Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mutual Benefit’s Jordan Lee on honest songwriting and unexpected success

Photo by Jessica Lehrman | via
Photo by Jessica Lehrman | via

Jordan Lee hopes Philadelphians aren’t big fans of fog machines.

The subject comes up almost immediately on the phone with the indie folk artist behind breakout band Mutual Benefit as he travels to St. Paul from Chicago, where he had just played a show at Lincoln Hall.

“There was a fog machine that was just going the whole time. That was a new experience for us, I think,” he says of the set, not letting on at first whether that new experience was good or bad. “Visually, it was pretty cool. I felt like a wizard of some sort. But also, it’s kind of poisonous, I think. It made my throat hurt by the end.”

Lee and the band of musicians he assembled to fill out Mutual Benefit’s live show will play a hopefully fog-less set at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Boot & Saddle with local acts Lewis & Clarke and The Interest Group. Just like his aversion to gimmicks like this on stage, Lee’s brand of soulful, whimsical electro-tinged pop folk is also straightforward, without smoke and mirrors. It’s helped bring him acclaim for the band’s first LP, Love’s Crushing Diamond, which came out this past October.

Speaking to The Key from the tour van, Lee brings up a record review published in London that describes him as “an understated king of folk music.” New to such widespread praise for his music, he views quotes like this as more of an embarrassment than a compliment.

“It’s definitely not bad to hear that kind of stuff,” Lee says. “But I guess, if you get wrapped up too much in what you think about a thing that you made and how it’s received, then you’re kind of giving that same power to people to make you feel bad about something you made.”

Lee didn’t create Love’s Crushing Diamond with the idea that this many people would hear it. Continue reading →