how snail mail made the slow-burning rock album of summer
"I don’t want the faux girl power. I don’t want my sexuality to be used as a gimmick." Lindsey Jordan walks us through her dazzling debut album 'Lush.'
Photography Michael Lavine
Lindsey Jordan is determined, focused, and busy as hell. “The key is not sleeping at all,” she says. “You don’t need it.” Her first full length album as Snail Mail, Lush, is due out on June 8, and she drove up to New York on a recent weekend to check off a litany of press obligations. Later that night she’s got a swanky pre-Met Gala party to attend, and by the next morning she’ll be up at the crack of dawn and on a fire escape in Brooklyn to shoot the video for Lush’s fourth single. After that, she’s squeezing in some rehearsal time with the rest of the band in Baltimore before they set out for their first European tour.
None of this is really all that new to Jordan, but the scale of everything is certainly growing. In 2016, Priests’s label Sister Polygon released Snail Mail’s debut EP Habit. That six-track project astounded in its ability to turn crushing moments of adolescent uncertainty into rallying hooks, propelled by Jordan’s cut-and-dried vocals and moody guitar. In the time since its release, Jordan graduated high school, signed with Matador, and toured the EP alongside the likes of Girlpool, Japanese Breakfast, Ought, Waxahatchee, and Shame. After a year and a half of writing, and many more months laboring over the production and rollout, her first proper record is finally almost here.
Listening to Lush is a wrenchingly direct experience. Each spin feels as though Jordan is locking eyes with her listener, never flinching for its entire 39 minutes. That’s precisely how she intended it. “I came into the studio knowing what the record was gonna be: we’re gonna do clean guitars, we’re not gonna do a lot of effects on the vocals, not a lot of cymbals,” she explains. “It’s the most clean rock record. It’s up close and vulnerable.” Most of the LP was written in Baltimore and recorded at a cabin in upstate New York. As we’re speaking, she shifts her attention to a white van parking next to the cafe. “Look at that.” It’s emblazoned with the name of her lead single, “Pristine.”
“Pristine” yearns with aching admiration. The wailing chorus insists that Jordan will never love anyone other than its subject — a naive sentiment, sure, but an entirely gutting and relatable one. “‘Pristine’ could have been on Habit, but it instantly felt more special to me than the rest of the songs on that EP,” she explains. “I liked it as a first single because, here’s a song where I’m sort of joking at myself for being melodramatic and wistfully in love. It punches Habit in the face.” As the first track written for the album, it also sets up narrative arc of sorts, especially when paired with the emotional patience of “Let’s Find an Out,” the last song Jordan recorded (and her personal favorite).
“The romance happened at the beginning of the writing process and it sort of gets gone,” she recalls. “Toward the end, the album got more reflective of myself and the time spent trying to finish it. I was losing friends and was struggling with my sense of self and what it meant to be a songwriter. I was writing songs and throwing them away, every day. The fear that comes with throwing yourself into the music world is identifiable on the record. ‘Speaking Terms’ is about the relationship you sacrifice because you’ve become wholly developed with your work. I was losing touch with people because I stopped being able to relate to them.”
“Speaking Terms” is the only track in which the city peeks its way through Lush’s suburban deluge. Jordan moved to Brooklyn, briefly, while recording the album. “It was at a time when I was going to have to get a hotel for months, because I was doing vocal sessions with our producer Jake Aron, and I thought, ‘I love New York, why don’t I move here.’” But adjusting to city life proved difficult, and she moved back to Baltimore after a month or so. “I felt like my living situation wasn’t conducive to being quiet and focused. There were always sounds,” she says. Now, when they’re not on tour, her and her bandmates reside at her parents’ house in Baltimore. “I’m having a hard time seeing myself [living] anywhere other than in a car.”
Though Jordan says she’s yet to have written an entire song on the road, that hasn’t stopped her from trying lately. “Inspiration, for me, comes in the form of physical bursts of energy when I feel like I can write emotionally. Sometimes that comes when you’re on the highway in the middle of Oklahoma and the rest of the band is listening to a podcast. Capturing that firefly in a jar is important.” She says the best advice she’s ever gotten came from Liz Phair, who told her that if you write something every day, songwriting can’t be daunting. “I was scared when I finished Lush because I put so much in and it took so much away from me. But now I’m consciously trying to get inspired for the next one.”
For LP2, she wants to write a timeless record, and if she’s gonna do that, it’s paramount to her that Snail Mail doesn’t “ride the hype train to hell.” That means actively pushing back on outside attempts to compartmentalize the project based on age, gender, or sexuality. “I’ve been trying to avoid, in interviews, having a thing. I want to keep some things for myself. I don’t want the faux girl power. I don’t want my sexuality to be used as a gimmick.”
It was difficult for her to find the framework for how that could look: a casual love song about a queer relationship with none of the self-congratulatory identity platitudes. “I initially wasn’t gonna be public about the queer stuff, but being out for the time that I wrote Lush made a huge difference in how open I could be in my songwriting. I like the idea of some girl hearing the song and being like, ‘I can write a song about loving a woman and not have it be a thing.’”
Jordan’s top priority for Snail Mail is longevity; she says she’s working for a slow burn. But for now, in this very moment, Lush as a finished product is enough. “My biggest fear in life was to never finish, because it just felt so daunting. Listening to the mastered version was the most validated I’ve ever felt. I hope people play this from front to back,” she says with accomplishment. We resolve to grab a quick photo by the white “Pristine” van after the interview, to capture that fateful moment. But by the time we leave the cafe, it has already driven away.
"Lush" is out June 8, via Matador.