Jordan’s dad answers the door and her mom entertains me in the kitchen, two dogs nosing at our feet, as we wait for Jordan to materialize. She does so at noon, her bedhead bleached Courtney Love blond, dressed in track pants and a Dolly Parton T-shirt she’s had on five days and nights in a row.
She bolts upstairs for a speedy wardrobe change in the bedroom where she used to practice guitar for two hours a day. “I was hellbent on it,” she’ll say later. “I was just obsessive about being perfect.” She returns in high-waisted Levi’s with zero stretch. Jordan is a conscientious objector to athleisure: “At no time of the day do I want to be wearing something comfortable,” she says. Our next stop is the Bean Hollow “downtown,” a coffee shop with the high honor of being “literally the only thing we have that’s not a chain.”
About last night, she explains as she drives: She did a bunch of shots and got into Baltimore super late and crashed at a friend’s and kind of forgot we were doing this today, since she’s done eight interviews in the last two days and she can’t even remember who she talked to (“I got an itinerary sheet, and I lost it”) and is so out of it that she thinks it’s Monday (it’s Sunday).
Jordan formed Snail Mail three years ago. Within two weeks of starting the band, she performed at a festival in Maryland alongside Screaming Females, Sheer Mag and Priests, three of the current torchbearers of independent punk. Snail Mail’s first EP, “Habit,” was released on D.C. label Sister Polygon in July 2016, and soon Jordan was making quite the impression with her old-soul lyrics, indisputable musicianship and plaintive, yearning vocals.
Indie-rock icon Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium, Wild Flag) gave Jordan a handful of guitar lessons in 2015, though she’s quick to qualify that Jordan, then in 10th grade, didn’t need much help.
“It was immediately obvious to me that she was really, really good on guitar,” Timony told me. “She’s one of those people who is just a natural musician. . . . The way she plays guitar is her own sort of thing, which only happens when you really have music in your brain.”
Snail Mail sounds like that feeling of driving aimlessly just to get out of the house, of staring at the ceiling wondering what your future will be. No matter how high you crank the volume, there’s still something almost muted about it, like you’re listening to the house party from your smoke break on the back porch because you aren’t convinced you want to go inside but aren’t sure you want to leave, either. It’s not like you have anywhere else to be quite yet.
“It’s taken me years to put into words how special Lindsey’s songwriting is, and I still haven’t been able to do it,” says Ray Brown, who has been Snail Mail’s drummer since mid-2016. Her songs have that lived-in feeling of “something that you’ve heard before. It’s that catchy and memorable off the bat. . . . But it’s unique enough that it’s distinctly Snail Mail. . . . I don’t think anyone has a knack for something like that like Lindsey does.”
Bassist Alex Russell saw Snail Mail perform live before he joined the band, also in 2016. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is really solid songwriting,’ ” he said. “I just thought the songs were fantastic and kind of refreshing. . . . She has a lot of substance in her songs and her lyrics, [but] they’re not alienatingly complex.”
Jordan’s songs are heavy with early-onset nostalgia for the moment that isn’t even over:
Baby, when I’m 30 I’ll laugh about
how dumb it felt
and oh God, it’s not funny,
but we can laugh it out.
Sometimes she gets this wounded, longing moan in her voice that just turns a crank in your heart.
“The first time I heard her music, I felt like there was this emotionality to it that was really undeniable,” says Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly. Jordan captures “that process of transformation: You’re a teenager, and you’re right on the cusp of becoming the person you’re going to be. I know it’s kind of an ephemeral thing, but I could just feel that in her music.”
Jordan lived on that cusp for months, savoring senior year. “I really enjoyed prom,” she confessed, a goofy smile blooming across her face. “I liked going to school events.” The band’s profile continued to rise and Snail Mail signed with Matador Records — home to countless indie rock acts since before Jordan was born — when graduation was still weeks away.
“I just felt so weird for the last five months of school,” Jordan said. “Sitting in my desk and just knowing. . . . It was a really weird, little exciting time.”
After Snail Mail performed at South by Southwest last year, the pressure was on for Jordan to capitalize on the enthusiasm that had coalesced around her. (Typical headline: “At SXSW 2017, Everyone’s Talking About Snail Mail.”) “There was a push, an energy,” Jordan says between sips of a double Americano. “Sort of a real expectation for you to ride the wave.” But “Habit” took two years to write, and Jordan didn’t want to rush her follow-up.
“She’s definitely a perfectionist,” Brown said. “Not that she necessarily values what other people think a lot — [like] the label and the industry — but I think that did play into it. The experience of, ‘Oh, a lot of people are waiting for this.’ There’s a lot more weight on her shoulders.”
“Lush,” which will be released on June 8, was “really emotional,” she says, tougher than “Habit,” even with all the added benefits of working with a bigger label. (Jordan anticipates some backlash to Snail Mail’s slicker sound. “Everyone’s gonna be like, ‘Sellouts! Making this hi-fi Sony record.’ I never wanted to make a low-fi record. It’s so cool to be in a nice studio with a great producer.”)
By her own admission, Jordan is “so uptight in the studio, very controlling,” and despite the bucolic setting — on a farm in Upstate New York, all crackling campfire vibes — she was stressed out the whole time. There were arguments with her bandmates, songs were scrapped and restarted, and she and producer Jake Aron performed “open-heart surgery” on songs she had spent years writing.
The process was “really heartbreaking, even though I know we bettered” the music, she says. “I’ve never felt worse in my life.”
When Jordan is thinking hard about what she wants to say, her words stretch out like a taffy pull, saving her mouth from getting too far ahead of her brain. Like when she admits, slowly, “I worry all the time about songwriting.”
She wrote 30 tracks for the record; 10 made the final cut. “I was just really freaky about the process. I kind of created this self-filtering, crazy checklist,” leaving her only with songs “that you actually care about and feel like you can play every single night without wanting to vomit and rip your hair out.”
That ruthless edit, Timony said, is a credit to Jordan’s maturity. “That’s something that takes some people a really long time to learn. A lot of times when you’re starting out, you’re just precious about everything.”
It fits with something Timony noticed about Jordan during their guitar lessons. “Sometimes she underplays. She can actually play all this really, really complicated stuff, but she’s not the kind of guitar player that’s going to be showing it off. . . . She knows that it’s more important to write a good song.”
When Jordan was 8 years old, she remembers her older sister showing her a list of the bands that have played the Warped Tour. She saw some of her favorite acts — Fall Out Boy, All Time Low — but didn’t see any women. This sucks, she thought. If I was a boy, then I could be in a band.
Her sister did damage control by letting Jordan tag along to a Paramore concert. “And it was like, ‘AAAAAH!’” Jordan says. “I saw Hayley Williams and her outfit and she’s killing it, and she’s so punk, and I was like: That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
So Jordan is happy to be part of a wave of female singer-songwriters asserting themselves in rock: Julien Baker, Sophie Allison (who performs as Soccer Mommy), Laetitia Tamko (stage name: Vagabon), Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus. “It’s awesome to think that there’s probably going to be so many more bands with young girls starting, just because they have people to look up to.”
But Jordan also resists categorizing music by gender. As she points out, no one actually listens to music that way. “I never turn on my record player and think, ‘It’s time to listen to a female-fronted band!’ ”
She feels the same way about her sexuality. Between “Habit” and “Lush,” Jordan came out. “I wouldn’t consider my sexual identity to be any part of my musical identity,” she says. “But it is a part of my personal identity, so it makes a difference when you’re writing — if you feel like that’s something you can let loose.”
On “Lush,” Jordan sounds more forward, game to feel all the feelings. She pines and flirts and aches. Take “Heat Wave,” which starts with Jordan telling someone she “woke up in my clothes having dreamt of you,” then taunting them for choosing another girl:
I hope whoever it is
holds their breath around you
’cause I know I did
Or on “Anytime,” the album’s closing song:
I’m not in love with your absence
because I’ve fallen so hard for this space
Still, Jordan understands that women in music — like women in Hollywood, or finance, or tech, or literally anywhere — face sexism from all corners. She knows from audience catcalls, handsy DJs, sleazy record execs. Nearly two years before #MeToo blazed across social media, indie rock ousted a Weinstein of its own when powerful PR figure Heathcliff Berru resigned in shame after a handful of female musicians called out his violent misconduct on Twitter.
“There is a lot of skeeviness” in the music business, Jordan says, which she has both witnessed and “experienced firsthand.” She would rather not get into the details. “I don’t want to give those dudes any attention or anything. They’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s me!’ It’s not worth it.”
Her focus is elsewhere. This time last year she was telling the college she had planned to attend that she wouldn’t be enrolling after all. Now she’s gearing up to tour, virtually nonstop, for four months.
“There’s a business person side of me that has to come out, and a professional side, and then a hanging out with people after the show and doing interviews, and then there’s also — you have to separate the side of yourself that is vulnerable, that is in your room writing songs, that’s the reason why I’m doing it at all,” she says. “And that’s kind of hard to do sometimes.”
Now that the album is complete, “I know my hard work is done,” she says. “I’m in this weird euphoria. I feel super high.”
She clarifies: “I’m not actually high right now. But I feel, like, light and airy. And now it feels to me like the fun part is starting.”