Nine Songs: Snail Mail
The pivotal songs in Lindsey Jordan’s life tell a fascinating story.
Jordan started playing the guitar at the age of five and growing up she balanced her love of music with a passion for sport. At school she was a star player in the boy’s ice hockey team, but she decided to pursue her songwriting instead of treading the ice.
As Snail Mail, Jordan’s honest and beautiful take on guitar pop has been selling out venues and turning heads during her first proper UK tour. With the release of her wonderful debut album Lush, the spotlight on the Baltimore songwriter and guitar star is only set to brighten.
One of our Ones to Watch for 2018, Snail Mail are about to spend a huge chunk of the year on tour. As we grab a table outside the cherished Bristol music institution The Louisiana with Jordan to talk about the songs that shaped her, an indecisive sky is looming above us. The sun is shining but rain is threatening from beyond the industrial cranes lining the harbourside, not unlike the juxtaposition in her colourful yet emotionally vulnerable music. Jordan’s quick to comment on the city, "I’m excited to be here because it’s so pretty and I didn’t know what to expect at all.” It’s Snail Mail’s first Bristol show and it’s sold out. "A bunch of them have been sold out and everybody knows the words, so that’s been special.”
At first glance her song choices are a mixture of stone cold classics and off the radar picks, but each are linked to a particular time in Jordan’s life. From recreating a scene from Say Anything to ask her prom date out, to delighting in guitar playing and lyrics that nail the feeling of heartbreak, as with the songs she writes herself, Jordan's landmark songs are a brilliant blend of storytelling and musical innovation.
“This is my favourite Psychic TV song, it’s just a really beautifully stunning track. The first time I ever heard it I immediately listened to it over and over again. It’s on one of my favourite albums by them, from cover to cover it’s really gorgeous. They’re beautiful and I don’t really understand them, which I’ve always liked about their songs.
“Psychic TV have some industrial noise stuff and then like singer/songwriter, pop-dance music. This song wavers between dance and dreaminess, it’s so gorgeous, all the way through it’s just a really good song. The other songs that surround it on the album aren’t anything like it and that’s really cool. I’ve always liked how you can start one of their records and you don’t know what it is you’re getting into, but ‘Just Like Arcadia’ has always really stuck with me.”
“This is a solid, long rock song basically. I feel like whenever we’re on lengthy car rides when I’m driving it comes on my Spotify shuffle, everyone in the band really likes it as well. Lyrically it has a direct storyline that I think is cool and it has some really nice riffs on it. It’s just a jam and I really love singing along to it with the windows down.
“There’s no particular lyrics in it that impact me, it’s more the whole package. I remember after hearing it I was playing it in the car and everyone knew it, which really surprised me. It’s a cult classic rock song that everybody likes and I found out that Courtney Barnett covered it a few months ago.
“It’s just a real jam that goes on and on and repeats, and the parts that don’t repeat themselves are really well-fitting and cool. It simply grabs me from start to end.”
“Gillian Welch is one of my favourite songwriters of all time and this was the first song I ever heard by her. Her voice has this really touching falsetto in it and this song also has a lot of cool guitar parts and heartbreaking lyrics. It sounds like it’s getting whispered in your ear and it’s immensely pretty.
“I discover a lot in the car because I’m constantly on the road and I remember exactly the first time I heard this. I was driving and I put on a playlist, I remember the chorus coming in and she played this one chord which is very unexpected. I like it when a song isn’t too predictable, but at the same time this song has this nice circular simplicity, where it resolves itself in this really nice way and there’s a ripping guitar part near the end which is cool.”
“There are two people in the band, but Lois Maffeo and someone else put this 7” inch split out on K Records under the name Courtney Love. My friend made me a mixtape with this song on it and the first time I heard it I was really obsessed. It’s recorded in this interesting way, where you can’t really make out what the guitar is playing at all.
“It’s maybe one of my favourite songs of all time lyrically. It’s questionably gay, I think it’s actually super gay. We cover it and we’ve just recorded it for a B-Side. Sometimes we play it acoustically and other times we play it with the full band and turn it into a heavy rock song. When I’m in the mood I’ll play it closer to its original quality.
“I didn’t really know what she was saying until we were recording it and I had to listen to it closely, but my favourite lyric is “Dream awake / don’t try to make her stay / you know that you’ll give her everything / but she does it anyway.” The lyrics aren’t documented anywhere, there are a few places where she could be saying one thing or another, I have a few guesses but all of them are equally heartbreaking. It’s so real, I think we could play it every night and it would still have that fresh burn. It’s so relatable and gorgeous, all the lyrics are insanely personal and heartbreaking.
“I feel completely at one with it up onstage - I don’t want to flatter myself and say I could see myself sitting down and writing it, but I feel if I could take any song and make it a Snail Mail one I’d definitely consider this one.”
“It’s a shoegaze staple. All of the guitar work is really beautiful and then when the strings come in its earth shattering, with tears streaming down your face. The lyrics of course are classic and perfect and the first stanza is so intensely powerful, ‘First you look so strong / then you fade away / the sun will blind my eyes / I love you anyway.’
“What else can you possibly say about this song? It’s perfectly amazing and it’s pure love in its truest form. There’s absolutely nothing I would change about it.”
“The first time I ever heard this song it was the Joan Baez cover. I love Bob Dylan’s version of the song, but I also really love hers, maybe even more. It feels stronger in many ways, I prefer her phrasing; even though they’re not her words I feel like she wrote them.
“We’ve talked a lot about heartbreaking songs, but this is the epitome of one. I feel it really epitomises the feeling of being left, it’s very powerful and poetic and all of the phrases fit perfectly in their place. It’s as if the last verse is the last verse and nothing more needs to be said.
“Everything fits so perfectly - the words that he chose and the way he sings them. It’s one of the most covered songs and whenever I’m writing I sort of just have it in the back of my mind. It made such a big impression on me, everything about ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ belongs.”
“’Coney Island Baby’ was one of the first Lou Reed songs that I ever heard. I was familiar with The Velvet Underground, but I felt like I’d ripped through their discography so many times that I wanted to get to know the Lou Reed stuff more.
“The song is so loosely formatted and I love the free-range guitar riffs, I think they’re amazing and creative. I love the way the song drones on and on and the lyrics are incredible. At the end he’s like, ‘Man, I’d give the whole thing up for you’, that part is so cool. I’d listened to it a bunch of times and never made it all the way to the end, but then I saw someone post a photo of a tattoo that said that line and I was like, ‘Where is that in the song?!’ Then I listened to it so many times before I realised it was at the very end.
“The Velvet Underground are probably one of my favourite bands of all time, just like for everybody else and I think that Lou Reed has a really cool, relaxed way of saying the saddest things ever. I love the sports analogy as well, it really gets the job done and brings me back to my sports days.
“Everything he says is so genius, he’s such a visionary. I think a lot of people have ripped him off, but his shining vision is always going to be the baseline and there’s a lot to say for that. He does simple really well. The song is complex but it’s simple in nature, which is impossible when you’re writing a song.”
“Perfect song. Like most people of my generation I found it from the film Say Anything and the iconic scene where John Cusack is holding up the stereo. It’s a perfect, beautiful pop song.
“I proposed to my prom date by doing that. He was my ex-boyfriend at the time but I wanted to do a big prom-posal. I did it and then he was like ‘What’s that from?’ I had a big trench coat on and a banner that said ‘Will you say anything but no to prom with me?’ I had this huge stereo but I was playing the radio mix out of my car stereo because I couldn’t figure out how to make the actual stereo work. He said yes though.
“I just love this song. I think it has a really cheesy quality to it but the lyrics are really not. My mum loves it and John Cusack in that movie. I think that scene epitomises true romance, my good associations with it and great lyrics.”
“I saw Fiona Apple when I was thirteen at a theatre in Washington, D.C. I’d listened to most of her stuff at that point and I knew the hits, but she played this song and played percussion on an army helmet, which I thought was really cool. ‘Anything We Want’ really hit me hard and I became obsessed with it. I was trying to figure out what it was after the show; I remember I went home and delved into her entire discography.
“I remember us carving pumpkins in my kitchen around Halloween and listening to it. I also remember doing a presentation on Fiona Apple to my Freshman health class. I can’t remember what it was about, I think it was along the lines of ‘inspiration!’ At this point I’m pretty well versed in her discography and would say I’m a Fiona Apple expert, but this still sticks out as my favourite of her songs and I love it.”