Snail Mail Is Ready For You Now
Meet the wildly talented Lindsey Jordan and listen to her new single "Pristine"
Lindsey Jordan feels like a jaded old man. She tells me this after ordering a burrito to-go, because she has a bunch of appointments after this one and isn’t all that hungry right now. Photoshoots, interviews, meetings, what have you; she’s ping-ponging between them, and I happen to have an hour with her at a taqueria during a rare moment of stasis. Jordan and I met for the first time almost exactly a year ago, at SXSW, and even though she’s only 18, it’s apparent within the first five seconds of our interview that this has been a year of tremendous growth.
Jordan fronts a band called Snail Mail. They put out their debut EP, Habit, in 2016, when Jordan was still in high school. Habit was recorded and produced by Jason Sauvage and Priests’ G.L. Jaguar in DC. The EP sparked some chatter in DIY rock circles but didn’t ignite any mainstream hype. Six months or so after it came out, Sister Polygon announced that they’d be releasing Habit on vinyl, and Snail Mail debuted a video for the track “Thinning.” Suddenly, they became the industry’s most sought-after new rock band. Jordan was faced with over a dozen label offers, and she eventually decided to sign with indie mainstays Matador. Her debut full-length, Lush, will be out this summer.
Lush was recorded with the producer Jake Aron, who Jordan chose based on his pop sensibilities and overall vibe. Snail Mail recorded Habit live, and taking care and time to work on a full-length was a totally new experience for the band. Jordan suffered from bouts of severe anxiety while working on the LP in upstate New York. She wasn’t used to the pressure of having to crank something out on someone else’s timeline, let alone a major indie label’s. “It was like this fake-relaxing environment with a pond and animals and shit, and like trees and shit, so it was supposed to be relaxing but I was going crazy,” she tells me, laughing. “I thought we were in purgatory.”
But those anxious tendencies and Jordan’s perfectionist spirit don’t muddle Lush. It’s a supremely confident record, one that sounds worlds away from the broken spirit heard on Habit. Jordan’s guitar work is tight and riff-driven while her lyricism betrays some of the emotions underlying her bold personality. Lead single “Pristine” is a great example. It plays out like a kiss-off to a former lover before it morphs into an ode to eternal love. “I’ll never get real and you’ll never change to me ’cause I’m not looking,” Jordan sings at the beginning. By the end, though, she’s trying to reign in the feels: “I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else.”
Jordan wrote about 30 songs that could have made it onto this album. The 10 that made the cut are just as pristine as “Pristine.” Lush is a portrait of a young artist in a state of momentary free-fall, waiting for her career to fully take flight. Jordan and I talked about how she avoids succumbing to music industry BS, falling in love with bad people, and the sheer force of will that made Lush possible. Read our Q&A and listen to “Pristine” below.
STEREOGUM: I first met you at SXSW in 2017 when we booked that show at Hole In The Wall — you and I were emailing about getting Snail Mail on the bill. And then, when we got to Austin, Snail Mail was the hottest thing happening at SXSW. Let’s talk a little bit about the stress of having industry people kind of descend on you like that.
LINDSEY JORDAN: There were so many motherfuckers in my shit, causing emotional problems in my life. I just feel like I was really naïve. I was just so excited and I was like, “I love music!” And now I feel like an old man. Like a jaded old man. But I feel like I learned a lot about how [the industry] works and what rabbithole not to go down — there’s a lot not to go down. There’s a lot of shit that I think makes [being a musician] an atypical career path, there’s a lot of weird shit that you have to navigate. And just being young, I learned that I have my people and I trust them. Everything else I’m just like … hmm.
STEREOGUM: It’s refreshing to hear you write songs that sound confident and self-assured with this sort of inkling of doubt laced in. How was writing this album different from writing Habit, and how was the music influenced by this label-bidding war that you were going through?
JORDAN: I think about that all the time, because Habit I wrote with the intention to not ever play it for anyone and to never play a show because I wasn’t really playing shows. I was just being a freak in my room writing about my crushes, so I was like: “If this gets out, I’m fucked.” [Laughs] And then it did and we started playing shows and shit and I was like, “This really isn’t where I saw myself.” And then this record took me forever to write, like I would say I used the entire two-year span of time I had between the two. I was writing songs in the studio while we were making it, and there were probably like 30 songs and we kept 10. It’s so short.
So I was really self-conscious about … or not self-conscious, because I feel like once I got it, I got it. But I just took a lot of time for the writing process. I’m probably my biggest critic, and I’m like, not personally all that concerned with people liking it, but it means a lot to me to like it. I kind of drove myself crazy trying to figure out what that meant because it’s one thing to write a cool riff and get sick of it the next day, but I wanted to make a record that I felt was cohesive and something that I would put on my own record player and be like, “Hell yeah,” even though I wouldn’t, and play live every night and be like, “Hell yeah.” That just took a lot of time to develop for me.
Habit is whatever to me, I just wrote it for fun. Like, I probably wouldn’t listen to that on my — it’s not really my thing. Yeah, this one is just like, I spent so much time listening to music and waiting and taking a lot of time to myself and figure out what makes a record special to me and what makes me come back to something and what makes a cool guitar record. Because I feel, yeah, this has so much more guitar in it and it is also pretty lyric-oriented and it’s definitely a cohesive thing that I made to like for myself. That was the big goal: to make something that I like.
STEREOGUM: What makes a great guitar record?
JORDAN: I think I really look for a distinct style and blind creativity. A lot of guitar players who play in open tunings. It’s funny, this record — for someone who preaches open tunings — it’s entirely written in standard, which is not very me. Now I’m trying to write for the next thing and going back to open tuning because I feel like I know my theory and I know my way around a guitar and it gets kind of daunting and annoying and boring. Once you play in a brand new open tuning you can kind of just start anew and play as if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Theory freaks are so serious about shitting on new guitar players, and I feel like sometimes the best records are made by people who don’t necessarily know their way around a guitar. And I kind of think playing in open tuning, a lot of guitarists can set that up for themselves in a fake way.
If I think something sounds like something else I’m just not that interested in it and I like — not to say we’re the most original band in the world, ’cause we’re not — but I definitely am only interested in a chord progression if it doesn’t sound familiar to me. All my favorite guitar players are trailblazers. I like Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn and, of course, Mary Timony, like, duh. And Marnie Stern is so awesome and Mark Kozelek.
I was talking to my friend Leslie who plays in Long Beard, and she was saying that people who listen to Mark Kozelek records, you can hear it in their songwriting. It really bleeds in. I mean, both me and her are really influenced by that shit. And I don’t know, I like heavier stuff, like I love Sheer Mag. That’s like my favorite band. It’s not the most important thing to be flashy. I think it’s cool when you can hear the guitar player and they’re not doing anything crazy-sounding, but you know. Alvvays is like, the fucking sickest guitar rock band ever and they’re not, I mean they are shredding but they’re not shredding. It’s not in-your-face, you’re just like, “Wow that person is an incredible guitar player but they’re not showing off.”
STEREOGUM: How do you go about writing riffs, and when do you decide that a song is good to go? Do you actually listen to it over and over and ask, “Does this sound like something I’ve heard before?”
JORDAN: I don’t run into familiarity that much. I feel like it takes me a really long time for me to write a song. Like, months. It’s such a crazy-ass screening process for me. I’ll just record a demo on my phone and wake up at 3 in the morning … I just get so obsessive and I won’t do anything else until the guitar part is done. And sometimes that spoils it for me because I feel like I can’t be objective because I’m just sick of it. Usually I’ll finish the guitar part completely, arrange it, write a vocal melody, and then write lyrics, and in between each section take like a month to chill and go back and listen to it and make sure it’s still special. It’s a weird mental process for me.
STEREOGUM: That’s cool that you self-edit like that.
JORDAN: I’m a really big critic of putting out music fast. I really pushed off a lot on this and like pushed people away, just let me chill and write. Back to Alvvays — the best band on earth — it’s so sick they just like took their time and then their second record was incredible. There’s a lot of motivation, energy in the music world to just ride the wave and get out as much as possible, and I just think that’s really counterintuitive to making music that’s good.
STEREOGUM: Right. I think labels feel stressed about an artist missing their moment or something if they don’t follow a debut quickly enough.
JORDAN: Definitely. We had deadlines on this record, which is something I’m not used to.
STEREOGUM: So Matador signed you without hearing the album?
JORDAN: They did. We went into the studio and made a demo version of the record and sent it to them. They already sent us a contract and stuff but we wanted to like … sweeten the deal, kind of.
STEREOGUM: When you decided to sign with Matador, you picked them out of this whole group of labels that wanted you. Did you feel any weird stress from the community you came out of about choosing to go on a major indie? Not a major, but a major indie.
JORDAN: Yeah, it was like [poof noise] … everyone was like, pissed.
STEREOGUM: There’s often weird conflict when that happens.
JORDAN: We’re in a really weird place with all of our friends at this point, which kind of sucks. We were just talking about this with [our manager], nobody in Snail Mail’s politics have changed whatsoever. We haven’t even done anything, nothing’s out, people have no reason to be pissed but they are. It’s crazy because we aren’t a punk band, we never advertised ourselves as a DIY band. We were and that’s the community we come from, and for that we are thankful, but that’s all there is to be said of it. We didn’t really benefit … we haven’t been a band for that long. We were DIY for, like, a month. But everyone’s like, “What the fuck, fuck you.” And it’s like, “Sorry, I don’t know what to say to you.” It’s nice to imagine myself being able to pay rent.
STEREOGUM: What kind of mindset were you in when you were writing this stuff, what were you thinking about a lot? You mentioned crushes, which I know you like to write about.
JORDAN: Well, this one’s funny because like, in the beginning [of writing] I was kind of just being gay all the time, like, “I’m so gay.” Because I was openly gay but I wasn’t when I was writing Habit, so I was just going around and being gay, just like getting into all these relationships, or “things.” Some of those songs, like the first ones that got written for the record, are really melodramatic and directly about people. This is kind of douchey as fuck, but the songs didn’t have names until we mastered [the album] so, this is so fucked up, but when we would play them at shows the setlist just had girls’ names on it.
It was fucked, I felt guilty. There were shows where they would be there and they’d be like, “What is that?,” and I’d be like, “What are you talking about that’s not even about you.” [The songs] started off being real direct and some maturity process happened halfway through writing it where I stopped doing that. The record is generally a milestone of maturity and a lot of the songs are just influenced by the pressure and weird shit I’ve gone through doing this. But they’re less like diary entries than Habit was because I was so obsessed with marking a point in time and Lush is more of a true reflection of my new life experience.
STEREOGUM: There’s little commitment to any kind of timeframe on the album. You use words like “anytime,” “anywhere,” “all the time,” “sometimes.” You sometimes sound noncommittal. Is that because you don’t give a shit or because you give so much of a shit that you’re not trying to give a shit?
JORDAN: It’s stylized and I think real intentional. When we were in the studio there were certain songs that I’d sing in my slippers — come into the studio with a robe on. We intentionally made the energies on the songs different. I was doing push-ups in the studio and I was like, “ERRRRRR!” literally just wearing a robe. The energy is on purpose. And the timeframe thing, I see what you’re talking about. I feel like it’s a nice mix of not giving a fuck and giving a fuck. I’d say the song “Anytime” is really giving a fuck, and “Full Control” is like, no fucks.
STEREOGUM: That song sounds like a conversation between two people.
JORDAN: Yeah, “Full Control” is pissy and “Anytime” is like … “I love you.”
That one is so like … I’m crying, writing it passionately about this one person like, “You suck and I hate you, but at the end of the day I totally love you.” That song’s a self-preservation vibe. I had to distance myself from this person who at the end of the day would do whatever.
STEREOGUM: Those kinds of relationships are really hard where you’re too deep in them. The person sucks and you’re so aware of it but it’s impossible to stop thinking about it. I think everyone’s been there.
JORDAN: I’m always there. I think I have bad taste, that’s like my thing. It’s always the worst person possible.
STEREOGUM: Do you have that at your shows where you feel like the fan adoration is really intense? I saw you play in Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago and people were screaming along to your lyrics and really into the performance.
JORDAN: That was so fun … People are really intense but it’s very sweet. We have had some bad experiences with some creepy-ass motherfuckers … Like in Minneapolis I had some crazy shit happen with this dude. Fucking crazy. There was a situation where he tried to get me this drink and I was like, “No I’m good, I have vodka in my water bottle.” And he was so aggressive about it, he grabbed the back of my neck and was trying to get me to take this drink and I was like, “Chill.”
And then my phone got stolen. I was like: “Great night in Minneapolis.” I was so pissed. I wasn’t even scared just like, doing my job. Just shit like that. When people are like, “You’re hot!” Or, “Marry me,” that doesn’t even bother me that much. Like, I get the problem … I just think it’s funny. There was this one time in Nashville — I was playing a pretty quiet song, I think it might’ve been “Anytime,” and this one guy was just like, “LINDSEY JORDAN, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! LINDSEY JORDAN!” Like, do you want me to take my guitar off and say, “Yes, I love you! After this, let’s kiss!” Just shit like that. But I love that girls at our shows are always really nice. The teens are sweet. Everybody’s very nice and excited, and I hate when people are like, not excited. That annoys me. People with their arms crossed, eyes rolled to the back of their heads, like … don’t even come.
STEREOGUM: Sites really started paying attention to you when you put out the video for “Thinning,” which seemed like a fun, DIY, low-budget endeavor. Do you have any cool video plans for this album?
JORDAN: This isn’t gonna happen, but I’m trying really hard to get Kristen Stewart … I really want Kristen Stewart to direct a video for me.
STEREOGUM: Dude, Kristen Stewart would love Snail Mail.
JORDAN: I don’t even wanna know. I’d just pee my pants. If she did know Snail Mail, it’d be over for me, I could just quit because that’s the only thing that matters. Love of my life.
03 “Speaking Terms”
04 “Heat Wave”
06 “Let’s Find An Out”
07 “Golden Dream”
08 “Full Control”
09 “Deep Sea”
03/21 Baltimore, MD @ Ottobar
04/04 Athens, GA @ 40 Watt
04/05 Birmingham, AL @ Saturn
04/06 Orlando, FL @ The Abbey
04/07 Tampa, FL @ Crowbar
04/10 Austin, TX @ The Scoot Inn
04/11 San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
04/13 Tucson, AZ @ 191 Toole
04/15 Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
04/17 West Hollywood, CA @ The Roxy Theatre
04/18 San Luis Obispo, CA @ SLO Brewing
04/20 San Diego, CA @ The Irenic
04/22 Indio, CA @ Coachella Music Festival
04/23 Flagstaff, AZ @ The Green Room
04/24 Santa Fe, NM @ Meow Wolf
04/26 Norman, OK @ Norman Music Festival
04/27 Little Rock, AR @ Stickyz
04/28 Nashville, TN @ Exit/In
05/15 London, UK @ Oslo Hackney
05/19 Leeds, UK @ Brudnell Social Club
05/20 Manchester, UK @ Vullivers
05/21 Bristol, UK @ Louisiana
05/23 Belgium, BE @ Witloof Bar
05/24 Groningen, NE @ Vera
05/26 Amsterdam, NE @ London Calling
05/27 Paris, FR @ Villette Sonique
06/05 Portland, ME @ State Theater
06/06 New Haven, CT @ College Street Music Hall
06/07 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg
06/09 Asbury Park, NJ @ Asbury Park Brewing
06/12 Washington, DC @ The Black Cat
06/13 Pittsburgh, PA @ Cattivo
06/14 Toronto, ON @ Velvet Underground
06/15 Detroit, MI @ Deluxx Flux
06/16 Chicago, IL @ Subterranean
06/17 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
06/18 Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews
06/20 Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
06/22 Boise, ID @ Funky Tac
06/23 Seattle, WA @ Crocodile
06/24 Vancouver, BC @ Biltmore Cabaret
06/25 Portland, OR @ Holocene
06/27 Oakland, CA @ Starline Social Club
06/28 San Francisco, CA @ Swedish American Hall
06/29 Visalia, CA @ The Cellar Door
06/30 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater
07/03 Scottsdale, AZ @ Pub Rock Live
07/05 Austin, TX @ Barracuda
07/06 Dallas, TX @ Three Links
07/07 Fayetteville, AR @ George’s
07/08 Nashville, TN @ The High Watt
07/09 Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
07/10 Durham, NC @ Pinhook
07/11 Richmond, VA @ Strange Matter
07/12 Baltimore, MD @ The Parkway Theater
07/14 Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
07/15 Cambridge, MA @ The Sinclair
07/16 Montreal, QC @ L’Escogriffe Bar Spectacle
07/17 Burlington, VT @ ArtsRiot
07/24 Columbus, OH @ Ace Of Cups
07/25 Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar
07/26 Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop
07/27 Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme
07/29 Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern
4/4-4/28 w/ Japanese Breakfast
6/5-6/6 w/ Belle and Sebastian
6/12-7/17 w/ Bonny Doon
7/24-7/29 w/ Long Beard
Lush is out 6/8 via Matador.