At Maryland's music mega-fortress, Merriweather Post Pavilion, 17-year-old Lindsey Jordan yells at concert rabble-rousers in a heavy, stern voice: "Sir, don't stand on that chair! . . . Sir, put that out!"
She has been laying down the law and holding doors for bands backstage as a Merriweather security employee since she was 14 years old, and when she isn't there, she's juggling the business details and creative decisions behind her increasingly popular Baltimore-based indie rock band, Snail Mail, whose 2016 EP, "Habit" continues picking up accolades.
"We just got very lucky in our opportunities, so I'm really thankful for that," Jordan tells me at Charmington's in March, shortly before Snail Mail played alongside Downtown Boys, Sneaks, and Joe Biden next door at the Ottobar.
The luck she is talking about came when Jordan congratulated her friend Angela Swiecicki, a member of local punk bands Post Pink and Big Mouth, for hopping on the lineup of U+N Fest 4, and Swiecicki responded, "I'll set you up with a spot!"
Jordan, as Snail Mail, had just released "Sticki EP," a Garageband bedroom demo highlighting her singing and her reverberant electric guitar, and when the D.C. punk quartet Priests saw her U+N Fest set, they recruited her to record a record on Sister Polygon Records, a label they created in 2012.
Listening to "Habit," the product of that auspicious encounter, it's clear that there is a lot more than luck involved in Snail Mail's success. The EP, released last July, features 27 minutes of Jordan's bright and lightly distorted guitar playing while she wistfully, and periodically explosively, sings about detachment, uncertainty, and yearning so great that Jordan knows it verges on laughable.
On 'Static Buzz,' she describes self-induced confinement in the face of longing and depression, musically reminiscent of Liz Phair's "Exile In Guyville," but the dynamics climb and recede with Jordan's soaring melodies of overwhelming heartache: "Shutters on my house keep the sunlight in/ If that's not enough to keep the people out/ Then I don't wanna know what's on the other side."
Jordan might be at her best on 'Stick,' stripped down like the songs on "Sticki EP," so that her voice comes across with a shattering clarity. Throughout "Habit," Jordan's voice rides the line between plaintive melodies and a confident, maybe even stoic, acceptance of that pain. The last minute 'Stick' builds like many others: Jordan sings prolonged, dynamic notes mixed with a rough hoarseness. "And I wouldn't worry, who's happy alone, even when it doesn't make sense," she sings, building to a climax and that promptly ends, failing to offer resolution.
The pain she was singing through was real and comes across in her voice. She fell ill during the recording of "Habit" but kept pushing through so many takes of the physically and emotionally exhausting songs that at one point she started puking. You can hear it in her voice—in the best way.
Even after she upchucked in the yard, Priests invited Snail Mail to join them on tour last January, enabling Jordan to perform to large audiences at famed punk venues such as the Brooklyn Bazaar in NYC and Everybody Hits! in Philadelphia.
On stage, Jordan isn't traditionally charismatic. There's not a lot of banter and she is a lot more low-key than when yelling at Merriweather patrons. But there is a quiet command. Jordan doesn't mess around; she gets right to the music and delivers from start to finish with the same sincerity and passion as heard on "Habit."
At an Ottobar show back in March, she held her own with seasoned performers like Sneaks, Joe Biden (who, full disclosure, I'm friends with), and Providence's "bi bilingual political dance sax punk party" Downtown Boys, whose frontperson, Victoria Ruiz, took a moment on stage to talk about Jordan's strength in the middle of a series of impassioned speeches of anti-fascist and pro-LGBTQ sentiment.
"I'm having a good time with Snail Mail," Jordan says and pauses. "I'm also having a bad time. . . . a lot of it is just answering emails that you don't understand the rhetoric of."
"I'm kind of overwhelmed. There's lots of stuff that I just don't really know how to do that I'm doing," Jordan laughs, "like blindly."
She's generally pretty self-deprecating. "Did you see me driving?" she asks at one point and talks about her lack of "life skills."
But after all, she's trying to navigate a business that has crushed even the largest of egos—while finishing her final credits and preparing for high school graduation.
Jordan has had to turn down "lots of really, really cool stuff" on account of high school, she says. She originally planned to balance Snail Mail with English and literature courses at a New York City institution, but she's decided that college is for later, or maybe never, and right now she's making a go for it as Snail Mail and is quite possibly on her way to captivating audiences of thousands at a venue like Merriweather instead of disappointing them when she tells them to put their cigarettes out.
Snail Mail plays The Ottobar with Frankie Cosmos and Post Pink on May 18.