When I arrive in west London to meet Lindsey Jordan, the songwriter and musician who performs with her band as Snail Mail, I am early. Our “first date” will involve boarding a canal boat, and I notice that the passengers who are alighting the particular vessel we’re about to get on are now posing for the sort of photos they’ll have on their mantelpieces for the rest of their lives. In other words, they look suspiciously like they just got engaged. Love, as Wet Wet Wet once sagely sang, really is all around.
It feels like a fitting setting for an interview with Jordan, who writes emotionally complex songs about love in its many shapes, and whose second album as Snail Mail, Valentine (out Friday the 5th of November), takes relationships – and a painful breakup – as its subject matter. Jordan is all in on love for this record, reinvigorated with a fresh, more romantic aesthetic – all lapels and frills – and in finer voice than ever, her vocals delightfully throaty and expressive, and her guitar playing by turns thrillingly bombastic, then heartbreakingly sweet.
When she arrives, she’s in a 70s-style blazer and high spirits, and we jump aboard the boat for a chat about astrology (obviously), the highs and lows of making her second album, and her best and worst dates.
VICE: Hi Lindsey. Would you normally charter a boat for a date?
Lindsey Jordan: We are on my ideal date. I like a grand gesture. My rooftop in my apartment – I’m on the fifth floor – you have to climb to get there, you can’t open the door. So it’s just me and my other neighbour who have access to it. And it’s steep, it’s scary to climb the ladder! But I cooked my girlfriend a steak and asparagus situation, with like, rosemary bread, and a dip that I made. Scallop potatoes, and Caprese salad. And I had to put all of it in like, a basket and carry it on my back because it was so steep to climb. I had a candelabra, because I’m a lesbian, a picnic blanket, a jazz record on the little speaker. I like to go all out.
My next question was going to be “What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever done for a date?” but we might have just covered it. Is there more?
Yeah actually. I had a girlfriend that I got us a pasta making class. With an authentic Italian chef. But I think the roof dinner was maybe my best work.
Considering the physical feat you had to complete to get it up there.
Multiple trips! Multiple trips.
Do you have a favourite date you’ve been on?
There are times when you go to the other girl’s show and you can be like: “Good job! Good job babe!” I love that. I love dates! I’ve had some Paris dates. There’s one specific date... I was in Paris with a girl and we went to this bookstore – this is very Sapphic, by the way; it’s about to get extremely Sapphic – and we just did a bunch of Parisian sightseeing, and then we went to this legendary bookstore, and we picked each other’s books out.
What was your first date like?
First date that counted? Well. In high school I dated this boy, and we got milkshakes and we went to see that band Downtown Boys. It was pretty cute. Maybe that was my first real date. In sixth grade I had a boyfriend and we played hockey together. And I had my first kiss at the ice rink, on Friday Night Teen Skate.
Friday Night Teen Skate!
Don’t be too jealous! I’ve had some serious romance in my life. Friday Night Teen Skate is where everybody kisses. It was more like Friday Night Middle School Skate. No teens were there really. They would put on disco lights, and play whatever the top 40 was, loud, and fucking everybody would skate around and hold hands. It was fun. I had hockey practice on Friday nights, at least in eighth grade, so I would finish hockey practice and go right to Teen Skate at the same rink. And I would be like, sweaty, and I would remove the shoulder pads, throw on the sweatshirt, and hold hands with boys. I was like [extremely deep voice] “Hey Zack.” [Laughs]
Did you do prom?
Did you do the whole corsage thing?
Yep. And I went with my boyfriend. We broke up the day after because there was a lot going on in my head. I was already pretty sure that I was gay, but he was just so cute that I was like “Maybe there’s more fluidity to it” – there isn’t, for me. The DJ at the prom was a super pretty girl! Beautiful. And I was just like, telling all my friends “I should request a song!” We broke up the next day. I was like, “You know, this is a growth period for me.”
They say that prom is a pivotal night.
Totally. And I had a fantastic time, it’s right up my alley!
What about dating disasters?
Infinite. There was a date where I tripped and I got this gash in my knee.
When something like that happens it’s fucking over, because the whole point of a date is to be cool and desirable, but then if you start bleeding and appear to the other person as a mortal, that’s the end of it.
Totally. Blood everywhere. I had to get stitches the next day. And the next day was my birthday! And I was really scared of having to get stitches. I went in the morning because it was still bleeding, and yeah, it’s still there, it’s a deep scar.
I think an important thing to ask on our date is: are we compatible astrologically? What’s your chart like?
My sun sign is Aries.
I love Aries.
Aries sun, Cancer moon, Virgo rising. So, a big fucking mess of shit. What about you?
There are so many things that I feel like I have to say. OK. Gemini sun, Scorpio rising, Leo moon. My friend’s sister reads horoscopes and she’s like, other-worldly talented at it, and she read my horoscope just out of curiosity. I did not ask for that. And she said that I have such a fiery passion for love that I’ll never end up with it. And I was like, “So can that change?” Because obviously the more you learn about yourself, the healthier habits you fall into. And she was like “Well energy doesn’t change.” I was like, “OK!” [Laughs]
You seem to be interested in the aesthetics of love on your new album Valentine – styling wise you’ve embraced a more Romantic look and the “Valentine” video upends the traditional period love story. Was that an idea that came from you?
It started with me. I made an original storyboard and treatment, and I shopped it around to directors, and let them be directors, and create more dynamic versions. I don’t have any experience in that world, but I wanted to – I was like, “This could be really fun.” On the last record, I didn’t even try to do anything or take any kind of initiative there, because I just felt overwhelmed and busy. But now I’m like, “Every little thing really does matter.” Especially going through it once, you realise that like, you’re stuck with the videos forever. So I worked on a lot of that, and Josh [Coll], the director, wrote the final storyboard, which has a lot of similarities to mine, but his is just so much better! It was a blast, we had so much fun.
I was like, “She’s giving acting.” Is this the last album? Are you pursuing another career?
[Laughs] You know I do love music but… actors make much better money.
How did you feel about doing a second album? It’s obviously something that is talked about as a bit of a “thing.”
It is. I have never done anything so hard in my entire life, which is maybe why I’m enjoying this time period so much. Because I actually feel like, no matter how hard things become, no matter how hard tour gets, nothing will ever be as hard as making that second album. And especially coming off of that Lush tour as an adult. I started it as a teenager.
How long were you out? Like two, three years?
Two and a half years. And a lot of the Snail Mail charm was that I was a teenager. So I had a little bit of an identity crisis. You know, of course the style has changed a little bit – not too much, but a little bit, musically. And I think I understand the ‘sophomore slump’ in a spiritual way now, because I never thought that I would be a person that would experience impostor syndrome. I’ve always been very confident. And all of a sudden I was like, “Wait. Wait! I did it once.” There’s a specific magic that people were talking about there, that I didn’t think about when I was making it. And all of a sudden I was like, “I do want to return to making stuff because I love it, and I want to be real and honest, and I don’t want to think about crowd reception.” But who wouldn’t?
Anyone who has any job is going to think about what people think about what they do. But it must be hard when there are so many people looking at you.
It’s hard. It took a lot out of me trying to turn a lot of those feelings that are being mentioned in those songs into songs. Nobody said, “Turn it in now”, but there is a general timeline guideline – and I was already a year past when we were supposed to make the last record. So I was like, “Am I ruining my career? I don’t have anything to write about. I’ve been on tour, I don’t want to write about that.” I experienced a bunch of real life stuff, and then writing about it was really hard. Wait til you hear the demos. It’s horrifying, it’s so sad.
You have to go through it to make the good thing in the end.
I can only speak from how I feel about the songs, because nobody who I work with is going to be like, “This sucks.” I don’t know how people are going to react. It’s actually a really scary time! It’s really hard. But it is rewarding!
I loved all the references you’re making in the “Valentine” video, like Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Did you have other stuff you were picking on not just for the video but for the album in general? I know there’s a more intentional aesthetic story this time, so was there anything else that inspired you?
I got really into Carrie and Lowell by Sufjan Stevens when I was making the album. Devotion by Tirzah was really big for me. Always a lot of Elliott Smith, always. I got really into The 1975 in the last year or two – that band’s awesome. I hear people’s songs a lot and I think if The 1975 did it, or put their touch on it, it would be really good. A lot more pop music; I liked that most recent FKA twigs record. I listen to a lot of The Blue Nile – that record Hats is pretty influential for me. And a lot of jazz!
A major thing that I wanted to channel in “Valentine” – since we were doing a storyline, which I had never done before – was to make something that I myself as a child would have wanted to see. And I wanted to make something gay, where the point of it wasn’t that it was gay. We get more content now than ever, but sometimes I wish that there was more content that wasn’t about it being gay. I like the fact that it’s Edwardian, and in those times, you wouldn’t be seeing people of colour, and queer people, and trans people, just being themselves, but I was like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if that wasn’t the point, but it was just present? Like Bridgerton vibes?” That was just fun. And I liked that little outfit. I felt really at home in that outfit. I liked being a prince!
I went to go see Booksmart when that came out, and I cried in the movie theatre because Kaitlyn Dever’s character ends up with Diana Silvers’ character, and it doesn’t say anything about coming out or homophobia. It’s just like, the nerdy girl gets the pretty girl, and they end up together, and it’s a good ending, and it’s not like, lesbian tragedy. It’s just sweet!
All photography by Bex Wade.
Valentine is out on the 5th of November on Matador Records.