Band To Watch

Band To Watch: Long Neck

“I don’t want to spend the whole time talking about how great New Jersey is,” Lily Mastrodimos jokes while talking about her band’s forthcoming new album. But her home state comes up a lot in conversation, because Jersey is intrinsically tied to the music that Mastrodimos makes as Long Neck, and her songwriting has a definitive sense of place. Started as an outlet when she wasn’t working with her old band — Band To Watch alums Jawbreaker Reunion — Mastrodimos recorded the first proper Long Neck release, 2015’s Heights, split primarily between two locations: her upstate New York college’s dorm room and her parent’s house in Jersey City. A lot of her songs deal with wanting to be somewhere else, or wanting to be home, or wanting to find a place within herself that feels like home.

Long Neck’s new album, Will This Do?, is peppered with nods to the state and her personal and familial connection to it. There’s a song about a photograph of her grandmother standing over the salty sea in Cape May (or possibly Cape Cod, unknown the way all family histories are rendered fuzzy with time); there’s references to the Turnpike and cruising down wide roads feeling both free and trapped at the same time. “New Jersey, what’s the worry?/ It’s not like I’m in any hurry/ I can see the lights of home,” she sings on one track.

Mastrodimos began Long Neck as a solo project, but over the last couple years it gradually expanded to a full band, one that only emphasizes her Jersey roots. All of its members also grew up in the state, and some of them have known each other since childhood. (Their guitarist, Kevin Kim, played with Mastrodimos in her first band in the fourth grade.) That closeness and sense of shared experience permeates the songs that they play together, an instinctual geographic likeness that can’t be easily manufactured. It also provides Mastrodimos with a solid foundation to push Heights’ deftly-picked folk songs into more muscular territory, bursting with fresh energy and confidence.

Her hooks, including the one on Will This Do? lead single “Mine/Yours” (premiering above), often take the form of something akin to a marching band stomp or a rapturous barroom chant. Centered around Mastrodimos’ deeply affecting voice, “Mine/Yours” is an affirmation of individuality in the face of coupling, a compromise between holding on to what you need while navigating what someone else wants. “I want to say this simply/ I want to make it pure/ I wanna be mine and I wanna be yours,” goes the chorus.

The song acts as a snapshot of restless nights staring up at the ceiling and contemplating your place in the world. “It was inspired by the first tour that I went on with Jawbreaker Reunion and Adult Mom,” Mastrodimos explains. “It’s a very distant kind of song, where you’re away from people you care about and you just want to be with the ones that you love, even though you’re doing something great. It’s also about this idea of wanting someone to go home to, having someone in your life to keep up to date with what you’re seeing and wishing that they were there.”

As with all songwriters, Mastrodimos’ lyrics are a reflection of her own interests. Beyond Jersey, there’s a fixation on science and nature that stems from her career path outside of music. For example: “Mine/Yours” was written while she was doing field work in Cape Cod, studying bats. Will This Do? features a song about lichen that’s used as a way to describe a toxic codependent relationship; another invokes the bee hive collapse as a way to translate feelings of emptiness and inadequacy in the face of loneliness. These metaphors create a fantastical world that feels separate from our own but is also entirely a part of it. On a highlight from her 2015 album, Heights, she depicts separation on a glacial scale: “I don’t wanna stay here when the sun sets, like I don’t wanna lose your number when the poles reset,” she sings. “Ice floes, ice floats in a cold place/ Surface cracks like the lines in your face/ Surface cracks like dirt in an earthquake.”

There’s also a strong thread of family in Mastrodimos’ writing. She maps personal histories and patterns, placing her existence in some larger context and continuum. Will This Do? as a whole is an attempt to process a specific grief, written as a way to cope with the death of both of her grandmothers, who passed away within a month of each other last year. Concurrently, Mastrodimos was also dealing with a complicated relationship, and many of the songs are about trying to find autonomy in a life that feels increasingly uneasy and unreliable. “It was a long period of time of being immensely depressed because it felt like my family was falling apart,” Mastrodimos says. “I felt very isolated and numb and angry, but I didn’t know how to express that without screaming into a pillow or running away completely. So, basically, I did a lot of driving around Northern Jersey, listening to pop-punk and screaming in my car, because what else are you going to do?”

One of Will This Do?‘s most strikingly beautiful songs, “Matriarch,” is a tender remembrance of her grandmother. “I spilled coffee on the coat you gave me/ And I wanted to say ‘sorry,’ though you couldn’t hear me,” Mastrodimos opens. “I can still see your fingers on piano keys/ Can’t tell what you’re playing, but you are sitting next to me.” It ends on a line that provides the album with its title: “You asked me why I didn’t write a ballad yet/ Will this do?” It’s an aching question that hangs over all of Long Neck’s new album, a desire to do right by those who love you and those that have left you.

“‘Matriarch’ is one of the most personal songs on the album because so much of it is based on my last conversations with my grandma and seeing her at hospice,” Mastrodimos says. “One of the last things she said to me was, Music is great, but you’ve gotta stick with science. I’m doing that, I’m doing science, but I also want to make sure that I’m doing her proud, too. Nana, will this do? I really hope it will.”

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Tracklist:
01 “Mine/Yours”
02 “Elizabeth”
03 “Matriarch”
04 “Lichen”
05 “Rosy”
06 “Love Letters”
07 “Ashes”
08 “Hive Collapse”
09 “Milky Way”
10 “10,000 Year Old Woman”

Tour dates:
01/11 Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong
01/12 Charlottesville, VA @ Tea Bazaar
01/13 Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
01/14 Asheville, NC @ Fleetwoods
01/15 Athens, GA @ Flicker Bar
01/16 Tallahassee, FL @ The Bark
01/17 Birmingham, AL @ The Firehouse
01/19 Nashville, TN @ TBA
01/20 St. Louis, MO @ Beefs
01/21 Cedar Rapids, IA @ The Hive Collective
01/22 Madison, WI @ Williamson Magnetic
01/23 Chicago, IL @ Subterranean Downstairs
01/24 Ann Arbor, MI @ Blue House
01/25 Athens, OH @ house show
01/26 Pittsburgh, PA @ house show
01/27 Philadelphia, PA @ TBA
01/28 Jersey City, NJ @ Monty Hall

Will This Do? is out 1/26 via Tiny Engines. Pre-order it here.

Tags: Long Neck