Even with label backing, Mutual Benefit keeps DIY ethos

mutual-benefit
Mutual Benefit plays a DIY show. Credit: Provided

The 25-year-old songwriter/musician known as Mutual Benefit writes intricate, warm folk songs with inspiring but down-to-earth lyrics on his debut LP, “Love’s Crushing Diamond.” When Locally Amped caught the Brooklyn-via-Ohio-based Jordan Lee and touring friends live earlier this month at Williamsburg’s Baby’s All Right, heartfelt tracks like “Golden Wake” enthralled showgoers.

I called to quit my job today / In these holy, empty hours / When my quiet thoughts get louder / Saying you’re born to be this way / You’re not meant to be afraid” — “Golden Wake,” Mutual Benefit

Mutual Benefit, which began as a project while Lee was living in Texas in 2009, grew and developed through gigging — and collaboration — at DIY spaces in Boston (where Lee attended Berklee) and Brooklyn over the past couple of years. “Love’s Crushing Diamond” is the culmination of plenty of DIY touring, recording and living as a nomad between Boston, Brooklyn, St. Louis and Ohio.

The LP, initially released by micro-label Soft Eyes in October, is a sweeping experience: a haunting mixture of Lee’s voice, guitar, violin and found sounds recorded as a full-length record in analog. Live, it’s an all-encompassing performance. Lee’s inviting presence, meticulous musicianship and backing band draw rightly comparisons to collectives like the famed Electric 6 (which birthed Neutral Milk Hotel, among others).

“Love’s Crushing Diamond” quickly developed an Internet buzz, culminating in a Best New Music album review on Pitchfork last month. This fall, as Mutual Benefit has acquired a record label (Other Music will rerelease the album on Jan. 7) and a booking agent, Lee has had to grapple with his relationship with the DIY ethos.

“To me, DIY is about doing things exactly the way you want to and not paying into systems you don’t like. It’s about creating your own opportunities and building communities instead of waiting for someone to do it for you. Perhaps most of all, it is about adaptation,” says Lee on Mutual Benefit’s blog in September.

“To say these ideals are on the decline and are being replaced by label-backed pop music and buzz bands isn’t what I see happening around me. In fact, it is almost as if they exist in different universes.”

Catch Mutual Benefit at Other Music in NYC on Dec. 2 and Great Scott in Boston on Jan. 13.

This column is part of a Metro Boston and New York music feature called Locally Amped. Follow us on Twitter @LocallyAmped and on Facebook at Locally Amped.

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