.Curiosity Fuels Snail Mail’s Innovative New Album ‘Valentine’

Self-taught indie rocker Lyndsey Jordan’s songwriting is driven by intuition

Lyndsey Jordan has lived a lot of life in her 23 years. Since picking up the guitar at the precocious age of five, the indie rocker—who performs as Snail Mail—wrote her acclaimed debut album, Lush, while in high school. She then spent time in a rehab facility for what her record label calls “a young life colliding with sudden fame and success.” Thankfully, that wasn’t the end of her story, as her latest release, Valentine, finds the young artist expanding her sound with synths, strings and polish.

Jordan says she is unsure why she gravitated toward music at such a young age. She admits that her parents weren’t musical people. 

“I think I just wanted something to do and was really drawn to music from a young age and thought guitars were cool,” she says from her home state of Maryland while getting an oil change.

Raised outside of Baltimore, Maryland, Jordan built upon her early passion for music by taking guitar lessons from indie rock legend Mary Timony (Helium, Wild Flag, Ex Hex) as a teenager. 

“She taught me a good amount of technical stuff and gave me a good amount of advice stuff,” Jordan says of Timony.

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Jordan notes that she only took lessons from Timony for less than a year but that the wise musician’s influence can be heard throughout Lush. “I’ve definitely stolen Helium tunings,” she says. “‘Speaking Terms’ is in a Helium tuning.”

Lush was written mainly by Jordan when she was 15 and had free time after high school. Standout songs on the impressive debut include “Pristine,” which recalls ’90s indie guitar rock, and “Heat Wave,” a dreamy tune featuring well-placed electric guitar eruptions. 

“Pristine” and “Heat Wave” are approachable but unique, without traditional song elements like a noticeable chorus. Jordan admits that she was unbounded by convention when writing her first album. “I didn’t know what people thought about Snail Mail,” she says. “I don’t know if people had expectations, so I feel like it was a pure place of creativity. It was kind of untainted.”

Jordan was working on the follow-up to Lush when she checked into an Arizona recovery facility for 45 days. It was challenging to keep moving forward with the new songs; she couldn’t have any musical instruments, recording equipment or a phone. 

“I had seven songs already and was just trying to develop them intentionally away from instruments and what lyrics sound good in my head,” she says of writing in rehab. “But it was hard. I was like, ‘What key is this in again?’ ‘What chord does it start on?’ I couldn’t even think of the melodies sometimes.”

After leaving Arizona, Jordan traveled to Durham, North Carolina, to work with Brad Cook, a Grammy-nominated producer who has made albums with Waxahatchee, Hiss Golden Messenger, Hurray for the Riff Raff and others. 2021’s Valentine veers from the funky synth sound of “Ben Franklin” to the serene “Light Blue” to “Forever (Sailing),” which boasts a chorus that nods to ’80s pop-rock. 

Jordan says that the new sounds on Valentine were a result of curiosity and resources. “Getting label money to make it sound however I want kind of opens the door,” she says. “Sometimes it feels like there are too many possibilities; it feels like it is exciting to dive into things that I don’t know how to do.” 

The album’s lyrics don’t shy away from addressing what was happening in her life then. On “Ben Franklin,” Jordan sings: “Post-rehab, I’ve been feeling so small.” The title track finds her asking, “So why’d you wanna erase me? Darling, Valentine.”

“The record is based on a time in my life and a relationship in my life,” Jordan explains. 

Valentine was released almost a year and a half ago. Jordan says she has been writing new songs but will not give details about a possible next album. 

“I’m not at liberty to discuss,” she says. “It’s probably a long way off, honestly.”

While she is hesitant to talk about what she is working on, Jordan is excited to tout the other bands that she is touring with—the Brooklyn experimental pop duo Water From Your Eyes and Dazy, a Richmond, Virginia-based band that recalls the classic alt-rock of groups like Weezer, Jesus & the Mary Chain and Oasis. The former’s new song “Barley” is a somewhat jarring bit of dance music with crunchy guitar, proclaimed “Best New Music” by the hipster website Pitchfork.

“I have been a fan of that band forever,” Jordan says of Water From Your Eyes. “Dazy, I just found out about, but I really like the songs. It’s really important to me that we are able to pick our openers because there’s just so much sludge out there, you know?”

Snail Mail, Water From Your Eyes and Dazy perform Thursday, April 20, at 8pm. $26.25 plus fees. Rio Theater, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. folkyeah.com

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