Indie-rocker talks high school ice hockey, roller derby and making a highly anticipated new album in her teens
Before her band Snail Mail released an EP that got her signed to Matador Records a few months after graduating from high school, Lindsey Jordan had a different plan.
Early in her high school years in suburban Baltimore, Jordan played ice hockey, and while she liked the sport, her teammates often made it a miserable experience. “When I was 15, I was talking about quitting hockey because I hated it,” Jordan said recently by phone. “I played forever, but I hated the people I played with. They were just the worst alt-right boys of all time. By the time I was a junior in high school, I quit.”
After hockey, Jordan got into roller skating and hoped to join a roller derby team, but the rules required her to be 18. But now that she's 18, Jordan has a few other things going on. Like touring the country.
Jordan first started playing guitar when she was 5, practicing classical guitar for two hours a day. “I was just really into it,” she said. “The music store had this rule that you had to be a certain age to take lessons, but they made an exception for me. … Nobody in my family plays music. I really shaped all my own music tastes and destiny and shit.”
Later on, Jordan also took guitar lessons from Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag, Ex Hex), and at 15 she formed Snail Mail, an indie-rock outlet for Jordan's ennui-laden pop. Early on, Jordan's band performed at a festival alongside punk band Priests, which released Snail Mail's debut EP, Habit, on its Sister Polygon label.
“I was writing all the time, but those [songs] were the ones that I wrote with the intention of putting them all together,” Jordan said. “I wanted to make a collection of songs, but I didn't think it would get put out or anything.”
Even though the songs are only three years old, Jordan said that stage of her life feels like ages ago. “There's some angst on there I don't really have anymore. I'm almost a completely different person,” she said. “I've been through a lot since then, especially with doing music all the time. I've grown up a lot.”
Still, even though Jordan is most excited about her newer songs, she said she can still relate to the emotions in Habit songs like “Thinning,” which finds her singing, “I wanna spend the entire year just face down and on my own time/I wanna waste mine.”
“I can remember what it felt like to write those songs. I remember exactly what they're about,” she said. “But those lyrics, the themes, even the way they're written — the form, the melodies — they're just so not me anymore. But I have a lot of respect for who I was then. I can still play them and do it with conviction.”
The new Snail Mail album is done and slated for release sometime this year, and Jordan said the record is more diverse than her previous outing. “I was obsessed with form when I wrote Habit. I had a really hard time arranging, and that is something that doesn't bother me anymore,” she said. “I [also] developed a lot as a guitar player and have been writing more guitar-focused music. I really like listening to intricate guitar players.”
Jordan admitted that trying to finish the record was “a nightmare,” partly because of the new pressures she felt from recording and releasing an anticipated album. While the songs on Habit weren't originally meant for wide release, the new songs come on the heels of praise from outlets like Pitchfork, NPR the New York Times and others. The raised profile also means Jordan is often surrounded by aspects of the music business that she previously never thought about in relation to her songs.
“It is overwhelming,” she said. “It feels like sometimes you're this icy business person … and then you're making these songs that are ripping out your heart and being vulnerable for people. To me, that's what is really important in a song — being vulnerable.”
Though Jordan said she wouldn't trade roller skating for making music and touring, she hasn't completely let go of her roller derby dreams. “I actually just got new derby skates,” she said. “It's something I do when I have downtime. I always try to find skating on tour, and it's surprisingly difficult to find. The hours are weird, or it's a dance night, which sucks if you're trying to get out there and shred.”