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Eli Lev: Songs Reimagined

by Kimberly Shires

Photo: Michael Zhang

Eli Lev quickly won over our hearts as a respected singer/songwriter from the DC Metro area. Eli made the decision to be a full-time musician just two years ago, but modestly retracted, “I think music eventually just chose me”. Prior to shifting careers, Eli was a Language Arts teacher and finishing his Master’s in Language Studies. In his last semester Eli decided to take a solo camping trip to Mexico. Eli thought back to a moment where he sat in his tent and said, “I’ve had an amazing life up until now. I have nothing to complain about and I have done everything I thought I should do. Now I am just going to…and I know it sounds silly…let whatever needs to happen just happen instead of thinking that I know what’s best for me.” Eli continued, “I knew music was part of that.”


Eli played his first show as a solo original artist at Tryst in Adams Morgan in early 2017 and he just kept going from there. Shortly thereafter, Eli’s first release, “Chasing Daylight” won Best Song from a Songwriters Association of Washington (SAW) contest. This win validated that people like his work and thus the journey began.  Eli added, “There was an intention that was set. Once that intention is set, everything falls into order and the world just says ‘OK. This is it.’” Before his mindset change, Eli said, “I was a guy with a guitar.”

Photo: Michael Zhang

Eli is actively working on his four EP series called The Four Directions Project. In the meantime, Eli is releasing alternative versions of “One Road” listen and download, “See the World” and “Water”. “Oh My Lord” will be released soon but in the meantime you can Pre-save “Oh My Lord”. Eli said “songs aren’t only just how they are recorded. They have lives of their own and they can be reinterpreted, even by the same artist.” Eli continued “There is a point where you can get out of the way enough so that the true meaning or message of the song gets through. You get unattached to that one lyric that you thought was amazing, because it doesn’t serve the message, or you change the melody a little bit to actually get to what is happening.”


Eli’s longer-term project honors the Native American belief that each of the four cardinal directions provide a unique quality that creates a strong foundation for both personal and communal growth. Eli fell in love with these principles during his stint as an Eighth Grade Language Arts teacher with the Navajo Nation. Eli was welcomed to the tribe as part of a cultural immersion program associated with his Master’s Degree and remained with the Navajo Nation for three years. The experience left Eli rich with the teachings of the Navajo Nation and a perspective on life that will remain in his heart forever.


Each album in The Four Directions Project has their own character and wisdom reminiscent of the principles behind Native American teachings. Check out Eli’s first two albums


The first album, All Roads East, is characterized by an Americana sound. East symbolizes the start of anything new, such as a new life, or in Eli’s case a new career, making it very fitting as the first album in his project.


Photo: Tasbir Binta Wasim

Way Out West is the second album. West symbolizes action, doing, and creating. Eli explored West as he pushed the boundaries of his expression to create a masterful production. Way Out West won the WAMMIE as the Best Country/Americana Album this year. Eli said, “There are a thousand decisions when developing an album, so each one of those decisions being validated with a ‘Good Job’ is crazy.”


Eli just started work on his third album, Deep South. Eli laughed, “they say that you’ve got your whole life to write your first album and you’ve got a year to write your second one. It’s kinda cool because all of these songs are brand new and from this moment in my life or hasn’t happened yet.” South, according to Navajo teaching, focuses on empathy, trust, inclusion, love and emotional wisdom.


The final album in the Project will pay respects to the cardinal direction North. The principles of North are rooted in mental wisdom, reflection, and illumination. Let’s see what Eli will imagine in his journey north!  


Eli loves to combine unexpected sounds into both live performances and production. Eli can be found on stage with a collection of unique and indigenous finds such as a woodrow, which is a three stringed instrument that sounds like a banjo, a Native American wooden flute, a mandolin, a harmonica, a melodica or even a bagpipe. Eli says, “New instruments and new sounds give me inspiration.”


Eli’s thrives on collaboration. Eli said songwriting is “a very mystical process which is why it is so interesting working on it with other people. There is something to be said about sitting down by the river [with] my woodrow and I’m just singing to the river. But, working with someone else is really good for making your work cohesive.”


Most recently, Eli brought an idea, a melody and a mandolin to Daniel Strauch of House Studios in Washington D.C. The two riffed off each other as Daniel made a video of their collaboration. The video will be part of a YouTube series Daniel is producing about songwriting. Eli says, “other people challenge me and I like to see what I am putting out through somebody else’s lens.” Eli thought about the resulting song and reflected, “Really, it’s not ours. It might come from us or it might come from some place we think is within us, but it’s not ours. I don’t know where it comes from.” Eli has plans for collaboration with wide array of songwriters, musicians, and producers in some capacity so far in the development of The Four Directions Project.


Collaboration led Eli to many opportunities. Eli connected back to his teaching roots by holding master classes with kids. Eli is also starting a consultancy to help other artists achieve their goals, whether it be help with songwriting, distribution, booking lives shows, generating income from music, building a fan base, streaming, making videos or building a strong community of friends, family and fans who support him on Patreon:


Eli keeps grounded with daily meditation. Eli said, “It’s really balancing. We shower every day, but don’t always think to cleanse our insides, you know our spirits. Once I started doing it, I realized it is what I had been missing.” He continued, “When performing on stage, you pick up a lot of people’s stuff. There is an energy interaction between you as a musician. It’s a lot to deal with. The meditative practice has been helpful. It allows me to separate myself from all the stuff that’s happening because as a creative person working with our heart outside our sleeve, we are literally just exposing ourselves to the world. It’s dangerous not having a way to process that.” Eli participates in an annual silent retreat to practice Vipassana meditation and mused “in the first three days you just learn how to sit”.


Eli’s calm comes across on stage, where he earns the love of new fans with his understated, yet captivating style. Be sure to check out Eli Lev at a venue near you and download his latest reimagined tracks

Kim Shires, contributing writer of Alchemical Records and founder of Hear Me Roar Studio

Kimberly Shires

Kimberly Shires is a producer and owner of Hear Me Roar Studio. She is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter who is passionate about empowering women to express themselves through music. Outside of music she enjoys hiking, biking and snuggling with her dog. Kimberly has called the DMV home her whole life.

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