LEYA Sheds Light on a Sort of Beauty

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.

Cover art for LEYA’s debut full-length album Flood Dream
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.

Photo by LAZAR courtesy of NNA Tapes
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?

Marilu: emotion

Adam: Absolutely everything.

See more details on all these events via Facebook.

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.

Monthly Mix: Ella Hu$$le

EVERY MONTH, WE’LL BE FEATURING A MIX OF SONGS FROM DJS, WHIPPED UP ESPECIALLY FOR POPSCURE

Her name is Dionna Edmondson, but you can call her Ella. Clubgoers in NYC know her as Ella Hu$$le, where she serves looks and spins jams any given weekend intertwining classic hip-hop hits seamlessly. If you can’t make it to the big apple for her set, catch her show “Hu$$le in the House” every 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month on waxx.fm.

For this mix, she toughened up her love for R&B with rap tracks, creating a perfect blend of hard and soft. Throw this collection of remixes on at your next party for guaranteed grooves. 

Tracklist

Walk It Like I Like (Talk It Edit) – Radical One
Oops – Mitchell Yard x Pasquinel
New Freezer (Dembow Remix) – Rich da Kid
Paper Planes (Remix) – Uki
Dude (Remix) – Beanie Man
Murder She Wrote – Chaka Demus
Bizzey (Kazkid remix) – Traag
Taste Riddim – Jamesy
Only You (Edit) – Ashanti
Ton – NA Horeyezon
Ride or Die – Joslyvio (Masquraid x Ravish edit)
Phone Down – Eryka Badu (Kingdom Edit) 
Frontin (Edit) – Pasquinel
Shake (Remix) – Rilla Force
Interlude (Remix) – SDP
WYWD (Remix) – Girl Unit ft Kelela
Fin de Demand – Radical One

Popscure Presents: Ellen O

POPSCURE PRESENTS TAKES LOCAL & TOURING ARTISTS, RECORDS INTIMATE SESSIONS WITH A FEW SONGS AND CHATS ABOUT THEIR PROCESS, INSPIRATIONS, AND NON SEQUITURS IN BETWEEN

Our second installment of POPSCURE PRESENTS features Ellen O from Brooklyn. Her training as a classical pianist and love for trap meld together in synthy songs sure to put you in a daze. We chatted about how she got into music, her Korean heritage’s influence on her songwriting, and collaborators in the city (such as IMGRNT who supported her on tour, and Khallee featured in the session)

Thanks to honorary Popscure team members Karla Espino for video and Andrew Briggs for audio, and all their tireless editing. Special thanks to TBA Productions for linking us up with the space and band to get this done!

Uneven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZQaF0FUVyA
Featuring Khallee – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4VG8bRtRmCY
The Marriage Plot – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8avkkx8LW8

Fifty Shades of Yellow: Talking with Poet Shy Watson

by Jerome Spencer

 Sky's book is avaliable on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book places
Sky’s book is avaliable on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other book places

I had to read “Cheap Yellow” twice. It’s such an engaging and entertaining read that I blew through its 170 pages in one sitting. And then the words just wouldn’t sit still – resonating and rumbling through my psyche – until I read it again. I had to be sure that I’d absorbed every infinitesimal facet and buried symbol of Shy Watson’s masterful exposition. Because while “Cheap Yellow” is, on the surface, stark confessional poetry that just goes right for the gut, it’s also full of luxurious wordplay that leads the reader in another direction altogether. It’s a cohesive and dense work, but it also reads like a journal entry because it basically is.

“Some of the poems are older,” author Shy Watson tells me, “Most of them were written like a year and a half ago. I just kept putting poems together into this word doc. And it was this one mass, completely unorganized terrible thing. The working title was “Dunkin Girls” because there’s a poem in there about walking girls to an apartment by a Dunkin Donuts, which is a true thing. I think it was when I got to 90 pages or something I was like ‘oh shit, maybe I should start organizing it’. But I had absolutely no idea how to do that.”

The poems come together under headings named for different (and random) types of yellow. It feels personal and honest, giving the book a specific tempo that lifts its distinctive narrative.
“I had noticed there were a lot of yellow mentions in the document,” Shy says, “Maybe it was because My Aura is Cheap Yellow. I just got the idea one day, randomly, to organize it by shades of yellow. And I started thinking of shades of yellow that could arise from the poems. Like “Miller High Life Yellow” because I’m drinking that in there, there’s probably some piss mentioned so that might be where “Dehydrated Piss” comes from and “Stars on a Wizard Hat” just because its mystical things… Then I just made headings for them and thought ‘which poems go under this heading?’ like a sorting hat from Harry Potter or something. And it all kind of naturally fell into place.”

“I think a lot of times, some action happening has extra meaning behind it. And I try to notice those things.”

These headings make the poems flow and intermingle; the pages turn themselves, each gut-wrenching poem more riveting than the next. Reading “Cheap Yellow” is like having a conversation with an old friend, only you want to repeat it almost immediately.  It was on the second reading that I was forced to absorb the raw power of Shy’s words. No matter how many times I re-read “Pacsun Yellow.” it doesn’t stop stinging. It’s vulnerable prose that so captures the ennui of mis led suburban youth and sexualization of young girls that it physically hurts to read it. 

“Yeah, it’s intense,” Shy says of “Pacsun Yellow,” “It actually wasn’t supposed to be in the final edition, but I think it was meant to be. Michael, my publisher, sent an old version [of the book] on accident to [author] Scott McClanahan to blurb it. And when Michael sent me the blurb it was all about the mall poem.  And I was like ‘how does Scott know about the poem about the mall?’ The final .pdf I sent to Michael didn’t have it in there anymore because I felt like maybe it was too heavy. I felt embarrassed by it actually and that might be because it comes from such a vulnerable place. Everything that was in there was like ‘Oh my god, I have to delete that before the final version.’ It’s maybe too close to home literally and figuratively, but… I don’t want to ask Scott to write me a new blurb so maybe it should be in there.”

It definitely should be in there; “Pacsun Yellow” is easily the most powerful and concentrated work in “Cheap Yellow,” but it’s also to understand why Shy struggled with fitting it into the narrative. 

“I realized recently that I have a really fucked up family and a really fucked up upbringing, but I never write about that,” Shy tells me, “I don’t think about the past very much honestly so I’m always writing about what’s currently happening in my life. Recently I just had this realization that I had so much shit that I could be mining from my past and back home that I’m not.”

 She paints, too!
She paints, too!

“I got in this weird place where I was thinking about malls and how depressing they are and I was remembering stuff I’d completely forgotten about from when I was a kid – like getting fingered by that boy in the Hot Topic dressing room. It just feels really dirty thinking about adolescence in the Midwest, hoe-ing it out at the mall within a 30 mile range. It just feels like really dark shit. I definitely want to work more on that sort of stuff. ‘Pacsun Yellow’ is definitely one of the more recent poems in the book so that’s fresh on my mind.”

Shy’s prose has a sense of urgency to it and reading it is like concurrently being a fly on the wall and being in the writer’s head. “I don’t ever think about what I’m writing,” she confesses, “I write what literally happens but those things just so happen to have that extra layer. I think a lot of times, some action happening has extra meaning behind it. And I try to notice those things.”

Her poetry can make the most mundane situation seem like a life-changing event and a life-altering event seem like a shared trauma. It’s because of how deeply personal Shy’s poems are that they’re so relatable. Cheap Yellow isn’t full of hazy metaphors about flowers or meanderings on the concept of heartbreak. And if you’re a fan of vague, lilting Instagram poetry this may be a little too cutting for you; but if you’re a real, living human being who has actually experienced emotional pain, “Cheap Yellow” may as well be about you. If the last two lines of “136 Grattan” don’t break your heart, it’s because you don’t have one. 

Through her own personal experiences and through a fresh voice, Shy channels an almost omnipotent tone, channeling the ups and downs of a whole generation raised on the internet, reality TV, Frappuccinos and an obligatory Bright Eyes phase.