LEYA embraces the excitement of exploration and collaboration

The NYC experimental duo's new mixtape, 'Eyeline,' releases Friday, March 4, the day before a local show at Cafe Bourbon Street.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive

The music of LEYA, a New York City harp and violin duo, often has a foreboding or disquieting element to it. On 2020 album Flood Dream, moments of orchestral beauty coincide with the dissonance of Marilu Donovan’s detuned harp as Adam Markiewicz’s violin and vocals float overhead, casting long shadows.

“Our musical existence together has always been underpinned with anxiety and tension. … That tension is, I think, a little bit like who we are as people,” Markiewicz said during a recent phone call alongside Donovan. “That juxtaposition of things that are uncomfortable and things that are redeeming is important to the picture.” 

LEYA’s approach to music, however, is not somber or humorless. Donovan and Markiewicz bristle at reductive genre labels that relegate the duo to the confines of austere, experimental ambient music. “I just want people to be able to access this stuff and not think they're getting themselves into something that's so heady that they have to think about it. We just want to write songs and have people connect to them emotionally and otherwise enjoy it,” Markiewicz said. “People think [LEYA's music] is going to be part of this series in a concert hall and you have to be really quiet and it's really serious the whole time. The last show we played was very, very chaotic and kind of like this big party.”

Typically, LEYA’s concerts reflect the duo’s diverse musical interests. “When we go out and play shows, it’s such a wide variety, but for the most part it's not a lot of ambient or classical shows. We tend to play at parties or raves or heavy music bills,” said Markiewicz, who will join Donovan for a LEYA show at Café Bourbon Street on Saturday, March 5, alongside Zack Kouns and Egon Gone. “I think in the music community nowadays, there are so many connections between different people that aren't really charted by how things sound or how things might be similar. Everyone kind of listens to everything.”

LEYA took a similar approach on its new mixtape, Eyeline, an 11-song collection of collaborations out Friday, March 4, on NNA Tapes. Included among the contributing artists are multi-instrumentalist Eartheater, who previously collaborated with LEYA on an EP; singer/songwriter Julie Byrne, a musician with whom Donovan has recorded and toured; experimental/ambient artist claire rousay; eclectic NYC duo Deli Girls; British electronic musician Actress, and more. “It’s people that we admire, people that we had been dreaming of working with, and people that we have longstanding relationships with,” Donovan said.

“We wanted do a little bit of a topography of our landscape,” Markiewicz said. “It's this attempt, I think, to equalize very disparate types of music.” 

The idea of a mixtape, rather than a proper album, also gave the project a sense of freedom and immediacy that LEYA craved. “It was pulling a little of the release red tape away from it — not submitting a record that would sit with distributors and in PR consideration for months and months. We wanted to make something and put it right out,” Markiewicz said. “It seemed like a nice way to do something a little more informal, a little rough around the edges, where we didn't have to play by all the rules of rolling out a record.” 

Eyeline came together quicker than anything LEYA had made previously, with singles like the Julie Byrne collab, “Glass Jaw,” and “Win Some,” featuring Okay Kaya, released into the world before the full mixtape was even finished. In fact, everything came together so quickly and so easily that LEYA ended up with more songs than the duo could fit on the mixtape, which means an Eyeline follow-up could surface before too long.

For now, though, LEYA is looking forward to getting back on the road with new music in tow. “During the pandemic, music has been one of the things that culturally we've turned towards and said, ‘This is important to us in tough times.’ So, there’s a bit of this reward to going back out. And we wanted to also get out an exciting new release and just embrace this feeling of freshness and newness,” Markiewicz said. “I just want to create new scenarios and get away from pretension and into exploration as this fun, exciting thing.”