Snail Mail’s “Pristine” is pretty much an indie rock masterpiece

The incredible first single from Lush, plus an interview with Lindsey Jordan.

Photographer Mary Kang
March 21, 2018
Snail Mail’s “Pristine” is pretty much an indie rock masterpiece Lindsey Jordan

Truly perfect songs are hard to come by. By my own personal, biased, and not-at-all definitive count, this year there's been just three. The first was "Space Cowboy," a cavernously produced breakup ballad by the great Kacey Musgraves. Next came "Scorpio Rising," the slow-growing emotional anchor off Soccer Mommy's lovely new record. And now today we get "Pristine," the first single from Lindsey Jordan's first full-length as Snail Mail.

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Like the most affecting songs on her EP, Habit, which came out when Lindsey was still in high school, this one is long, technically intricate, and hinged on a series of melodic quirks. There are echoes of the project's most popular song here, but it also feels bigger than anything she's made before. "I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else," she sing-yells on the chorus, her voice raspy and full of personality. But it's the end that actually punches me in the stomach, when the guitars slow down. "Who do you change for? Who's top of your world? And out of everyone," she howls, as the tempo starts to quicken, "Who's your type of girl?"

The song is our first taste of Lush, which comes out on the legendary independent rock label Matador in June. Listen below, and then read a conversation with Lindsey about her meticulous writing process, industry slime bags, and her great new record, which will likely prove to be one of the year's very best.

What went into the decision to sign with Matador? I know there were several interested labels.

I just had so much respect for them. They are just such rock revivalists, and they have a really cool sense of what is genuinely good right now. I don’t feel like there are any bands on there that are trendy or riding out a hype cycle. It feels like everyone who owns that label, or works on it, are just super interested in things that will last. I really respect their style. I love Iceage and Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn. It was a big honor. It got to a point where I was like, I would feel like a shitty rock fan if I didn’t.

Last time we spoke you told me about how the sudden attention from the industry was disorienting, how you put a lot of pressure on yourself and weren’t sure who to trust.

I’d say there’s even less trust now [laughs]. I feel like a jaded old man. There’s sketchballs everywhere in the music industry world. It’s so disheartening to be surrounded by things that have nothing to do with your art. It’s real easy to get wrapped up in it and go down evil paths. There’s a lot of ways you can go wrong. So I just kind of keep my head down and care a lot about the songs. I feel one hundred percent different than the last time I was at SXSW. I take care of myself. I run everyday. I eat really well. Turn myself off in the car and at the hotel. I don’t really go out. I’ll sit in the green room with my book. You don’t have to be a big personality for everyone all the time.

What’s your book right now?

I just finished The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall, which is this classic lesbian novel from 1928. It’s really good — it made me cry, like, every page. Now I’m reading this book called Ending Up. It’s this pseudo satire comedy about all of these old people who are living in a retirement home together and waiting to die. It’s interesting. I like reading it in the car.

Lush is heavy, a little sad, and really romantic. What was going on in your life when you were writing it?

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Right after we finished Habit, I had written “Pristine.” It was maybe gonna be a Habit B-side. And then I decided that I wanted to put more time and work and revision in it. My self-editing process is really long. It’s like, months long. I need to spend a few months on it, religiously, all night, no sleep. And then I need a few months to come back to it. I really take my time. I made sure that the people who I was working with were understanding that one of the most important things about songwriting for me is having time to do it. I took a lot of care in not forcing anything. And so the themes are really representative of so many different points in time.

It is really romantic, and at times sarcastically pathetic. “Pristine” is really pathetic. I was kind of making fun of myself in a way because I was getting so enveloped in this one love interest and it was almost ridiculous. The chorus is obnoxiously melodramatic. I just tried to put that extreme oh my God if you don’t love me back I’m gonna die feeling that you have but you don’t want to outwardly express because it’s embarrassing. There actually kind of is a lot of that on the record, because that is who I am deep down. I’m so dramatic.

What are some of the individual tracks about?

They’re very crush-oriented. Very individual crush-oriented. Lots of relationships came and went through this record. Coming to terms with being gay. That’s not really what the songs are about, but I’ve felt a lot more motivated to be honest with myself. I could use whatever pronouns I wanted and no one would be like, “No way.” It takes a lot of the pressure off. I was never ashamed of it, but I was insecure about it being part of my public image. But now I just don’t care about anything, and I would hope that in doing so, maybe some other young gay teens could be like “Hell yeah, me too.”

Do you think people still assume you’re straight?

Yeah. I actually kind of like the anonymity, but I’m willing to give it up for a good cause.

You’re still living at home, right?

Oh yeah.

But you’re on the road…

...like 24/7. I lived in New York for two months and I hated it so much. I was so shook. My living experience was so bad that I’m taking a lot of time to re-evaluate where I want to live. I realized that too many cooks in the kitchen stuff really freaks me out. I like open spaces.

Snail Mail’s “Pristine” is pretty much an indie rock masterpiece Snail Mail  
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You guys are playing as a four-piece now. How’s that feel?

I feel great about it. Our new guitar player is the sweetest dude of all time. Live, it sounds perfect. He’s a really good singer so we’ve thrown a couple harmonies in. I love being able to fuck up and having a support system to fall back on. It’s not embarrassing, it’s just fun — I’m having so much more fun on stage. I can play solos and do weird shit with my hands when I feel like I don’t want to play. We almost didn’t play “Thinning” this morning, for fun. We eventually did, but.


What’s your favorite new song to play?

“Let’s Find An Out,” the finger picking one. It feels like the music that, in my head, Snail Mail would be down the line. Those are the guitar players that I like listening to: Kurt Vile, John Fahey. And I love old country. It’s not those things directly, but directly drawing from my classical training feels good. It feels like I didn’t waste my time.

Are you excited that Lush will be out in the world soon?

I’m anxious. I feel like I’m sort of in a tense place — touring all the time, getting used to more press. I feel like I’m constantly on the move and trying to find a way to feel comfortable. I feel very anxious about [the record] coming out, for me. But I’m not worried about how people will feel. There was a lot of pressure to succeed that I learned to not care about. I feel like my biggest victory is being able to make myself vulnerable again and just be a songwriter in my bedroom — just thinking of myself and the records that I really like and the literature that I like and the movies that I like and putting everything else out of my mind. That’s why I feel so at ease about the release.

I feel really motivated to write right now, especially since my time home is fleeting. When I’m home I feel so inspired. I’m really ready to start working on LP2. [I have] tons of ideas. I don’t feel rushed. The people at Matador are working really hard on this release right now. I felt really good about all the collaborating we’ve done about how it’s gonna be. I’m really happy with the record. Wouldn’t change it in any way if I could. I was sort of going crazy trying to make something that is perfect. And on my own, I was able to. For me, it’s a record I would buy. I don’t know if I can say that. [laughs] I’m saying it.

Snail Mail’s “Pristine” is pretty much an indie rock masterpiece Lindsey Jordan
Lush comes out June 8 on Matador.
Snail Mail’s “Pristine” is pretty much an indie rock masterpiece