Indie Rockers Snail Mail Transition from Opening Act to Headliner

click to enlarge Indie Rockers Snail Mail Transition from Opening Act to Headliner
Michael Lavine
Lindsey Jordan isn’t your typical 19-year-old. Sure, she grew up in the suburbs, played sports, went to parties, graduated from high school and plays in a band, but she couldn’t be further from your average American teen.

Her full-length debut, Lush, is one of the strongest indie rock debuts in quite a while, and she was profiled by every publication from Rolling Stone to The New York Times. The album recently debuted at No. 46 on the Billboard Top 200 chart.

During our phone interview, I have the pleasure of informing Jordan of the latter accolade for the first time, while she and her band were driving through Iowa in their tour van. “That is so cool! Jesus! Wow…OK cool! Wow! That’s really exciting," she says. "I can’t wait to text my dad and mom about that!”

Her response was one of the rare cases in which she actually sounds like a normal teenager, and much like her songwriting style, her pure, emotional reaction is anything but vain.

Jordan will bring Snail Mail’s raw, astute indie rock musings, melodic guitar know-how and bewildering level of emotional intelligence to Cleveland on Sunday, July 29 at Beachland Ballroom with support from Long Beard.

Growing up in Baltimore, Jordan learned guitar when she was just 5 years old and later played under the guidance of one of the '90s most influential guitarists, Mary Timony (Helium, Ex Hex). In 2016, Jordan put out her first release under the name Snail Mail in the form of a six-track EP called Habit.

The EP began to draw attention and soon enough, Jordan had record labels competing to sign her and she was faced with a big decision: to go off to college or play music full-time. After she received a generous offer from storied indie label Matador Records, she decided that signing was a no-brainer.

Jordan wrote her first song at age 8, though it wasn’t exactly the glowing result she was hoping for. “It was an exact carbon copy of ‘Pieces of Me’ by Ashlee Simpson with different lyrics,” recalls Jordan. “Once I found out it was ‘Pieces of Me,’ I quit songwriting until I was 13 because I was so disheartened [laughs].”

When Jordan finally decided to take another stab at songwriting, she became enthralled by the process.

“When I was 13, I didn’t really have a songwriting style then; I was just writing what came to my mind,” says Jordan. “It was very unoriginal, but I realized I really loved it. Then, I kept doing it and by the time I was 15, the songs that I stuck with, that I was like ‘these are my songs and I feel like they represent me,’ those were the songs on Habit.”

Guitarists and songwriters such as Kurt Vile, Steve Gunn, Liz Phair, Mark Kozelek, Marnie Stern and, of course, Timony inspired her, but she was keen on developing her own distinct songwriting style rather than emulating her heroes.

“All I knew was that songwriting had to be something that could only come from a place of wanting to create rather than wanting to copy someone else,” she says.

Her debut EP and her album certainly share some commonalities, but Lush displays clear improvements as well as the inevitable maturation that just comes from getting older. For one thing, Habit was recorded in one or two takes on what Jordan describes as a “really bad sound system,” which resulted in the EP’s rougher, lo-fi sound. Jordan still plays some cuts from Habit live, though she feels a slight disconnect from the song’s narrator.

“Halfway through the song, I’ll be like, ‘I don’t even know what I’m talking about here,’” says Jordan. “I was feeling something so distinct and specific. I remember being like ‘this is a feeling I’m feeling so hard and that will never leave me,’ but all of the songs still mean something to me in some way.”

However, Jordan had no ambitions to make a bedroom lo-fi album and instead, she aimed to make a perfect album with the best songs possible. The result is a flawless ten-track album with vulnerable lyrics, painstaking hooks, apparent melodic sensibilities and unforgettable choruses. Talk about all killer and no filler.

Though Jordan is immensely proud of her record, she’s well aware that you only get one shot at a debut album, and her meticulous perfectionism made the recording process tense at times.

“There were times when other brains came in with super good ideas, and I would just not go with their ideas because I [thought], ‘No that goes outside of my first vision.’”

Jordan protects her art in a caring, motherly fashion, knowing full well the potential of her songs, so it’s no wonder that authenticity is one of the first words that comes to mind after listening to her album.

One of the undeniable strengths of Lush is Jordan’s skillful vocal inflection that leaves you hanging on her every word as she pours her heart out.

“With Lush, it was a really jam-packed studio with all these different microphone options,” says Jordan. “I found the microphone that I felt really did my voice the most justice. We did like a billion takes before I found the take that I liked, and I kind of perfected the style on each song. I like to think all of them really have a different energy and emotion.”

The album’s three singles, “Pristine,” “Heat Wave” and Let’s Find an Out,” not only display her incredibly engaging vocal style, they also reveal her unusually articulate and emotionally intelligent lyrical chops. Though Jordan describes herself as a “100% hopeless romantic” (“It’s just like my jam!”), and she exudes unshakeable emotions, she doesn’t naively follow them to the ends of the earth. In her songs, she stops, acknowledges those feelings and ensures that she doesn’t lose part of herself, even if that spells heartbreak or pain in the end. One could casually listen to these songs and think of them as angsty teenage indie rock songs, but careful listeners will discover them to be vastly human songs and particularly affecting ones at that.

Snail Mail has definitely earned its stripes as an opening act, touring with the likes of Belle and Sebastian, Ought, Beach Fossils, Shame and Japanese Breakfast, just to name a few. Describing Snail Mail live shows as “earnest, emotional and pure,” Jordan’s happy to finally take the reins as a headliner, even though it feels a bit foreign.

“I still feel like we’re the openers, and we’re just metaphorically wearing big adult shoes that we stepped in,” she says.

She gushes about the response and energy from the crowds so far on their current Lush tour as they’ve played several sold-out shows. Her upcoming show in Cleveland was even upgraded from the Beachland Tavern to the venue’s larger ballroom due to the demand for tickets.

“We played Chicago the other night and the crowd was so energetic and there were little kids there, which was like my dream,” she says. “I just love playing for little kids. It was so sick. This tour has just been big Snail Mail fans and no one looking at us with blank expressions. Sometimes I can’t even hear my own voice because people are screaming so loud.”

Snail Mail, Long Beard, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 29, Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $14,
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