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  • Writer's pictureRyan ANTIART

PROFILE: LEYA Is Making Music For A Genreless World

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

LEYA met as two professionally trained musicians in the early-aughts. Marilu, a harpist, has an MFA in Music while Adam, a violinist, studied improvisational jazz in college. The two of them are a match made in heaven (or Hell depending on how you interpret their music), combining their unique philosophies and techniques in the realm of classical music with a mutual need to explore the gray areas of sound. I sat down with them at a local favorite wine bar in Ridgewood, Queens to speak with them about their new mixtape Eyeline, the state of modern music and their close friend and frequent collaborator, Eartheater. Here are the results:

ANTIART: We’ve been trying to get this profile together for a while in between your rigorous touring schedule around the US and Europe. What have you learned in your travels and where has been the most special place you’ve played thus far?

Adam: April 29th in Atlanta, that was our first show with HTRK. It was very special, a very tapped in the room. The energy was nice. There was fainting in the middle of the set, he said he was overwhelmed by the performance

MARILU: I don’t know if we was fucking with us or not.

ANTIART: How does that make you feel, to have someone faint to music you created?

MARILU: People do all sorts of shit to our music. [laughs]

ADAM: Aside from solo shows we also did Oblivion Access in Texas and a few European shows with Eartheater. One was in the largest bamboo maze in the world outside of Parma. We played in Lucern as well which was a kind of magical forest location, that was very special. You can see the alps, everything was so clean and lush.

ANTIART: How long have you known each other, how did you meet and how long have you been making art together?

MARILU: We met through friends from my high school, and became friends in 2013/2014. I moved back from L.A. around 2015, and I kept getting asked to do solo harp shows, which I didn’t like playing. That’s when someone suggested I play with Adam, and we started to jam.

ANTIART: You also mentioned before that you each have a fair amount of formal training.

M: We both grew up playing classical music. I have an undergrad degree in orchestral harp and an MFA in music, which was more focused on composition and experimental music. For work work, I do a lot of session stuff.

ADAM: I’ve been playing violin since I was 6. I was kind of involved in a big theater program at the Houston Performing Arts High School. I went to college for a jazz performance on the violin. I was studying improvised music. People would put the color purple on a piece of paper and say “play this”.

ANTIART: Wow, that's really interesting.

ADAM: It was total bullshit, anything goes.

MARILU: Yeah like ‘this is what I’m paying $60,000 a year for’. Art school is bullshit, even though I have two degrees.

[all laugh]

MARILU: But outside the formal training, at least for me, I had different aspirations. It’s tough though, with violin and harp, whenever you try and “do something cool” it ends up being corny as fuck, it’s not like a guitar. I was never sitting at home, only listening to harp music. I liked a lot of punk and rap. We’re both like that in a sense, so we’ve always had to write our own rules.

ANTIART: Well going off of that I have a bit of a two-fold question. In a popular music setting, the violin and harp are instruments that are often used to set the tone. Additionally, in the symphonic or orchestral world, there is a low point of sound that often leads to a resolution with a crescendo. The music of your recent tape Eyeline as well as your previous record Flood Dream smartly plays against conventions by creating a kind of clashing of moods and a sort of anti-crescendo as well. It’s still very dynamic volume-wise and even tells a story, but the story often only digs itself deeper into darkness. Would you say any of that is accurate, and what do you look to convey with your specific blend of sound? Would you consider yourself “anti-classical”?

MARILU: I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to make classical music. But I’d also say we’re not not trying to make classical music. Generally speaking, a lot of times I’m not listening to music or being directly inspired by it. I need a lot of quiet and a lot of stillness to absorb whatever energy is around me. I feel like I’m easily manipulated and don’t want to be emulating anyone.

ADAM: We like to think of ourselves as being everywhere. It’s the same as being nowhere or somewhere in between. The whole point of Eyeline is to kind of stretch that idea further. We have a general landscape in which we operate, and adding collaborations works to expand that landscape. We’re definitely not divorced from the kind of logical abstract discussion of whatever is going on.

MARILU: But we’re also not trying to reinvent the wheel.

ADAM: On a technical level, I’ve been kind of perfecting this violin and voice thing for a while, Marilu has her tuning system. It’s working to create ornate, beautiful ugly. We used to think of it as a punk project for a little bit. It’s this mentality of imperfection that takes away from some of the classical elements. It just kind of is what it is, hence a lot of the collaborations. We’re sort of existing in a time where there are no genres anyway. If you listen to music, you listen to everything. You see it in hyperpop, or with OPN [experimental producer Oneohtrix Point Never] producing the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

ANTIART: We live in a more fluid time than ever, especially artistically.

ADAM: It’s better just to try to put music in weird places. But we’ve always been weirdos. We don’t fit in anywhere, so we play anywhere. At the rave, the club, classical venues…

ANTIART: It’s funny that you mention that because when I interviewed your friend Alex [Eartheater] last year, I had only listened to her album Phoenix, which was a harp-centric singer-songwriter project. I dove back into her catalog just a little bit to see what else she had done and it was all so vastly different. When I asked her about this, she told me that life's too weird and the emotions that come as a result are so complex that one genre will never cut it. Everything kind of exists in a gray area.

MARILU: She’s one of our oldest friends.

ANTIART: And you’re both from here in Queens, right?

MARILU: Yeah and she’s actually working in a studio here on her new material.

ANTIART: That’s incredible, I’m a huge fan.

ADAM: LEYA has a lot of collaborators, but she’s definitely the closest one. We’ve done so much stuff together.

[Wine break]

MARILU: As musicians, and especially as musicians that went to music school, the whole thing is people being like “you’re never going to make it as a professional, you’re never going to do this for a living, it’s so cutthroat, blah blah blah”. Which has some truth to it, so it almost conditions you to think you’re going to fail. It’s not like we’re insanely successful, but even being able to make a living at it is cool.

ANTIART: And it’s labor, it’s hard fucking work, you’re spending all of your time doing this, no?

MARILU: It’s not something that I ever thought I’d be able to do, because I was always told “you’re not good enough”

ANTIART: It’s probably difficult not to just entirely flex on everyone immediately after. Like “I’m in Europe off this shit I’m being paid to be here”

MARILU: Totally, and I get to go around and say “I’m not going to do classical music, I’m going to do what I want to do and be who I want to be”.

ANTIART: Listening to your general sound as well as looking at the album covers and press photos, the words that come to my mind immediately are longing, claustrophobia and attachment. Do you have those words in your artistic vocabulary?

ADAM: Well those are pretty underlying human concepts. Attachment, obviously, is universal. Claustrophobia, sure.

MARILU: Entanglement is another one for sure.

ADAM: New York music is based in its inherent intensity, claustrophobia being probably a pretty likely characterization of that. So those are some good words I’d say.

MARILU: A lot of people have asked about our album art, and I don’t –

ADAM: It’s very freeform

MARILU: Very freeform, yes. We’ll have these vague concepts, do a shoot and just pick a good photo. It’s hard because on the mixtape [Eyeline], a lot of that concept is about intertwinement. And because we were working with a lot of artists, I very much didn’t want our faces to be in it. It wasn’t about us.

ANTIART: How much of [you and Adam’s] singing was actually on the record?

MARILU: Adam is on most of them, and I don’t credit myself as a singer because I’m more of a background voice.

ANTIART: Almost like another instrument.

MARILU: Exactly.

ANTIART: How did you reach out to the collaborators for Eyeline like Deli Girls, Okay Kaya, Julie Bryne, etc.?

MARILU: Almost everyone on the album we’re just friends with. We met Kaya last year at a session, through another musician we’re friends with, Aerial East. We actually did an album premiere for Aerial's record and [LEYA] was a part of the backing band. When Kaya heard the violin and harp combo she was like “ahh you need to come to the studio so we can make some music together”

ANTIART: It’s so interesting how for artists and musicians, art is almost like another language or form of communication.

MARILU: Exactly, and Julie actually lives really close to me so I see her often. Most of these people have played shows with us. Martha Skye Murphy, we did another track with her, Actress is someone who we’ve collaborated with a lot recently. The list goes on.

ADAM: It was kind of like a sampler of our universe. It’s not everyone. It’s just people we have admiration for.

ANTIART: You don’t have to search too far outside of your scene which is cool.

ADAM: The point of it was just like a cursory triangle in our universe. At the same time it’s very curated, these are all people who we strongly believe in their art. Next time we do it, it’ll probably be even bigger and more ambitious.

ANTIART: So would you say it’s kind of a projection of what your scene is about in a way?

ADAM: Not even, because the people involved are not necessarily that connected.

ANTIART: It’s more like inviting a bunch of friends to a party where none of them know each other.

MARILU: But they all know us!

ADAM: It underlines, to me, the same idea that we were discussing earlier. No genres, good shit should just be everywhere. The more we can kind of take things together in the same scope, we can start to use the same language and set a base level to evaluate these performances.

MARILU: It’s also just so fun to make music with your friends. Like Julie came over, we did our thing and then we had wine and dinner.

ANTIART: This is about to be a horrific comparison, but it reminds me of doing a podcast in a weird way. Informal, but still with chemistry.

MARILU: With a lot of art, it becomes really formal and then sterile and regimented. The spontaneity and magic you get from just making something and splattering it out there. It feels much more natural in that way, in the moment. I think in this post-Covid time, that’s how we operate. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

ANTIART: Definitely take advantage of that time and these circumstances. There was a time when people were inviting me to their Zoom shows, ugh. Back in 2020, the prospect of seeing a DIY show was exciting as going to MSG. And now, I honestly prefer the smaller shows anyway because of that sense of community.

ANTIART: I kind of finished my little list of questions, is there anything else you want to promote or are there any lingering thoughts?

MARILU: I just want people to listen. People hear “harp and violin band” and they have their perception of what it will be. Almost every person that comes to our shows says “oh my god, I had no idea, I thought it was going to be totally different”. It’s not to say that we’re more special than any other band, but to an extent, if you’re going to go see a punk band, you vaguely know what you’re in for. I just want people to listen, then judge after listening. They don’t have to like it. But if you come to a show, come meet us, come say hi!

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