Queers in the Five Boroughs – Lily Mao Bares Their Teeth on New EP

Since moving to New York, I’ve been introduced to a ton of local artists, both organically and at the hands of friends who’ve already been living here. In this series of interviews, The Five Boroughs, I sit down with inspiring womxn, queer, and trans musicians based in New York City to discuss their personal connections to music, their communities, and their favorite local hotspots scattered across their neighborhoods in New York.

One of the many reasons why music is leagues above any other art form, is the fact that artists who work through trauma via songwriting end up giving audiences so much in the process. It’s rare to hear people claim that a photograph, a painting, or a film saved their life. But we constantly hear stories of a song saving someone’s life.

Obviously, musicians creating out of necessity don’t aim to save lives or fill deep voids in devoted listeners’ hearts. But I’m constantly in awe of how artists generously offer the rest of us glimmers of hope in transforming their pain into art, making our lives on this chaotic earth slightly more bearable.

Studying music, I’ve learned that life circumstances are often what drive sounds, genres, and movements. Music allows us to explore our relationships to human emotion, greed, oppression, and depravity, whether we’re listening to it or actively creating it ourselves.

The most recent example of a work I’ve come across that explores these themes is Human Being Animal, the latest record from Brooklyn garage rockers Lily Mao and The Resonators. Human Being Animal is a six-track EP split into two parts – the first three tracks being animal-themed while the final three explore human vices. Sonically, “Tiger,” and “Wolves” combine 90s Pavement worship with epic glam metal-adjacent riffs, while “Addictions” might just be the best R.E.M. power ballad Michael Stipe never wrote.

Lily Mao and the Resonators is the project of Lily Mao with Nate Jasensky on guitar, Gabby Borges on drums, and Tui Jordan on bass. A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Mao to discuss signing to Vanessa Silberman’s label, their vibrant performance style, and more.

How long have you been playing and writing your own music and what drew you to music in the first place? 

My first instrument was a violin in 5th-grade band. I had always been drawn to music, singing, rhythm, and lyrics. I really enjoyed playing my violin, but my dog Markie would howl when I practiced. So I started playing my violin like a guitar, forgetting the bow and strumming with my fingers. So that year for the holidays my dad got me an acoustic guitar. I fuckin loved it. That was in 2004 I think. I used my ear and started teaching myself songs. The first lick I taught myself was “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band which is hilarious to think about now, cuz that song kinda blows. My childhood was difficult to say the least, so I really clung to my guitar for support. Writing songs about what I was going through and playing them on guitar was really cathartic and healing for me. Music helped me get through a lot of shit and still does today. 

You have a very distinct sound that’s also reminiscent of 90s garage/slacker rock. What inspires you to write the way you do?  

I think that’s just kind of my vibe. I love 90s rock. I love no-frills-low-pressure-real-emotion music. The gritty lyrics and sound that comes from that era. It feels right for me to perform in a loud, emotive and vulnerable way. Any other way would feel disingenuine to me personally. 

What types of artists have left the biggest imprint on you, musical or otherwise? 

In no particular order: Elliot Smith, R.E.M., L7, Pixies, The Breeders, Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Pavement, Jill Sobule, Alanis Morisette, Prince, The Presidents of The United States, Nirvana, Tiger Trap, Butthole Surfers, Cake. 

There’s this belief that humans are tame and animals are wild, but I’m not so sure. Humans are by far the most savage creatures. (Henry Kissinger, if you’re reading this, I’m talking to you asshole). 

– Lily Mao

What can people expect from your live shows? 

Me wearing a wolf mask while deep-throating a microphone (iykyk). But seriously, our live shows are fun. I’m very lucky to have talented friends playing alongside me, and we really try to put on a great show. Lots of silly banter and goofy antics between wall-of-sound rock bangers!

You released a six-song EP ‘Human Being Animal’ in February. Can you tell us a little about the EP and how it came about? 

The EP is about exploring 2 sides of human nature. Side one is animal themed while side two is human themed. There’s this belief that humans are tame and animals are wild, but I’m not so sure. Humans are by far the most savage creatures. (Henry Kissinger, if you’re reading this, I’m talking to you asshole). 

The EP came about after I met Vanessa Silberman on a Bushwick rooftop. We couldn’t have released the EP without her. She’s a badass paving the way for herself and other musicians. She believed in me and signed us to her label A Diamond Heart Production, which the EP was released on. She mastered every song amazingly. Fellow Resonater Nate Jasensky did all the mixing at production at The Greenpoint Recording Collective. So huge shoutouts to Nate and Vanessa, as well as Gabby Borges and Tui Jordan for lending their talents to the Human Being Animal EP. 

As a creative who’s based in Brooklyn, what are some of your favorite local haunts to frequent during your downtime?   

I love me some Ginger’s. Every Dave’s Lesbian Bar event. Also I will finally make it to the next Brooklyn Transcore meeting as my work schedule has been fucking that up for me.

As we are a music-focused site, who are some of your favorite up-and-coming artists you would recommend to readers? 

Themme, Eevie Echoes, Sandile, The Dilators, Tilden, Strange Neighbors, Nat Vazer, Brian Dunne, Softee, Human Man Band, LoveColor, Go Home and Hurricane Holly just to name a few off the top of my head.

What does the rest of the year have in store for Lily Mao and The Resonaters? 

I’m actually taking a much-needed gig break for the time being. Our next show is June 9th at Alphaville [as of this interview]. I’ve been medically transitioning and happily focusing on that part of my life. So some R&R and songwriting while the EP is out and about. But don’t fret, when we come back June 9th, we’re coming back with a vengeance for ROCK AND TRANS RIGHTS! 







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