The Future of Indie Rock Is Safe In Snail Mail's Hands

Photo courtesy of Matador Records
Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail represents the future of indie rock.

I'm not sure what you were doing when you were 18, but Baltimore's Lindsey Jordan is in the midst of possibly the biggest year of her life. The singer, guitarist, and principal song writer for the band Snail Mail, has a pretty full plate including her debut release on Matador Records, and multiple tours that she'll trek across the globe on.

Possibly one of the most impressive backstories you'll ever hear about, Jordan has been playing guitar since the age of five, she dropped her first E.P. with Sister Polygon Records before touring with Priests, and Mary Timony of Ex-Hex was her guitar teacher. But the bio aside, Jordan herself is a delightful and impressive person, who seems like one of the best artists to get handed the keys to the future of indie rock, and America as well. The Houston Press spoke to Jordan ahead of Snail Mail's appearance in Houston on March 16.

There's a charismatic energy to Jordan that's hard to deny. From the outside looking in, Snail Mail has one of those stories that feels a little hard to believe. Knowing how small knit the D.C. punk scene is, it was still crazy to think that her first show was with Sheer Mag and Screaming Females, and that she was easily either amazing or lucky when getting her start.

"I think we got some cool opportunities and we got to be around inspiring people. They were really good to us and there was a lot of great circumstance," Jordan says. "I got Mary as my guitar teacher, well, I dunno. I was between teachers and over the years I had done jazz band, I played music for the school plays, church band, and I had a friend who had her as her teacher. She's around and she's really cool, and it just happened."

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Snail Mail is definitely a band to keep an eye on this year.
Photo courtesy of Ground Control Touring

When you catch Snail Mail live, you can't help but notice that Jordan is a shredder disguised; the way she plays shows an artist who could easily go harder than she is, and she plays her guitar like it owes her money. We were curious as to who she was inspired by because of that. In many ways, her playing is reminiscent of the works of Johnny Marr, Keith Levene of P.I.L., and John McGeoch of Magazine.

"I grew up spending a lot of time getting my picking skills down, and it feels natural to hone my skills as a player," she says. "I'm into Television, Red House Painters, Sheer Mag, Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn as well as John Fahey."

Her debut release, Habit came out on Sister Polygon, the label owned by D.C. punk band Priests and was written when Jordan was just 15. "I went to a lot of punk shows and the members of Priests are around. Katy is really cool and I was really close with everyone in that band. When I was getting my bearings they were really cool to me. They helped me get together the songs for the E.P., they made sure I had the right number of tracks for it, and were even like, 'we'll help you put this together' from the start," says the guitarist.

Watching Snail Mail perform, or even listening to their Audiotree session, it's obvious that Jordan sings with her full heart. There's a heft to her songs that comes across in spades, something that makes anyone wonder how the songs can still carry such a weight so many years after they were written. "Well, a song like 'Thinning' doesn't really do anything for me, it never really did. But I just try to focus on early reflections no matter how many times I play something. If I can get back to what I was feeling when I wrote something, then it's great and that's what's coming across," says Jordan.

This year, Snail Mail will release a new album with famed indie rock label, Matador Records, home to acts like Spoon, Car Seat Headrest, and Julien Baker. "I had a lot of resources, and it was difficult to scale it down to even four or five labels. I looked at how Matador operates, the fact that they seem to keep their hands out of the creative process, all things that made me excited to go to there. I'm a fan of all of the bands on the label, everyone who works there is really cool, and all of what they bring to the process made them an easy choice," she says.

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Snail Mail should have quite the 2018 with multiple tours and a new record.
Photo courtesy of Ground Control Touring

The new album, due out this year is rumored to be a real guitar focused release, shying away from what the band did on Habit.  "It's not Habit 2.0. The songs are super different and it's a lot warmer. We worked with Jake Aron (Solange, Grizzly Bear) and Johnny Frank as engineer. I took every meeting I was offered and we really connected with Jake. His ideas and where he comes from really stood out. The record isn't crazy far from the last one, but it was just nice to have the resources to match the sound in my head and make it cool and straightforward. I'm not a fan of effects, I like a real clean tone. I just wanted the cleanest sound without having to go to great lengths to get that sound."

The last time Snail Mail played Houston, Cleo Tucker from Girlpool brought out a cake to Jordan, and got the whole room to sing happy birthday to her, before joining the band onstage to sing "Thinning" with them. When we asked if the band's plan was to perform primarily the new record on this tour, and how she planned on topping that last appearance, she said "that show was the best night of that entire tour, so I don't know if we can top that. Whether it's a headlining spot or a support set, we can pretty much play everything we have. We have a new guitar player making us a four piece, and it sounds really good. Back when we were a three piece, I'd do things like hit my Earthquaker pedal and it'd be really clicky or too muddy. As a four piece, I don't have to worry about that anymore. Maybe I'll do something crazy at the show."

Whether Jordan does something crazy or not, you'd be fooling yourself to think Snail Mail's appearance here in Houston was a show worth missing. You can stream Habit in all of the usual places, or order it directly from Snail Mail here. You can catch Snail Mail in person when they play with Shame and Bat Fangs at Satellite Bar on Friday March 16. The all ages show has doors at 8 p.m.; tickets $12 to $14.