You could say the last six months or so have been kind to Lindsey Jordan and company.
Since Snail Mail, the Ellicott City-based indie pop band she heads, released the EP “Habit” on Sister Polygon Records in July, it’s seen its fanbase in the region grow steadily alongside a string of positive press write-ups. Perhaps most notably, last month popular music site Pitchfork gave a ”Best New Track” distinction to their song “Thinning,” and for a band little known outside local circles, that’s a big deal.
Maybe more impressive, however, is the fact that Jordan is just 17 years old. She’s still a senior in high school.
But her music, combined with a touch of good fortune, has helped her fall in with D.C.-based punk band Priests, whose debut album has been heavily lauded in recent weeks, and their ascendant record label Sister Polygon. On Monday, Jordan took a call from the lobby of a hotel in Montreal, a city where she and her band would play with Priests later that night.
She spoke about putting off college for music, a hopefully soon-to-come debut album and what her high school classmates think about her success so far.
The following has been edited lightly for clarity and concision.
Cecil Whig: First question, and this is kind of obligatory — you’re in high school, right? Well it’s noon on a weekday, so where are you calling from, and how are you calling?
Lindsey Jordan: Oh, we’re in Montreal. We’re on tour with Priests right now. We have a show tonight, so we’re just like in the hotel lobby. I’m skipping school this week, and I skipped some school last week. So that’s how this is working.
Whig: It’s probably safe to say that most high school seniors are not touring with their band in another country. Are you waiting to hear back from colleges and what not too?
LJ: I actually got into the college I want to go to, but I’m probably not going to go — we’re looking to do some touring next year. I think I’m just going to defer. I’m supposed to go to school in New York. But yeah I think we’re going to focus on a lot of touring next year, and finishing up an album we’re working on.
Whig: So you’re 17, your band is pulling some hype in the indie music sphere, and right now you’re touring with Priests, who has maybe the most hype of all up-and-coming D.C.-area bands at the moment. What’s that like? Does it ever feel overwhelming?
LJ: Yeah, it’s both overwhelming and exciting. It’s a lot of responsibility, and a lot of things that I don’t necessarily know how to do by myself. I feel like I’m just spending a lot of time on my laptop in class, emailing people back. [laughs] It’s definitely exciting. It’s just like a lot of things I don’t know what to do with yet. I’m excited to learn more about it, and I’m having a good time figuring it out. There’s a lot of people who are helping me understand what to do. It just feels like a lot right now.
Whig: And what is your relationship with the folks in Priests? Are you close?
LJ: They’re all sitting near me! Taylor [Mullitz, bass], the question is: What is my relationship with Priests. [laughs] They’re my frenemies. Just kidding. Gideon [G.L. Jaguar, guitar] recorded our tape. We love them. They’re the best. And we’re really glad to be on tour with them, ‘cause they’re great musicians and great people.
Whig: As they hold a gun to your head?
LJ: Yeah, they’re holding a gun to my head. [laughs]
Whig: How did you make that connection?
LJ: Umm. Wait, Gideon, how did we get in touch? With Sister Polygon? [inaudible talking] Yeah, yeah, our first show was Unregistered Nurse Fest in Baltimore, and Priests played it as well. And so I think that’s how.
Whig: So that was your first show as a band, and how long have you been putting music out under the name Snail Mail?
LJ: It’s been, like, about a year. I did a solo EP thing on Garageband, and that started off being under my name. Then at some point I literally got someone to re-do the album art so it said Snail Mail, ‘cause I wanted to re-brand — I just wanted … it to be a band and to have a more memorable name.
Whig: And that just kind of came to you? There’s no real reasoning behind it?
LJ: Yeah, I don’t know! That’s the only question I never really know how to answer. [laughs] Because I guess it’s just two words that pair well together, and I thought it was cute and catchy.
Whig: I’m interested too in how you go about writing the songs. What’s your process like? Do you write quickly? Does it take awhile?
LJ: It took awhile, I kind of like to take my time with the songs. So I was writing it in 2015. And then in 2016, I had some of the songs kind of sitting for awhile. I only write a song every two months. My writing process is really all over the place. I like to sit down and work, but that doesn’t really work for me. I can only do it when I really feel myself writing something.
Whig: And how long are you on tour for now? When do you come back?
LJ: We come back on the eighth, so we left on the third. It’s just a little run — Priests are gonna be on tour for awhile, we’re just doing the first leg of it.
Whig: Do you have more shows on the horizon?
LJ: Yeah! We’re playing South by Southwest. And we’re playing some shows on the way back from South by Southwest. We’re playing with Big Thief in Washington, D.C. on March 25 at Songbyrd. That’s like our return to D.C. And then we have some other tours coming up that I’m not allowed to talk about yet.
Whig: So you’ve got a lot going on in terms of touring. You said something earlier about a new album?
LJ: I’m working on writing a full-length. It’s almost done, we’re like six songs in, and I’m hoping to do eight total. I wish I had more of a timeline for it. We’ve been playing the songs live for awhile, and I’m just ready to have them done. So full-length is on the way, I just don’t really have a timeline for it yet.
Whig: What do your classmates back at high school think of what’s going on with your music career?
LJ: It’s kind of like a meme. [laughs] People love to joke about it. But, you know, everyone at school has a Snail Mail shirt, and the teachers are really supportive of it. I have to skip school a lot in order to travel. I’m a senior, so I’ve been taking, like, fake classes, so it’s been easy on me. But yeah, everybody in my class likes Snail Mail and they’re supportive. It’s just kind of a funny thing.
Whig: And how long have you been playing or at least interested in music?
LJ: I started on guitar when I was 6 years old. Then I started writing music when I was like 9 or something. The songs were really bad, and I stopped because I was discouraged, like ‘these songs suck.’ Then I started writing kind of seriously again in seventh grade and started putting out my own [stuff] in 10th grade. So it’s been a long and arduous journey. [laughs]
Whig: But you had formal training as a kid?
LJ: I’ve been taking private lessons since I was 6, and I used to go to guitar camp like all summer every year when I was little. I’m classically trained. And yeah, I’m very thankful for that, for having started young. It’s way easier to write songs when you really know your way around a guitar. I like to do a lot of writing in open tunings and stuff too, because I feel like you get the opportunity to navigate new things.
Whig: So then the new songs you’re working on, are they significantly different from the songs on your EP?
LJ: I think they’re definitely more dynamic. They’re a little more — I don’t know how to explain it. The ones on “Habit” aren’t simple, but they’re not difficult either. They’re kind of just taking a really small idea for a chord progression and running with it. The new ones are a lot more all over the place, and they’re more structural. The lyrics are also way different. I see I’m being more straightforward and less interpretable, which is what I wanted to go with. It’s a jump, but we’re not really that far away from the sound that we started with. It still works with the live set, and you can tell that it’s us. There was no effort to change the genre or anything, the songs have just gotten a little more complicated.
Whig: Lastly, and it’s maybe not totally fair to ask, but what do you want to do with this? Make it a career?
LJ: Absolutely. I really like touring and writing, and I’m hoping it’s sustainable enough that I can do it as a job. I’m hoping I can just push off college forever, just keep doing it. [laughs]