Rising indie rocker and recent high school grad Lindsey Jordan (a.k.a. Snail Mail) has been playing clubs since she was 15. Now 18, she’s set to drop her superb debut, Lush, on June 8. She chats with essayist (and fellow teen) Anna Koppelman about music, love, and self-confidence.
“I am a true secret normie,” whispers Lindsey Jordan, as she clicks through a list of Mario Kart characters at the Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center in New York City. At the age of 18, she is by far the oldest person in this arcade, which is rare for the rising indie star, who has been performing in clubs and dive bars since she was 15. After releasing her first EP, Habit, as a sophomore in high school, Jordan signed a contract with Matador Records and has since been traveling around the country with her band, far away from her home of Ellicott City, Maryland.
While Habit paints Jordan as a girl trapped by every trope of suburban life, an outsider in an otherwise cookie-cutter world —“Everyone thinks I hate suburbia because [Habit] sounds like it,” she says, “but I actually love it ”— her debut record, Lush (out June 8), marks a newfound freedom. What may at first sound like a conglomeration of angsty high school love songs, quickly shows itself to be an album of vulnerability. In her music, Jordan may be lovelorn, hopeless, and pointedly melodramatic, but more than anything, she is attempting to find a truth about her own existence.
I’m 18 and have spent the past 10 years attempting to figure out what makes cool kids cool, from hiding my secret but very real affection for Harry Styles to trying on different outfits (ripped jeans, leggings, over-rimmed eyeliner; my teenage years have been like one of those bad makeover scenes in a Disney movie). But no matter how many new looks I try, I have never been able to crack the code. I care too much, and everyone knows that the number one rule to being cool is acting unfazed.
Which is why, when I first met Jordan, I was awestruck. She constructs her coolness out of empathy, not apathy. Jordan cares about writing, and rewriting. About reading and the way words function on a page. She cares about melody, and the girls her songs are about. She cares enough to fall in love, and get heartbroken enough to not only write about it, but sing her pain to crowds.
“I just think cool is, like, being smart, having a lot of interests, knowing what you’re talking about, and not being an a–hole,” she says.
There seems to be a quasi-“cool revolution” going on. Young people are no longer rewarded for indifference. Instead, we are marching in the streets, leading the conversation on gun reform, running for positions of power, and reaching goals older generations couldn’t. In this “coolness revolution,” crossed arms and rolled eyes are out, and passion is in. Standing as a symbol of the movement is Jordan, guitar in hand, band behind her, ready to sing.
Below are excerpts from our conversation:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I feel like part of the tragedy and beauty of being a teenager is that you are bound to make colossal mistakes, or go through times of serious doubt and self-questioning as well as joy that get erased as you grow older. In your songs, you make those moments permanent. How do you deal with knowing you’ll always have these artifacts of how you felt?
JORDAN: It’s hard to embarrass me, so when I look back at songs I wrote when I was 13, I feel nothing. I like to be able to look back and see clearly at a time and know how I felt and reflect on it and revisit it. I’m glad I have such a clear documentation of who I was. It almost guarantees that I am growing as a writer and as a person.
You sing a lot about love, and the pain love can cause. How did you become comfortable being so vulnerable in your music?
When I write, I don’t think about the perception of my music. I more look at making something I’ll be able to sing with conviction every night. I’ll sometimes finish a song and afterwards be like, “It’s not genuine enough; the emotions are there, but they aren’t entirely mine.” And whenever I feel like I’m emulating something or making up some narrative, that’s when I can the song. That’s the only way for me to not feel like I’m going crazy.
Has anyone come to the show and realized you’d written a song about them?
I remember this one song, we played it for the first time and everyone in the band was like, “Oh no, oh my God, oh my God, it’s so obvious that they know.” I was like: “Whatever, they know that it happened.” I was just laughing. It was hilarious. That’s what the song is, it’s about you: know thyself. If she didn’t realize, I’d be concerned for her self-awareness.
Have you ever regretted writing about anyone?
Someone was like, “Are there any songs about me on this record?” I feel like I put in cement myself being stupid and that’s what some of those songs are. I think that’s what gives songwriting at this age a lot of charm. I kind of like looking back and seeing how much I’ve changed. There’s nothing better than songwriting for me. I can use [it] to express an exact emotion, because there is so much that goes into it. It’s so much deeper than lyrics, and there’s so much that changes about music for me. I will look at a melody and say, “I would never write that now,” but I still respect the old me that did.
You’ve talked extensively about your writing processes before, and even in your lyrics you are talking about how it feels to care. In a culture that kind of rewards apathy, do you ever feel a conflict between caring and being cool?
I love going to shows and seeing people who are huge fans. At [South By Southwest], we went to see one of the bands who are really big just for fun to check out what’s going on. It’s so cool to see people dress up. Fangirl culture is sick. Everyone thinks it’s super hot to be unfazed and it’s so lame.
It takes a lot of security to show that you care. How did you develop the confidence you have?
I’ve always been a really self-assured person — bold as a kid, played hockey on the boys’ team, had to have a strong sense of self to be the “other person in a crowd.” I would go to rock camp and it would be all boys. I felt like I always had to make room for myself and be confident or else you would be trampled on. Music is the same thing as hockey: You need to have a strong sense of self and know why you are doing it.
When did you realize you saw the world differently and needed to express it? When did you realize you were an artist?
I started playing guitar when I was like five. I maybe realized I was an artist when I was 12, which is when I started writing songs. I was definitely a tomboy — a cargo pants-wearing little athlete freak. I was always a writer, or a reader, being someone who spends a lot of time with books and working on my craft, which has been guitar my entire life. I think I just wanted to be a part of that spear.
You’ve graduated high school, you are touring around the country playing music, you are getting older, and soon you won’t be a teenager. Are you excited? Or terrified to let go of all the teen angst?
I feel like I am a bubbly person. I am usually psyched. I love being on tour, I love playing music, I like to keep the complaining down but when I feel it, I like to be the angstiest bitch ever. It’s traveling with me into my young adulthood. I am so ready to be done being a teenager. I hate having those black X’s [that clubs and bars put on your hand when you’re under 21]. I am not in a hurry and I am not scared and I’m not clinging onto it for dear life. I am in a good place right now. I’m chilling.