2016's Habit EP marked Snail Mail as one of indie rock's ascendant forces, and lead singer Lindsey Jordan became a star off the strength of tracks like "Thinning" and "Static Buzz." Two years later Jordan, still just shy of 20, has signed to Matador Records and finished the full-length followup.
A lot has happened in the interim—tours, deals, girlfriends—and Jordan has left any linering teenage innocence in the past. "I’ve jumped through a lot of hoops... in the music world," she says. "You see a lot, and have to grow up quick. There's a lot of ways you can fuck up."
Still, so far so good. And the new album won't change that trajectory. It's a sleeker, energetic leap forward for the Baltimore trio, with most songs led by Jordan's crisp, lucid vocals and old-soul lyricism.
She burrowed into the guitar for this one, becoming "a guitar player for the first time in [her] life." That meant research. "I went a year just intense listening and figuring out what guitar players I really looked up to," Jordan says, "and what about a song inspires me and makes me want to keep turning it on."
Read on for our Q&A with Lindsey Jordan, and if you're headed down to SXSW, you can catch Snail Mail here.
Where did you record the album?
We did a week of demos in Clinton Hill, and then a week of pre-recording in Williamsburg, then a week and a half of recording recording in upstate New York. And then we did two weeks or three weeks of overdubs in Greenpoint.
Where in upstate New York did you go?
Woodlawn maybe? Really weird.
I felt like it was haunted. My bandmates weren’t so concerned, but I was the one who was really under crazy pressure so I was probably just losing it. We were just really isolated, the only thing was this pizza shop, there was nothing else within an hour. I just felt a little crazy, there were animals, it was like a farm.
Were these your songs?
I feel really protective over this record. I really feel like it’s something that I can back. I spent way more time writing it—I started writing it while we were in the studio doing Habit, up until while we were in the studio for the record. So it was a matter of two years and I took it really seriously. I isolated myself and just probably wrote thirty songs for it and kept ten.
It was a lot of pressure, I put a lot of pressure on myself. I don’t really care about pressure coming from anybody else, I don’t really care if anybody likes it. It’s just me just caring a lot about what I’m outputting. At this point, we could have four records.
It’s got to be the kind of thing you want to be able to listen back in two years and think, yes...
Yeah, and we’ve been playing the songs on tour. I write them, and we arrange them and we play them the next day. We just get bored when we don’t have enough songs to be headliners and not play new songs. So we’ve been playing these songs on tour for like two years.
WHILE WRITING THESE SONGS ABOUT CRUSHES, I COULDN'T BE LIKE SHE/HER, WHICH WEIGHS YOU DOWN AS A WRITER... YOU SHOULD HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT ANYTHING WHILE YOU'RE WRITING.
What did you end up writing about?
It’s more of an honest real reflection on the life I’ve been living. It’s definitely maturity… I’m gay openly now. But I wasn’t before, so while writing these songs about crushes and stuff, I couldn’t be like she/her, which weighs down on you as a writer. It sucks because you shouldn’t really, in my opinion, have to worry about anything while you’re writing. It should be an expression of who you are and what you feel.
I think with the newest record not all the songs are solely about specific women or whatever, but it was nice. At this point all my friends know, my family knows, so I don’t really have to hold anything back. I wrote a lot about the emotional state that I’m in. This is a job, and I’ve jumped through a lot of hoops and go through a lot of weird pockets in the music world. You see a lot and experience a lot, and have to grow up quick. You don’t want to naively throw yourself in any bad situations or go down any bad… There’s a lot of ways you can fuck up.
Right, it’s a double-edged sword.
Yeah, I feel like a jaded old man. I feel like now I’m old and you can't trust anybody.
When you say things were holding you back, was it just you weren’t comfortable putting your sexuality so overtly into your music?
I still don’t want to be represented as queer-core, because I can totally respect other bands doing that—it’s just not in my personal cards. For my path, I would just like the music to be separate from my personal life. But at the same time it’s such a vulnerable thing to be a songwriter, and to make myself vulnerable and be able to express something without exploiting it.
I never wanted it to be a part of my musical identity, but at the same time it’s nice to be like anyone else just be able to write about your crush. I wasn’t even so concerned with people judging me, I just wasn’t comfortable with it being a part of my identity. And I’m still on the fence about it as far as being a representation of my music. But I’m not uncomfortable with it being part of my personal identity.
I'M STILL ON THE FENCE ABOUT IT AS FAR AS BEING A REPRESENTATION OF MY MUSIC. BUT I'M NOT UNCOMFORTABLE WITH IT BEING PART OF MY PERSONAL IDENTITY.
Was this record influenced by any one person or inspiration in particular?
I don’t know if this is fucked up, but it was so specifically influenced by certain people in the beginning stages of writing that me and the guys in the band just didn’t have names for the songs—we were just putting girls' names on the set list.
More than one of those girls were at the shows, and there's just a piece of paper on the stage with a list of the girls' names. Which is so fucked up, but at the same time it was just funny. Towards the end it stopped being like that. It was melodramatic.
Makes it easier to remember.
And that’s not how they came out on the masters or anything. That’s where they started. I think one of them found out because we were playing it for the first time and I was looking her in the eye… yeah. No shame.
You were recording in New York this time, was there anything different process-wise you were trying?
We tried it all and scrapped it all, tried it all again, then scrapped it all again. I had a really collaborative experience with our producer Jake Aron. I think I picked him because I really admired the things he worked on already. We were on a real similar friend wave. We really liked each other and had a nice similar vision. He comes from a pop world also an indie world, he’s done a lot of indie stuff. He brought new aspects to the table, we kind of went back and forth and definitely scrapped a lot of ideas but he really pushed the songs a lot.
He kind of encouraged us to do surgery on them, and I felt like there wasn’t a single stone that wasn’t unturned, we looked at everything. It’s crazy, we added a lot of different instrumentation that we wouldn’t have if Jake wasn’t pushing us. A lot of people played on it—there were so many people in and out of the studio. We have a guitar player now so there’s two guitars on stage. We didn’t keep all of it but we tried it all.
Have your goals in music changed at all compared to when you first started writing songs?
The guitar work is much more pronounced. I spent so much time between records holed away in my room just listening to guitar music. I went a year just intense listening and figuring out what guitar players I really looked up to, and what about a song inspires me and makes me want to keep turning it on. I felt like I directly honed in on that and spent so much time being a guitar player for the first time in my life.
I’ve always been so much of a multi-tasker and cared so much about the big sound on the stage and I realized you can accomplish a lot more when you focus on the little individual things, so I spent a lot of time making cool guitar parts and honing in my classical guitar knowledge and my theory knowledge. It’s a real guitar record. What’s the other part of the question?
Do you have the same goals?
When we first started, I didn’t even intend on playing shows. I just made that record for me as a collection of songs that I really wanted to make a cohesive product.
There was a middle stage where we were playing house shows, and I was thinking, "Man I wish we were playing Madison Square Garden.” Now obviously we’re not there, but we’ve stayed in the nice hotel, done the thing, played really big shows, been the support, and been the headliner, and I just don’t really care that much. Not to be a dick but—it’s cool and I’d love to keep playing big shows, but at the end of the day I think I’d just get annoyed a lot at everything.
There’s a great thing about that DIY show, and equally good things about that huge show, just for different reasons.
I’ve found that I don’t really miss playing DIY shows, I’m really excited about playing big shows—I just want to keep playing for people. But there are so many aspects of it that I really get annoyed by. I feel like once again it's that double-edged sword. There’s nothing that I like more than touring and playing in front of people, but there are a lot of aspects that I just don’t care about.
I hope people like the record but my big checkpoint is that I like the record, and I like to be playing onstage and close my eyes like, "Oh yeah I love this song." And that’s really where I’m at. I would hope that I have the opportunity to keep making records that I like, and take a lot of time to make the next one.