Inside Issue #24: An Interview with Snail Mail

interview by Francesca Impastato
photos by A Klass


Anyone that has ever spent time working in a studio knows that after thirteen-hour days of intently listening to music, when you finally get to leave for the night, the last thing you want to do is listen to more music. However, this past June, two days before my band would head to Baltimore, Maryland to record our own record, Snail Mail’s debut record Lush was released and I found myself not having enough hours in the day to listen to it. Songs like “Heat Wave”, “Stick”, and “Anytime” instilled a sense of queer longing I hadn’t felt since originally discovering Tegan and Sara’s So Jealous. For this reason, I was eager to have the opportunity to sit down with Lindsey Jordan at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss the in’s-and-out’s of Lush, and the lessons she’s taken away from touring thus far.

I want to start with talking about your use of pronouns lyrically. I read your interview with Liz Phair recently and you mentioned using “she” pronouns and feeling more comfortable using them but there are no she pronouns on the record -

Well there are “he” pronouns being thrown around that refer to this other guy that someone is dating. The pronouns are flowing free without there being any “she’s”.

You also refer to a couple of characters as “babe” and “my love” throughout the record and I’m interested in hearing about how you land on specific pet names to use while writing.

I think the song “Full Control”  is kind of condescending, but there are new Snail Mail songs I’ve been writing where I use “babe”, but I don’t use it very literally. I also use babe in a very loving way; I like that word a lot but that song itself is very condescending. Bob Dylan -- I’m not going to compare myself to Bob Dylan -- but he uses it in a way that’s a little bit of a bold and dismissive way. He uses “babe” in his break-up songs sometimes and I feel like I was just listening to a ton of Bob Dylan at the time and I think that’s where it stems from. I personally use babe in real life that’s not condescending.

It could be though, if some guy came up to you and was like, “hey babe” I’d definitely leave.

But I would never talk to someone I cared about like that. It’s not as warm as calling someone “your love” or “honey”. Babe, it’s just kinda cold.

Dang, that’s definitely one of my favorite breakup songs in a while.

So you said that there are new Snail Mail songs already - when you’re setting out to write a full length do you write songs and then pick the best ones, or do you write with themes and a sense of cohesiveness already in mind?

I feel like it’s more of the former, I just write and write and write until I have enough songs that I want to keep. Themes seem to crop up and I tend to stay within those natural thematic circles. But yeah, I more just write until I have the songs that I want to use and then stop.

When you were working on these songs are they usually done when you bring them to your bandmates or are they ideas that you flesh out as a group?

I pretty much finish them before I bring them to the band.

Do you give them part ideas and then they put their own touch on it?

Alex, Ray, and I are pretty collaborative when it comes to full band writing I just tweak it a lot. I usually let them run free and then critique it until it’s what I imagined it being.


So if you had all these songs finished, what made you take “Stick” from the Habit EP and put it on Lush?

I wrote that song really close to when I recorded it, and I usually like to give songs many months to grow and to be changed.  I didn’t really give it any room to breathe. Then we started playing it live for a year or two and I noticed a lot of room in the song for cool production techniques. It just sounded way more expansive and cool. I had the idea of re-opening the conversation and working it out to see if it was usable and I sort of felt like it ended up being this whole other thing and I wanted to give it an opportunity to shine.

Since you brought it up - was Third Eye Blind an influence on your use of open tunings?

I actually didn’t know they used opening tunings until you just told me. I do like them though and this song is on our pre-show playlist.

So who did influence you to use open tunings?

Grouper records when I was in my early teens. Nick Drake and Mark Kozelek.

Not American Football?

No, I never had an American Football phase but I appreciate them.

You’ve been touring so much recently and are the only gay person in your band, do you ever feel drained not being around queer energy?

I think it’s funny because Alex and I are neighbors and some of our romantic pursuits intertwine. I don’t know how to say it, but I actually feel like I can relate to them a lot because we’re all interested in women and there’s not a lot of “interested in men” energy in the band.  Actually, in a way, I can relate to that more. Only because I grew up with Alex and Ray and Ian is my friend from home so we all grew up together in a very organic way. I really choose to surround myself with them. I hang out with a lot of non-men on tour, I have a lot of friends that I see along the way at festivals and stuff too. But as far as boy energy, I love the ones that I surround myself with.

I totally get the importance of having a really strong tour support system. I love touring with the guys in my band too.


You played hockey, right? What was that like?

It was [formative], it was all I knew because I did it for so long and then chose to stop when I was a junior in high school because it didn’t really fit my personal interests anymore. I’ll always love it I just didn’t like being around those people all the time. You also need to dedicate so much time to it, it’s a really vigorous sport and I had other stuff to do. I just figured it wasn’t that important to my mature life but it was still a big part of my youth, and a big part of who I am.

I did street hockey in a league when I was growing up -

Yeah, I did too! In the third grade.

I did in the fifth grade and I was put on defense and someone hit the puck off off my shoe and it went into the goal which was scored as an own goal or something - and all the guys on the team made me feel so terrible about it so I never played again after that which is such a bummer, but definitely a huge character development.

It’s a really young age for that stuff to be happening, sports are hard. Young boys are super intense.

Okay - enough about sports, back to music.

Do lyrics or music come first while writing?



So do you just have an idea and then whatever you’re feeling at the moment are what the lyrics are about?

I write the entire piece and arrange it, then write a vocal melody and lyrics which usually just come to me. I’ll start with a theme or an idea or emotion and build off of it but the whole song comes first.

I feel like a lot of the musicians I know or talk to are kind of the opposite. They’ll write a poem or something and try to attach music to it eventually.

I’ve only ever done that once.

Is it a song that’s out?

Yeah, it’s “Static Buzz.” - Man they need to turn off my playlist so I can focus.

How’d you pick songs for the playlist?

Oh man. The playlist is really long just because we have to listen to it every night on shuffle. We went on a tour with a band that only had ten songs on their playlist, and we were on tour with them for so long and it was insane. I put a lot of new bands on because I just wanted to spread the good word.

What new bands?

Well this is True Blue. Then there’s Alvvays, Dean Blunt, Princess Nokia, Sheer Mag, John Mouse, George Fitzgerald. There’s a Spongebob thing on there.

I’m happy you brought up Spongebob so I didn’t have to. Best show ever.

Totally, very formative.

I’m really bummed because I just moved here from New York so I won’t be in town for your shows with Alvvays. They’re great.

Oh no! They’re so good live, they don’t mess up at all it’s insane. We saw them at Coachella where it’s impossible to play a good set -- it’s not impossible but it’s just a weird environment. Festival soundchecks are very limited and all the bands we listened to that we knew sounded kinda off, but Alvvays was perfect and I was blown away.

You’re playing Madison Square Garden soon. Do you ever feel like you’re not taken seriously when you walk into these huge venues?

I think we are, like you mean by the staff?

Yeah. Do you feel like if you’re overly confident employees are standoffish?

I think when you’re the opener for a big band you’re not supposed to strutting like you’re really confident. We’ve made that mistake before where it really puts people off. For the most part, we get a lot of respect, it’s all about how you carry yourself and just demanding respect with your posture and being polite to the staff. Literally just being like, “this is what I’m here to do, set my stuff up, do it and then take it down” and people really respect that. As far as people in the crowd, I have no idea. I’m sure there’s disconnect because people aren’t there to see us but sometimes they are. It’s all about doing your thing and not really worrying, as long as you’re not being arrogant. I believe it’s a fine line and it’s possible to be arrogant. There’s certain things that we don’t do when we open that we will do when we headline and you know, just the way you carry yourself on stage when you open rather than when you headline is different. Being respectful when you play for someone else's audience is something and it’s a different set of manners and etiquette.

How was playing Coachella?

It was great, I love Coachella. The food is really good, the bands are really good. We got to see friends, hang out and party. We also got to be in California for the week between the two which was cool and then just did it again the next weekend. I got to see Beyoncé and got paid for it, it was sick.

see the whole issue here.