In 2016, Snail Mail released Habit, an engaging and powerful six-song EP. Jordan’s guitar sound was halfway between atmospheric dream-pop and Mary Timony’s spiraling leads. (That’s no surprise — Timony was Jordan’s guitar teacher for awhile.) Her full-throated voice radiated confidence, even when the songs themselves were melancholy. With powerful backup from a group including St. Louis-based drummer Shawn Durham (known for her work in town with Posture and the Stranger), Habit caused an immediate buzz and quickly led to two years of touring and media attention.
Recently signed to Matador, the current Snail Mail lineup (with bassist Alex Bass and drummer Ray Brown) has finished a new album scheduled for release in June. Not surprisingly, Jordan sees it as a big step forward.
“We’ve been working on it for the past year, but it took two years to write,” says Jordan from Baltimore as she and Bass drive from rehearsal to a record store. “It’s definitely an honest expression of how I have grown as a musician and as a person, and a real reflection of how my life has changed a lot. Habit was sort of shrouded with these loose ideas and metaphors and stuff; I was almost trying to protect myself and my subject. Also, I wasn’t openly gay at the time, so I didn’t allow myself to write as directly as I wanted to. I mean, I didn’t use any pronouns on the record. I’m a lot older and have had more time to grow and reflect on what makes good music.”
This perspective has necessarily changed her songwriting approach.
“I already feel like the writing process has changed,” she says. “A lot of it is your surroundings and resources, your growing community and stuff. But a lot of it is also just changing as a person and as a musician. My inspirations have changed a lot, so I feel like definitely there’s a lot more pressure. I put a lot of it on myself. But I’m a better musician, and I’ve spent a lot more time with myself as a songwriter and as a person. I just think creative development goes hand in hand with that.”
Some of her goals include honing her rock guitar skills and paying attention to how other songwriters approach their craft. When she was writing Habit, Jordan says she didn’t have much interest in guitar-centered rock music. But while she’s been working on the new record, she’s been listening to and drawing influence from artists including Kurt Vile, Mark Kozelek, Electrelane and Marnie Stern.
Jordan herself has been playing guitar since age five. She was trained in both classical and jazz guitar. Her first guitar, she says, was a red Fender Squier, “the same kind I play now.” She played in her church band as a child and began writing songs when she was eleven or twelve.
“I didn’t really take it seriously. I kind of dreaded it,” Jordan says. “I remember I really wanted to be, like, the lead guitarist in someone else’s band. That was the dream. My parents are musicians, and they would encourage me to be the singer. And I was always like, ‘Hell no. That won’t ever be me. I don’t even like to sing. I’m bad.’” Still, she would frequently get up onstage with her parents’ friend’s bands for a few songs. “I played sports bars, because I didn’t know what else there was,” she laughs.
Jordan credits Durham for introducing her to a deeper level of music. “I feel like I owe most of my music knowledge to Shawn,” she says. “I met her when I was like twelve or thirteen, and she would share everything that was cool with me. I spent a week or so in St. Louis because of Shawn, and actually we went to Off Broadway then.”
Snail Mail’s first shows were in Baltimore, a city that has hosted a small creative community for decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was home to the proto-emo of Lungfish, Moss Icon and Reptile House, while Half Japanese lived an hour west in Uniontown. More recently, Baltimore has spawned such diverse talent as Dan Deacon, Wye Oak, Beach House and Outer Spaces. For Jordan, who grew up in nearby Ellicott City, it’s a special place, even if she doesn’t spend as much time on the scene nowadays.
“Baltimore has some really amazing minds, but as far as the scene, I barely leave my house to go to shows when I’m home,” she admits. “There are still lots of young people doing cool things and booking shows. I know about some hardcore stuff. But it’s hard to book anything here. It’s, like, the spot where shows get canceled first. I think there’s a select handful of awesome promoters who really care, and there are creative and amazing musicians. But it’s not really what it used to be.”
With a new record under its belt and shows with Ought, Japanese Breakfast and (for two New England dates) Belle & Sebastian on the horizon, Snail Mail expects to be busy for the foreseeable future.
“It doesn’t slow down for a really long time,”Jordan says. “But I don’t know. That’s kind of the part of playing I like the most.”
7 p.m. Saturday, March 10. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $13 to $15. 314-773-3363.