Near the heart of Lily Mastrodimos’ debut LP as Long Neck, Heights, is a clip of Fred Rogers’ inimitable baritone. His voice warm and didactic, you can almost hear the cardigan sweater. The deployment of Mr. Rogers is no accident; Mastrodimos sets the bucolic nostalgia of childhood against the looming anxiety of the adult world on Heights. Recorded partially as an undergraduate at Bard, where Mastrodimos also met her bandmates in Jawbreaker Reunion, and partially at her home in New Jersey, Heights articulates the discomfiting fulcrum between college and the world at large. Since the release of Heights in June, Mastrodimos released the LES EP, an assurance to people, she says, “that I’m still out here.” She means musically, but it is also a declaration of self, of existence. She spoke to IMPOSE about the recording of Heights, which comes out via cassette on Unsatisfied Records this month, her favorite dinosaurs, the pain of the future and what comes next.
How long have you been recording music? How long under the name Long Neck?
I started recording music as Long Neck back in November 2014. I had a collection of pretty terrible-quality GarageBand demos that I’d recorded over the past few years, some for Jawbreaker Reunion and some that I didn’t really know what to do with. A lot of them were just gathering dust, so I chose the four best-quality demos I had and put them on Bandcamp.
Where does the name come from?
Long Neck comes from Land Before Time, and I had reentered a massive dinosaur phase in October. Naming myself after my favorite dinosaurs (sauropods!) seemed to fit. I had also been listening to Eskimeaux’s “Broken Necks” a lot, and that song just really resonated with me at the time, this question of how far you can stretch yourself before you get hurt.
You grew up in New Jersey and recorded chunks of Heights at college and at home. How did those spaces impact the recordings?
I was definitely more secretive about my recording when I was home than when I was at school. I would only record when everyone was out of the house. It would just be me and my dog hanging out, and there was so much space for me to play and sing in without worrying about disturbing my neighbors. “Cetacean Nation” and “The Woods” I think especially benefited from being home—the former is about being scared of the future, and “Woods” is about one of my last nights at Bard and was recorded a week or so after graduation when I was really missing upstate NY.
Jersey City and Bard are also so drastically different in their ecology, and a lot of my writing is influenced by nature. Being in Jersey and surrounded by anthropogenic sound, there were times I felt like I had to play over everything, even though my house was fairly quiet. Upstate I was “competing” with birds, and I could look out of my window and see the Catskills directly across the river. Even though I had to be careful about my volume, I was much more at ease and comfortable in my dorm room.
Who were some of your major influences as you were growing up musically? Who impacted Heights? Is there any artist who you listen to and think, “Yeah, that’s what I want to do with Long Neck”?
It’s all such a mixed bag! It was this really kind of jagged transition from 70s punk/classic rock, to indie rock/folk, to folk punk, to old country/bluegrass/blues, to indie pop or punk or twee. I can’t think of one band in particular that has influenced Heights, every time I try to choose one I immediately think of a dozen others that I’ve all referred back to at some point. I remember when I first listened to Nana Grizol and was floored by how effortlessly beautiful their lyrics were, or the first time I heard the Decemberists and was awestruck by the stories they told and the breadth of their music. I can’t choose just one. I’ll fall for a band and think, “I wanna do that!” and sometimes it fits and sometimes it just doesn’t work at all.
My friends have also had huge impacts on my music, and I love them all to the moon and back. I can definitely say that in the past few years I’ve been majorly influenced by The Epoch, Mitski, and Nana Grizol—music that is both vulnerable and powerful, and isn’t afraid to explore other genres. They’re unabashedly true to themselves and honest with their audiences, and when I started with Long Neck I wanted to be just as open and brave as they are.
On your Bandcamp page you talk about working through things and figuring yourself out. What were you working through and figuring out on Heights?
Heights is ultimately about coming to terms with depression, loss, loneliness, and anxiety. I had a lot of trouble talking to my friends about how I was feeling, and writing songs about it seemed to be a good way for me to work through it all while also letting them know something was up. I still really hesitate to talk about the full extent of how I am, so you could say that I’m still working through it.
I love the line on “Lullaby” about wanting to feel like anything was coming besides trains and the “cars on the interstate.” Is Heights a meditation on anxiety over the future?
Thank you so much! It definitely is. A lot of these songs were written at my lowest, when I’d be anxious about what the next day or week or month would be like because I didn’t know how long this bout of depression would last. Other songs, like “Cetacean Nation” and “Heights” and even “Dogstar”, worry about the future in the most general terms, like “When will I get a job? How the fuck am I gonna pay off my loans? Am I just gonna be a spinster?” One of the earliest reviews of Heights wrote that it sounds like the thoughts racing through your head before you go to bed, which is how a lot of these songs first came into being.
It sounds like you’ve spent the summer downtown, and the LES EP came out directly on the heels of Heights. What’s next for you?
Oh yes. I released LES partly as another way to work through some hurt, partly to keep my recording chops up, and partly to let people know that I’m still out here. I’ve got a few shows coming up, and I’d love to play more! I’m also extremely excited about Heights being released on tape by Unsatisfied Records this month, and I’m going to try to work with some friends within the next few months to record some new material. A lot of things in my life right now feel like they’re up in the air, but I’m really looking forward to whatever is next.