SXSW 2018: Snail Mail on owning your old self, lo-fi, and her debut album ‘Lush’

The 18-year-old wunderkind is taking everything in her stride

Lindsey Jordan is having a bit of a mare. Standing on the street in Austin after being refused entry to a bar and wailing along to a Guns N’ Roses songs blaring out of a nearby vintage shop, she glances down at her trousers. A patch of white has appeared on their charcoal grey. “It’s probably my own gum,” she sighs resignedly. 

Snail Mail, her diaristic indie-rock outlet, is faring a lot better than her afternoon so far. At last year’s SXSW, they were one of the breakouts of the festival. They’ve returned to preview debut album ‘Lush’, but the Maryland teen is nonplussed by the prospect of more praise and networking. “You have to find something in [music] that you care about and find something to hold onto,” she says, rubbing the sticky splodge on her leg with ice. “Hopefully that’s not the approval of others.” 

Lindsey might not be fussed what people think of her, but since 2016 EP ‘Habit’, she’s been accruing accolades for her reflective and intricate songwriting. Written when she was 15, it discusses everything from love to illness. Now, she says she’s “a 100 percent different person”, but isn’t self-conscious about the record. “Each song is such a good maker of that time in my life,” she explains. “That in itself is a reason not to be embarrassed because you were that person.” 

‘Lush’, released on June 8 via Matador, represents the two years since ‘Habit’. On lead single ‘Pristine’, she sings with defiant certainty “I know myself and I’ll never love anyone else.” Later, on ‘Heat Wave’, she seems less sure about that future. “It’s such a transitional point in my life that it’s impossible to feel a certain way one day and feel the same a year later,” she shrugs. 

The new record sees her up her guitar hero status, weaving in solos and licks inspired by her favourite guitarists, including Kurt Vile, Marnie Stern, and her former guitar teacher Mary Timony. Like those musicians, the rising star is happy to encourage young women to pick up an instrument, but says her inclusion in “women in rock” write-ups – an experience she’s had several times lately – is a “double-edged sword”. “Sometimes it feels like someone’s just getting clicks based on the fact you’re a woman. I would rather go dig a hole and live in it than talk about what it’s like to be a woman to some guy.” 

Being tagged as lo-fi also causes her some chagrin. ‘Habit’ was unpolished because of the resources available to her, not out of artistic choice, and ‘Lush’ goes some way to correct that perception of her as another bedroom slacker. She’s excited to get some critical tweets once people hear the record, though. “Everyone’s gonna be like, ‘What are these sellouts doing with all their money and Lamborghinis?!'” she says animatedly. “I wanna say haters make me famous, but I’m not famous at all.” Given time, though, indie-rock’s latest wunderkind could easily be as respected as her heroes. If it happens, she’ll probably take it as equally in her stride.