Kate Robertson talks to Snail Mail, the 19-year-old at the forefront of indie rock’s female-led renaissance.
There’s something special about Lindsey Jordan. ‘Special’ could be embellished to the point of it sounding unbelievable – or played down in a ‘low-key’ or ‘understated’ way – but both would be a lie. With lyrics that sting more often than they soothe and a knack for crisp production that never reaches a point of excess, Jordan – the 19-year-old who records as Snail Mail – is getting it just right.
Raised in suburban Maryland, Jordan was signed to heavyweight indie label Matador Records just months after graduating from high school. With an EP already under her belt, those final years in school now serve as the subject matter for her debut full-length album, Lush. This coming-of-age narrative is nothing new, but the self-awareness and perspective she brings to the table are rare, like a sharp prick to the senses. Every chord change is careful, intentional, and makes clear that these warm, hazy melodies are no happy accident.
Jordan and I talk exactly one month before the album’s release, amidst a flurry of press days, tour prep, and getting a new band member up to speed on guitar parts. She speaks with both the frankness of a weathered musician and the enthusiastic pace of the teenager that she is, a by-product of the fast-track to indie fame she’s found herself on. It’s a desirable position to be in and comes at a time when the indie rock scene is undergoing a major female-centred renaissance. Led also by the likes of Girlpool, Soccer Mommy, Lucy Dacus, Downtown Boys and Vagabon, it’s an exciting time for a genre that many have long been proclaiming dead. The truth is indie rock never truly died – it just took time for the more diverse and interesting voices to cut through. And if Snail Mail’s debut is anything to go by, the genre’s future is looking pretty bloody bright.
The hype around Lush has been reaching a real fever pitch of late. How are you feeling about it all?
We’ve been touring so much, non-stop, so it felt very hectic trying to fit in all of the press and music video stuff and like, photoshoots or whatever, on top of touring. It’s been really hectic, but also kind of fun. I’ve definitely learned a lot about myself, but more than anything I’m just ready for it to be out. I feel like, in my opinion [second single] ‘Heat Wave’ isn’t a great representation of the entire record. I think there’s so much to show, so much variation of genre and production, instrumentation and songwriting that I’m just really ready for everyone to have the whole package.
Did you hit any challenges during the recording process that you didn’t encounter with [debut EP] Habit or maybe weren’t expecting?
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, the whole mirage of things you don’t think of when you decide that you wanna play music. Everything makes you second guess yourself which is really hard. Even as far as the writing process went it was really difficult and time stamped.
As far as specific examples go in the studio, I brought a mostly finished record in, and then I had like three songs that needed work. Having the songs in front of a whole bunch of eyes was really hard. We added some extra auxiliary instrumentation on it, like some french horns and some synths. That was really hard to arrange because like, there isn’t anything to be added that isn’t totally necessary, and you don’t wanna subtract anything that isn’t totally necessary because we were looking to make a record that was good in its barest form. Every single thing was challenged. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Your lyrics are what has caught a lot of people’s attention – the very raw and honest way you write. Is getting those things down on paper cathartic for you or is it quite horrible reliving it all?
I only write when it feels cathartic and necessary, and like something I’m doing to help myself. Sometimes fleshing those things out and getting them down onto paper can be really difficult because you’re reopening this point in your life to try make sense of it and make poetry out of it. But ultimately if I didn’t want to bring that to my music and to the surface, I would probably just avoid the topic completely. More so it’s playing every night. Sometimes it can be a little heartbreaking, re-opening those wounds. When I’m writing, it feels sort of like putting everything down into like a diary and some cohesive entry. It makes everything make more sense to me. It started off as a therapeutic, habitual outlet, and I’ve done everything in my power to try and keep it that way.
Your career really started taking off while you were still in school. Was it a relief when you finally graduated?
More than anything I’m just really thankful and happy to be touring and doing what I love. Sometimes I feel like, for example, there’s a press day in New York then we’re getting a new guitar player up to speed then we’re heading right to Europe in like a week, but I just found out a whole bunch of my friends are coming home from college right when I’m leaving. Stuff like that sometimes sucks, but the good comes in with the bad, we sort of make-up with each other.
Graduating was a relief because I was surprised that I was even able to. Sometimes, when I do have time off, even if it’s just three days, it feels so weird to not have structure, every day planned for myself. Sometimes it’s hard to mentally prepare myself to make touring feel like a 9-5. You need to look at it to make sure you’re not partying all the time and not taking it seriously, because it is something that requires serious time and devotion. You gotta, like, find a way to get your day-to-day structure. You have to make a lot of use of your own time in order to write the next record, do interviews or answer emails. You can’t really slack off on anything because everything comes back to bite you. It’s a really hard job and it’s sometimes hard to get myself into the zone like I could in school, because it could sometimes feel like free-form, but it’s really not. It’s really intense.
What mark do you hope this album will leave on the music industry?
I hope that people are paying really close attention to the actual content of the songs, the production value, the songwriting and the arranging, instead of worrying so much about me being a girl or young or gay or whatever. I’m hoping it gets received with honest appreciation for the songs. Maybe people will lay off about everything else.
I hate when people do that! Don’t bring the other stuff into it. Music is music.
Exactly, it’s very not relevant.
So looking at the album, just the music, is there one part of it you’re particularly proud of?
Yeah, the next single ‘Let’s Find Out’ is my favourite on the record. It was in the zone when I had what I thought was a full record, but there was talk of needing one more song. I grabbed a guitar and just recorded the song, and then instantly made the final version under this weird wave of inspiration.
I was surrounded by great resources and it was the first time we’d ever hung out in a real professional studio. I was like okay, I’ll write the best song I’ve ever written. That never works for me. I usually take six months to write a song. It was crazy. Usually, there’s this whole doubt process and a whole emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing even a guitar part. The song just shot out of me and I like, threw it up into the studio. It’s definitely my favourite song I’ve ever written.
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