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Snail Mail Just Wants to Chill

Lindsey Jordan was inarguably one of the biggest things in indie rock this year. After her 2016 single “Thinning” and her folk-twinged 2017 Habit EP, the then-17-year-old, who records as Snail Mail, had already found herself in an intense spotlight, with multiple labels bidding for her music. But that was nothing compared to the reception for her 2018 full-length Lush, a triumph of sunlit guitars and incredibly forthright lyricism. The press lauded her as a wunderkind, and not without merit—having studied guitar for 13 years, she has a unique knack for churning out immaculate riffs and fiercely catchy solos. Her defiant rasp might belie her youthfulness, but it helped round out the picture of a pint-sized rock powerhouse.

Along with widening the critical acclaim came touring, endless stretches of it: to Europe (three times), to Asia, and now, back in the States. It would be enough to exhaust a seasoned musician; for her part, Jordan holds tightly to simple comforts—television, books, ice cream—that offer a moment of peace on the road. When I reach her by phone in early December, she’s doing just that: chilling in a hotel room and watching a show about puppies. In these moments, when she’s distracted mid-question by the “palm-sized” pups on screen—it would be easy to read her, in the words of Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, as “a goofy kid.”

But Jordan is a continuous surprise, weaving effortlessly between the energy of her youth and the cultural references of someone a decade older. She is obsessed with Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, for example, but she’s equally enthralled by David Carr’s grim, disturbing memoir The Night of the Gun. Speaking with her, it’s easy to feel the infectious curiosity in her voice, the desire to keep pushing forward to the next book, the next record, the next tour. Jordan has big plans for 2019, the year in which she enters her twenties. Some are strictly for her own benefit, while others could be on the bucket list of a musician twice her age. For Lindsey Jordan, 2018 is just the beginning.

It must have been hard to be on the road so much this year. Did you ever get used to touring, or was it always pretty exhausting? How did you find comfort on tour?

I don’t think you ever get used to it. It’s really emotional, it’s really exhausting. Even my friends who do this tour who are older, nobody ever really ever gets their footing—you have to roll with the punches and you have to sort of be able to bend with your environment, which is really hard. You sort of either adapt and adjust to home life again or you’re kind of waiting for the next tour.

And it’s kind of a weird way to live, because you don’t really have anything at home after that. Your whole life is on the road, hanging out with the same five people in your crew. It’s amazing and I love it, but it isn’t something that I feel like I’ve ever figured out how to get used to. I feel like every time I have to approach it in a new way specific to whatever kind of person I am at the time, and where I’m at in my life. It’s always different. You definitely miss out on things, and as a result you get new experiences that other people don’t get. But it’s hard not being with your friends. It takes a toll. But it has its own rewards and I love it for its own reasons. I feel like I haven’t really figured out how to make it work for me yet.

Did you learn anything about yourself or what you need to feel okay on tour? You tweeted about missing peanut butter—just small things like that.

I love peanut butter.

And it’s really impossible to find in Europe!

Fucking Europe, dude. I don’t know. I try to cope as little with dessert as possible, because that’s my go-to. You can only really have so much ice cream and cake. And that’s like my favorite thing. I call my friends a lot. I’m always on the phone. And I’m sure it drives my band crazy, but I’m literally just always on the phone. I read nonstop. I just kind of burn through books. And I just kind of always have my headphones on. It’s kind of like synthetic alone time. And if you can kind of zone out and channel yourself into something else, it can keep you from just sitting and doing nothing with your crew members. And as long as you can not fight with each other and be supportive of each other, get your coffee, get healthy food, and then get as much sleep as you need, I think it’s okay. I’ve kind of learned a lot about reading and how much I love listening to music. My pace has changed so much just because I spend so much time with headphones on reading a book. And I actually kind of like that time. And how important it is to keep your friends close.

What are you reading?

I actually just finished Horse Crazy by Gary Indiana, it’s just a really amazing love story about New York and the AIDS epidemic. I’ll read anything that’s gay, pretty much. Now I’m reading The Night of the Gun by David Carr, which is about a reporter who’s in the past struggled with drug addiction, and he’s got this one event that all these people in his life recall differently, where he turned a gun on his friend. And in his recollection, he’s never owned a gun, he’s never held aggression towards this person. He disagrees completely with everyone else about his life, but so much of it is gone because he’s been addicted to crack and heroin and stuff. It’s really interesting and well-written. I’ve kind of just been burning through it.

What are you listening to when you’re putting on headphones?

I’ve been listening to a ton of Elliott Smith, just really diving in. I’ve been a fan since I was in middle school and just recently I’ve kind of delved in. I listen to Tierra Whack a lot, that record Whack World is really good. It’s like the best thing I’ve ever heard. Lots of John Maus. I just found out about this band Pia Fraus—they’re really amazing. I really like Duster right now. The new 1975 record. That’s where I’m at.

Do you have any time on tour to write or record yourself?

There is time to do it, sort of. But there’s not alone time, really, so I’ll end up kind of not. Sometimes I’ll take a pen and something I’m reading. There’s a really new song that I’ve been working on and I’ve been able to use a quote from a book I really love, which is something I feel like I don’t often successfully carry out. More just like highlighting and sort of journaling and coming up with things that could be used for songs. But I really can only work when I’m completely by myself.

Next year is going to be big for you: you turn twenty! What do you think it will mean to you to be in your twenties and no longer be a teenager?

I’m not sad. I’m ready to go there. But I also think it’s kind of scary. I’ve heard from my friends who are in their thirties that your twenties are a time where you have to figure things out and it’s really hard, and that kind of freaks me out, because honestly I don’t have anything figured out. I definitely am hoping to get a place. I lived in New York for a second, but I ended up moving back in with my parents because I was like, “I can’t handle this.” I’m excited about it and also a little scared for what’s to come. I’m excited to have time to write, I don’t have a lot of time off in the coming year.

You’re also playing Madison Square Garden with Interpol in the coming year.

It’s true, yeah.

When you were first starting out, did you have goals or aspirations to play a certain venue? MSG seems like a classic one.

Literally MSG. Because I own the Justin Bieber movie on DVD. And the whole pinnacle of the movie is when he plays Madison Square Garden, so as an impressionable eight-year-old, I was like, “Well, if I want to make it, I obviously have to play MSG.” Somewhere in the back of my subconscious I’m like, “Okay, yeah, MSG.” It’s funny. To me right now it doesn’t feel like anything because I’m so focused on like, today, tomorrow, and the next day. I’m sure once I get there I’ll puke.

So I saw on your Twitter that you were into The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which I just wanted to say, is an amazing show.

It’s insane. It’s insane! There’s so much going on, so much casual Satanism.

What else were you watching?

Honestly, my favorite show of the year has been, without a doubt, Sabrina. It’s so good. I was so glued to it. It just felt like some super escapey—it was so nice for really long car rides. It’s goth and it’s genuinely scary, and I think that Kiernan Shipka is a really great actress, she does a great job. I’ve been watching a lot of like, buddy comedies. I feel like once I started being on those really long plane rides where they have movies, I started downloading the movies where you don’t have to think and you can just enjoy it, like I Love You, Man, where you’re watching it and you don’t have to feel sad or scared. I think a big part of me, I love horror movies and I love things where you have to actually think, but when I’m on a plane I just wanna zone out completely and laugh at things that are stupid. I know we’re talking about shows, but I saw Suspiria, that was a big highlight of my year. I was kind of obsessed with it, it’s so good. I’m honestly having a hard time thinking of other shows right now, other than Sabrina.

You mentioned Tierra Whack earlier. Were there any other releases from 2018 that stuck out to you?

I love Tirzah’s Devotion. That shit… Oh my god, insane. We got to see her live in Madrid and it was life changing, it was so good. And then I really liked that Soccer Mommy record. I’m kind of in love with it, beginning to end. Every single song, I feel like I can personally connect to. They’re so good. The Adrianne Lenker record. I also loved Room 25 by Noname.

When you’re listening to new music, are you trying to actively avoid becoming inspired by it, or do you not care as much how you’re inspired in your own writing process?

I don’t really care how I’m inspired. I feel like I get really inspired by kind of everything. Also Mitski and the 1975, duh. I tried my very best not to directly rip anything off, and that’s kind of the most that I think about. Not wanting to be directly inspired by something. But otherwise, I like connecting with phrases or things. When you hear something or you read something and you can just feel something based off of a string of words, I think that’s something that’s really beautiful. As long as you’re not like, lifting it, I think it’s really cool to be inspired by things that are new. Because for a while, I was stuck just liking old things. I’m really glad that new things are making a connection with me and I’m glad that there’s so many amazing artists coming up now. I feel like that more than anything is kind of a blessing more than a curse. I feel really inspired right now by all the artists coming up around me.

Is there anything that surprised you that stuck with you?

That’s a good question. I don’t know. I liked the Clairo EP a lot. That’s hard. I really like listening to music that doesn’t sound like my own, because I think it’s cool to get inspired by things that aren’t directly like you, like something you’d listen to and go, “That’s exactly what I want to sound like.” But surprised, I don’t know. I think in the last couple of years, I’ve just been really excited about hip-hop and pop music, and I think there was definitely a time when I was looking to just listen to indie rock and folk and stuff. And now I’m excited by everything. I love the Ariana Grande record. I kind of just like music.

Cool, I think you’re in the right industry then. You’ve played with so many awesome people. Are there any goals or dreams that you’d love to set for next year in terms of performing or touring?

Well, it’s hard, because I feel like we’ve honestly kind of hit a lot of the goals. I’m really excited that we’re playing 9:30 Club [in Washington D.C.], that was a big one for me because I grew up going there. I kind of want to go to Egypt, I’ve seen bands that have done that before. I kind of want to do Alaska. I saw that there are bands that do college shows in Alaska. I kind of just want to make sure that we hit every continent. I think we will have at the end of next year except for Africa. I really want to play Thalia Hall [in Chicago]. We opened for Waxahatchee there a really long time ago, and that was one of my favorite venues we’ve ever played. So it would be cool to headline there. And then yeah, Egypt.

I think Chicago will be happy to hear they’re in line with Egypt. Do you have any personal New Year’s resolutions?

Oh my god, I’ve been watching this show about vets, and there are all these cute little puppies on the TV in the hotel room. Sorry. New Year’s resolutions. I kind of want to learn how to cook, I also kind of want to do a writing retreat in northern Italy. I’ve been talking about doing that for a while. You don’t understand, they’re like palm-sized puppies. I want to do more stuff with fashion, maybe something for New York Fashion Week.

Any labels specifically?

Yeah, I wanna work with YSL. I think they’re really cool. But I think that’s it.

Those are some great resolutions. Why northern Italy?

Um… I wanna get Call Me By Your Name’d. I just wanna chill by the water and write my record. I think that’s where I would be my most creative self. I wanna go somewhere super isolated and chill. I’ve been to Rome but I haven’t gotten to hang out in Italy that much, and I’d love to do that. We’ve played Europe so much, but we haven’t played Italy. So I just want to go there by myself and not do anything concert related, just write a record.

That sounds beautiful. I hope it’s very Sufjan-inspired.

Thank you. It will be. Oh, it will be.

Find more from Spin’s 2018 Year in Review here.