Jordan Lee’s music possesses a glimmering gentleness that we identify most readily in the natural world, sounds that feel like they are blooming innocence. His style incorporates field recording-style expanses, and evoke spaciousness in looped harps, wind chimes, and open-hearted lyrics. Lee’s 2013 breakout album Love’s Crushing Diamond far outstripped his tiny label Soft Eyes Record’s expectations, and was almost immediately reissued by the larger label Other Music. After touring for almost a year straight behind that seven-track collection of pastoral folk recordings, Lee returned to the Brooklyn-based collective Silent Barn to cope with his newfound success.
The result was a number of sessions at the Barn’s own studio studio, Gravesend Recordings, that were honed and refined in several different places—Austin, New Hampshire, Boston—until they became Lee’s follow-up record Skip A Sinking Stone. That album will be out this May via Mom + Pop records, and builds on Mutual Benefit’s dreamy, meditative sound while reflecting up and outward on larger themes of impermanence, loss, and growth. Lee recently sat down with me at the beloved Bushwick watering hole Happy Fun Hideaway to talk about creating gentle music in an age of online aggression, the real anecdote behind the album’s title, and readjusting to creating music in the wake of wide acclaim. Stream his new album and read our conversation below.
What has always really drawn me to your music is the gentleness. It’s such an undervalued quality, especially right now. Listening to the record I was contrasting it with the internet and how aggressive everything is; but this feels so comforting and vulnerable. I wanted to talk about that tension, how you create something this gentle in such an aggressive atmosphere.
I love that that’s what you gleaned from it. I use music a lot like the way people write in journals, it’s a processing mechanism. It took so long to write this album after the last one because I needed to make sure I 100 percent wanted to say everything. Usually there is a question or a situation in my head that I can’t seem to figure out, and it’s a thing I’ll be thinking about a lot. I’m a little afraid to say this… but it’s kind of a self-help mechanism. With the record before it, I was really surprised that people seemed to get the same feeling out of the music that it had for me. That was the first time I realized it was an external thing as well as an internal thing. As far as it being different than the world, that’s also a nice thing to hear, because I kind of feel like an alien.
Your last record was an important milestone in your life as an artist. Whether or not that you want the “breakout” to be significant, it assumes this significance professionally speaking. I always wonder what it’s like, creating in that moment—creating after people have been paying attention to you in a different way?
For a while it made a lot of things more confusing. The good news was I could quit the side jobs I had, and that’s huge. Then, I also had the resources to be able to make any type of sound I wanted to, or go off on a tangent with an idea. I don’t want to sound like ungrateful, but it was also really confusing; people would treat me a little differently, a lot of people came out of the woodwork. In a short amount of time we had to go from [one reality], which one of my friends can hop in this car with me and play in a bunch of basements, to the band becoming an LLC. I was talking to label people or lawyers, or talking to the IRS and all of this business stuff, and I was like ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do any of these things!’ I started to say this: before, making art was all the way fun and then I had something shitty that I had to do three or four days a week. Now, music is really fun and shitty at the same time. But I would still take it over any of the jobs I’ve had in the past.
“I use music a lot like the way people write in journals, it’s a processing mechanism.”
How did you land on Skip a Sinking Stone as the title for this album? “Skipping Stones” is my favorite song on here—probably because I just fell in love with someone—but I love how you combined it with that image of waking up, and your mind immediately lands on that person you love.
That’s my favorite image on the album as well, because it was the first time I was in a serious relationship, the first time I’d ever had that feeling of turning over and being completely overwhelmed by loving someone. We had a lofted bed, so we were really high up, and the sun would just hit us in the eyes every morning because we didn’t get curtains for a long time. As for the album title, I knew for a long time that’s what I wanted it to be called, even before many of the songs were finished. Partly because it was a literal moment that happened. We didn’t always get along in the van as a band, I don’t remember why, so we just stopped at the Delaware Water Gap one night and skipped stones for a while, and we all got so happy and peaceful. I really liked that as a moment. Sometimes a moment happens and it gets stuck in your head, so, that one did. It was also in the middle of this year of touring where I had started to feel like because it was outside of my control that we became more popular, that it could also be taken away at any moment.