Singer-songwriter Lindsey Jordan, who brings her indie rock solo project dubbed Snail Mail to the Agora Theatre at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, says she always wanted to be a “a superstar English student.”
“That was like my thing,” she explains via phone. “I had to be the best writer in class, always,” says Jordan, who first picked up a guitar at age 5 or so and wrote her first song “successfully” at 13.
“When I was little, I always wanted to play guitar. It was like my huge passion. The two only came together later,” says Jordan. “It always felt crazy to me that people were able to write songs. Like it always felt like this impossible thing, and then one day I was like, ‘I should probably just try.’”
Now, songwriting is Jordan’s favorite part of her profession.
“It’s cathartic, it’s awesome, and I fucking love it,” says Jordan.
Although Snail Mail is officially a solo endeavor, Jordan still plays every show with her trusted bassist Alex Bass and drummer Ray Brown, with whom she began her professional journey.
“We were a tried-and-true DIY band,” says the 22-year-old, “We were like playing basements and booking our own tours and sleeping in punk houses and stuff.”
Jordan says that the grassroots of Snail Mail, building themselves up on their own without any industry connections, is what she is most proud of.
“We were originally on Bandcamp, but I think like our real shit took off because of real life,” says Jordan. “We were playing so much.”
Brown was the “teenage organizer” behind the countless house shows Snail Mail played in the early days. It started with shows in and around Jordan’s native state of Maryland and progressed as Snail Mail built a national audience. Eventually, all the hard work paid off and labels, agents and managers began to reach out with offers during Jordan’s senior year of high school. The timing was perfect.
“I look at my friends who have like, you know, done the college thing and are now looking for careers that have to do with their majors and stuff and I’m like, ‘How did I escape this?’” Jordan says with a laugh.
Snail Mail released its sophomore album, Valentine, with the independent label Matador Records last year. Jordan is incredibly nervous to take the stage and sing her heart out each night, especially as she’s dealing with the fallout of surgery to remove vocal polyps.
“Re-learning [how to sing] has really been a bitch,” says Jordan. “I’ve been talking my whole life, I’ve been singing my whole life, and all of it is, you know, not ‘the healthy way.’ So, I’ve been working with a speech therapist. It’s very intense. I have to do a lot of upkeep, like steaming my vocal cords, and stretching my tongue, and like doing all this weird shit to like my upper palate.”
The setlist had to be re-arranged to accommodate Jordan’s new, healthier way of singing.
“I’m adjusting to a completely different vocal range,” says Jordan. “All of the songs are in new keys. Like they’re all higher, which is crazy. I don’t have that same rasp anymore.”
On top of her vocal recovery, Jordan is dealing with the added stress of this being Snail Mail’s first tour in two-and-a-half years. But none of that anxiety compares to the stress of playing the songs she wrote as she was on an emotional roller coaster.
“A lot of [Valentine] really is about the same girl,” says Jordan.
One song that hits especially close to home is the stripped-down break-up ballad “Mia.” Jordan shares that she shed a few tears while performing it on the tour’s opening night in Boise, Idaho.
“’Mia’ just kicked the shit out of me; I knew it would. Even, my mom was like, ‘Uhh, I love that song but how are you gonna play it every night without crying?’” says Jordan. “I wrote it in real time, like as some shit was happening, and then I played it for the girl that it was about the day after I wrote it, like in her room, like in her face. It was like such a real moment. And that’s why it’s so devastating.
Much of Valentine, including the title track, along with Jordan’s favorite track, “Automate,” were written as she was facing emotional obstacles.
Valentine also features some more reflective songs that Jordan wrote after she had processed some difficult emotions, such as “Forever (Sailing),” “Madonna” and “Ben Franklin.”
Sonically, Jordan has branched out more in her songwriting as her music taste has expanded. Today, she is influenced by everything from Japanese City Pop to jazz and R&B, along with her old trusty influences like Oasis.
“I was like, ‘Indie rock or die,’ in the beginning,” says Jordan, “[Now] I think that if you have a genre in your head when you’re working on something, it automatically limits you. New genres will never exist if we don’t genre bend.”
One thing Jordan won’t compromise is trusting herself to write songs in her own time, without co-writers. Jordan says that she can only write when inspiration strikes, and she knows she could never meet a deadline. This organic process yields the purest results.
“It’s really hard if you like sit down and you’re like, ‘Alright, today I’m gonna contribute to the album,’” says Jordan. “That makes it really hard to write cause it’s like, ‘Shit, it better be just as good as ‘Pristine’ [a popular up-tempo track off 2018’s debut album, Lush]. It’s a matter of just sitting down and doing it, and being like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna write a song. I’m gonna work on something and if it ends up on the album, word. If it doesn’t, word. It doesn’t matter; it’s all creative.”
Jordan is the solo credited writer on every Snail Mail song, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m just like, damn, this is such a gift that I have this job,” says Jordan. “I might as well be a whole artist about it.”