Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan on writing about love: ‘It’s good to be vulnerable, but not pathetic’

One of the biggest rising frontwomen speaks about being an emerging artist, the DIY scene in Baltimore, and her witty approach to well-worn themes

Ilana Kaplan
Tuesday 29 May 2018 17:05 BST
Credit: Michael Lavine
Credit: Michael Lavine (Credit: Michael Lavine)

While most kids were playing in the sandbox at five-years-old, Lindsey Jordan was learning how to play guitar. By her pre-teens she was writing songs, and mid-high school she released her debut EP Habit under her band name Snail Mail.

Jordan grew up immersed in the Baltimore DIY scene, attending shows at venues she'd eventually play like Ottobar and the Parkway Theatre. Now 18, Jordan is releasing her debut record Lush via Matador - the same label that represents her idol Liz Phair.

The emotional candour Phair captured in her music was revelatory for Jordan, like so many other music fans; it's something she has channelled on Lush with fiercely unapologetic lyrics about her identity. Jordan's depiction of crushing teenage romance and sharp coming-of-age narration comes at a time when introspective female artists like Soccer Mommy and Julien Baker are dominating the indie-rock scene. So, it's only natural that Jordan has become one of the most sought after artists of 2018 - before even releasing her first record.

Before Lush comes out on June 8, Jordan spoke with The Independent about the toxicity of social media, the vulnerability of her music and being labelled as "slowcore".

How did you get so big in the indie-rock scene? You seem to be everywhere right now!

It’s kind of a mystery, I think. We definitely started in the DIY world, and we tour a lot. I think people have just connected to our songs. It definitely could have gone under the radar. It’s not just people liking it: there seems to be a demand for us to play in other places. I find we’re on the road a lot. So I think it’s some equal balance of hard work and music nerd power demand.

How did you come up with the name Snail Mail for your band?

It’s my mother’s maiden name. Mary Snailmail.


No. Just kidding. I was in the car I remember and I don’t hear the phrase thrown around a lot by young people, so it was just one of those things that popped into my head and I thought it was cute. I didn’t have any intention of doing anything with this project, so I didn’t really put too much fodder or attention to it. It was the name I gave it in the interim between just calling it Lindsey Jordan and thinking of something better. Then Snail Mail caught on as a band, and I was like, “Now it’s too late.”

It’s a pretty awesome name. You attended the Tiny Desk Concert for Paramore. Was that your first time meeting Hayley Williams?

It was! I went to go see Paramore when I was eight with my older sister on the Riot! Tour. I didn’t meet Hayley until that Tiny Desk show. Shawn, our drummer, also an avid Paramore fan came with me.

How did you get into making music? You started playing guitar when you were really young...

I started playing guitar when I was five. I took classical guitar lessons and was trained in a bunch of different styles. Then I was in the church band, did jazz band at school and played guitar for one of the plays. I didn’t start writing music until I was 12 or 13. Our first show was a really nice start. We played this really great festival in Baltimore with Sheer Mag, Priests and Screaming Females. I had a few of those songs brewing already for Habit, but I just wrote for fun. I arranged them in a full band context. There were a lot of really great opportunities after.

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Would you call yourself a prodigy?

No. Definitely not. I think I have a whole lot to learn. I think the “p-word” exists for a small few in the music world.

Tell us about how this record came together

I wrote it over the span of a year-and-a-half, right up to being in the studio and having to write one or two more and then recording it the next day. I really took my time. "Pristine" was written right directly around the time we were writing Habit. The span of time it was written was really long. I wrote something like 30 songs in the process of trying to narrow it down to 10. I wanted it to be a really concise record as our debut, and I spent a lot of time trying to make everything exactly how I wanted it to be. All the people I worked with in the process of recording were amazing and wonderful. I had infinite resources coming from the Matador departments, which would be incredible. It was a really interesting experience packed full of surprises and difficulty, but it was really cool.

You were the only girl on the ice hockey team in high school. Did that help you build confidence for the music scene?

I don’t know. It really doesn’t. I never really felt that way. I’ve always been a feminist, but I hate being singled out for being a woman. It was never a matter of girl power - I always wanted to keep my head down and play hockey. It’s the same thing with music, but somehow I’m not able to do that. Somehow I got pushed into this thing and I have to be this representative of women in music and I honestly don’t have anything all that unique to say. I’m just a guitar player and a hockey player.

Is there a theme around this record?

It was definitely a real growth process. I think a lot of growing pains came along with having resources and the opportunity to make the record I really wanted to make. Most of the pressure that came with making it came from myself. I don’t have a lot of concern for how people interpret the songs. I do really like to think that people can relate to them in their own ways. But a lot of it was growing pains I put on myself. But ultimately this record represented what I look for when I listen to music. The themes in the songs are all over the place. There are a lot of wistful love songs on there and a lot of songs that I think represent the growing pains and maturity process of being a songwriter and a person that’s thrown into this universe of rock.

How did the Baltimore music scene influence you?

It’s really incredible. I feel kind of removed from it right now. I’m rarely home now, and when I am home I don’t get to the gigs much. Some really incredible bands that we have going on right now are Romantic States - they opened up our show at the Ottobar. They’re a two-piece usually - maybe a four piece right now - have really inspiring songwriting. There’s this group called Outer Spaces that’s really great. Celebrations is really great. Obviously we have Future Islands, Beach House and Lower Dens. A lot of creatively independent brains come out of there, and I think it’s not a place people go in order to hack it which is why I think so many creative albums and songwriters flock to there.

You and artists like Soccer Mommy seem to really connect with people, because of the way your lyrics come across as universally relatable

I think people tend to just relate to things that are vulnerable, intimate and specific. I think the singer-songwriter genre often comes with blunt lyricism. I think it’s really cool that people can bring their own experience to that and everyone can have their own personal relationship with it. I will say that it’s never been intentional to bring any of that to the table, but I think that just because it’s personal to me, I try to make sure that comes out in the songwriting and that gives people an in to bring their own experiences to it.

How did you land on “Pristine” as one of the singles?

I don’t know There are so many moving gears at Matador Records and obviously nothing happens without my thumbs up, but I have no idea where "Pristine" came from. There are a lot of songs on the record that were freakier, but not as accessible and fun. I think around the same time as "Thinning” I wrote it because I was trying to make something more upbeat and fun to play on stage, so I see how they both came to be the singles.

Have you gotten any advice from an artist that you’ve kept with you on your journey?

I think I’ve learned so much from the people around me, so it’s hard to narrow it down. I think the best advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone has been the advice I’ve gotten from everyone - is you should never check your Twitter messages or read your YouTube comments because it’s either going to be creepy, sad or make you really angry. So I try to stay as logged off as I possibly can. I think that’s the key to preservation in the year 2018.

Is there anything off-limits for you to write about?

I like to think the more personal the topic, the less bored I get on stage every night. So if that means citing a specific experience someone will recognise it’s about, I don’t really think it’s off limits. I think it’s all up to the songwriters comfort levels. I’m never worried about how people will interpret lyrical content as long as it feels special to me.

How do you approach writing about teenage love, unrequited love and crushes?

I’m really no-holds-barred. "Pristine" is very self-deprecating, sarcastic and melodramatic. I don’t want to put myself in a place in a song that’s pathetic. It’s good to be vulnerable, but not pathetic. If someone else wants to be pathetic, I can very much respect that, but it’s not just me.

People have been writing about your music saying it’s slowcore. Do you agree with that? How do you define it?

I think it’s fair to call the first record slowcore, but I don’t think it’s fair to call the second record slowcore. So, I’ll take it because nobody has heard any of the new music, but I don’t think it’s a good representation of the record because we tried to vary the tempo. I think we stick in the medium tempo range.

I guess "slow" could mean the song drags along or a song is about heartbreak on a hot summer day is slowcore. It’s very representative of our first release, but I’d like to think we’ve moved on from it.

'Lush' - the debut album from Snail Mail - is out on 8 June via Matador Records

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