The NYC experimental music duo talk community and connections in a thoughtful Q&A with our managing editor, Jasmine Rodriguez right before their debut album release and Norfolk gig this Friday.
Described accurately as “transcendental punk”, Marilu Donovan and Adam Markiewicz use detuned harp and violin + vocals respectively to create ethereal sounds that evoke a tangible chasm of emotion. Their debut full-length album Flood Dream drops this Friday 3/6 via experimental label NNA Tapes and they’ve got their hometown album release show tonight at a DIY venue in NYC before embarking on a two-month tour taking them down the east coast en route to SXSW and through the Midwest and Canada. I’ll be checking back in with them this Friday when they play Taphouse with Community Witch, Dysphonia, and VV, but first I wanted to get to know them a bit more…
I’ve read that you all aim to show that there’s more than meets the eye with the musical instruments you play – in this case, the harp and the violin. The sounds emitted aren’t what many would consider beautiful by standard, but in a way the dissonance and harshness do reveal a sort of beauty that people tend to look away from. Would you say that’s a perspective you all try to show?
Marilu: Of course! Unconventional beauty is far more interesting to me. I grew up playing the harp, and I’m tired of it being thought of as an instrument that can only sound “pretty” – that idea is boring.
Adam: “A sort of beauty people tend to look away from” is pretty nail on the head. We deal in a lot of non-traditional…but intense…beauty: a strange harmony that is held so long it becomes all-encompassing, the vibrations of detuned harp strings filling your entire body, the general vibe of sound over notes while still working within a pretty fixed musical frame.
Your music conjures up a vast spectrum of emotion. Do you have to be in a certain mindset when creating the music you make? Is there a specific feeling you all set out to express, or does it all come together organically?
Marilu: I don’t think we specifically set out to create sad music, it just kind of happens that way – at least so far… For me, whenever I am creating, it’s so difficult to start the process in a “certain mindset.” Some days creativity pours out, and some days it doesn’t.
Adam: Playing and writing with Marilu is organic and natural. Despite all the work…we’re not thinking about it that hard, y’know?
Did you all find it hard at first, trying to get others to see your vision? Or does living in NYC make it easier?
Marilu: Living in NYC makes doing most things “outside the box” easier – definitely. I think we’re still trying really hard to get others to see our vision, but thankfully each year it gets easier.
Adam: Honestly, our community here has always been very supportive. I think the decision to dive so seriously into this over the last couple years was partially driven by the cohesiveness we immediately felt with an audience of our friends when we first started. Our peers/friends/chosen family have been part of the connection to every moment of growth for LEYA. I like to think of everyone being together in this and all of it. I’m honestly surprised when people allude to the music being hard to access – it’s actually meant to be very easy to feel and understand.
Your music seems to be the perfect compliment to a performance art piece or visual installation. I’d say your music videos for “Wave” “Sister” and “INTP” each possess their own cinematic quality to them. Have you all considered pairing your music to any other visual (or other sensory) aspects in the future?
Adam: We’re open to many things and will definitely move into new territory. “Sister” was done so beautifully by our dear friend/muse/director Kathleen Dycaico that we were sort of propelled into this dreamy visual world – working with Brooke Candy and PornHub on “I Love You” and scoring amazing animations by Jennifer May Reiland. It’s all been pretty amazing when we’ve worked with moving images. Obviously we want to score your next film – hit us up!
Marilu: I am super into the idea of working on more film scoring, and with live dancers. For sure – get at us!
Your new album, Flood Dream, will be released Friday (3/6). How was that process following the years after your debut with The Fool? Are there any new elements that you brought to the table this time around? How has the creative process changed or stayed the same?
Marilu: I would say the creative process is still very much the same between Adam and I. We really are just exploring and figuring out what we like and what works. We are constantly growing, and constantly massaging the music – really figuring out what sounds best to our ears.
Adam: While we have always stayed true to our specific sort of sound, this is definitely a new kind of record in a couple ways. We set out to write songs in a way that we hadn’t before – simpler and more transparent in terms of their role as just being songs, not these dense slabs, or pieces. We wrote most of them while on the road for three months January – March of 2019 and then three are adapted from earlier versions in the “I Love You” score. We continue to hone our process, but it’s basically the same as always – Marilu and I sitting in a room, working it out piece by piece, starting with the harp. There are some guests on this record – GABI sings on ‘Weight’ and our friends John and Tristan lend some flute, synth, and upright help lightly on two songs – but mostly it is a departure from the collaborative zones we’ve traversed lately. It has one thread and tries to a tell a story, whatever that means to you.
How did you all come across NNA Tapes? What drew you to the label?
Adam: Toby Aaronson, the original Co-Founder with Matt Mayer, is a friend of mine via the New England DIY scene. When we first started recording I reached out to him. I’ve always admired their work and catalog – so vital in its crystallizing of the experimental zone in the late 2000-oughts.
Marilu: Ya! NNA are old homies – they rule.
What does a live set-up typically look like and how do these songs translate live? Is crowd reception/connection a factor that you keep in mind when performing?
Marilu: Most of these songs sound pretty much the same live as they do on our recordings. I read something one time when we first started out that described us as “harp, violin, and electronics” and I was both like wondering what they thought were the electronic elements, and also like I don’t know how to work electronics! Crowd connection is so important to both of us. Both during and after the set – come say hi to us! Be our friends.
Adam: Our shows are intense and intimate and the audience is half of that, at least. My favorite part of LEYA is playing it live!
I know this phrase I am about to use is so vague and relative, but do you all feel like you fit in a “music scene?” This may be helpful to other musicians reading this who make music in non-traditional ways.
Adam: We like to live in many scenes because many “scenes” are happening in their own way, but ultimately we came up through DIY culture and tend to play with bands that exist in that world. We play with punk bands, mostly, but you might also catch us at fancier spot every now and again.
Marilu: Ya – I agree with Adam. The DIY scene has been very supportive of us. But, people interpret LEYA in so many different ways; a friend of ours likes to describe LEYA as a hardcore band.
What would you say to those that think your sound is too “high-brow” or “high-art” for them?
Adam: We don’t like pretentious shit really, so we’d probably get along. They should just come to the show, though – it’s not a complex vibe.
Marilu: lol – truly we’re so scrappy!
Lastly, what does music, in it’s purest form, mean to you?
Adam: Absolutely everything.
Thank you to LEYA and NNA Tapes for the opportunity to conduct this interview. The featured photo at the top of the article was shot by Serge Serum and comes courtesy of NNA Tapes. See you at the Norfolk Taphouse on Friday, March 6th.