March 15, 2018
Classically trained on guitar since she was five and then taught by Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium), Snail Mail’s 18-year-old lead singer/guitarist Lindsey Jordan is a rising force in indie rock. She released her six-song EP, Habit, when she was only 16 and its breakout track “Thinning” catapulted her to national attention, all while she was gearing up to graduate from her Maryland high school.
To Jordan, Habit was one long sigh which may be the reason it resonated so strongly with listeners. Teenage years can feel like that– navigating yourself between acceptance and the constant feeling of being cast out– too young to have your own foundation and too old to resort to familiar comforts. Habit has all these distressed emotions wrapped up beautifully like the lyrics on “Thinning” when she hums out “…asking myself, ‘Is this who you are?’ And I don’t know, it just feels gross.” This brings up another and perhaps less recognized talent of Jordan’s: her lyrical and vocal ability to translate that lonesome individualism into something to collectively look back on. Jordan seems to recognize this dissonance within life and offers lyrics to fuel us. For instance, on “Dirt” she sings out “Let’s forget it now, Baby when I’m 30 I’ll laugh about how dumb it felt.” She acknowledges her emotions but broadens them in a way that relates to a greater human experience.
Snail Mail has embarked on tour, playing with the likes of Beach Fossils, Girlpool, Ought, and Japanese Breakfast. The tour promotes Snail Mail’s upcoming full-length release coming out this summer. This leg of tour brings her to Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle on March 20 with Dead Oceans’ absolutely rockin’ UK band, Shame. In an interview, Jordan is candid and full of excitement as we discuss influences, her recent sign to Matador Records, and the growth she’s accomplished in the last few whirlwind years – including learning to adopt a primarily vegan/non-dairy diet when on tour which helps keep her voice and general well-being in tack against grueling tour life.
Congrats on signing to Matador recently! What made you decide on them as a record label?
Lindsey Jordan: Thank you– it was a hellish process! I didn’t really know anything about labels until I had to find one. There were a lot of amazing labels but Matador was straight up from the start and really respectful of me, plus they have a great legacy with artists like Kurt Vile. The owners of Matador are really knowledgeable and cool and it felt like such an honor that it would have almost been wrong to not take them up on it.
Speaking of Kurt Vile, you’ve been listening to more guitar-centered artists in general. Have you tried to nail down his crazy picking style?
Jordan: Oh he’s so great, I’m a huge fan of Kurt Vile! There’s actually some new stuff on the new album that is closely influenced by Kurt. I was classically trained starting at five so it’s an innate thing for me to do finger-picking stuff and I never really felt any kind of need or desire to write like that until the last year when I realized it was such a different thing that I just wanted to try.
I feel like everyone’s asking about Mary Timony and that’s amazing, but how did you learn how to use your voice with such power and control?
Jordan: So, I actually haven’t been that strong of a singer until recently. I had a little karaoke machine when I was a child but I never really wanted to sing for anyone. I sang covers in my room to try out different singing types and it took me a while to discover my own style but once I did, it just came naturally. Plus I had voice lessons for a month before we left for the Girlpool tour because I kept blowing my voice out. I learned how to use my diaphragm, what to eat/what not to eat, but it makes a world of difference to have technique on your side.
You’re so confident and I love that more and more women are calling out inappropriate behavior in general. What advice do you have for emerging young female artists who are trying to do their own thing but are maybe not taken seriously or unsure of navigating a still primarily male-led industry?
Jordan: I still haven’t really discovered an answer to that for myself yet. To me, it’s really important to just focus on the songs and everything else just gets pushed to the side. There’s always inappropriate shit happening, dumbasses everywhere. I guess, surround yourself with people you trust in your touring outfit. Getting taken seriously is such a crazy thing that’s really hard to achieve. I think it’s an attitude and if they don’t take you seriously that’s sort of their own prerogative and I try to ignore it. But I do have this self-preservation technique of drowning yourself in the actual art and protect yourself from everything else in every way that you can.
Your first release was lyrically emotional in dealing with teenage phases and finding your position in life. How has your mindset matured since releasing Habit and how does that translate sonically and lyrically for your upcoming full length?
Jordan: It’s definitely more direct and honest because with Lush I was at a point in my life where I could be honest with myself and had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude with my music. Habit was a really long sigh of fear of insecurity and the new album is more thought out and confident. I feel like a big part of Habit that was difficult for me with writing was that I hadn’t come out as gay yet so I couldn’t use any pronouns because I just didn’t want to make that part of my identity. I wanted to keep it in my personal life. Now, everyone in my inner circle knows and I don’t have any sort of shame about it which opened me up so I could be direct and honest lyrically. Musically, I basically locked myself in a closet for a year and a half and listened to music… I took my time absorbing other people’s artwork so that I could figure out what it means to me to make something cohesive and something I can sing every night with conviction. I’m really proud of the new album and I think it’s a lot more mature, plus there are more resources that were able to be put into it. The record itself is really expansive and big so it’s a world of difference; it’s definitely not Habit 2.0.
Who are some of your favorite current female artists?
Jordan: I have to think– I never really think about it, but my favorite band ever is Paramore. I love Electralane, Big Thief, Tegan & Sara, Fever Ray, Gillian Welch– there are so many in my heart!
You’re fresh out of high school. What’s in the future for you other than touring and the full length?
Jordan: I already have the next year planned out in my calendar app and I’m writing the next LP. My goal for now is to write another record and take my time with it. It would be cool to take classes and maybe go to school eventually, go back and study English or something which was my trajectory until all this music stuff happened! For now, I’m enjoying having time to learn on my own accord and see what I can get out of traveling, and I have lots of time in the van to read. I’ve learned so much not being in school that I’m excited to see what exactly is next.