Arts & Culture

Lindsey Jordan is Ready For Her Close-Up

The Snail Mail singer and guitar shredder talks music on the eve of her debut record.

In 2017, everyone wanted a piece of Lindsey Jordan. The Ellicott City high school student had just recorded a raw, reverberating EP with her two childhood friends in their small-town garage, and in a few short months, it seemed like every publication, festival, and fan now knew her band’s name. As the new whiz kids of indie-rock, Snail Mail performed SXSW, graced The New York Times, set up shop behind an NPR Tiny Desk, and arguably became Pitchfork’s favorite act of the year, all before recording a full-length record.

That day is finally here, with June’s debut Lush—a robust coming-of-age album full of refreshingly genuine emotion and ’90s-era guitar—and Jordan’s life shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. In between photo shoots, music videos, and cross-country tours, we caught up with the 18-year-old singer-songwriter-guitar-slayer during a visit home to Maryland. Catch her band at the Parkway Theater on July 12.

Your life is crazy these days. This year alone, you’ve been to SXSW, toured the U.S., and released two music videos. You still live in Maryland, though, when you’re off the road?
Yeah, in Ellicott City! I’m kind of in-between deciding if I want to live on the West Coast, North Carolina, or in Baltimore City. I’m really torn but at this hopeful crossroads.

Do you find coming home to be rejuvenating?
It’s incredible. It’s the best thing ever. I have a really nice routine. I sleep in and make food. I go to the gym in the morning, then this coffee shop right next to my house called Bean Hollow, where I just read. I go roller-skating when I have time on Thursday nights at our roller rink. I write songs. I love traveling but it’s so good to have time at home.

When you’re not home, how do you stay grounded? 
I find the process to be humbling. It’s been fun and terrifying and busy, but aAll the publications and travel and attention are pretty secondary to how everything actually happens. At the end of the day, it’s just me in my room, writing songs. Everything’s down to my discretion. The most important part is the songwriting and the performance. So much goes into just knowing yourself and being a genuine writer. But if you really believe in what you’re doing and actually care about the music, everything goes pretty smoothly.

Your interest in music started at a young age. How did you come to find the guitar?
I asked my parents for a guitar and lessons for Christmas when I was 5. I have very vague ideas as to how that came to be because it was such a long time ago. It may have had something to do with the movie School of Rock, and I really liked Avril Lavigne. But once I had a guitar in my hand, I discovered Paramore, at the age of 8, which is still my favorite band today. Paramore was the first band I knew that was led by a woman. I was so into all those Warped Tour bands and didn’t even know that girls were allowed to be in them. But my sister took me to their concert and I remember so clearly having this big moment.

Growing up in Maryland, did you go to a lot of shows?
I went to a lot of shows in Baltimore and D.C. as a tween with my mom. She’d go and stand in the back so as to not embarrass me, which is really sweet. But I was always an avid music fan. I remember being really young, watching MTV and VH1, and copying whatever my older sister was listening to. I went to rock camp and played in the jazz band and the church band and school plays. As I became a guitar player, I reallydove into music so that I could have even more to play. A lot of shreddy stuff, because that’s the kind of player I wanted to be.

You mentioned that you still write when you’re home today. What is your process?
I write really sparsely. I don’t write on the road; I only write when I’m fully alone in my house and feeling absolutely inspired or in the mood, or else it feels like I have to do it. With the last record, I had to actually sit down and write because I was running out of time and didn’t have enough songs. Nobody’s put a deadline on me for the next record. I’m fully planning on taking as much time as possible to make the best thing I possibly can. I don’t want to spoil the process for myself. It still feels like a really magical thing.

There’s been a lot of magic in the air, including a recent interview with one of your favorite artists, Liz Phair. It must be pretty cool to just have casual phone calls with some of your idols.
It’s just cool to have that around you. I don’t find myself drooling over anybody or being anything more than just humbled to be around musicians who I’ve always respected and admired. It’s been especially amazing to experience the album-making process. I’ve learned so much. There are so many things coming up that I don’t think I ever would have had if it weren’t for this opportunity.

You’ve been friends with two of your bandmates—Ray Brown, on drums, and Alex Bass, on bass—since high school. Is it nice having them be a part of this with you?
I really love and care about them and I’m so glad that they’ve been able to take time off school to do this. We brought this thing from the ground up, all together, and it just feels right. We all really support each other. We love going out to breakfast together when we’re on tour. We’re as close as can be. It’s so natural and nothing is forced about it—or anything with Snail Mail for that matter. Everything still feels really homegrown.

Now that Lush is about to come out, how do you feel?
I’ve actually never felt crazier in my entire life. Well, when we were making the album, I probably felt a little crazier. But it feels like you’re about to go down a drop on a roller coaster. I love roller coasters, but I’m still kind of scared. At the same time, I feel ready to share it with the world. I can’t wait to play it live and have people know the words. I still really believe in all of these songs and I wouldn’t change a single thing if I could.

You’ve talked about the frustration that comes with being considered a “female guitar player,” rather than just a “guitar player.” Does that still bother you, and how do you balance that with the pressure to own your femininity in the midst of the #MeToo movement?
I do think we’re going through a really cool time in music, but I don’t necessarily feel like I’m proud of being a woman. It’s just who I am. There’s a lot of “you go, girl!” energy out there right now, and in a way, it’s kind of infantilizing. It puts forth this idea that girls are born with an actual disadvantage. In music, young girls are not encouraged to play the guitar, and I definitely grew up in gaggles of boys, struggling to figure out what it meant to me to be a musician and a guitar player and where I stood in the equation.

I don’t necessarily involve my private life in my public life, not because I’m ashamed of it, but because it doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with my music. At the same time, I am openly gay, and if that allows me to be a beacon of representation for people, then that’s good to do. I’m comfortable talking about being gay and being a woman if that means something to someone else. If that can mean we’re making strides and that my daughter one day will be able to be in a band and not just be the “female guitarist,” then that’s great.

You’ve now sold out the Ottobar and WTMD and, soon enough, the Parkway Theater on July 12! Do you consider yourself part of the Baltimore music scene like we do?
I definitely used to be. If there was a show, I was at it, like every single day as soon as I got my license. I followed all the DIY and punk bands and was really into local record shopping. Now I don’t get that much time at home, but I watch it from afar and have lots of local favorites—Romantic States, Outer Spaces, Post Pink, Celebration, pretty much anything Jana Hunter has ever done; I have all of her Lower Dens records. It’s still really important to me. I’m really excited to play the Parkway.