Interview Highlight: Snail Mail

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Lindsey Jordan is the passion, voice, and genius behind mod-rock outfit Snail Mail. She talks ghosts, memes, and finding a new voice on her new album, Lush, with KALX’s own DJ yan yan.

DJ yan yan here at your KALX Berkeley 90.7 FM. Hope you got some good snacks because we're dipping into an interview with Lindsey Jordan of Snail Mail. Welcome to Oakland.
Thank you. Thanks for having me on your show.

How are you doing? I heard you had a long drive today.
Yeah, no, I'm good. This tour is very long. So we're shredding through the country, and then like lots of other countries. Europe, and some ones outside of Europe. Just trying to make it work.

I was watching a video you were in, and you mentioned that you saw a ghost in San Francisco some time ago. Have you run into anything spooky since coming into the Bay?
Not since coming into the Bay, but I’ve had some creepy experiences in life. I feel like I’ve had three ghostly encounters. I might also just be hyper thinking that I have a connection to ghosts. 

Have you tried Ouija boards and stuff?
No, my mom is like, “keep that out of my house.” But I believe in my heart that Ouija boards open the door up. And I’m not trying to open the door up. Have you seen Hereditary?

No I want to see it so badly, I’ve heard amazing things about it.
It’s cool. I saw it twice. 

On Twitter, people have been saying the mouth click has been ruined for them.
Oh yeah. Our drummer wears a retainer at night. And he does that [mouth click], he clicks it in and out of his mouth in his sleep. And it sounds exactly the same. There was one night after we saw Hereditary where we were all in one hotel room. And everyone except for him were sitting up and being scared because he was just doing that. It woke everyone up.

He’s out to get you guys I think. You mentioned on prior interviews that a lot of the songs on Habit weren’t actually meant to be performed on stage in front of other people, but on Lush, this new record, you mentioned that you spent more time crafting it. So I was wondering during the whole songwriting process, did you set certain goals up or specific things you wanted to touch on?
I knew that I wanted it to be around the length that it is, keeping it kind of concise. I really like writing long songs, so I wanted to stick with that as much as possible. I had a time limit which was really frightening to me, and I think that my main goal was just to finish because I write super slowly.
And I think my main goal was just to write songs that felt personal and natural to play live. It’s such an “in-my-own-head” kind of process, I don’t really think that much about how people are gonna perceive the song. So it's almost kind of hard to talk about the process in that world because I was so incredibly focused on appeasing my own set of standards. It makes me a little crazy sometimes, but I think ultimately it works for me.

Yeah I think there's like less pressure there. In certain ways.
Yeah. Mainly since there was all this studio time and producers and money, I just didn't want to make something that was like... “bad.” Because I had so much freedom. It was really just me and all of the resources and I was like, “Ohhh.” It was either I can make something really great or something that sounds like trash.

You redid “Stick” which was originally on Habit, and you gave it a makeover in Lush. Is that kind of the reason why you decided to create a new version, because you had all these new resources?
Sort of, and also I had more time with that song. I've had that song for so long, and I actually think that’s the last song I wrote for Habit. I recorded it kind of hastily and fast because we were also kind of talking deadlines for Habit, and we wanted to get it done. “Stick” I wrote just maybe a couple short weeks before we recorded it. And I like to have songs around for months before I deem them to be studio ready.

There was a college show where we didn’t have enough songs because most of the songs on Lush weren’t written, and we had to fill an hour so I was just like, we’ll do a full band version of “Stick.” We improvised, and it was like [snaps]. Everyone banded together and it was very powerful sounding.

That kind of got me thinking I could rearrange the song because there was so much space for it, and so much potential for it to be more. We kept it really minimal in the studio but I was like this song just in its essence, clean, could be so much more. There were other vocal melodies in my head that I wanted to change. The song didn’t feel done to me, so I wanted to reopen it.

I read that you described the song “Pristine” as punching Habit in the face… [Lindsey starts laughing]
I think I just talk really fast. It does kind of punch Habit in the face because it’s supposed to be hyper self-aware, light-hearted, funny. The chorus is obviously over-the-top. It’s kind of like how I see Habit, which is in a sarcastic way. Face value, [“Pristine”] could probably have been on Habit. All the emotions on Habit are really unchecked and all over the place and very dramatic. I was kind of like backing away from that on Lush because that's just not really who I am as a person anymore. I feel like I have a much better understanding of my emotions and how to deal with them.

Like you’re more self-reflective. I was talking to Jay Som last year and she had the same thing where she wrote most of the songs on Turn Into as a teenager…
Wait really? That was when she was a teenager?

Yeah like around 17 or 18. Turn Into was basically like a whirlwind of emotions, and later she was like “Yeah I mean… that was a lot. And the new one, Everybody Works, it’s a different phase of my life and playing the older songs now is weird.” Is it weird for you to play older stuff?
Yeah, even some of the songs on Lush have been around for a very long time. Usually when we're playing, I try really hard not to zone out because I could turn on autopilot the whole set, because we play so much. I’ve been on tour for so long. But then I would start losing touch with the audience, and I start losing touch with what the song was about and the energy of the song. So every night I have to consciously be like, “Okay, this is what the song is about and this is why it’s still relevant to me. And this is how I’m going to sing it a little differently than the record.”

It’d be so boring if every night was [in bored tone] “haven’t felt right, haven’t felt good.” Because I totally could, and it’s my instinct. But yeah it’s weird. I mean, I still really like the songs, but sometimes halfway through I’ll be like “what is this” and I didn't even remember what it was about.

So crushes and unrequited feelings is a recurring theme on Lush, your new record. I feel like in that headspace, you become kind of self-deprecating, and you know you're getting into something not good. But sonically how it comes out on your record, you have a kind of a defiance in it. You embrace it, and you’re like “I know it’s wrong, but screw it.”
Well I think that that's kind of the idea on a lot the songs I wrote earlier in the process. I guess you don’t know which was which because they’re not in the order of when I wrote them. But I like having it as an opener and closer because it sets the tone of the album lyrically. Because at the beginning it opens it up and is like, “here’s this undying, very intense relationship with someone.” And then in the end [on “Anytime”], when you got all the lyrical content, not the shortened version, the song is basically saying that you know, you sometimes get into relationships with people who you realize aren't conducive to self-development and growth. This song is sort of just about knowing what's best for you and letting go of something, but at the end of the day still recognizing that you still care about that person.

So the self-preservation was sort of like a theme when I was writing the songs at the end. In the beginning, I was really throwing myself out there. I was like “I love love.” But then towards the end on “Speaking Terms,” “Anytime,” and “Golden Dream,” they’re like “No. Actually, my well being is more important.”

That’s a good self-realization.
Yeah. I'm excited to see what happens on the next one.

Care to expand why?
Yeah! I mean, my life is so completely different and I have had so much more experience. All my friendships have changed at least a little, since I’ve had to tour all the time, and relationships change. And I've really just come into my life is right now, which is very isolating and weird. I just feel like a completely different person than I was in Lush, so my viewpoints on everything that I wrote about on Lush are different. And I don't want to write about any of the same stuff. I’m pretty excited.

I’m excited too! I just wanted to briefly talk about memes because I know you like memes. You’ve been posting clowns lately on Instagram, and I heard you like Spongebob memes.
Have you seen our tour passes?

Oooh no!
They have Thicc Mr. Krabs on them. And he’s in the format of Lush, he’s in the box.

You should make that into merch or stickers. I’d totally get that.
[Laughs] That’s actually a pretty good idea.

And you made this great meme on Twitter, the exploding head with indie dude bros. And now since meme songs are a thing, do you have any predictions of what meme songs might be next or a song that may have meme potential?
That’s such a good question, and something I haven’t really given a lot of thought to. But I feel like I would have a really good opinion for you. Honestly I haven’t listened to a single new song. I just sit in the car with my podcast, like a grumpy old dude.

What podcast?
I just started listening to Sword and Scale. It’s so wild. I’ve been reading a lot. These drives have been so long. I don’t want to voice my hate for any song but I f**king hate that song “Havana.” Ooogh.

Oh yeah. By Camila Cabello. I don’t really like that one either so I feel you.
That song just really sucks. [Lisa the tour manager whispers “I like that song.”]

Sorry, Lisa likes it. We’ve got some fans in the car. That song’s melody drives me nuts. I wish I had a good answer though.

So one last question. Snail Mail alludes to mail and postage of course. For Lindsey Jordan, what would be inside your ideal care package.
Ooh. It would have to be a nice sweater. That’d be a nice care package to receive from a loved one. A thoughtfully written postcard. Maybe some homemade cookies with Reese’s Cups in them. I love when people make me mixes, something to do in the van. Actually the car doesn’t have a CD player. [Lisa says, “Cassette!”]

Oh a cassette! Like a real mixtape. And maybe a set of ear plugs.

How about snacks other than the cookies?
If I buy snacks I only like sweets, I just get candy. Maybe a Panera gift card, a Starbucks gift card, and a Whole Foods gift card. And maybe some nail polish. And some liquid eyeliner, and warm socks.

That sounds like a good care package.
And a book! Like a recommendation or something. I only brought three books on this tour because I figured I’d go shopping... which I haven’t done yet because I play in both bands (Lindsey plays bass for Bonny Doon) so I’ve been really busy. But I’m zooming through this book The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. It’s insane, it’s so good. I haven’t been sucked into something that is fiction in a really long time. I feel like I read a lot of nonfiction. It’s really good, I highly recommend it.

I also think it’s kind of becoming a classic. I feel like everyone in every community I’m a part of is like, “I love that book. It’s a classic.”

Awesome, I’ll have to check it out!
[Lindsey points to an autograph inside the book.] This one’s actually signed by Katie Crutchfield [of Waxahatchee]. I traded a guy a guestlist spot to get it. He sent me a DM in San Diego and said, “I can give you this book signed by Katie Crutchfield.”

Wait you’re friends with her!
Yeah she’s like my best friend [laughs]. But I wanted something to read. [Katie] thought it was funny.

Haha that’s great. Well, that’s about it from me. Thank you for taking the time to do this!
Thanks so much!

Transcript by Adrienne