Illustration by Anna True
A lot has changed for Lindsey Jordan since she played her first show in 2015, assembling an ad hoc crew to open for Priests and Sheer Mag at a festival. Snail Mail’s jangly, introspective sound—layered with the Ellicot City, Maryland native’s carefully constructed lyrics—belies the band’s spontaneous origins. In a little under three years, they’ve released an EP on Priest’s Sister Polygon label, toured the United States, and signed to a major indie—all while Lindsey was finishing up high school. Ahead of Snail Mail’s debut studio album, which is due out on Matador this summer, she spoke to us about being a feminist musician, balancing schoolwork with touring, and growing up.
What inspired you to start playing music?
I don't know—it's just a hobby. I started playing guitar when I was five, and I didn't start writing songs until I was 12 or 13. I recorded an EP on Apple Garageband a really long time ago that's not on the internet anymore, and I formed a live band to play this one show—just for fun. Then we recorded the EP, Habit, because we had some friends that were willing to help us with it. Originally, our goal was to do these five or six songs, or whatever. I mean, I never really intended for it to go well, you know?
What's the scene like in Baltimore? Was there any particular show or band or space that was really inspiring to you?
I hung out a lot at Black Cat in DC. I saw a lot of punk bands there, and I feel like that world was pretty encouraging as far as starting your own band. I don't know about now, but there are a lot of really great record stores in Baltimore. Celebrated Summer in Hampden is where I discovered a lot of the punk music I really love now.
DC is a really big place for punk. It's a really big creative hub, with a lot of DIY spaces, and there are a lot of young people doing awesome stuff. I have some friends who play in punk bands in Baltimore. I think [Baltimore has] got a culture of people who work really hard and think outside the box.
Do you remember the first record that you bought at Celebrated Summer?
My friends worked for Celebrated Summer and got me a Downtown Boys seven-inch. I know at The Sound Garden, [a store] in Fells Point, one of the first records I got was Devotion by Beach House, which is one of my favorites. I got it when I was like 12 or 13, and it was a big one for me as far as getting into writing music and being a music fan.
What was it like balancing schoolwork and music?
I don't know how I got out of school with a good grade point average. I was a hard worker, but I missed a lot of school, and the administrators weren't really into it. It wasn't something I would necessarily recommend to someone else, and it wasn’t really conducive to going to college to go into a specific field, but it worked out fine. Right now, I don't really have any intentions to go to school and study anything in particular.
You were featured in a New York Times article about rock and feminism. Do you feel like there's an expectation for you to identify as a feminist musician or have a political message?
There is definitely an expectation to identify as a feminist. I think if you're playing music and you don't identify as a feminist, you probably just haven't experienced how difficult it is to be a woman in a field like music. I think it's awesome that feminism is getting pushed to the forefront. Everybody should definitely have an opinion. If you don’t, then you're sheltered.
Still, I don't really write songs with any political agenda or message; it’s something that people just kind of expect you to have ideas on. I personally do, and I do identify as feminist, but my music doesn't really have any feminist content or anything.
Do you ever feel pigeonholed by the media because of your age?
I just get annoyed a lot of the time. I have this thing about not wanting to be compared to other people. I think it's cool that other teenage girls are doing the same thing, but I don't necessarily want to be grouped with them just because I'm a teenage girl or whatever. And the same goes for being a woman.
Being pigeonholed is probably the most annoying part, and sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously. I mean, I've gotten in trouble for drinking at shows and being under 21, and I've gotten kicked out of shows and stuff. I wouldn't say [being young] is a burden; it's just annoying.
You told Pitchfork that the songs on Habit are “collectively like a sigh.” What did you mean by that?
When I said that, I was referring to how the songs on Habit were written at a very dire time in my life, when I was feeling everything all at once in this really dramatic way. I consider it like an exhale, because I felt like I had everything bottled up, with no real way of expressing it. With Habit, I was letting my feelings out into the world.
The new album is a lot less like a diary entry, and more of a cohesive album that I spent a lot of time, energy, and focus on. I spent a lot of time between records just reading and listening to as much music as possible, and taking time to figure out what music means to me, and what artists I care about. It was a process of taking all that in and making a record that I felt like I could personally endorse. That's where I am in my life: just taking it slow and absorbing as much as possible, figuring out what everything means to me.
What was the recording process like for the new album?
Insane! We took a lot of different measures to make sure that the record came out exactly how it sounded in my brain. We were in the studio, doing professional demos and sending them back and forth with a bunch of people we work with.
Down the line, after a bunch of touring, we did an entire day of pre-recording. Or maybe it was a week of pre-recording—it’s all jumbled together. Afterward, in a different studio, we recorded all of the songs again, and then basically reinvented the wheel. We took every song apart and started from square one, then sort of built it back up.
Afterward, we did a little over a week working in upstate New York at a studio; it was like a farm situation, and it was crazy. We made fires and I cooked dinner and stuff; it was very “fake relaxing.” There were hammocks everywhere and a pond, but we were working really long days. It took basically everything out of us.
I lived in New York for a second, and while I was there, we did a few weeks of overdubs. Then we did two weeks of mixing in another studio in New York, and after that, it got mastered. And that's only the music aspect of it; there's so much more.
Was there a recording session where you felt particularly good about things?
There was one—it was maybe the last one, like a b-side recording session. We had time on the schedule to do some overdubs, because I had a light-bulb moment in my car where I was like, "You can do backing vocals here, here, and here, and we can add a guitar solo here, and we can add synth here, and we could add bass here." I had a cohesive list in my email. It was a good 15 hours or something, and we just banged it out. It was probably some of my best work on the record—just in the form of overdubs, which is cool.
How does the new record reflect where you are in your life right now?
I'm definitely in a different part of my life than I was when I wrote it. I mean, it takes so long to make an album. I wrote it a long time ago, though I think it reflects a lot more experience and maturity than the last one.
Between writing, recording, mixing, touring and doing press, how do you find time for yourself?
It's hard. I think it's important to separate the person you are on stage and on the road from the person you are when you're home by yourself. One of the most important things about doing music, I think, is taking time to step away from music. Playing music can be this really weird, egotistical journey. It’s important to take time to stay home, relax, and not think about writing and touring and emails. Even when I’m on the road, that's [how] I spend most of my time: just sitting in the car. On the road, you’re able to turn yourself off, read, put on your headphones—not be this big personality all the time.
When do you feel happiest and most at peace?
I really like being on tour. I like watching other bands play, getting good food, and getting to chill. I also really like having off-days and playing festivals and watching bands I like. It helps me remember why any of us do it at all: because we all love music and traveling.
What are you most excited about?
This record has been sort of a long time coming, so I'm probably most excited for it just to be in my hands. I just want to be totally done with it, and for people to listen to it.