Friday, May 18, 2018
It's been a year since Lindsey Jordan found herself in the unique position of hiring a PR team during her senior year of high school, but the 19-year-old still hasn't gotten used to the seemingly endless adoration and attention given to her band Snail Mail. One recent afternoon, she camped out in the sleek offices of her label, Matador Records, for a nonstop day of interviews. "There was some European festival we were playing and I didn’t even know about it—I saw the flyer on Instagram," she recalled. "I was like, Why does no one tell me anything!"
When you've gone from having Mom drive you in from the suburbs to see your favorite bands play in Baltimore to regularly sharing the stage with those exact same bands within just a few years, a little disorientation is probably natural. Her newfound status as teen rock star will be further cemented on June 8, when Matador releases Snail Mail's debut album, Lush, which includes the single “Let’s Find an Out,” released on Wednesday.
Jordan first showcased her preternatural ability to the industry in 2016, when Snail Mail released their EP Habit—a “really over-the-top, melodramatic explosion of emotion,” as Jordan now sums up the angst of suburban adolescence captured in a guitar-heavy nutshell. Still, even in the thick of it all, Jordan showed self-awareness, peppering her lyrics with lines like “When I’m 30, I’ll laugh about how dumb it felt.” Indeed, the six songs, which made up just 28 minutes of music in total, managed to be strong enough to not only put the band on a rollercoaster of fame, but also sustain it for nearly three years. (“It’s been, like, chill,” Jordan said of the ratio of their comparatively teeny musical output to the nonstop press.)
Snail Mail's success is especially remarkable given that the band never intended to last: The group formed after Jordan—who’s been playing guitar since age five, and listening to bands like Beach Fossils and Future Islands since age 11, thanks to her early fascination with record stores—posted a four-song EP on Bandcamp, which she worked on in between roller skating through the halls of her high school and partaking in its “Feminist Club.” She only convinced two of her friends to form a band in order to see the group Sheer Mag for free, by playing with them—and just two weeks after their first-ever practice session.
“We were planning on parting ways after that,” Jordan recalled. But to their surprise, the band stuck: First came merch—T-shirts with the band’s name emblazoned across a hot dog—and then, much more seriously, Sister Polygon Records’ release of Habit, which included the standout single “Thinning.”
Predictably enough, by Jordan’s junior year, things were starting to get out of hand: She was spending more and more time in the principal’s office pleading for a few weeks off in order to, say, make Snail Mail’s debut at South by Southwest. Sure, Jordan got thrown out of her own show for drinking, which has become something of a tradition for the band—”They always let us back in to play, but then they make us get out before or after,” she said with a laugh—but it was also most definitely a business endeavor. They’d created such a profitable stir that the band had to hire “a whole bunch of people” because Jordan simply couldn’t keep up with her e-mail anymore.
Finally, a couple of months later, in May 2017, after missing “a crazy, f**ed-up amount of school days, like 50 or something in just my senior year,” Jordan somehow graduated—an accomplishment that pales in comparison to the rest of that year, which saw Snail Mail release their first-ever music video; gain the approval of Pitchfork, which declared Jordan “the wisest teenage indie rocker we know”; tour with acts as big as Girlpool, Waxahatchee, and Beach Fossils; book a Tiny Desk concert with NPR; lead The New York Times’ package “proving” that women are making the best rock music today; and, finally, sign with Matador Records, which “went into the abyss and back” with Jordan to make sure Snail Mail's upcoming album would be “completely perfect.”
Lush is also quite personal, but in a different way. Habit was originally “100 percent just not intended for anyone to hear,” and so much like “just writing in a diary” that Jordan found herself thinking, “Wow, if this ever got out, I’d be f**ed.” Essentially, she did it for herself, which is why she considers the EP to be “a personal milestone in pretty much every aspect”—fittingly enough for a prequel to Lush, which she considers to be “another real marker of maturity.” That’s true not just in terms of its focus on guitar work, but also through processing all of the pressure and “really weird situations” that writing Habit has led her to, including figuring out how to “separate all the weird hype and press from the person I am when I’m just alone in my room, writing, reflecting, by myself, with a guitar.”
It hasn’t escaped Jordan that she could have been more prolific in order to capitalize on the hype; she simply hasn’t wanted to. “I just want to make sure everything is as real and genuine for me as possible,” she said, pointing out that Lush is “definitely more gay” than Habit, which she wrote before she was out. “I didn’t really intend to make it a message or anything, but it’s nice to be able to write about someone and say ‘her’ or ‘she’ and not be worried about what my friends or family would think,” she continued. (For the record, everyone has always been “chill” about her sexuality; the only people she felt she officially had to come out to were her parents: On Christmas one year, her mom asked her why she wouldn’t marry her bandmate, Alex. “I was like, Uh, ‘cause I’m gay, and she was like, Oh, sorry,” Jordan recalled with a laugh.)
“Sorry”—albeit a sarcastic one—was also Jordan’s response when Pitchfork published a video of the band earlier this year, prompting many to angrily ask, “Why is she so young?” Still, Jordan would take astonished “She’s 12, and she’s a girl!” over “Teenage boys being like, You’re hot” any day—the type of reactions she knows will stick around even as the band grows more established and into the spotlight. She also has no illusions about how doing so will pretty much automatically disqualify Snail Mail from the DIY punk scene that its members grew up in, even though each of them still personally upholds its political, accepting values.
“We definitely aren’t a punk band,” Jordan sighed. She added, “I wish we were." (To be fair, she said, she isn’t writing punk songs—though she may do so “one day.”) As for the more immediate future, the album’s release will bring along a two-month-long tour with bands like Belle and Sebastian, which will end with Jordan finally moving out of her parents’ house—and presumably staying as far away as she can from “nasty-a**, roach-infested New York,” which, being claustrophobic, she didn’t take too kindly to while finalizing the record. Instead, she’s thinking about moving to Asheville, in North Carolina, or maybe even to Durham. I asked her if there was even a music scene there, which prompted her to laugh and admit, “I don’t think so.” Maybe now there will be one.