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Snail Mail on the ‘True Artistic Genius’ of Kim Gordon

"I still am like, 'Would Kim Gordon think this was cool?'" says Lindsey Jordan. "I see her as a beacon of inspiration"
Sacha Lecca for Rolling Stone

F OR ROLLING STONE’S THIRD annual Icons & Influences feature, we asked eight of our favorite artists and entertainers to pay tribute to the women who have inspired them, in life as well as in their careers. Singer-guitarist Lindsey Jordan, a.k.a. Snail Mail, talked about how Kim Gordon’s music changed her life as a young musician, and how Gordon’s work with Sonic Youth and beyond continues to inspire her today.

Sonic Youth is one of the first bands I remember ever getting really into, and it opened up a whole world to me. Being a little girl playing music, I was automatically thirsty for heroes — and Kim Gordon was an immediate light switch on. That was the first time I ever listened to any nonlinear, noisy, ambient, abstract music, and seeing a woman right at the forefront of it definitely did something to my brain. I was 13 or 14, putting the pieces together. Sonic Youth is one of the big reasons I started playing in alternate tunings — I wanted to emulate. I still am like, “Would Kim Gordon think this was cool?” I see her as a beacon of inspiration and true artistic genius. 

Later, I read her book, Girl in a Band, and I loved hearing everything from her perspective. Something that stuck with me in a big way is where she was talking about people searching for some kind of out to how harsh the music is by noticing that there’s a woman, and being like, “OK, I’m not scared anymore.” And she’s like, “You should be scared. I’m not here to provide anyone comfort.” I thought about that for a long time, and it always comes back to me. I sometimes find myself kind of dulling down the way that I present myself to people so as to be likable. You don’t want people to hate you. You do not want other bands to be like, “I heard she’s a bitch.” But Kim Gordon is just like, “This is who I am.” She’s not trying to be anybody’s anything. That’s powerful.

Kim Gordon is just effortlessly cool — she can be monotone and she can be really expressive, and both types of presentations are really unique. You can’t listen to Kim Gordon singing without being a little intimidated. The fact that she’s not a trained musician is really cool to me. “Sweet Shine,” that’s probably my favorite Sonic Youth song of all time. When I feel creatively stuck, that record, Experimental Jet Set, is a huge guiding light to me.

I saw her band Body/Head at Ottobar in Baltimore years ago, and I was just glued watching her. She’s a feedback master. Doing a feedback thing onstage has always been taboo to me, because you have to really know what you’re doing. It has to be chaotic and it has to be controlled. I remember watching her set and being like, “Her brain works differently than mine, in the best way.” She knows what the fuck she’s doing. Her presence demands respect. She’s something I could only strive to want to be.

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