Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
February 24, 2024

Valentine (Demos) by Snail Mail and the sanctity of indie songwriting

By JAY TAYLOR | January 22, 2024

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DAVID LEE / CC BY 2.0

Baltimore-native Indie Artist Snail Mail gives fans a look into her songwriting process through the release of Valentine (Demos).

The creative process for any artist is sacred — this incredibly vulnerable and personal affair is unique to so many artists, and yet local legend Snail Mail (the moniker for solo indie artist Lindsey Jordan) has let fans into her own creative journey with the release of her new extended play (EP), Valentine (Demos). This cut into the raw takes from the development of her 2021 album Valentine, which was released on its second anniversary at the start of November. 

Including four original, stripped demos of tracks from the album along with an unreleased song that didn’t make the final version of Valentine, the Valentine (Demos) EP is reminiscent of Jordan’s earlier sound, offering an unfiltered look into her writing process.

Hailing from Ellicott City, Md., Snail Mail began when Jordan coined the name at 15 in the suburbs of Baltimore. However, it was at her first live show at Baltimore’s Unregistered Nurse Festival in October of 2015 that Snail Mail caught her first big break. Catching the attention of indie record label Sister Polygon, Snail Mail signed to the label and released her first EP Habit in 2016. Her grungy guitars, catchy and vulnerable lyricism and characteristic sound led to critical acclaim, with the song “Thinning” catching the attention of indie press like Pitchfork

She continued to build this bedroom-indie-grunge sound with the release of her first album, Lush, in 2018. Building her fan base by touring with fellow indie bands like Beach Fossils and Girlpool, Snail Mail grew beyond the Baltimore indie scene — but never forgot her roots. 

Her 2021 album, Valentine, offered a more polished sound while staying true to her aching lyricism and guitar-heavy origins. Promoted with a custom flavor at Hampden’s famed ice cream spot The Charmery, and complete with a listening party at Baltimore record store The Sound Garden, Jordan paid homage to her Baltimore roots throughout the creation and promotion of the album. The 2021 tour of the album even ended one of its major legs with opener Momma at The Fillmore Silver Spring. 

Despite the official tour of the album ending, Snail Mail was still loyal to her Maryland origins and celebrated the namesake of her album with Valentine Fest, a five-day series of performances at the Ottobar in Baltimore during the week of Valentine’s Day in 2022. Featuring openers ranging from Baltimore punk artists like Truth Cult to indie big names like Mac DeMarco, Valentine Fest was Snail Mail’s tribute to and reconnection with her Baltimore roots. 

Valentine (Demos) was a product of Jordan’s time in her element; released on Nov. 3, this tribute to the early stages of Valentine’s development is a homage to the start of both her creation of the album and her origins as an artist. A complete 180 from the polished sound of the album, the demos offer a stripped-down, unadulterated version of four of the album’s songs along with “Easy Thing,” a song that did not make the final version of Valentine. 

Recorded by Jordan with just her vocals, guitar and occasional synths, the DIY vibe of Valentine (Demos) is familiar, with a sound reminiscent of her 2016 album Habit. Jordan’s use of just her voice for both backing and main vocals and use of primarily acoustic and shoegaze-esque, distorted guitar builds a bedroom-recorded feel soundscape. The use of echoing synths in Valentine (Demos) also sets the foundation for the more developed use of electronic instruments in the album, a hallmark of Valentine

Soundscapes aside, the EP is a bare-all look into the writing process of Valentine, complete with original lyrics that were later changed out when Jordan produced the album alongside producer Brad Cook. Jordan began the writing process for these songs upon her return to Baltimore during the COVID-19 pandemic when she moved back into her family home temporarily. Perhaps it is this return to her origins that yielded the versions of songs in Valentine (Demos) that sound so similar to her earlier works. 

Jordan’s return to Snail Mail’s humble beginnings throughout her creative process — from hosting festivals to songwriting in her childhood home — carves out a niche for her in the DIY queer indie rock scene, making her cohesive sound almost immediately identifiable. Her willingness to let fans into the unadulterated version of songs that already detail incredibly vulnerable times in her life, including her journey through rehabilitation and a breakup, is a refreshing and raw experience that many artists don’t offer their fans. 

Valentine (Demos) itself is a beautiful EP for both fans of Snail Mail and enjoyers of the indie grunge scene. Its short and sweet look into the first versions of later finalized songs on Valentine captures both Jordan’s iterative songwriting process and the rawness and realness of the album. From the cracks in her voice in “Automate” to the lo-fi guitar sound in “Headlock, the vulnerability of Valentine is amplified in Valentine (Demos) in ways previously not communicated in the finalized album’s polished sound. 

Jordan’s reconnection with the local Baltimore community during the time at which Valentine (Demos) was written and the demonstration of her development of Valentine is such a unique journey that listeners can appreciate. Whether you’re a first-time listener or a lifelong fan, Valentine (Demos) is a wonderful testament to the beauty and vulnerability of the songwriting process within the indie DIY music scene.


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