Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan Is Ready to Fucking Shred
We sat down with the lo-fi bandleader to talk riffs, Slipknot and the double bind of being a woman guitarist.
Image via PR
There are lots of ways that I could introduce this interview with Lindsey Jordan, who leads the indie rock band Snail Mail. I could say that Lindsey Jordan is an 18-year-old musical prodigy from Ellicott City, Maryland, USA. Or I could tell you that Lindsey Jordan is blazing a trail for young women in music. But if I went with either of those things, I think I would be doing Lindsey Jordan a disservice. Not because they aren’t true – they very much are – but just because they feel like lazy ways to describe someone so interesting. So instead, I will simply say this: Lindsey Jordan is fucking cool.
In 2016, her name started appearing in the blogosphere’s general consciousness when she released the six-track EP Habit with Snail Mail, the band for which she’s been the frontperson and primary songwriter since she was 15. Habit is, by anyone’s admission, a striking piece of work: candidly emotional, with a propensity for analysing short moments in time, and endowing them with a sometimes crushing wider significance. On “Slug,” she turns spotting a slug in her garden into a meditation on her own feeling of stillness; on the standout “Thinning” (below), she makes losing weight due to illness a metaphor for her emotional state. It’s all hemmed in by Lindsey’s obvious ear for melody and gritty voice, while her technical proficiency as a guitarist and songwriter is balanced out by a fuzzy, lo-fi sensibility. It rules.
Fast-forward to now, and Snail Mail are signed to Matador Records. They’ve also recorded their debut album, which I am – after speaking to Lindsey – loudly confident will be some of the most exciting guitar music to emerge in quite a while (if the skills she displays on Habit and, later, on an Audiotree session are anything to go on). We met downstairs at venue and bar The Lexington in north London, when, hiding her blonde hair beneath a black baseball cap (which I later notice is emblazoned with the words “Sea Lice,” and therefore recognise as merch from the recent joint tour by her fellow shredders Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett), she plonked down in front of me in a booth. Later that evening, she’d play her first UK show upstairs – a stripped-down solo set – to rapturous reception from a crowd who clearly view her as the most holy future of rock music. I don’t think they’re wrong.
But before all that, Lindsey and I talked – about Habit and Snail Mail’s upcoming album, Sheer Mag (and a little Slipknot), and the time-honoured art of playing the goddamn guitar.
Noisey: Hey Lindsey. Let’s get to it: the way I see it, you’re part of a wave of young female songwriters-guitarists on the rise now – Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Sophie [Allison, of Soccer Mommy]. How does it feel to be making a record in the midst of that?
Lindsey: It’s weird because my band are all guys. And I know for a fact that like, most of the bands that we’re playing with are men. But it’s interesting because I know we’re in that wave of women playing music but it still feels like I’m surrounded by men all the time. And it’s out there, but it hasn’t really come to me that much. But it’s so sick to be surrounded by, and it’s totally inspirational, and most of my friends are women in bands and it’s fucking awesome. I think that we’re on an upward slope, but we’re not there yet.
I think a lot of the issues for women in music come from all sides, including critics. Do you find you get pigeonholed?
Yeah I get pigeonholed, and just a lot of attention, I think, because I’m a woman. Which sucks because though a lot of my favourite guitarists are women – like Marnie Stern and Mary Timony and stuff – also a lot of them are men. A lot of my inspirations and friends are men. So it is great to represent women in music, but also it sucks to not necessarily always be grouped with male guitar players – Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn and Mark Kozelek, all these fucking shredders. It would be cool to be grouped in with them more too. But at the same time I’m so glad that we have all these women coming to the forefront. It’s sweet. And people should care! But I wish they cared because everyone was a good guitar player, not because they’re women.
Cool. If I were in your position, I’d have kind of two feelings about it too. Like a double-edged sword sort of way.
Yeah that’s a good way to describe it!
Like a “Duality” as Slipknot might say.
Yes! My inspiration.
Your main inspiration I imagine. Listening to the EP that’s what I got from it.
Slipknot, a little Korn…
Habit is the main body of work you have out so far. Would you say the new album is a continuation or something completely different?
It’s different. But it’s definitely a continuation because it represents growth. I wrote the EP when I was 15, and most of this when I was like 17, 18. There’s a lot of emotional growth; I don’t really feel so bad for myself anymore. And I have a way different outlook on relationships. I don’t wanna make this about being gay or whatever, but I was pretty closet-y when I wrote Habit, and it’s pretty obvi in the songs. And that comes with being a little older. I’ve been in more relationships, I’ve just seen more things and I’ve dealt with more. Musically, I spent a lot more time constructing guitar parts which is cool. It’s totally a guitar rock record.
I’m so excited that it’s a shredding record.
It is really shreddy, I’ll warn you.
Tell me about that. How was it to make? Did it feel liberating?
Yeah. I’m a guitar player first. I only started singing so that I could play guitar on stage and do something with it by myself and not have a band. But playing – like shredding – on the record just felt right. I didn’t really do that on Habit. In the overdub sessions for the album, in my eyes, the record was done. And our producer was really serious about making it the best it could possibly be. He pushed me in the right direction – you know, I love Television and Sheer Mag.
I fucking love Sheer Mag.
Sheer Mag’s my favourite band!
Riffs! Riffs are important to me. But, making the album, I was thinking I didn’t want that to be a Snail Mail thing. And then our producer was like, “well why don’t you just fuck around?” And then he hit record. There’s one song and I think it’ll be a single, and the first take had a fucking insane guitar solo. And it’s really exciting to me because it was a moment where I was having fun, but it ended up being perfect for the record. This album is more interesting to listen to. I wrote Habit for fun, and this one I wrote with more of a focus on making something that I was proud of and could personally endorse. It’s different. I wrote it with a different mindset.
I read an interview on Pitchfork where I thought the way you described the EP, as a “sigh,” or exhalation, was really interesting. There’s something amazing about making a whole song describe a few seconds: that’s what I got from “Static Buzz” for example. Can you speak on that?
That’s exactly how I see it. And I’m glad that people are hearing it and picking that up. This record has a lot of those – taking a step outside of those moments and reflecting on them. And Habit is pretty much entirely just existing in those moments and writing the song as quickly as I could to reflect that. And I definitely was super outwardly emotional and sporadic when I was 15. You can tell. “Static” I wrote on an airplane like, whatever I was feeling – I don’t even know, but I was really feeling it.
It seems like music is a really natural mode of expression for you. Has it always been?
I was a classical guitar player. I took really intense guitar lessons, starting at age five. I practiced two hours a day. I don’t take lessons anymore because I’m kinda busy, but I was in the church band, I did jazz band at school, I played for all the plays in high school. I started doing Snail Mail for fun. I wrote the songs not intending or even really wanting anyone to hear them – not because I was embarrassed, just because I was like, “this is for me.” Our first ever show, our friend set it up for us. It was with Sheer Mag.
That’s a pretty good first show!
It was cool, it was a fest. Screaming Females played too. I got a band together and played that one show, and we never talked about staying together or anything. But at that show we were talking to Sister Polygon about recording, so then we made that DIY tape, we went down that route. Then we booked our own tour, and went on our first real tour with Priests, which was cool. Immediately after that, we just went for it. There’s been different band members but it’s pretty solid now.
Do you write with the guys or by yourself?
I write by myself. The guys write their own parts, but I kinda work on their parts too. They’re all really competent and awesome musicians but I am a little bit of a control freak. I attended every single day of mixing, which I know to some people it’s the standard, but for a lot of people it’s not because it’s really fucking boring. It’s like 12-hour days. After months of recording, I went to New York for two weeks, and sat there with the guy, in the room with a computer, and he said things I didn’t understand. And when he would show me his treatment I would just go in.
But it has your name on it in the end.
I think if you’re not in control of literally every single thing, you’re making a mistake.
I think that with women, especially young women, you get a bad rap if you’re precious about your shit.
Yeah. It’s really annoying. I have a lot of friends who are women in music. And I hear them get shit on, and see people being like “bitch...” out of the corner of my eye, when all these fucking dudes are difficult too. They’re so difficult. Working with dude musicians has like, been equally, if not more difficult. Not my guys. But you know. Everyone’s serious about their music, but it’s like women aren’t allowed to be.
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