Lindsey Jordan is adrift in a sea of stylish people and grilled poultry.
More specifically, she’s somewhere in Brighton, at a “barbecue dance party” being thrown by the video streaming service Vevo, and she is very amused.
“It’s sort of like… I guess people in England say posh?” Jordan tells me, the sound of the stereo and crowd rushing in around her. “It’s sort of a posh event.”
The Snail Mail singer and guitarist takes a moment to observe her surroundings. There’s a wall covered in ivy. Above her, an impossibly bright screen shows bits and pieces of music videos. Everyone is wearing black, white, and navy, and as she relays this, she realizes that she too happens to be wearing black, white, and navy.
“I’m blending in pretty well,” she notes with some satisfaction.
Jordan is in the midst of Snail Mail’s first tour outside of North America in support of Lush – her band’s debut LP, which is slated for release on June 8, a full three weeks from when we’re talking. But with three of the album’s singles out in the wild, plus last year’s reissue of the Habit EP and an endless stream of profiles trumpeting her arrival, she’s not having trouble generating interest across the pond.
“I’ve been really pleasantly surprised with how much people like Snail Mail in places that aren’t, like, Maryland and L.A.,” she says of the U.K. jaunt. “Everyone over here knows all the words, and all of the shows have been poppin’. I’m having a really good time.”
Jordan recorded the aptly titled Lush – a stunning, complete record that’s equal turns emotionally bare and biting – in upstate New York last year, then temporarily relocated to New York City to finish and mix it, but she has since returned to Ellicott City, where she lives with her parents. As has been noted ad nauseam, Jordan is still a teenager. (Prior to our call, her press team sends over a “Commonly Asked Questions” document, which preemptively answers inquires about being 18 and a woman in a band.) Despite her youth, though, she’s already dispensing knowledge like a seasoned vet.
“You have to have a good time while you’re doing interviews – it’s not that hard,” Jordan informs me. “It’s like, tell them what you want on the plate right before you get on the phone, and then steadily eat it while you’re on the phone. I mean, I’m sort of dancing right now, but I’m also having a conversation.”
What kind of place is Ellicott City to grow up? How important was having the Baltimore arts scene – and maybe to a lesser degree, D.C. – in your orbit?
I actually have really strong feelings about Ellicott City. I love it. I don’t intend to stay there forever, but I think I’ve had this narrative thrust upon me that I was this teen trying to escape the suburbs. But I was always really well adjusted in the suburbs, and I played sports… I don’t know – I liked my teenage years in Ellicott City.
I got a car and I learned how to drive the first day I could possibly get my license, and my parents are really cool, so I went to shows all the time in Baltimore and D.C. Even prior to getting a license, they would drive me to concerts and drop me off and, like, stand in the back so they wouldn’t embarrass me. I had a nice little upbringing.
I was so close to those cities. Well, we’re not that close to D.C., but we’re still close to Baltimore. I think Baltimore fosters a really creative scene with some really amazing, inspirational artists, and D.C.’s got that amazing punk scene going for it. I was really lucky to be between two really vibrant scenes at the time. I was able to see such a great variety of different types of music and sort of be exposed to everything early.
And Ellicott City is really underratedly beautiful. There’s a nice little historic district where everyone would gather. And there was a 24-hour Dunkin’ Donuts, so I can’t really complain.
I read an interview where you remarked, “All my bandmates are like, ‘New York’s slimy,’ but I’m very pro-New York.” Then, in a subsequent Q&A, you said, “I lived in New York for two months, and I hated it so much.” What happened in between?
I just fell in love with New York during all the time I got to spend there for Snail Mail stuff. I got accustomed to being there. I was really interested in going out every night, and there was always something to do. I had so many friend groups there. I was like, “This would be so fun, and this is the time in my life when I get do this to myself.” I always thought it would be cool to be youthful in New York City.
I moved there because I was going to be living in a hotel for two months to do overdubs on the record and mix it and stuff, so I was like, “I really love it, why don’t I just live there?” But once things started to pick up and be really busy, I realized that I missed the serenity of the suburban isolation and the quiet. I mean, it’s so loud in New York all the time. I physically felt like I couldn’t find any solace. It was too tense. And I was traveling so much and paying too much for rent that I was like, “This isn’t really conducive to writing the next record or getting what I need to get done.”
I just wasn’t really that happy going out all the time. I started blowing people off because I was like, “There’s too much to do.” It wasn’t really my thing, but maybe one day.
There’s been a lot written about how Snail Mail went from a relatively unknown, young project to a sought-after act in a short amount of time; that all of a sudden a lot of people were knocking on your door.
We were really fortunate that our first big show was kind of a crazy one, but I also booked a DIY tour for the first ever tour we did. I played a good amount of my friend’s house shows. It picked up fast because our real first tour was with Priests, and on the first day, right after that “Thinning” music video was out on the internet, somehow I had agent offers and a really big feature coming my way.
But I was playing a lot of house shows and supporting a lot of bigger bands once they came to D.C, and so I think it actually was a lot more listener-powered and hard-work-based than a lot of people think. But it did happen really fast. People early on just had a emotional connection to the songs. People were really passionate about it. Luckily, it just took off really fast.
Outsiders have a sense of what that wooing process looked like in the music industry’s glory days – something that was catalogued in last year’s Meet Me in the Bathroom – but what does that courtship look like in 2017? Is it just a bunch of fancy dinners?
That’s exactly what it looks like. I think you got it down.
The reason that we went with Matador was because they had a lot to offer, and their legacy is really great, and their scene is really good. They just impressed me. There were a lot of factors at hand, and a lot of decisions to be made, and a lot of dinners with a lot of different people, and I really took my time to make that decision, and it just ended up being Matador, which I’m pretty satisfied with.
Whenever a rock artist has classical training, that fact always seems to worm itself into their profiles. At the same time, you’ve remarked that sometimes the best guitar records are made by people who don’t necessarily know their way around a guitar. In what ways do you think your training and background in theory has manifested itself in Snail Mail?
Most people don’t know this, but Lush was written almost entirely in standard tuning. There are only a couple of alternate tuning things going on.
But a lot of music theory knowledge came in handy in the studio and during the writing process. We have French horn on “Deep Sea”, which I arranged. And all of the auxiliary instrumentation and harmonies are sort of a nice result of understanding music theory – or at least it was easy because of that. Not that anything was easy, but it just makes your brain work differently, in the way that you look at writing and working in the studio.
Some people would consider it a leg up, and other people consider it a creative block. I see both sides. I definitely think you can come up really creative, amazing, pure music without a background in music theory, but I also think it helped me on my journey. If I could rinse my brain of what it has, I have no idea what it would be like – I’m talking from, like, no experience – but I felt like it was really helpful to me.
You’ve discussed how your favorite guitar players have distinctive styles – a personality that can be easily recognizable. How would you describe the character of your own playing?
I think it’s very disciplined, but also I like to keep it kind of loose on stage. Up there, it’s very all over the fretboard and all over the place.
I’m so inspired by so many different styles of guitar playing. I spent so much of my youth learning other people’s guitar parts. I spent so much time in my room practicing. I’d like to think it’s all over the board – not the fretboard in this case, but in variety. I can play most of the guitar on Marquee Moon, and I spent a serious amount of time learning that at some point in my life, along with other classic rock and metal stuff, but at the same time, I also feel like I’ve utilized classical guitar finger work a lot, especially writing the next record.
Yeah, I like to think it’s disciplined, not showy, but also sort of loose and all over the place in a live setting – maybe not on the record.
Speaking of finger work, “Let’s Find an Out” was an interesting choice for the third single. Were you excited to show that side of your playing off? It’s a song that stands out on Lush.
I didn’t choose it, so I don’t know, but I was excited that it was a different one, because there are a couple weird ones on the record that don’t blend with the singles – and that’s my favorite song on the record. I thought it was a good choice, but I wasn’t expecting it.
Given that the past year must feel like being shot out of a cannon, what have been the most surreal moments for you? Moments, maybe, where you’ve thought, “I was in a classroom this time last year, and now I’m here.”
Right now is pretty crazy. Like, right now – calling on the phone from the Vevo barbecue, because it’s like a dance party barbecue, but I’m also, like, working.
The Liz Phair thing was really cool and unexpected and crazy.
I don’t find myself being that shocked by things around me, but being in England right now is insane. I know we’re going to Iceland pretty soon for Iceland Airwaves, and I imagine that’s going to be crazy – that’s one of the ones I’m most excited for.
And there are weird little in and out where I realize that I’m, like, doing something. I don’t always think about it, but sometimes I’ll be like, “Holy shit, how am I here?” It’s a really wild business and world, but it’s really fun and cool, and it has lots of ups and downs but the ups are really high.
And I think those moments where you’re like, “Holy shit, how did I get to England?” – those are the best moments.