Tom Clayton caught up with Mutual Benefit's Jordan Lee ahead of their show at Bush Hall to discuss their new album, travel, writer's block and wind chimes.

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New record Skip a Sinking Stone is divided loosely into two parts - one more rural and carefree, one urban and darker. Could you talk a bit about the two halves and why you chose to structure the record this way?

I wrote the album over the span of a couple of years - I had writer's block about it for a long time. I spent one of those years writing and touring almost non-stop, and the other in one place, being quite depressed in Brooklyn. So the only way it made sense for me was to make Side A the opposite of Side B - once I got that into my mind it became easier to structure, and actually more fun to work on.

Is this the first time you've written a significant amount of work on the road?

I spend a lot of time travelling, and try to record as much as I can - but touring is too hectic for me to get anything down. I read this cheesy book called The Artist's Way - I love it, actually! It talks about ideas being like little fish in a pond, and if you don't have any new experiences, then gradually you run out of fish... that's kind of what writers' block is like, when you just run out of things to talk about. So I think travelling is a good way to encounter a lot of imagery, ideas and people.

I think travel is so important in terms of stimulating ideas, just to come across new images, new sounds...

A lot of my music has been about travelling to one place just long enough to write something about it and then move on. With this record, what was a bit harder was staying in place, trying to, you know, be an adult. That's been the main difference this time around.

Do you see this record as a break from previous work, or is it more of an evolution?

I'm just trying to prepare people for my 'noise' phase - I reckon two more albums of pop and then they'll be ready...

You're just lulling your audience into a false sense of security, and then BAM!

Wxactly! Well, on the last record (Love's Crushing Diamond) I was really into wind chimes - they're scaled in such a way that every note sounds good when you play them next to each other. So I didn't want to do that again - become known as 'the wind chime guy' - so I thought about what I could do instead. For a while I was really scared of bringing anything new in, anything unsettling... but eventually I found it rewarding to work with a bigger palette.

So many music reviews are quick to compare artists' work with others, but I notice, reading through reviews of your previous records, that people have often struggled to compare your music with anything else - do you take that as a compliment?

I totally understand why reviewers do that - I guess it just helps people to conceptualise the music in their minds a little - but, as any artist will tell you, it makes them feel a little weird! I wasn't at all prepared for the barrage of press after the last record. We were included in a piece that was something like 'Four Artists Who Sound Just Like Sufjan Stevens!' - obviously I take that as a compliment, but I'd like to think we all bring something different to the table!

Once you get 'listicled', you know you're in trouble...

Definitely! But I think it's a necessary evil - I can live with it. In terms of influences, I live with a bunch of other people, all of whom have very wide-ranging tastes. Everyone in the band has a different background - our drummer studied in West Africa for a couple of years, our guitarist is very into that kind of American finger-picking and our bassist also does a lot of DIY basement shows... so all of us bring something different, and it means that when it comes to recording, even if it doesn't end up in the exact style I thought it would be at the beginning, there's always something that sounds beautiful to me.

Your music often throws up ideas of nostalgia, childhood, nature, that kind of rural escape... as a busy touring musician, does it frustrate you that you can't spend more time in the places you sing about?

I see you've talked to a lot of touring musicians! The answer to that one is a resounding yes. It's ridiculous. One of my favourite stories is, we spend a lot of time on the East coast, so I love any opportunity to get out to California or the West - but there's never any time to see any of it. So one time we stopped to see this scenic overlook on to the Pacific Ocean, but we only had about five minutes to get out and take pictures and whatever before we had to soundcheck somewhere. So about three minutes go by, I have a little chance to take stock... but our drummer is just making a beeline for the ocean, down this really steep decline! Just running down this hill, in an act of pure defiance. "I don't care if we're late, I just want to see the sea!" I was mad for about five minutes, but then I realised it doesn't really matter, I respect his need for this to happen!

There are obviously a lot of instruments on the record, so how do you go about preparing and arranging for live shows with a smaller band?

When we work on songs, we don't think at all about how it will happen live - but I'm a strong believer that there's an essence of a song that comes through. I started believing that when I saw Joanna Newsom touring Ys - there's so much going on on that record, I was thinking, 'how is she ever going to pull this off?', but with just a four-piece band she was able to perfectly capture all those melodies and counter-melodies. From then, I thought 'we don't need a full orchestra to recreate this live'. Earlier incarnations were literally just me and a loop pedal, so with this band it's been nice to work out where to put spaces in the sound. The brunt of the work has been on our violinist, who's been trying to figure out how to play four different melodies at the same time!

Finally, how about plans for the future - is there another record in the pipeline?

For the first time ever, we're putting an album out quite a long time after we finished it - Love's Crushing Diamond came out about three days after it was done - so we've already got quite a few new songs in the bag. Skip a Sinking Stone took a long time to make, so it was nice to write some stuff really quickly again. I'm sure we'll be playing them soon, but one thing at a time!

Skip a Sinking Stone is out on May 20th on Transgressive.