Interview: Long Neck
Our clearest memories are often quite unfocused. Rather than memorize every detail, they may focus in on something specific; a color, feeling, a person or a place. In her sophomore release, Will This Do?, Lily Mastrodimos zooms in on those specifics as a way to react and understand life’s trials and troubles. The 10-track record, released under her Long Neck moniker, is a self-reflection of change, loss, and then recovery after a year that can only be described as “fucking awful.” It’s an intimate and poetic look at the unexpected challenges life can present.
Mastrodimos’ first LP, 2015’s Heights, was self-recorded and independently released with very little press behind it. Since then, Mastrodimos has graduated from college, added a full band, signed to Tiny Engines, and has learned to be less afraid. No longer adhering to sound codes or trying not to annoy neighbors, Will This Do? is unrestrained and emotionally raw.
hope all is well got the chance to talk to Mastrodimos about Will This Do?, the environment, and what it means to have a good support system.
hope: Long Neck started as a side project from your other band, Jawbreaker Reunion. What is it like taking a side project and turning it into a main focus?
Lily: I started it my senior year with the intention of taking it with me anywhere once I’d graduated. That was the general idea, that I could travel with it and make music even if Jawbreaker Reunion didn’t continue after college. It became its own thing after I graduated. I didn’t have money to move, but Long Neck ended up being kind of a blessing in disguise because it helped me rediscover my roots in New Jersey and helped me find some space. When I moved back home, I started to put more focus into Long Neck because I figured that I was going to be home for a while longer, so I should do something with it. Bella, Dre, and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to do after we graduated and where we wanted to be. For me, Long Neck became a vessel to clear my head out after I graduated. We were able to do some Jawbreaker Reunion stuff for a few more months — which was great. Then we all found our way to where we needed to be.
hope: What’s the story behind your moniker?
Lily: The short answer is that I’m super into dinosaurs. The long answer: I was watching The Land Before Time during a fever dream. I was thinking a lot about the lengths I went to to take care of other people and make them happy, and how far I was willing to stretch myself to do that. Long Neck came from this idea that I’m putting my neck out as far as I can and not taking care of myself when I should be and that I don’t need to sacrifice my well being for other people. In addition to Longnecks being what the Sauropods are called.
hope: Long Neck started as a solo project but you’ve added a full band in the last couple years. What was that process of adding new members like? Do they add more perspective to the songs?
Lily: Absolutely. It was great working with them when we were figuring stuff out and recording the album. I've known my drummer and my guitarist for almost my entire life.I've known my guitarist since the 4th grade; we were in a band together which lasted for about a year and a half. My drummer is my best friend and I've known him since we were in high school. Our bassist on the album helped me book a lot of my first shows up state. It was really nice to have this support system of people I’ve known my whole life and people who really believed in what I was trying to do. They really helped flesh out the songs a lot more. I could tell they just gave a shit and really cared and that was a beautiful thing to feel.
Especially in that year, when it was really hard to write and play music. It was a really bad fucking year, I lost three grandparents and had to navigate through a ton of emotional and mental turmoil. Having people around who wanted to support this project, wanted to create something, to purely make music was really uplifting and empowering. Our current bassist is also someone I’ve known since high school. The band is just people I’ve known for either half my life or longer. We’re all super comfortable with each other and really good friends—even better friends now.
hope: The list of instruments credited to you on the new album is so long. How did you pick which instruments would fit into which songs?
Lily: Some of them were predetermined. I knew I wanted to have piano on "Matriarch" while some of them were decided in the studio. I brought all of my instruments from home to the studio and just kept them there. If we questioned whether banjo would sound good, or stylophone, or bells, then we could try them out. If they worked then they worked, and if they didn't that was fine. Music is a science—it's all about experimentation and testing hypotheses.
hope: Along with being a musician, you’re also a scientist. You studied Biology at Bard College and have done a ton of environmental work. Can you talk about the research and work you’ve done?
Lily: Hell yeah! Fieldwork wise — I started getting into ecology and conservation my sophomore year. I originally went to school to become a veterinarian, but that quickly got dashed because that shit is expensive and there’s no guarantee you’ll even get your degree. I took some animal behavior classes and got to work with this New Zealand parrot called a kea, which was very exciting for my lab partners and I. I've conducted research on the relationships between mosquito and host diversity. My senior thesis investigated avian acoustics and alarm calls in foraging groups. Essentially I spent a whole winter playing owl callbacks at bird feeders and scaring birds.
I’ve worked the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection through an AmeriCorps program, which sent me out to conduct biological assessments of rivers and streams in New Jersey. My favorite thing has been working with bats. Two summers ago I worked with a grad student doing population assessments of bats in Cape Cod. Right now I’m working with a grad student at the Museum Of Natural History studying bat microbiomes. It’s a lot of genetics, and things that I didn’t do a lot of at school, but it’s good practice. The end game for me is getting a PhD and studying bats. Bats are really cool and interesting. They’re super important to ecosystems everywhere, and they’re one of the most diverse species on the planet. How can you not love them—they’re the best! I freaking love them.
hope: Can you tell us about that dichotomy of being a musician and a scientist?
Lily: A lot of people think science and music don’t match up and fit together but I heartily disagree. There's this stigma surrounding the sciences that they're very straightforward and logical, with no room for creativity. The reality is, scientists are some of the wackiest motherfuckers I’ve ever met. Every ecologist I’ve ever met is super goofy or has some weird dark humor or likes to party. They spend so much time out in the middle of nowhere so they have to make fun somehow.
Another thing that’s overlooked is that science is an incredibly creative field. It’s not all intense lab work and guidelines. I mean, yes that exists — but science is about solving problems and figuring out how to best run experiments. It’s just like studio time and saying “what would work best here? What instruments can we use to make this sound best?” It’s the same idea of testing different things to see how they work. Science is not always super fancy.
hope: Would you say biology influences your songwriting?
Lily: I find a lot of comfort in nature. When you're out in the field, you get used to being in the middle of nowhere. There are a lot of strong, warm feelings and memories that I have associated with time spent in nature. You are stepping into another world, hearing and seeing things you wouldn't normally encounter. You're learning that A or B species actually does live in your neck of the woods, and you feel a sense of pride. Being away from anthropogenic sound helps you think too, so you can focus on your mental health, or dissecting hurt or romantic feelings, or even think about nothing and just enjoy the silence and the scenery. It’s very easy for those feelings to seep into whatever I’m writing.
"Lichen" is all about a toxic relationship, but it’s represented as this organism that is a symbiotic relationship on it’s own. Lichen is that green stuff that grows on trees whenever it rains. For me, it’s easier to draw these comparisons to how I’m feeling and the natural world around me because it’s something that I’m familiar with. And in writing that, if I’m trying to process something, it kind of helps me feel a little safer.
hope: A lot of the songs on your latest release were featured on older demos that you put on Bandcamp. What was it like to revisit and re-record those songs?
Lily: It was exciting and also kind of scary. A lot of the songs on there had been recorded not too long after the events that inspired them. It was a little unsettling to revisit at points because it meant revisiting those feelings and pains. The main difference was that I recorded most of those demos alone. Being able to go into the studio with my bandmates was very healing. Even if I was feeling raw, they were there to pick me back up and keep going. It ended up being a great way to process any remaining feelings I had. Having the ability to rework these songs with the help of people I love reminded me that I’m not alone. Shitty things can happen, but that I have people around me who I love, and who love and care about me. It was lovely.
hope: How did you choose which songs from the demos to put onto the album?
Lily: "Lichen" and "Mine/Yours" specifically were songs I had been really excited about when I wrote. I really like the lyrics and music so I was stoked to put them on the album. I was hesitant to put "10,000 Year Old Woman" on there but it fit the album really well.
The album itself tells a very specific story about a specific period in time. All of the songs on there are incredibly representative of that. It just made sense for them to all be on there because they detail and outline everything. If one were missing, there would be a blank spot in the timeline.
hope: The idea of “Home” and belonging comes up a lot in the record. In your opinion, what makes a place home?
Lily: For a really long time, even before I graduated, home was where you felt content. I was content at school. I was content in Jersey. But I wanted to leave and go somewhere else. I really wanted to move to Georgia. I wanted to get my grad school career going. I wanted to make a home for myself where I could be comfortable. But, in the time since I wrote the album, I’ve learned that “home” is where you can struggle and be down but still have a strong a loving support system. It’s a place where you don’t have to be purely content. You don’t have to sacrifice other things just so you can have a fleeting sense of comfort or a smidgen of happiness. It’s where you are allowed to struggle and feel very sincerely and still make it through because you have people around to help you get through it.
hope: And what are your thoughts on the phrase “You can never go home again?”
Lily: I feel like “home” can be such an abstract concept because it means something different for everybody. Your home can be with your chosen family, or a home with your friends, or a home where you’re happy/comfortable being on your own. I think “home” has a different definition for everybody.
At the same time, I think the concept of home, especially if you’re thinking in physical terms, I think that’s constantly changing too. The town where I spent the first 7 years of my life, I still consider my hometown but it’s changed monumentally. It doesn’t feel the same but I have so many connections to it. Some of my oldest friends are still there. You’ve got me thinking about it. What is home?
I think it would almost be an insult to have it all figured out. No one has it figured out. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fucking liar. Maybe that’s just me.
hope: In 20 years, what do you think it’s going to be like to hear this album and revisit that period of your life?
Lily: I think I’m going to be proud that I made it through. I’ll think back fondly and be grateful for the people who were with me and stayed with me during that time, and helped remind me that I have my own reservoir of strength and resilience. If anything, I don’t want this album to be looked back on as a "quirky sad girl album", because it’s not. I don’t want this to be seen as a "quirky sad girl album" because it outlines a period of time of I experienced that almost broke me. It was very real and very, very painful. I think calling it spunky or quirky or whatever really diminishes my feelings and takes my entire experience out of the picture. If I look back 20 years from now, it’s going to be a testament to survival during a very sad year and I’m going to feel very proud.
Long Neck plays Burlington, VT, on Saturday, March 3rd with Ivamae & The Onlys at Foam Brewers. Entry to the event is $5-7 // RSVP to the event here.
- hope all is well
This Article Was Graciously Contributed By:
Ben Demars is a freelance writer based in Vermont with special interest in music, lifestyle, and mid 2000’s reality tv. Read his thoughts on twitter @ive_benjamin