actually be in a band that’s playing there,” Lee said.
Lee started Mutual Benefit as a recording project in 2009 when he was living on East Second Street. Back then, he used a field recorder to make experimental pop for cassette releases. After releasing a handful of EPs, he started booking live shows in 2011, recruiting friends to play with him for every performance.
Mutual Benefit is playing small venues on this tour and has been selling out shows in many cities, such as Toronto. Lee, who is used to being the opening band when touring, appreciates getting to play last.
“Normally, I get the feeling that people are like, ‘I can’t wait for this band to finish so I can see the band I came to see,’ but I don’t feel that this time,” Lee said.
Love’s Crushing Diamond is an intensely personal record with songs about death and loss. Lee said that the songs were difficult to play live at first, but that playing them over and over again has desensitized him to the content.
“I’ve just learned how to look like I’m pretend-sad on stage,” Lee said. “I’m just a big fake.”
Mutual Benefit’s connection to Austin is greater than just being influenced by Lee’s time here. Parts of Love’s Crushing Diamond were recorded at OHM Recording Facility, a studio in East Austin run by Chico Jones. Lee worked as an intern there during his time in Austin, and he became close friends with Jones.
“He actually is more family to me than anything because he lived with me for a while,” Jones said.
Lee recorded much of Love’s Crushing Diamond with cheap equipment and was frustrated with the quality, so he brought it to Jones and asked for his advice. Jones offered to help Lee by rerecording the vocals and other parts of the album. According to Jones, what Lee needed was a friend to be honest with him.
“The conversation we had was whether it’s more important to be prolific or to make something that can stand the test of time,” Jones said. “Obviously, the answer is that both are important, and I think [Lee’s] done that.”