On March 26, 2022 singer, songwriter, guitarist, and frontwoman behind the Baltimore-based band Snail Mail sat down with KALX’s own Exhibit A, a couple days before her concert at the Fox in Oakland. Photos by Addie Briggs.
The two discussed getting back into touring after 2 years away, recovering from vocal cord damage, and Snail Mail’s new LP “Valentine,” which came out on Matador on November 5, 2021. Lindsay Jordan first broke onto the scene with Snail Mail’s 2016 debut “Lush,” and she took her sophomore album “Valentine,” in a very different direction. Jordan discusses this, how she chose music over college, being in a DIY band, her advice for other young musicians, and her passion for being a film bro. Check out the interview below for more Lindsay Jordan!
You just finished playing at the Treefort festival in Idaho. How was it?
I was scared of that show for so long cuz I hadn’t, we hadn’t played in what, two and a half years, hadn’t played in three years, and i had just gotten that surgery, like I had only just started singing two weeks before the show or something like that
Yeah that’s super scary. So it had been two and a half years?
Yup, and the show was really scary! It was fun. I mean, I get real shaky when I’m like super nervous, so I was having a hard time playing the guitar. I kept missing things, my wrist was like, ugh. I was definitely on edge. It was funny, we were headlining a stage, so it was a big show, like lots of people. And it was outside, which is a whole new set of challenges.
Kind of a new ball game?
Well, it’s a separate set of challenges. We did the festival thing for a while, but it’s different than the inside thing. You know, it’s cold, you gotta work with that. But it was cool, it was fun. By the time it was done, the whole time in my head I was clenched and when it was over, I just felt really zen. And I continue to feel zen, it’s gonna be zen.
Kind of like riding the high a bit?
Totally! but the vocal thing, there were a lot of complications with that.
What festivals had you played before treefort?
A lot? You played Primavera in 2019?
Yeah, we’ve done all the Primaveras except Brazil, we’ve done Coachella, we’ve done festivals in Japan, festivals all around Europe, all around the U.S. I couldn’t even begin to tell you. Our drummer is like, a human spreadsheet. He would be able to tell you.
I know you were supposed to tour Valentine (Snail Mail’s 2021 album) in November, and it got pushed back because you were having vocal issues. What was it like during your
vow of silence? Did you pick up any new hobbies? What were you up to?
I played a lot of guitar, just cuz that’s just my default. Practicing as much as I can makes me less anxious for like, said thing coming up. I couldn’t sing, which is the thing that makes me most nervous. I mean, speech therapy takes up a lot of my time anyways, going back and forth to the upper east side to the hospital, which was a trek. It’s like a four hour total, two hours there two hours back type of thing.
Could you talk? Or was it truly like a vow of silence?
No, like even if I made sound, nothing came out. The thing is, I had to be really careful about COVID because it could have been really… I waited to get omicron, I was like, ‘I have to wait till I’m at a point.’ So I was in a bubble, my girlfriend couldn’t come over for a while, cuz I was like, you know, I have to be so careful. It was miserable. I mean the silence thing is metaphorical. It’s heavy. It makes you feel so powerless and small, like there were so many things. It was really hard. It really made me think a lot about so much stuff.
There was a moment when I had moved into a new apartment, and at the time I got locked out, and I was by myself, couldn’t call anyone, no one was answering their texts, it was freezing and I had to pee. I was just like “what do I do?” Even if I tried to make a sound I couldn’t. It was gnarly. In some ways, it was tight. Cuz I hate talking on the phone, I hate FaceTime, and so that was awesome. I had all this time, because I didn’t have to go to parties and bars and stuff. It was a lot of self-discipline, self monitoring and a lot of exercises I have to keep up with everyday. I’m still in the red zone technically, so I could still really hurt myself, so it’s really f–ed up.
Was your voice degrading over time? What exactly happened?
I’ve had those things on me since I was like a young teenager, I guess. So i’ve always had kind of a raspy voice
Me too, I could sing one song and then smoke one cigarette and then not be able to talk.
You might have them too. So many of my friends definitely have them, and just haven’t gotten them looked at. They don’t always need surgery, you can just shrink them. I only had to get surgery because I was on a schedule. In fact, I would recommend not getting surgery. Like, doing the exercises to shrink them instead. But I was like, I have to get back on tour, like that’s my money. They think I’ve had them since I was 14 or 15, and so that’s when Snail Mail started. So when I was like 15, in our first SXSW, I lost my voice after the second showcase.
You know Snail Mail used to be so (Wailing, WAHHH), in a way that it kind of isn’t on Valentine. Habit is so abrasive, screaming-singing. And playing so many basement shows for so long, where you can’t hear yourself, it definitely degrades (your vocal chords). I smoked so much weed, at the time unfiltered. That’s so bad for your vocal chords. Cigarettes are literally better. It is, the EMT was like, damn I wish you had been smoking cigarettes and not joints. Talking loud, there’s like a million things that do it. Just the combination of things. I was speaking in a way that was not healthy, I guess, smoking weed, singing for years and years on end in an unhealthy way. It got worse and worse.
And then eventually I saw a vocal coach who was a chiller. He was really cool, and wasn’t insinuating I was doing something wrong like all my other vocal coaches. He was like, “oh it’s not the technique, you definitely need to go to a doctor.” Cuz it was so hard to get notes out, it
was unpredictable, it was pitchy, It was crazy. Yeah, polyps
I’m glad you’re in the clear now, kind of, at least in the red zone
Yeah, on the porch!
So I know you are a self proclaimed, disgusting film bro. The Oscars were last night and it was a whole scene, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Do you have any takes on that, any favorite movies of ‘21-’22?
Ooh *Laughs* Any takes on that? I saw it and I thought it was fake, I wasn’t watching the Oscars. But then I was like, uhh I don’t think it’s fake. I mean the reaction, Will Smith, the way he was like “don’t talk about my wife.” and the way Chris Rock was like, that also seemed legit to me. I had a friend that was working on the production of the Oscars, and he said nah, they wouldn’t do something like that
An insider! But what about the actual movies, did you watch any movies in 2021 or 2022 and was like, this was good.
Yeah, I’m a movie man! I haven’t seen what won and what didn’t, but I loved “Drive My Car.” I saw The Worst Person in the World, even though I’ll never watch it again, it was too sad. I loved Licorice Pizza, I thought that was so good. What an actress! I was like, “Go forth.” She was awesome. I saw Titane (2021), which, I fell asleep. There are certain kinds of gore I can’t look at, and when she gave herself the abortion, I was like “Ahh!” I closed my eyes so hard I fell asleep. I was going like this in my chair, and then I ended up drifting off. And I woke up at the end of the movie, so I can’t really say I saw that.
I feel like it wasn’t an amazing year for film, I wasn’t like “wow, outstanding” and I’ve felt like that the past couple of years, I’m kind of also a big film bro
Yeah. Well, what was there year where the movies were crazy, it was like Call Me By Your Name, and like..
And Lady Bird! Like 2019? I feel like that was the last outstanding year.
That was fire. I’m like, that was last year right? I fell asleep during the Dark Knight or whatever, the new Batman
I also fell asleep during the new Batman!
I was also maybe expecting something more, and I also don’t like superhero movies.
Ok, so, let’s talk Valentine. What were some of your biggest inspirations, direct or indirect. And then, going into it, what did you want to take from Lush and what did you want to leave behind?
I felt really pigeonholed towards the end of Lush. I really resent being placed in a genre because of my gender. It drives me insane. That was something that I was really conscious of trying to escape, which kind of sucks. Looking back on it,I feel like it’s not where I want my head to be when I’m writing music, I just want to be focused on me. I feel like, in my head, I was like, I don’t want to be this sad girl thing.
Sad girl, soft rock. It is such a niche, and I feel like it would be very suffocating almost, because it’s such a brand.
It is! And I don’t think really all the women in the same category have that much to do with each other. I just think it’s like really weird. I’m just like, I could sound so much like this other band too, but it wouldn’t even get a comparison because there’s not like a woman singer.
Cuz they’re not like indie female bands?
It’s so annoying, I’m just like, ugh bro. You know, whatever. So there’s that. Towards the end of Lush that was driving me insane, like enough interviews about that. I was like, I will literally start making hip hop, like anything, just stop. I’ll start making jazz. But, inspiration? I was listening to a ton ofjazz, a lot more serious. Like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson. A lot of hip hop, and R&B honestly, I love MF DOOM. It’s funny, it’s not like a direct inspiration but I just feel like my music kind of changed alot taste. It stayed the same, too, like always listening to a ton of Nirvana and Oasis. But yeah, a lot of R&B and just like, pop. I was reading a lot.
Do you have a favorite MF DOOM Project?
Uhhhhm, No. Do you? No, I don’t want to pick.
I like “Take Me to Your Leader”
Yeah I don’t want to pick. He’s the s***.
I listened to a 3.5 hour podcast on him when I was driving up from spring break, and it’s crazy how deep the characters in his universe are. Every single one has a specific personality, a way they interact with other characters. It’s insane.
I was just thinking recently, I wish there was a full feature film about it. Like a documentary, a full one. I’ve been scouring the Internet forever, you know I’ve seen tons of Youtube videos. But I’d be really into a full doc, you know.
Yeah its all kind of underground, so it’s not mainstream enough to get the funding for a feature.
But, I’m like, it could, it totally could.
Obviously you’ve been into music since you were super young, but did you ever have an aha moment where you knew that this is what you were gonna do with your life?
Yes. Well, I have always had them, I feel like I’m a little manifester. Anything I have ever wanted career wise has just landed. And more to come in the future, which is exciting.
When I was little, I was playing sets at bars with my parent’s friend’s band. I was like 8 or 9, shredding. And adults would always come up to me and be like, you gotta follow this, and I was like ‘I know.’ I was never the child that was like “I’m gonna be a rock star and you’ll see,” but in my head, I was totally like “I’m gonna do this for a job.” That kind of got beat out of me by highschool, I was like “there is no point.”
When I was in 5th grade, i remember I was like “i’m gonna be a rockstar” and this girl was like “everyone wants to be a rockstar” and I had this one clear vision of being like, yeah that’s true.
Like “damn she’s right.”
So in high school, Snail Mail, you know I had some songs on Bandcamp, and the goal of the project for me was I just wanted to play house shows, because all my friends were playing house shows. And that’s what happened. And then real quick, it all just started to happen. And I’m really proud of that, because I don’t have any connections, I don’t have rich parents. Nobody did it for us, just like the people of Baltimore and DC were coming to shows just like “holy s*** this is awesome this band is cool” and we were booking our own tours, sleeping on basement floors at punk houses and stuff. And then enough DIY tours went by, and we started to have a fan base, and Pitchfork started to write about us. Yeah, that organic fit, I want to scream off the top of the rooftop that we are a DIY band from the beginning, you know, cuz I bet people don’t know that.
Yeah it was a diy band until senior year of highschool, I was about to commit to one of the colleges I applied to, I was like “maybe time to go to college” and I wanted to do that, I was gonna. We had like 9 or 10 agent offers, like 10 label offers, and hella manager offers too, and I was telling my guitar teacher at school about that, and he was like, “you should at least take a year off, because you can’t really do both,” and I was like, no I’m gonna both, because I wanted to live in New York, I wanted to go to college in New York, I was gonna do both. Then a week later I was like, “I’ll just do music.” And then, luckily, super luckily, everything fell into place at the time, where I didn’t have to make any super hard decisions. I’m actually so lucky for that
Do you have any advice for people who are young college kids such as myself, or even younger people that are trying to pursue something creative? What is the biggest thing you have learned, biggest piece of advice you could give us?
I have an important thing to say on that. I just think there’s a lot of emphasis on building the brand, on building yourself up before you have something to show. It’s a real 2022 thing to have a band online before they’ve even done a tour, or in a bus before they’ve even done a tour. I think the key really is just get out there and play shows. Even if you’re just playing basements in front of 10 people, to just like, write songs, and harness your craft. It’s really about that. You know Instagram, whatever look, whatever album cover, that doesn’t really matter. Work on the songwriting, that really matters
And then, I really think the truest purest– not to be a purist! I’m not trying to be a purist – without connections to do it, is just getting yourself out there, playing shows, being on flyers, just meeting people, talking to other bands, just getting yourself out there. I don’t even know if that’s still the way. I think the internet is such a tricky wormhole. I think doing things on Tik Tok, trying to make things trendy, I don’t think that’s sustainable.
I agree. It’s such a 2022 cultural thing to try to commodify yourself before you are even good enough to commodify yourself. Being like, maybe it will land.
Yeah, it’s like, I don’t want to come off, like an ick, but songwriting is definitely the most important thing. Yeah. That’s the advice.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me!