With its “Social Distancing Project,” Brooklyn/ New Jersey rock band Long Neck is fighting to keep us connected during the coronavirus pandemic.
With touring indefinitely on hold and stay-at-home orders in place around the United States, artists are adjusting to life in self-isolation. It’s a challenging situation for everyone, but it can be especially hard for musicians whose work revolves around in-person collaboration.
Enter the Social Distancing Project, a grassroots initiative aimed at making remote musical collaboration just a little bit easier. Launched by Lily Mastrodimos, guitarist and vocalist of the Jersey City/Brooklyn rock band Long Neck, it’s a Google Drive where participants are encouraged to upload and add to existing demos—making new friends and bumping into new musical co-conspirators along the way.
With her own band separated during self-isolation—bassist Alex Mercuri is based in Jersey, and Mastrodimos, guitarist Kevin Kim, and drummer John Ambrosio live separately in Brooklyn—and an upcoming tour postponed, Mastrodimos recognized the need for digital collaboration.
“If folks have to stay home all the time and they want to work on something new, this could be a cool way for people to connect and collaborate with folks they maybe don’t know,” Mastrodimos told AdHoc. “One of the things I love most about touring is meeting new people, meeting new bands, and playing with them, so I thought this could be an interesting take on that.”
Mastrodimos spoke to AdHoc about her advice for collaborating remotely, the story behind the Social Distancing Project, and juggling creative work with her job as an essential worker at a grocery store.
Long Neck’s self-released album World’s Strongest Dog is out now.
AdHoc: What inspired you to create this Google Drive project?
Lily Mastrodimos: Just seeing the number of people who had to cancel shows and reschedule sucks, and it made me wonder if there was a way that we could still engage with each other and with our communities. I’ve been seeing a lot of live-streaming shows, which has been so wonderful and heartening to see. I wondered, if folks have to stay home all the time and they want to work on something new, this could be a cool way for people to connect and collaborate with folks they maybe don’t know. One of the things I love most about touring is meeting new people, meeting new bands, and playing with them, so I thought this could be an interesting take on that.
What has the response been like so far?
I have maybe thirty people with access to the drive right now. We have a few folders up of folks who are posting their music, and I’m sure there will be more in the coming days. I know I’m going to try and put something on soon. I work at a grocery store, so I’m still going into work every day, so I haven’t had enough time to really commit to sitting down and putting something on there. I’m very excited to see what people put on there!
Who has been participating?
As of now, we’ve got Grass Jaw, Ben Denoncourt, Mike Sansevere [of Future Generations], and I know a few folks who are uploading in the next few days. A lot of people who have been uploading are folks that I know from my old work or are like friends or in bands that we played with ages ago. I really wanted to make it so it wasn’t restricted to bands who are in the “scene,” because everybody who is playing music and who is an artist is impacted, not just folks who are going on tour or bigger bands. It’s smaller bands and smaller artists, so making it accessible to everyone is really important to me.
There’s been a bigger response [from] folks on the East Coast, down the Atlantic states: New England, the Tri-State area, some folks from the Midwest and South. I’m hoping that within the next few weeks we get more of a response. There are folks in the U.K. who have signed on. I was shocked! I’m really excited because I think it’s so cool for bands and artists from other countries to share music with each other and make music with each other. It’s not something that folks get to do all the time.
Is there an end goal for this project, or is this more for fun?
I’ve been thinking about that. Right now it feels more like a creative, fun project for people to be involved in. I’ve thought about reaching out to the artists and seeing if they wanted to put a compilation out, but at the end of the day. it’s all of their songs.
We’re in an unprecedented period of time. We’re self-quarantining, self-isolating, and trying to survive in a global pandemic. Funds are really tight, and if there is any way for these artists to make a little bit of money with what we’re doing, then I would be all for that. I’m not opposed to putting out a compilation with funds going straight to the artists, but it’s up to them. All the power is in their hands, and I want them to be comfortable and I want them to be taken care of. Most of all, I want everybody to find a little bit of peace in this.
Do you have any previous experience collaborating remotely?
I’ve played around with the idea and never followed through, but I’ve organized compilation albums before. I do a series called “Punx Do Good,” where anything raised from a compilation goes to an organization funding for reproductive rights or the Amazon. I’m still working on one for the Australian wildfires, but everything has been taking me a little bit longer because I’ve been working. I’ve always wanted to collaborate with folks remotely, and I’m really excited to get a chance to do it with this.
Do you think it’s a little bit harder to be creative with the weight of the pandemic on you?
It really depends on the person. I’m working night shifts until past midnight, and I’ve written a few songs, but I haven’t been able to really sit with them and figure them out. I’ve found it really hard to be creative right now, but it’s been nice to see other artists who have been uploading to this Google Drive.
Oceanator just put out a few songs on their Bandcamp, so other people have been writing and releasing music. It’s been really inspiring to see that even in the midst of a global pandemic, people can and are still creating art and sharing it. I just have to sleep longer than six hours for a few days straight, and then I’ll see how I get back in the game.
Is it hard being one of the essential workers during this time?
I feel very lucky and privileged to have a job right now. I know so many of my friends who have been laid off or are working from home. Grocery stores—or at least the one I’m working at—are going to remain open. They’re still paying us, they’re giving us a little bit more money, but they only just put in measures to protect the workers.
I feel more stressed that my fellow co-workers and I are being put in a position where we are exposing ourselves to the virus every single day. We don’t have face masks; we were only just allowed to start wearing gloves at the register. It’s stressful as hell, and everytime I cough or pull a muscle, I’m like, “Shit is this it?” I’m more stressed out about being a carrier at this point than I am at how many hours I’m working. My coworkers and I are put in a position every day where we are facing the unknown.
A lot of artists are in a very precarious financial situation. What do you think needs to happen in terms of a government response to ensure that people actually make it through this?
I’ve got a lot of feelings on that. First and foremost, people cannot keep going out and being in close proximity with each other. The thing that is going to help artists—and really everybody—is making sure that this pandemic is taken care of sooner than later and stopping its spread so we’re not in this same situation several months from now.
It’s been so fucked up how our federal government hasn’t taken any responsibility for letting it get this bad because they’ve known about it for months. It’s horrifying that we don’t have enough tests—that people can’t even get tested if they don’t fit certain criteria. My mom is a teacher and had a really bad allergy flare-up and thought she would need to get tested and didn’t meet the criteria. She’s not sick—she’s totally fine—but if she had been she wouldn’t have been able to get tested.
I wish I could tell the federal government to step up and do the bare minimum of taking care of your people. What I’m seeing from other cities is all the freelance and artists relief funds that the city themselves are setting up, like Boston, so it would be really nice to see New York or even Jersey City have that same response. There needs to be a small business relief fund set up by state governments, a rent freeze, and student loan forgiveness. Medicare for All as well.
How do you deal with the stress of being on the frontlines?
Maybe this is just me, but music keeps me sane. In a weird way, it is my full-time job, and it feels like not being able to do my full-time job. I am not alone in getting tours canceled or shows canceled, and it’s very scary to see an entire community just halt. But it’s also been really powerful seeing the same community come together and try to support each other by posting Bandcamp links, promoting their friends, or even just being honest and being like, “I’m a musician. I need a little help.”
Everyone’s in the same boat, but everyone has come together to say that we’re going to help each other out, that we’re not going to let this stop us. I’ve been trying to focus on the little things here, like the living room concerts streamed online or collaboration projects. Anything that will continue to make these connections, because we really need that right now.
How can people get involved?
They can DM us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and say they are interested. Send us your email address and then I’ll add you to the Drive. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s going to be open forever; I’m not cutting off admission at any point. I want this to be open to everybody and get as many people involved as possible.