Snail Mail interview: "Lush is so deliberate and stylised - everything is fully mine."
Today sees the highly-anticipated release of Lush, the debut album from Lindsey Jordan aka Snail Mail. Despite being only 18 and not having had an album out before today, Jordan has been in huge demand; the night before we met she played a gig at London’s Oslo, which sold out way ahead of time, on the day we met she had already done three photo shoots in the morning and had six more interviews scheduled after mine.
Jordan by no means was letting any kind of cracks show, however. She was swanning confidently and comfortably around the Matador office when we met, requested red wine as her refreshment during her marathon interview schedule, and chatted amiably with me about bands like U.S. Girls and John Maus (whose t-shirt she was wearing) in our interview preamble.
Although naturally boisterous and humorous, when it came to discussing Lush her voice and attention became laser-focused and serious. In talking to Jordan the feeling I was left with is that while she might be a character, an image, and an icon in the making, she is first and foremost an artist.
Firstly, the show last night was sick, did you enjoy it?
I had a great time. Our hotel's right next door, so I was able to just hang out in the hotel right beforehand and then sauntered in 10 minutes before show time. I was like "this is so nice, this is ideal." And then the crowd was great! I was really surprised that people knew words and stuff. People really like rock music here.
The sing along for 'Pristine' was amazing.
It was insane! I was like "wow, that just came out. That's so cool!”
I'm sure by the time you come back in October there'll be even more singing.
I just found out about that show! Someone's like "I heard you're coming to The Dome," I'm like "Is that... here?"
I just bought my ticket for that show this morning.
Oh, sick! [Gives me high five and fist bump]
Let's talk about Lush. When I was a kid we always used to say something was good was "lush" - have you heard that?
That's one of the ones I've heard about. But I didn't know that a drunk was a "lush."
Why did you call it Lush?
I think of the record as a fully immersive wholly encompassing experience. It's very hi-fi, very entrancing sonically, and as far as storylines go and the sensory details I have this ideology of people just listening to it and getting really lost in it. It's Lush for a lot of reasons; I like to think of it as sonically Lush, it's fully immersive and you're drowning yourself in the emotions of it.
Was that the kind of dream you had even when making the Habit EP?
No. The thing I'm really proud of with Lush is that everything is so deliberate and stylised, and I had so much time and every resource available to me, and everything is fully mine. I was in that seat right next to our producer Jake [Aron] the entire time; during mixing, every second of every day, just being like "wait, actually I want this this, this and this." I came into the studio with a really good idea of what I wanted it to be and was able to work with him on just creating that thing in my head, just making it real.
Habit was just sort of a passing thought, there's nothing really to me cohesive or circular about it, I think it's just a collection of songs that I had just written over a transitional time in my life. All the guitar work is really just sort of a vessel for the lyrics that I wanted to write at the time, I never really had any ideas about making room for other guitar work on there, because it was predominantly one guitar track with sparse overdubs. Just being able to have the resources, studio and producer and auxiliary instruments, and people to play those auxiliary instruments, it just opens up an entire world of possibilities. I had a really good time honing in. I'm a very controlling person.
Do you think going forward you might eventually go into self-producing?
I don't know. I really like what Jake was able to bring to the table. There was so much that I don't know and I was so excited to work with him. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with him is he has worked with some really great pop stuff. He has a great sense for indie rock as well, but I was like "my brain is not as pop oriented as I wish it was, but he has this great pop sensibility so we should be able to just foil one another," and in the studio that is really constructive and helpful. He had a lot of really great ideas and a lot of suggestions on how to make my ideas come to life. At least maybe not for a long while [will I start self-producing]. I've thought a lot about working with an engineer, just bringing my ideas to the table, but I like the idea of someone coming into it with a completely different mind-set and helping me to make the record I want, but only adding to it and providing a perspective that I don't have.
The album cover of Lush has a similar red to the EP, is there any significance to the colour?
No. I wear a lot of red, my car is red, my guitar is red - but it's never been my favourite colour, it's never been all that intentional, it just works really well with the mood of the record. And with Habit it was in a bunch of different colours, but Sister Polygon was only printing it in two colours so I had my friend who drew it make up a bunch of mock ups and I liked the red and black. For Lush, I was a really big fan of the really bright royal blue and the bright red and I thought together they looked really dreamy and beautiful.
And how would you describe your expression on the cover?
That picture I think was actually an outtake, and you can't tell from the final version of the album cover, but it had a really cool blurry thing up on the top where the lights were meeting the flash or something, and the picture is really differently lit from all the rest of them. And that red light is actually natural, it's in the picture, it's not touched. All the colours are really cool and I think it's just an off moment for me where I was talking or staring off into space, but it's like my natural expression and I thought "this one is the most me, I'm not really posing, I'm just staring off into space, mouth open, how I look most of the time."
I think it works really well for the record! You've said that Habit was about unattainable crushes, but this one is more about break ups...
Attained them - lost them.
[At this point Matador Press Officer pops in to drop off Lindsey's red wine and tells her that “everyone is freaking out” because she hasn’t done an Instagram post about newly released track 'Let's Find An Out'. She says she'll put one on her Story]
Let me just do this... I think all of the Instagram stuff is really dumb, on the low.
But you have a big following, it must be helpful.
It's really helpful, but - this sounds really ignorant - but I don't like being told what to do [laughs]. I'm a disciplined person and I work hard and I'm never disrespectful to the people I work with or anything, I'm just like "why do I have to post on Instagram?" Having to post on Instagram, isn't that counterintuitive to my internet presence?
I guess it doesn't feel spontaneous.
Sorry, I need to get a screen shot of this single cover that I don't care for.
Is it from the same shoot as the album cover?
Same shoot, different outfit, different background.
You were saying you've already done three more photo shoots this morning, are you getting good at them now?
Yeah! I looove them. Not just photo shoots, but whenever we do anything in high fashion where it's stylised with make-up and for actual fashion magazine I'm like "I like my job." We did a V magazine shoot, which is one of the most fun things I've ever done, did The Cut with New York Magazine, and just got to do a lot of cool fashion stuff because I'm in this world. That's been my favourite - other than the obvious touring and stuff - but I looooove fashion.
Have you always been into fashion? Did you expect this would be an avenue to it?
Yeah I've always been into it. No, I never thought about pursuing it seriously, but when I got the opportunity to I was like "OK."
[Lindsey concludes posting on Instagram]
OK, so back to where we were, which is more painful out of the unattainable crushes or the resulting heartbreak?
That's a good question. Heartbreak is more painful. It's definitely more painful. Habit is so fucking sweet and wistful, and Lush is like "oh..." [Laughs]. I've been describing it as Habit I had this sort of self-serving kind of vision of the world that and I was sort of under the impression that I knew everything, but I was just kind young - I mean I still am but I was like young. The songs [on Habit] really reflect that, there's a lot that I don't know, but I feel like the songs come forward honestly, they're not like "what is it like to be loved back?" they're like "this is how things are."
With Lush I think I'd come to a point of realisation through this whole process and travelling all the time and really learning to work and stuff that I just feel like I have accepted that I know less than I ever thought; there's so much to know and so much to learn and I've come to terms with that in a different way. It's not as... I don't want to call Habit pretentious, because it's not pretentious, but I feel a little more self-aware in my lyrical style now. But yeah, heartbreak is more painful than unrequited love.
That's interesting that you've learned more about love. What I hear in the 'Intro' and 'Anytime' [the final track] is you pushing yourself out there.
The album isn't in order of when I wrote them, but 'Anytime' was written towards the end of the process, along with 'Let's Find An Out' and 'Speaking Terms', and I think those songs are lyrically a lot more mature. It's crazy because that record was written over the span of a year and a half, so the song writing is sort of developing and changes a lot. You can't tell what was written when, but if you really did some investigating you might be able to figure it out. 'Pristine', 'Heat Wave' and 'Full Control' were written right in a row after Habit, and then it sort of changes a lot. 'Let's Find An Out' is really telling of the song writing I've been doing for LP2. But where I was going with this is that the record is written out as a maturing process. The 'Intro' is a matching bookend with 'Anytime' at the end, but it starts out being wistful and sad and very much crush-centric and about these melodramatic relationships. Then it gets to be a little more self-reflective, and then there's a "fuck you crush" song, ‘Full Control'. Then it ends in this place with 'Anytime', which is meant to be this ode to acknowledging that separating yourself from something that isn't conducive to self-growth is mature and it's how it goes, and even in that you can acknowledge that you really love someone and care about them and would do anything for them. Not all of the songs are necessarily about love and stuff, there's a lot of self-actualisation type ballads. I learned so much about myself through just doing this and being out in the world for real and growing as an individual and a musician, and there's lots of topics on there that reflect that.
I read your conversation with Liz Phair, and you mentioned that there's a song that's a "fuck you" song to someone, and then I went back and listened to the record again and I thought you could have been referring to a number of these songs! But it's 'Full Control'?
Yeah. 'Full Control''s angry. We recorded with an apathetic vocal style, but it's also very pissed. I love that song; I think it's really stylised. When we were working on it I was like "I have to find a way to make this vocal distinctly angry from the rest of them." I think I came out in pyjamas and I was like "I have to be chill, but I'm pissed." Yeah, that's a passionate one.
And it has that classic song writing tick where, throughout you're singing in the chorus "even when it's love, even when it's not," but for the last line of the song you change it to "even though it's not."
I think at the time probably was like "oh my god, this is it, this is the key," but since I used that so proudly on this album I don't think I would ever do it again. That's how I feel about a lot of the things on both records.
Why did you decide to re-record 'Stick' from the EP for the album?
I wrote it right before we recorded Habit, so the song didn't get the opportunity to grow as much as I usually give songs room to. Yeah, I recorded it in a jiffy, and I feel like I didn't really get the opportunity to let it breathe or rework it for the studio, because that wasn't the situation that we were in. We weren't in this big magical studio with a producer. I kind of felt like at the time, when we were making the track list, I was like "OK, I don't wanna remake the songs from Habit because I think it's a cop out," but we played 'Stick' full band at a college because a lot of the songs for Lush weren't written yet, so we didn't have enough songs for a full set. I'd been playing it solo but I said "I think it would be kinda cool if we played it full band," then the way it came together as a full band I was like "OK we could give this song the attention it deserves," So I decided to rework it, make it a little more dynamic, add a little more instrumentation, make it a little more of a power ballad than an overly long droning on solo guitar thing. There's a time and place and I don't think I went about it right [the first time], so it was just about going back and fixing it.
Why is 'Let's Find An Out' your favourite song on the album?
It's the lyrical content; I'm really proud of the song's lyrics and the meaning of them. And also I think the guitar part - there is a little repetition - but it's almost entirely different parts, and that's why it's so short because it doesn't really go back to anything. I wrote it really fast in the studio because we needed one extra song, but it ended up being the best guitar piece I'd ever written. At first I was like "damn, fuck this song, I'm done with it," after a day, "this is so boring." And then I found all these different ways to rework the chords, and I got to bring out the old classical guitar chops, which I don't really ever get to do. I think it's a direct inspirational grab from some of my favourite guitar players. I feel like I don't often get to channel John Fahey or Kurt Vile, I feel like I'm always staying within my genre and that song felt like liberating myself. And I'm really proud of the lyrics; 'Anytime' I have cried playing live, and that one I've got close but not quite - whenever a song has that personal of a meaning I don't get sick of them.
You mentioned writing for LP2, that's already happening?
Oh yeah, big time. I kind of thought that after Lush was done, because for me it was such a perfect cohesive finished thing, I was like "I will never write again, I don't want to have to try to top this, I don't want to have to reopen the writer in me." I put so much pressure on myself, my song writing is the hardest and most important thing for me. So after Lush was done I took a really long break from song writing and then I was like "I don't think I can ever do this again," I kept writing duds and being like "damn, this sucks."
And then I realised - actually Liz Phair was like "by taking a break you're actually doing harm to yourself as a songwriter," because it just brings on this daunting big shadow that is the next record; she was like "if you don't really worry about writing about the next record and you just write something every day whether it be good or bad it gets rid of that daunting nature of it." I was already starting to write for LP2, but I went out the next day and bought this little Vox headphones amplifier that I plug into my guitar and play in the car so no one can hear what I'm doing. That's helped me because I'm not home ever. When I write I just find quiet time, and I realised if you're not worried with how people are going to perceive it it's so much better. I realised it's just an innate thing for me that I just want to keep writing songs, even if they're not for anyone. As someone who is a songwriter I would be writing songs all the time anyway, so I just needed to get back to that and that's where I am now, fortunately. I can feel myself maturing as a songwriter.
Snail Mail’s debut album Lush is out today on Matador Records.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 8th June 2018.