The FADER Interview is a podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and subscribe to The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.
Lindsey Jordan rose to cult fame as Snail Mail by amplifying the unscathed agony and ecstasy of an adolescent crush. Her 2018 debut album Lush vaulted the prodigal Baltimore then-teenager to near instant indie stardom. Adjusting to life in the spotlight brought its difficulties, but none as harrowing as coming to terms with the fact that her outlook on love had been more than slightly idealistic.
But rather than building her walls up upon realizing this, Jordan took a sledgehammer to whatever barricades existed in the first place. Earlier this year she traded her New York apartment for producer Brad Cook’s North Carolina studio and wound up with a new album, Valentine, which dodges the idea that heartbreak can be neatly resolved. Instead aiming straight for the tattered desire and fury and general malaise that lie in love’s wake. A few days before Valentine’s release, The FADER’s Salvatore Maicki caught up with Jordan to discuss its many emotional revelations, the pitfalls of being labeled as a queer artist, and the one Snail Mail conspiracy theory that irks her to no end.
The FADER: Lindsey Jordan.
Snail Mail: Sal Maiki.
It's so good to have you here in the office, in person, talking Valentine.
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Of course. It's been a minute. I mean, not too many minutes, but we haven't had the time to properly sit down and catch up in a minute.
Yeah. It's been a wild few years, huh?
Absolutely. It's probably been the wildest few years of my entire life.
Yeah. And it definitely has been a really long time.
It's cool to have you in New York City, because I remember back in the Lush days, and before Lush days, we would talk about New York and you had such contempt for it.
And you were like, I will never live here. Fuck this place. And look at how far we've come.
I know. Now I'm in the center of it.
Now, you're judging dogs in Tompkins Square Park.
Yeah. I don't know. Sometimes, I still get jealous of my friends that live anywhere with a tree, and sometimes I get into those worm holes. But then sometimes, I'm like, it's amazing that I can just get a great cup of coffee.
There's little things like that, that I'm just like, it is nice to be able to do these niche, little New York things, and I'm starting to like it.
What was the turning point?
Well, okay, so probably moving to Manhattan and probably living by myself.
I think there's something to decorating your own place and having the autonomy to clean, or not clean, because nobody's relying on me and I really love to use my kitchen and I love to go to the grocery store and get my ingredients to make things. And that's one of the only places that I go. I stay in my apartment like it's nobody's business, which is funny. Sometimes I'm like, I'm doing the New York thing wrong, but it's enough to just look out the window and be, look at that skyline. You know what I mean?
And just yeah, have my little routine. And yeah, I guess just having an apartment that I like and knowing what works for me has been formative in my New York experience.
Yeah. I feel like you can't truly appreciate living in the city, or the city's really not worth living in, until you can feel the pulse of it.
I think where you are in the city and I guess, access that you have to it now, definitely opens that up.
I love my neighborhood right now. You can really feel when it's Friday night, even if I don't know what day it is. I go outside at night and I'm like, it must be Friday.
I like the energy. Even, I've come to really like the weekends, just because everyone else is excited, even though they don't really make a difference to me.
I love that my neighborhood is always bustling. It makes me feel less lonely, but I choose actively.
There's a ritual to it.
Yeah. To be alone, but then there's people everywhere.
Yeah. So you settled into the city when you were winding down the Lush era?
Kind of. Well, so I lived in Brooklyn for a minute, as you probably remember, in Bushwick. I didn't actually move to the city proper until December of last year.
So my lease is about to be up.
Yeah. So it's been a full year, coming on a full year, in the proper city.
But Bushwick and Brooklyn was the winding down from touring Lush.
I moved to Brooklyn for the first time when I was 18, right after I graduated high school.
And then left.
And that was Crown Heights, or something?
Yeah. And then my situation where I was living was just not ideal.
And I left and went back to Maryland and then came back to New York permanently when I was 19, I guess.
Talk me through, I guess that era of coming back to New York, being in Bushwick and you were here, you were still touring Lush. The Lush tour went on forever.
Yeah. That was a distinct era. I mean, I feel like I was experimenting with everything that I missed out on just being, I'm living by myself. I can see my friends all the time. I can just enjoy adult life for a little while before I have to start doing this again. So that is a lot of what happened with pushing off, making another record, is I was like, I just need to have some life experience because I don't want to write about tour. So, that time period was very much about pretending there wasn't something I had to be doing and it was actually super important to what ended up being on the record. Because I just, I had a lot of life experience during that time.
Well, when did you finally stop touring that album?
Not until the end of 2019, I think, because we did a victory lap tour, which was probably the most fun I've ever had on a tour. Because it was like, all the fruits of our labors were totally just right in front of us.
But then ending that tour was terrifying, because that just meant I had to make another record and from scratch, basically. Because I almost wrote nothing during those touring years.
And you go from all of this noise and bustle and moving from place to place to silence.
Was that jarring for you?
It was horrible. I mean, having to start over from a place of being like, okay, so I'm an adult now and people are obsessed with the music that I wrote by being an innocent teenager, which is weird. Because, yes, so I was trying so desperately to figure out what it was that people liked so much and I just wasn't far enough away from the project to think about it like that. So I just put it off until I really felt like I needed to make music in order to process my feelings.
I was like, it's become a coping technique again, which just means the songs are probably going to be good.
I don't know how to get around that in the future. I don't think that's a great thing to lean on, but I don't have a great formula for working, because it feels like it's a magical thing that happens when I get inspired and have enough energy to start and finish a song that I actually like. It'll be several months between that happening and I just go one song at a time. Finishing the record was, I feel like, I was pretty surprised that it even happened. When it finally got done, I was like-
It was kind of a blaze of glory?
Yeah. I mean, every time I write a song, I'm like, oh my God, thank God. Because it's just so random when it happens and when it doesn't. Inspiration has to strike and it's really-
That's the nature of writing, right?
Totally. And also, if you choose to do it by yourself, which I'm not trying to work with any writers, I'm not trying to have anybody be in my space while I'm trying to think, then it's just the most isolating thing ever, being like, it's up to me to keep my career afloat.
And sometimes, that's a pretty harsh reality.
Totally. There's no one to push you. It's really just, trying to push yourself and push the words out.
And it's 90% just staring at the screen, like what the fuck is going on?
Before we get into the record, I do want to talk a little bit about the Lush of it all. I listened to Lush for the first time in full very recently this week. It's been a minute.
Oh, I thought you meant ever.
No, no, no, no, no. Listen, how else did you expect me to live my 2018?
But I will say, it is staggering to listen to that record back now. How did your relationship to those songs change in the years following? Because they are so of that time and of who you were at time and that has obviously changed, but-
It's super weird, especially since we're playing them again on the tour coming up. We've been practicing them, which is boring. I'm like, who cares? The next songs are bad.
Everyone. The thing is, everyone cares. It's funny, because I remember the songs coming out and me being like, these are genius and everyone being like, it's so purely teenager. And I was like, "No, no. I'm ahead of myself. I'm an adult." And now I'm looking at it and I'm like, "Oh, this was super teenager." Which is just funny because every teenager thinks that they're a prophet, and I definitely did, after everyone told me I was. And now I'm an adult and looking at it from the perspective of somebody whose worked so much, sometimes I just trap myself into talking into the third person.
I worked so hard to one-up myself as a writer. It's really weird to look back at where I was sitting as the person who wrote Lush. It was just listening back it's just sad, because I'm like, "Oh man." I had this really positive outlook on everything and love and life. And it was all just super idealistic, which is cool. I'm glad I have that memory.
Yeah. Well I think a lot of people who were in your position and who were so hard-eyed and just had these optimistic visions of what love was. I mean, listen back to "Pristine" and "I'll Never Love Anyone Else," a lot of people would be hardened and build their walls from that, from the first few heartbreaks. But what I'm so fascinated by in Valentine is it seems and feels like you took the complete other route and you just fully embraced, no, this is who I am and this is how I feel.
Yeah, there's definitely softy representation on there. When I'm singing about the certain instances that I'm singing about on the record, I think it was my Lush fulfillment time. A lot of the relationships that I'm singing about and stuff were me putting that Lush outlook on love, because it was my real outlook on love, into practice.
And then there's angry songs and disappointed songs, and disillusioned songs where I'm realizing that idealism is harmful to everybody involved. Which is horrible because it's beautiful too, to want love to be how you imagine it and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, there's so many songs on Valentine where I'm just being like, oops, love is not between a person and a concept. It's between a human and a human, which just creates ugliness. And there's a lot of disappointment in that, I think, and then it's on the record. And then actively processing it while I'm writing these songs. And I think all the stages of grief are on there too, just without even realizing it.
Somebody told me that and I was like, "True."
Yeah. And something about Lush, there was this devastated crushing about it. But there was resolve to that. And on Valentine I feel like there isn't the same resolve and it's learning that yeah, these things don't form perfect circles.
Right. I mean any kind of acceptance that's represented on the record is forced acceptance. And that just makes it sad. Like "Mia," there's acceptance. You can't see on the podcast when I'm doing air quotes, there's acceptance because I'm like, "Okay, obviously I have to grow up. I don't get to just stay with this person. That's not how everything works." It doesn't work how you imagine it because life is harsh. But I'm not necessarily being excited to live with that information. It's what has to happen. And there's a couple of moments like that. I think "See It All" is like that too. It's a little bit crushing but maybe because it's real.
Yeah. I'm also really compelled by how you use your voice as an instrument on this record compared to the first, because it has shifted. It's changed. And I think that it's beautiful. One of my favorite songs, maybe my favorite song on the record, "Forever Sailing." Half of the song is this blissful, synthy, eighties, prom song vibe. But your voice is almost contradicting that and it's devastated and it's broken. And how you're utilizing your voice on this record, I'm fascinated by it. And I'm curious, was that a conscious decision to, I guess maybe change the intonation? Is that just in my head or was that something that you guys planned for?
I think it has been a process. With all the touring that was happening I was definitely conscious of it. And it's much easier to feed into the general emotion of the crowd when you can tell what's going on. And I definitely became quite the showman of feeding off of that pure sadness because it is infectious in a Snail Mail show. And that definitely, a lot of those dynamics became inherent.
There's also an element of... I sang all the songs a million different ways and then we went through and chose based on the takes what goes where. I am definitely in the process of dealing with the fact that my voice has gotten lower. I'm always like, "Do I have polyps?" I have an ear nose and throat appointment soon. And I'm like, "Why has it gotten so low, like hoarse?"
And I guess it's just like, yeah, it's instinctual because I've been practicing the theatrics of it for so many years. So in the studio, I wasn't like, "All right, this is going to be really sad." But I think I'm good at feeling fully in the song when I sing it, which definitely brings dynamics. And when you hear something and it sounds sad it's just because I totally am sad when I'm singing it, or gentle and loving because I'm totally thinking about that.
Well, I love it. I feel like it's like the salt in the sugar dish of this record. It has those beautiful synthy grooves to it, but also, and I feel totally this stretches out throughout beyond your voice. Almost every time you settle into the groove or start to it kind of takes a left turn. And I am so compelled by that, and that idea of when you start to think something is going one way, it doesn't. I feel like that is like a running thing throughout this record that, I don't know. I just really appreciate it.
Thank you for noticing that.
I think being a not predictable writer is important to me. I definitely want to make melodies that are obviously catchy and pop-minded, but still you don't know what's going to happen next. So those are the songs that I appreciate the most. When you hear a melody and you're drawn to it because it's catchy, but oftentimes I find that the further you go into the catchy realm, the easier it is to just reuse melodies because they're infectious. Usually if it comes to you naturally and quickly it's because it's infectious and catchy. But I definitely wanted to make sure that all of my melodies were unpredictable. That's definitely important to me.
Absolutely. And you definitely get that in this, I think. And it's what makes you come back for more of the record. Where did the concept of Valentine initially start?
The record or the title?
I guess, both.
So, over those dry years where I wasn't necessarily making a lot of music, I had a couple of songs that I was actively working on that entire time, just on and off. And before I started to really get going, I was discouraged because I didn't feel like there was an album coming together. I was like, there are a bunch of Snail Mail B-sides coming together. Because yeah, I was in a rut for sure. And then as soon as the pandemic started and I started getting really sad and busy and wanting to cope and process actively by doing my own passion thing, then the songs started to come really quickly and naturally. And I sat down and in the course...
Really quickly and naturally. And I sat down and in the course of two months had "Valentine," "Automate," "Madonna," "Glory," "Light Blue," "Mia," "c. et. al.," and "Headlock." Which really, "Glory," "c. et. al.," "Mia" and "Light Blue," I already kind of had before that. But those other ones, it's almost like it takes writing at least one single, I think, for me to start feeling I'm secure enough to start thinking about an album. Because it's just like, the catchy ones are the hardest ones to write. And you don't always necessarily know that they're going to be the ones that come up in your head. I was super focused on making songs as I felt; like, I feel making a ballad, so I'm going to make a ballad, and then trying to make sure they all work together as one cohesive thing.
It felt like it was all part of one universe. And then the name "Valentine" didn't used to be called "Valentine." It was "Adore You." It was a demo. And I got into the studio and the engineer that I was working with at the time was like, "This song just doesn't have a chorus." And I didn't notice that, because I was in my room, working on it constantly. And I was like, cool, okay. So I'm going to go make a chorus, I'll come back.
And immediately the lyrics and the melody came to me and then I was like, damn. "Valentine" is just the most, I can't think of something more painful and Snail Mail-centric. It's this innocent phrase that we automatically connect to childhood and first crushes and sweetness, and this record being so deeply disillusioned and real and old compared to the last one. There's something about that that makes it really heartbreaking. And there's also something inherently very heartbreaking about calling somebody that you're not even talking to anymore your Valentine. You know I'm singing about somebody who was my actual Valentine, like that sucks. And I love, you know, that's my favorite holiday, I do it up.
Is it really?
How do you do it up?
I just do it up. I go in. Balloons, chocolate. Stuffed animals. I don't know. I, kind of had just done it up.
It was fresh?
It had just been Valentine's day. I was like, oh man, all right. It was hot on my mind as just being like, I think it's a super apt name for the record.
Yeah but that is hard. You know what you were just saying about singing about someone who was your Valentine. These lyrics are barbed. Nothing is left unsaid on this record. That being said, you also have a more perceptive and engaged audience this time around. How did you reckon with what you are putting out into the world versus last time when people didn't really know who Lindsey was?
I kind of feel I have to go even more above and beyond now, which is a good I mean, here we are with a record that I think is above and beyond. And I was so very much a teenager and doing teenager stuff all the time. And now if I want to present myself as somebody that's a serious artist, I don't want to do any teenager stuff. And I don't want to be regarded as a teenager. I just want to be regarded for my most recent work. It was just really about making the presentation mature and concise. And then for the super revealing, intimate lyricism, I mean, that's a giant question mark.
I think whenever I was choosing how far I was willing to go in any of the songs, it was kind of a toss up. Because, you know, "Ben Franklin," I get a little ugly on that one. And I haven't fully seen the consequences of that, but I know that I'm talking about things that are tricky and I'm putting out a version of myself that isn't necessarily flattering all the time, which I think is important in making honest art.
So, I kind of felt like, to make the music exactly where I wanted it to be, I had to just pretend like no one was going to hear it. Because, yeah I mean on Lush I didn't even use any female pronouns because I wasn't all the way out like that. So I was like, well I don't want everybody to know I'm gay. So that being my boundary for that record compared to this one, stretched it out a ton.
But then I cope with that by, I'm only willing to go so far in the songs, and that's my line. So in interviews, when there are moments that go too deep I'm just like well, I set up the fence, that's as far as I'll go, you know? And that's how I responsibly try to deal with being a really personal lyricist.
It's just by being like, I gave everybody a lot of information in the songs. So that's that, you know?
There were definitely moments where I was like, I probably shouldn't say that. I don't know. I definitely scaled it back. The demos are even crazier at moments. And just finding that sweet spot, is such a personal experience that no one can help you with.
Yeah. I feel like when Lush came out too, we were still in this cultural space where if you were to be completely open about your queerness at that point, it would've been like, listen to this musician who is breaking boundaries by being queer and existing. But now there is just an existence and acceptance to it in a different way.
And that's kind of cool, I think.
All of the identity stuff is infuriating because, or at least the identity stuff that I have put on my desk. Because it's just, things are always spun with identity. And it's like, sometimes I don't necessarily want to be a spokesperson, but I just can't help but go off.
It's always woman this, gay this, and it would be awesome to just be like, a songwriter. I'm happy to be a beacon of representation for others. I just wish it wasn't the first thing sometimes.
Because the culture is changing and that's an amazing thing. But at least for me personally, paying more attention to that than the actual music I feel is belittling my identity.
And just making it a tagline. A headline, whatever.
We don't need a preface.
No, I don't think that we do.
Right. North Carolina.
That's where you recorded the record. How'd you end up there?
Brad Cook, who was the co-producer of the record with me, was someone that I just knew from being around. He's always at stuff. And I knew him to be a really cool guy and was a big fan of his work. Grew up so much Bon Iver, and I love Whitney and Waxahatchee and stuff. And I had only heard amazing things about working with him. And I was kind of at a point where I just needed somebody who already respected me; that I knew I wouldn't have to show up as anything other than myself and have respect and stuff like that, and have acceptance and encouragement. And everybody who's ever worked with him is like, he's such a sweet guy and he's just so artist friendly and so woman friendly, and just a great dude all around.
And I ended up taking the leap and being like, cool, I'm just going to try to make a couple songs with him. I loved working with him and we ended up finishing up what we had for my demos and putting them into a real record. Pretty much all of it was getting done there. And then "Forever," I wanted more time on. I started that at Brad's house and then he wouldn't help me with it, which was really sweet. He basically was just like, you got it. Like I don't want my name on any of the writer stuff so you should just go finish it yourself. But I was running short on time so I was like, Ooh, please help me. And he was like, "No. Go finish it." So I was in his guest room, just fretting my way through that song and by the time we were out of studio time, I realized I wanted more time to edit, and stuff. So I did most of it in my apartment, for forever.
Wow. How did you land on that synthy little bit?
It's a sample. Like a sliver of a sample underneath the chorus by this pop star from the '80s, I guess, late '70s, this Swedish woman, Madeline Kane. And the song's called "You and I." And the rest of the song I just built around this sample.
What song are you the most proud of on this record?
It's got to be tied between that one and "Automate," for me.
"Automate" is a stunner.
Thank you. I really hope that one doesn't go underrated, underappreciated and underrated.
No. I think it's the perfect penultimate moment.
It's the moment. It is. It's really getting everybody ready for that final track.
Yeah. Yeah. And it feels kind of like a come to Jesus moment, in a way. What did you learn about yourself by writing a song like "Automate"?
That song, out of all of them on the record, maybe other than "Headlock," there's the most room for the most syllables. So I got to be really wordy and then ended up taking almost a year on the lyrics because I was like, I can't take this opportunity lightly to be wordy so if why I'm going to be wordy, I'm going to be very intentional with all my words. And little moments of repetition, anytime anything gets repeated on that song, it's because it's important. The ending is my favorite thing I've ever written. The bridge where the time signature thing kind of changes and the style of the song kind of changes. And I just learned how much I being a lyricist and kind of like, what is the best means of working for me? And it's a lot of trial and error.
So much trial and error. I wrote and rewrote those lyrics so many times. There's so many versions of it. There's like nine.
Do you have a favorite line?
Maybe? I mean, ["Automate"] I'm like your dog is pretty sad there at the end, but then also like, oh man, "it's 13 days after, but it still feels I'm cheating." It's real. 13 days. I'm talking about something that literally was happening. And I'm just like, I can picture being in some room kissing somebody, and in my head being like, "Damn, I feel like a jerk. I feel I'm betraying this person." And that is just so visceral. I fully remember the moment that inspired that.
It's still raw. Still fresh.
Yeah. It is. That one, I listen to the album sometimes, especially before I go into a long day of press or something, just to remind myself and also just to bathe in how proud I am of it. And that song almost always makes me cry, even all this time later.
You have a very particular fan base. They love you. And they are going to feast when this comes out. Are you ready for how this is about to be perceived?
No. I mean, no. I'm always scared. I don't know what's going to happen. I think all my expectations for how the layout was going to happen are... Everything's moving so quickly because it's a really short album cycle so I haven't really figured out how people are going to react to the singles yet. I have no idea. Yeah. I don't know even how to see until we start playing shows.
Did you get to play it for your dad yet?
Yeah. He cried. He loves the record.
I love that. Your dad's so good.
He's a good guy.
I've never actually met Lindsey's dad, for clarification, but I remember it was a big moment for you playing Lush for him for the first time.
Yeah. He cried. It's good when my dad cries. It's a good sign that the record's good.
Yeah. He's a big old softy.
He's proud. We all went out to dinner in Maryland with the parents, and my girlfriend, and he was wearing a Snail Mail t-shirt to celebrate "Valentine," the song coming out. It was really cute.
It's really cute.
Are you ready to take the show on the road again and reenter this nomadic state where you're just never in the same place for more than 24 hours?
I don't know. It's coming up way faster than I thought. I'm actually pretty confused about how my next couple weeks are, but everybody in the band, we're all family basically, so at least everyone's scared. And Alex, our bassist, I talk to him on the phone every single day. And it's just going to be that but in real life. I can't wait till we're on a bus and I'm going to pick the bunk right above his and just poke and pester him. That is my favorite thing to do.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
Are we there yet? I think that's probably my favorite thing to do. So that's closer to home for me than being actually in my home. So I'm sure it will feel very natural.
So you've got Ray. You've got Alex. You've got Maddie.
Maddie. Lisa. We have the same tour manager, Amy, same sound person, Jesse. Same other sound person. It's pretty much the same crew in some ways. There's one new member of the band.
This guy, Ben. He's awesome. He's an amazing guitar player and keyboard player. Now we have two keyboard players. Now we have two keyboard guitarists on either side. Ooh.
Things are about to get real synthy.
You already know. It's going to be the freaking synth storm out there.
I love that.
I need that.
Yeah. No, no, me too. I'm really excited.
Yeah. And you have an arsenal of tracks now. You're not just confined to one record.
It is really nice. We're playing almost all of Valentine, I think, maybe except for one song. It is funny, because they're all really short how much of Lush we're going to have to play. Because we were all like, "Oh my God, cool. We're going to just only play new songs." And then we timed it. We were like, "So we just kind of have to play all of Lush too." Which is funny, but it is nice that I can, in a way, put mostly hits on there. There's nothing worse than playing an outdoor festival and playing a slow song and just watching people walk away.
I am curious. What was the first Lush song on to get axed? Where you're like, "No. Not going there."
"Anytime" got axed immediately because I just was so tired of watching people who hadn't heard the band walk away. At Coachella the first time. It's the outdoor festival, sad song thing. Maybe that's why I made a pop record, because I was tired of being walked away from.
Anything else that you want to talk about that you haven't been able to talk about on this long and never-ending press cycle?
You know what? I always want to say something about, but I have no platform to, people's conspiracy theories about Snail Mail drive me absolutely insane.
What do they say?
Well, there's a greater narrative that happened a couple months ago, or whenever, during the pandemic people started to be like, "Her label is not allowing her to put out music."
Free Lindsey. I've heard so much about this. I hold myself back from releasing music, no one else. I choose to not use Instagram. I'm an adult woman. I do what I want. Nothing happens with Snail Mail without my okay. That's my statement that I wanted to make.
Let the record show.
Let it show.
You heard it here first.
Lindsey, thank you so much for swinging by. I have loved this and I can't wait for the world to hear Valentine. It's happening.
Thanks, Sal. Thanks for having me. It's been an absolute pleasure.
Thank you and good night.