Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan opens up about her journey
August 3, 2017
As a big fan of Snail Mail, I always admired Lindsey Jordan from afar (not in a creepy way). She seemed to embody everything I wanted to be. She was young, she was articulate, and she made music that touched bases with indie, punk, and rock; plus, she could pull off red lipstick really well. When she agreed to do an interview with me, I was thrilled. The day of the show, which also happened to be Jordan’s birthday, I walked into Walter’s, a familiar venue, armed with my camera, questions, and a Whataburger table number “31.” Snail Mail began soundchecking, not with one of their songs, but with the familiar grade school anthem “You Belong With Me.” For me, this confirmed that this band would live up to all of my expectations. I met Jordan, along with Stephen Steinbrink and Lisa Larson, in the balloon-filled green room and wished her a “happy birthday” to start things off. I handed her the Whataburger table number as an 18th birthday gift and explained how if you flipped it upside down and covered the opening of the “3” it passed for 18. We then talked about everything from misogyny, to her musical inspiration, to Avril Lavigne.
The beginnings of Snail Mail and music in high school
Jordan graduated from high school this year, balancing schoolwork and touring with her band. My first set of questions tackled her experiences in school and the beginning of Snail Mail.
Being pretty young in this music scene, has age ever been an obstacle or problem for you?
First, it’s annoying, and second, this tour has been predominantly 21 plus [shows], and in the West Coast that means a lot. In a lot of cases we aren’t even allowed in the venue. We’ve been able to get around it. We actually haven’t stayed outside of the venue yet, but it’s really hard to be under 21; security does not like that. Also at South by Southwest, we couldn’t even hang out at our own showcases, and it was very hard getting in and out of our own showcases because we were under 21.
How did you navigate school and playing in a band at the same time?
I didn’t. I missed 37 days for touring and I didn’t really get away with it. But I graduated, and I was in a couple APs and I narrowly–actually, I somehow for first quarter and fourth quarter was able to get my grade point average for the end of the year to a 4.03. But I think I’m just a good test taker; I missed so much school and I had so many missing assignments, so I actually would not recommend it to anyone reading this.
How did you personally come to find your “musical style”, and sound and lyricism?
Electrelane is how. I feel like the best thing you can possible do is just absorb as much art that you respect as you can. I just love to listen to, just absorb as much music as possible, listen to as much diverse music as possible and check out everything you can. Go to shows and meet people. I love to read and just absorb any kind of art possible. I kind of just played what felt natural. I think Snail Mail’s sound as it is didn’t really come to be until I wrote a lot of songs and got rid of a lot of songs and found something where I was like, “Wow, I can identify with this and enjoy playing it every night.” I write lyrics where every single night I’m like “Oh, yeah! I can go back to this feeling.” I think it’s all about just making something you know you believe in.
Do you remember your first show?
I did some solo shows. I did one, maybe two. Then Snail Mail’s first show as a band was really lucky. We played with Sheer Mag, Screaming Females, Priests, and some other really cool punk bands at this festival in Baltimore called Unregistered Nurse Fest. It was booked by my friends Dana and Emily, and I just got lucky in that I was just admiring it out loud and my friend who books it was like, “Do you have a band? Do you want to hop on?” I had these songs that I wrote and I just got two friends together just to play this one show. They’re not the same two people I play with now, but Snail Mail formed just to play the one show and then the three of us continued playing shows for maybe six months and then these guys [gestures to her bandmates] came and they’re touring with me now and I think Snail Mail will continue to evolve in a positive direction.
Music and Misogyny
Throughout her musical career, Lindsey has been no stranger to misogyny. We talked about her early musical career and how she coped with sexism.
So how did you first get into writing and recording music?
Hmm, I don’t know. I’ve been playing guitar since I was five. I did the whole classically trained thing. I was in the church band, the jazz band, I did the school plays. I started writing music when I was six. I went to rock camp and I just wanted to write guitar parts; I never wanted to be a singer. Around seventh grade I started writing pretty bad pop songs and it kind of just progressed. I don’t know. I don’t think I really answered that question, I kind of just danced around it. Rock camp is how.
Do you have any stories from rock camp or anything memorable?
I hated rock camp. I feel like it was a lot of metalhead boys who weren’t a huge fan of girls playing instruments and seemed genuinely shocked by it. And there were definitely cool women in the program, but not that many. I don’t know if there are that many stories. I had a crush on this blonde guy. He was really mean. I remember he had one of those Eddie Vedder guitars and he was like, “I know for a fact you can’t play the ‘Eruption’ guitar solo,” and I was like, “Oh, I don’t like you anymore.” That’s all I can think of.
You’ve talked in previous interviews, like the one with Pitchfork, about this kind of theme of misogyny you’ve faced in the industry and outside when you were starting out. How have you managed that ?
I think the most important thing is to surround yourself with people who aren’t like that. The boys in my band are really great, and Girlpool are a really great group of people. Stephen Steinbrink (who is sitting across from us), really fantastic individual. I think that that’s a really important question. It’s still everywhere around me, but it’s less, so I feel like I’ve done a lot more choosing for myself now that I have a little more say in what I’m doing and what’s around me, but you still can’t really help but notice it. There’s so many all boy lineups. I get the creepiest DMs all the time and creepy guys in the audience. It’s there. I guess you just have to your best to surround yourself with good people and say what you can about and speak out and help other people. Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Do your best to combat it.
To close the interview, Lindsey and I discussed some of her personal tastes in music and food, as well as her feelings on the DIY music scene.
If you had a guilty pleasures playlist, what would be on it?
Oh God! Should I just throw other artists under the bus? Ok, I don’t have any honest to God guilty pleasures, I openly really like Avril Lavigne, not guiltily. What a great musician. I feel like I always come back to early 2000s man-rock. I feel like we’re always listening to, like, Lifehouse, Semi Sonic, and the Fray because it makes me think of my mom. I guess that kinda sucks, those bands kind of suck, but yeah. I feel like I do it enough openly, like we soundcheck with “Closing Time” most nights, so it’s not guilty. I guess I really like Taylor Swift too, openly. Love her. So talented. Her songs are so undeniable.
To wrap this up, what is the DIY music scene, and what does it mean to you?
Okay, in DC or Baltimore? The DIY music scene is really special to me. We’re not really a part of it anymore, but I’m really fortunate to have had it when i first started because it was full of people who were really supportive and taught me so much that I feel like I haven’t learned from the non-DIY music scene. It’s full of hardworking, really talented, genuine people who do it for art. The non-DIY scene has a lot of the same really incredible dedicated people who are into it for the art, but a lot of other stuff in it which is distracting from what’s important. The DIY scene is super cool, a great community of people who sort of just helped me learn about myself and how to be a musician that is able to work for myself and function without having people do things for me because eventually we hired people to do a lot of the things we were doing ourselves for DIY, but it’s good to know. It’s good to know what you’re doing so you’re not getting ripped off. I think all bands should start as DIY. It’s way harder in different ways. It’s way harder to create something for yourself, but they both have hard aspects, so it’s important, and I think it’s really character building.
Now that you’ve graduated, do you have plans to go to college or are you riding the music thing out?
Oh, I wish I could say more! I don’t know, Lisa, what do I say?
Lisa: Things are on the horizon.
Lindsey: Things are on the horizon. I have the future meticulously planned out and things are on the horizon, though I can’t say what. That sounded so weird. And I’m not going to college.
So do you have any advice for teens wanting to get into music and start a band?
Yeah, definitely do, there’s so much I would tell someone else. Surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing, and you can confide in, don’t leave it all to yourself. Make stuff you’re proud of, and don’t ever think about what other people will perceive it as because if you’re proud of it and you like it and you think it’s something that you believe in, then other people will too. Even if other people hate it at first, it’s ‘you’. You’re not trying to sound like somebody else. That sounds super cheesy, but you have to make sure it’s all ‘you’ and something you believe in. There’s no use in thinking about other people when you’re writing it. Definitely listen to as many other musicians as possible, you know, like, listen to their music and learn from them and maybe get to know other musicians and get their advice because it’s really hard. There’s a lot of evil stuff out there. I don’t know if we’re talking DIY or not, but outside of that there’s a lot you have to be careful of, so definitely don’t try to do it all on your own, it’s dumb. Get good grades, stay in school. It’s dumb to pretend like school isn’t important. Yeah, be healthy, be safe, look out for yourself, keep your friends close.