Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan is Not Your Hannah Montana
People really like to make a big deal out of the fact that Lindsey Jordan is still in her teens — 18 to be exact. As if it’s unbelievable that Jordan, a.k.a. Snail Mail, could write and play the guitar the way she does without a few more rings around her proverbial tree.
The Maryland singer is herself flummoxed by this enduring characterization, this worship of a perceived precociousness. In fact, she just wants readers and listeners to know her as a songwriter, not some suburb-trapped teen aching to hit the big time, a nouveau Hannah Montana for the Pitchfork crowd.
She’s not in high school anymore, she stresses, and she actually still lives in suburbs. She’s happy with the pace there, the lazy trips to 7-11, playing guitar in her room — her teacher is Mary Timony of the band Helium, among others.
Although Jordan has dabbled with half-cocked neighborhood bands and played guitar since age 5, Snail Mail is her first project — one that she put together after falling in love with the D.I.Y. music scene, where she soon became a mainstay. She’s played with the likes of Sheer Mag and Screaming Females. Her first EP, Habit, came out in 2016 via Washington punk band Priests’ Sister Polygon Records, after which she was signed by Matador Records. Her gorgeous and appropriately titled debut LP, Lush, is out now.
Consequently, we are honoring Snail Mail this week as our newest TIDAL Rising Artist. Check out an interview with Jordan below, as well as a playlist of her favorite tracks later in the week.
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Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote?
Yeah. I think I was 7. I think it was just a ripoff of that Ashlee Simpson song ‘Pieces of Me.’ I think I even stole a couple of lyrics. I had my childhood best friend, Sarah, play drums on it.
Did you have any bands when you were a kid, before Snail Mail?
Yeah. There were neighborhood boys that played guitar and drums. I was always in a one week-long-lasting band. I don’t think there was ever really a name that stuck. I know there was something that had the word ‘experience’ it. That’s all I can remember.
I know you’ve been playing guitar since you were like 5, which is awesome. What’s the earliest memory you have associated with music?
I don’t know, I think I always sort of had a knack for it. Once I picked up guitar, a couple of weeks after taking lessons, I think I just realized it was something I really enjoyed perfecting and working on. And I just always would set little goals for myself and I would practice with a friend guitarist.
I would practice for two hours a day. I’d learned to read music. I was classically trained. And then I did jazz band in high school and middle school. Once I picked it up, I knew that it was just something I could keep on fine-tuning and perfecting. And I think that that had an important role in growing up for me.
Speaking of guitar teachers, your teacher now is pretty awesome. What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned from Mary Timony?
Mary’s taught me a lot outside of actually playing an instrument. She knows a lot about how the music world goes.
I know you’re younger, and I know people really like to point that out in articles. Why do you think that is? Why do you think people are so fixated on how old you are?
I think everyone’s obsessed with this idea that I’m living a double life that I’m not. I literally was on the phone [with a writer a] couple of days ago and they were just like, ‘Wow, how in the world are you going to do your homework right now?’ And I was like, ‘Well, I’m not in high school… I graduated last year.’ I don’t feel like things are that much different [for me as a musician]. My experiences are not that much different, other than bars treat you differently.
I feel like I’m in this weird transitional part of my life where I could go in any direction. And having the opportunity to find out and play music now, it’s so exciting. I would love to keep doing it as much as possible. The idea that I could get pushed into a different path, do this for awhile, take a break, do something else, come back to it, is really exciting to me.
So, aside from music, what are your other interests? What are some of the things that if you were to take a break, you would dabble in?
I’m a really avid reader. So I had a fantasy of getting into writing in other ways, other than just writing music. I’ve never had any interest in my life to be a teacher. But it would be cool to take some writing classes or something and do that on the side or take a break and do that.
I know you talk about the suburbs a lot in interviews. Did growing up in the suburbs and living in the suburbs — did that ethos — affect the way you write music at all?
I think that it shaped me as a person in a lot of ways. People who grew up in the suburbs have different experiences and expectations from the world and sometimes different hurdles to jump over. In this weird way, if you don’t do anything about it or your parents don’t kick you out, you can just sort of whittle away there and not experience much outside of it. Everything is sort of right there.
I know a lot of people personally that don’t have any interest in expanding their knowledge of what’s around them. I don’t know; I hung out in the city a lot when I was younger, and now I like to travel. I was never part of this narrative that got thought up somehow [by writers] that I was feeling really trapped there and wanting to get out and live my big city dreams or something.
I’d just go to the mall with my friends and go to dances and stuff. I was never too discontented from living there. And I lived in such close proximity to Baltimore and not too far at all from D.C. I was always happy to play sports and hang out at 7-11. There wasn’t actually that longing to get out that I’ve been portrayed as a songwriter to have.
So if you were to write an introduction to an article about you, and you weren’t going to talk about the suburbs or the fact that you went to high school recently, what would you talk about?
That’s such a good question. If I were to write an intro … I guess, what I actually think is important about me is that I’m a songwriter. I feel like, as a songwriter, I’ve never really tried that hard to be overtly new or reinvent the wheel. I’ve always seen myself as someone making songs that I like and want to play every night. I think songwriting is probably the most important thing about it for me. I really value taking my time to do it, making music for myself.
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