Liyah Knight chats healing as a response to songwriting, trust in collaboration, self observation and preservation
Eora/Sydney based artist Liyah Knight is making alternative music differently. Her supreme focus, ultra-slick songwriting skills consistently manifest in thought provoking bodies of work that transcend genre and time, all wrapped deep conceptual thought. Her debut EP, ‘Nesting’, focussed on showcasing her diverse songwriting talent, fusing together a range of genres to create an extremely personal introduction to her deep internal psyche.
Last month, she released her sophomore body of work, ‘Traveller’s Guide’. The project centred around Kelley & Conner’s ‘Emotional Cycle of Change’ and it sees Knight travel through a series of personally challenging and rewarding sonic vignettes. The tracks paint a picture of a romantic episode for the artist and develops into a coming of age tale, one of self resolution, understanding and at last, peace.
With the project, she collaborates with a whose who of songwriters and producers, tapping the likes of Diesel, Tasker, IAMMXO, Garret Kato and Penny Pariah, Korky Buchek and Cyrus for an emphatic sonic narrative with a diverse range of sounds. From the guitar strumming pop track, ‘Hurricane’, the folk and dance inspired, ‘Threads’ to the indie, euphoric cut ‘Holiday’ her personal story manifests in a range of sonic territories.
Knight utilises a bare all approach to songwriting, to pinpoint her precise emotions and express true healing and reflection. “So, I’ve opened up, I’ve removed the layers, and I’ve let somebody in. Now what?”, she states.
“Following my debut EP NESTING, Traveller’s Guide explores the journey of being open to the unfamiliar; Once we strip back our layers, we are ultimately allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and to be open to new experiences. In this instance, that new experience is love. Love is exciting, love is multidimensional, and love is enlightening.”
To get to know the project better, we chat to Liyah Knight about healing as a response to songwriting, trust in collaboration, self observation and preservation.
Parry: The EP is out, how does it feel? Is it elation, celebration, anxiety?
Liyah Knight: It’s elation, celebration, relief that it’s out of my hands. It feels great to let go of it. First, this project was kind of like a poster for lockdown, so having it out kind of feels like it’s over. It’s also a relief because I’ve been sitting with it for a minute. It’s nice for it not to be mine anymore. When you sit on something for a little while in such a concentrated environment just looking at these six songs, it can get exhausting. You can pick at them, question them and everything in between. It being out is a weird feeling, I had just spent four months looking at them and it’s such a nice feeling.
Parry: Do you think your perception of the songs changed pre and post release?
Liyah Knight: I’ve only listened to the EP once since it’s been out. I don’t enjoy listening to my own music once its out. I don’t think my perception of it has changed, because it’s an accurate reflection of that chapter in my life. I’m ready to be onto the next.
Parry: For me the project feels like a direct follow up from your debut EP, ‘Nesting’. How do you compare the creative process of the two?
Liyah Knight: The feeling is still very similar. I was equally as attached to this project as the first. It still feels like my baby and now it’s just more mature and a bit more angsty. Nesting was more reflecting on things that had happened in the past, whereas ‘Travellers Guide’ I was writing it as everything was happening around me. It was quite manic. Those feelings were very raw and at the time, which is what I wanted to do. I wanted my music to be present, often I’ll write about something in the past, but this time around I needed to write about what is here right now.
Parry: Do you see it as a chronological sequel?
Liyah Knight: Definitely. ‘Nesting’ was a personal evolution which finishes on ‘Somebody You’ which is a song about opening up to somebody else. Then follows ‘Travellers Guide’ with is about a relationship with someone else. While listening to the two you see a relationship with myself and then a relationship with someone else as you slowly evolve more and see more.
Parry: You’re extremely honest with your songwriting so it makes sense that it’s a sequel, as you’re talking about how your life has progressed throughout the past couple of years. It didn’t feel like a creative decision, rather it was just what you were going through. Did it play out like that internally for you?
Liyah Knight: That’s just me. It’s the next chapter. I’m not going to write about something that’s not here, now.
Parry: When were you introduced to Kelly and Conner’s Emotional Cycle of Change? Were you writing to the theory, or did it just become apparent while you were writing you were writing structured around it.
Liyah Knight: I started writing without the theory, I wrote the track ‘Threads’ first, and then I wrote a bunch of tracks that meant the same thing as that track. I was getting annoyed because I kept writing about this one moment and they sounded different. One song was folk, one was pop leaning etc, there were so many songs obsessed with that emotional moment in time. After an internet deep dive and self exploration I ran across the Emotional Cycle of Change, and I was looking at it and I saw where I was at that point. I wasn’t looking at it from a musical perspective, but I ended up seeing my music in it. I then realised I was about to feel and go through the other cycles, and the music would reflect that. Even though it was a musical guide, it was a guide for me personally going through those stages. I wrote ‘No Strings’ before I really believed that emotion internally. It helped bring myself back up again.
Parry: You’ve already touched on it, but I wanted to ask generally for your songwriting, where does the healing come into play. Do you feel like you need to process some level of healing before writing music, or is music the form of healing?
Liyah Knight: Both. Sometimes I put pen to paper before you heal. In those moments nothing makes sense, but then after I process that emotion and listen back it makes a lot of sense. It happens subconsciously and you don’t realise it’s happening. Before you know it you have an EP like ‘Travellers Guide’ and it makes a lot of sense.
Parry: There must be a beauty in the rawness of writing when you don’t know what’s going on?
Liyah Knight: It’s beautiful but it’s so uncomfortable sometimes. To be able to articulate with other people in the room, and try to explain it, to let it out, to be that present, to take yourself out of that situation takes a lot of effort. That’s when it’s most real, analysing other perspectives in that moment when I’m writing. There’s roles every individual plays in every situation that unfolds, and songwriting sporadically in the moment really did lead to a lot of realisations.
Parry: On that note, there are a lot of collaborators on the project from producers to songwriters. How was the process of building trust with those people? How did you tackle the idea of trust with such a personal piece of art?
Liyah Knight: Working with Mark (Lizotte) I had that trust because he has had so much experience and he is such a genuine person. Just being able to pick up on energies straight away. The first session I had with him, I knew he got it. It’s an open space and there’s no ego and I’m constantly learning from him. Energy and trust are so intertwined.
With Cyrus, we’ve been working from day dot together. I wrote ‘Tipsy’ with Cyrus, and that trust continued into this project, which made it easy to be open.
Also writing with Garrett Kato and Penny Pariah on ‘Hurricane’, it was the first time I had met them, it was just really fun and lovely. We wrote a beautiful song and it was pretty much it. It fit perfectly in.
Parry: How do you think you grew the most, both as a person and as a songwriter between your two projects? How do you think that’s reflected in the sound?
Liyah Knight: I’ve got way more confidence now. You can see that, because I’m less afraid to try different sounds. That’s the main way for sure. I’ve started to open up more in sessions, which is reflective in the way that you can hear more of the people I’m writing with in the songs. You can really hear Tasker on a track like ‘Threads’. The way that the moulding between the two artists sounds on this project is really unique, and it’s because I’m more comfortable opening up. There was vulnerability lyrically on the first project, but this time it really travelled into the sonic aspect and feeling more.
Parry: It’s interesting that as you’ve got more confident you’re more willing to let more people in. You’d almost expect it to be the other way around.
Liyah Knight: I think the confidence I have now let’s me trust my instincts even more. There’s a lot of red flags I can recognise now, both in people and in music. Letting people in, doesn’t compromise your reflection of self worth, or compromise who you are as a person. That’s a matter of putting ego’s aside. I’m normally just with my mum and best friend all the time, so socially i’m quite low key, but when it comes to music and it comes to story telling, it’s important that you can collaborate with people.
Parry: Sonically you’ve come so far on this project. There’s pop, dance, R&B, and everything in between. Was there ever a question of that or an anxiety around that creative decision?
Liyah Knight: Absolutely. At the beginning that was a big thing, ‘Threads’ was the first song and I had no idea how to follow that up. There was even a cowboy/rodeo song I made that didn’t make the EP. I figured the wide I get to go in the beginning of my career, means I can refine my sound further down the line. I’m still figuring out my sound, still figuring out who I am, and I want my music to reflect that. Maybe one day I’ll settle on one thing and do an album.
Parry: You’re very strong on presenting concepts, and there is a lot of discussion surrounding the future of Albums and EPs and their relevance. How critical is working to or portraying a concept in you achieving what you want to achieve with your music? Could you ever just be a singles artist?
Liyah Knight: I genuinely don’t know. If I were to be a singles artist I’d have to refine a concept into a single. If I was to release a couple of singles, how would that evolve into a story? How does that define a chapter in my life? Maybe that’s a reflection of my songwriting style. I like projects, I like sitting with things over a period of time. I hope there are people that do appreciate that, and a beauty of having a body of work. There’s enough one thing’s, quick hits in every other aspect of life. It’s nice to keep music in this unique world.
Words by Parry Tritsiniotis