Snail Mail Wants to Be Judged on Her Merits, Not Her Gender

Snail Mail Wants to Be Judged on Her Merits, Not Her Gender
Photo: Michael Lavine
There's no denying that Lindsey Jordan is one of the most important voices in rock music right now. The 18-year-old who records as Snail Mail had a breakout 2017 that culminated in a record deal with storied indie label Matador and the prime position in a New York Times interactive feature on women in rock music.
It's an honour, to be sure. And there's no denying that many of rock music's best, most boundary-pushing albums in recent years have been made by women. But in a conversation with Exclaim!, Jordan spoke at length about the problems those distinctions make for her and other female musicians.
"I think that people are congratulating themselves for being excited about women in music right now, which is interesting," she observes. "I'm psyched that more bands with queer people and women are getting visibility, and we're talking about it, because it's great and I think having more women on festivals is a good thing, but it sucks to have to be put in that category when you just think of yourself as a musician. I would just prefer to blend rather than getting an award and a pat on the back for being a woman."
If blending into the background is what she wants, her debut album surely won't help. Lush is packed with the catchy guitar riffs, confident vocal hooks and relatable lyrical gems that put her on everyone's radar in the first place, now with a fresh coat of slick studio polish.
Jordan cites acts such as Mark Kozelek, Kurt Vile and Television as major inspirations whose influences in her music are overlooked in favour of other female rockers. "We don't really get those comparisons often, because people are like 'St. Vincent! She's a girl with a guitar!' It's just missing the message. Female-fronted is not a genre."
Jordan's rise to prominence comes at a time when the push for a more inclusive music industry is at its strongest. Initiatives like Keychange, which encourages music festival to pledge to achieve gender-balanced lineups, and Womanproducer, a digital archive designed to promote historic achievements of female, trans and non-binary musicians, seek to bring a healthy dose of equity to the male-dominated industry.
"Lots of women from a young age aren't encouraged to play music, so that's awesome that we have this wave of women playing in bands," says Jordan. The downside, she says, is that she and her peers find it difficult to internalize their achievements beyond their gender. "People seem to be more excited about the fact that I'm a girl and I'm young than the actual songs I'm putting out, and to me, people are missing the message that I'm putting out."
The message is one of self-acceptance. The lyrics of Lush are a journey through the confusion and heartbreak that accompany the transition into adulthood. Written as Jordan was graduating high school and transitioning into a full-time musician, the album charts her growth in real time. "I think it's a real milestone of maturity and how I feel like I've blossomed as an artist," she says, noting that the place she was in when she began the record was a far cry from the one she was in when she finished.
As with her debut record, which sets the insecurities of adulthood onto a backdrop of assured riff-rock, Jordan's music industry politics tread a similar line between questioning everything and bold declarations. "I don't necessarily know if, as a society, we're where I want to be a musician in," she pronounces.
"It's great that we're appreciating the influx of bands with women in them. Ultimately, where we would be in an ideal world is we see a diverse lineup of a festival and just appreciating it for what it is. It shouldn't be like, 'Women! In the top line!' I'm excited that we're, as a society, excited about women. I think it's awesome, and I am so lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing women. I don't know anyone that wouldn't rather just be in a world where women and men and non-binary people are equally represented, so we don't have to isolate women."
It's a long road, but one that she seems poised to make a difference in thanks to the platform she quickly amassed based on the strength of her sharp songwriting and indelible arrangements. True to said lyrical prowess, she sums it all up brashly and succinctly: "Diversity is sick. But I'd love to not have to be working towards anything anymore."
Lush is out June 8 on Matador.