San Francisco is a memorable tour spot for countless reasons.
There is an opportunity to take in the city’s storied musical history, which counts Janice Joplin, Jerry Garcia, and Jello Biafra among its numerous sons and daughters. A fervent, engaged fanbase means that even a show on a rainy Tuesday night will be well-attended, often resulting in that rare mid-week sell-out. And the city’s myriad venues offer unique opportunities to play in venerable music halls, up-and-coming clubs, and authentic dives.
For Lindsey Jordan, the 19-year-old dynamo behind the indie-rock band Snail Mail, San Francisco stands out for a significantly different reason: ghosts.
Yep. Paranormal apparitions.
“I was at the Chapel, and the rumor is that the place is haunted,” says Jordan, whose band plays a sold-out show at the Fillmore on Jan. 24. “I was by myself on my phone and I felt something on my shoulder and a cold rush of energy in the room. I mean, at the time, I was thinking there were ghosts everywhere, and I was a little paranoid and I hadn’t ever been away from home that long. But to this day, I do believe I was contacted by a ghost.”
Even visitors from the spectral world have done little to stop the precocious Jordan’s rise. Her debut album as Snail Mail — 2018’s Lush — captivated the indie-rock world with its combination of lively guitar hooks, earnest wordplay, and inventive reinterpretation of classic ’90s sounds.
Although barely out of high school, Jordan was nearly an industry name when Lush came out last June. Her EP, Habit, had been released to rave reviews in 2016, and on the eve of her full-length debut, there was plenty of buzz surrounding Snail Mail (a moniker that Jordan admits has no significant meaning). That ubiquitous buildup was not another example of the hype machine gone awry, as Lush has hypnotized fans and critics alike. Snail Mail shows are now sold out in locales as far-flung as Asia, and Lush was included in numerous year-end best-of lists, landing at the No. 5 spot on Pitchfork and the No. 2 spot on Stereogum.
It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly makes Lush so listenable, but once the album is on, it’s impossible to put away. All the signifiers of the 1990s are noticeable in Jordan’s creative process, yet her songs never feel revivalist or unduly reverent. She does a masterful job of realizing the watery guitar interplay of Crooked Rain-era Pavement, but her creations are more direct and hook-laden. She embraces the confessional songwriting approach of Liz Phair, yet eschews the more caustic elements of her predecessor (an admittedly huge influence for Jordan).
The result is a beguiling collection of tunes that sound recognizable, while simultaneously belonging in a world that is solely of Jordan’s making. The moment the silver-hued guitar licks open up on “Pristine” — Lush’s second track and Jordan’s most fully-realized moment as a songwriter — there is a preternatural, immediate sense of enjoyment, for reasons both understood and still-to-be-determined.
“I just wanted to make music that sounded exactly like what was going on in my head,” Jordan says. “There were no real expectations of ripping anyone off or not ripping anyone off, or of being a ’90s throwback or anything. It just all developed super-organically.”
One clearly evident element of Jordan’s music is that she doesn’t kowtow to irony. Lush is awash with tender musings of unrequited love and failed relationships. When she sings on “Pristine” that she’ll “never love anyone else,” it is impossible to question her sentiment, despite her young age and boundless potential. On “Heat Wave,” a buzzing, urgent tune detailing a disintegrating fling, Jordan belts out “Tell me that I’m the only one / And I hope I never get a clue.” Damn if your heart doesn’t just break for the kid and damn if you can’t picture yourself in that exact same moment, feeling hopelessly in love and perversely loving that associated pain.
“I just hate irony,” Jordan says. “I hate everything about it. I just don’t understand people making things to make fun of other things — it just all comes from a mean place. If I’m not making music that’s honest and straight to the point of who I am, then I just feel like I’m doing myself a disservice every single night, because I would have to lie to everyone.”
It is easy today to be cynical and bitter — to hide true pain and suffering under a façade of aloof disconnection. If you tie yourself to nothing, then nothing in these truly fucked-up times can hurt you. Jordan takes the higher road, and perhaps that’s why her album has so resonated with so many listeners, from teens struggling with the pitfalls of adolescence to hoary scenesters once too-jaded to embrace anything so earnest.
Jordan still believes in love, loss, and in the heroic healing powers of art. It is not a belief borne out of naivety or youth, but from the simple creed that if you feel something, you should express that feeling. It is the kind of broad-minded approach that helped create masterworks such as Lush, while also accepting the possibility that, hey, ghosts might just be chilling here with us humans.
Snail Mail with Black Marble and Choir Boy, Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd. $23; thefillmoresf.com.