Liyah Knight talks new EP ‘Traveller’s Guide’: “It required me to take accountability for a lot of things”

The buzzy indie-soul singer talks to NME about chronicling her emotional growth on the new project, collaborating with rocker Diesel, and what’s next for her

Up-and-coming Sydneysider Liyah Knight has released her second EP, ‘Traveller’s Guide’.

The six track arrives today (November 5) via The Orchard – a year on from her breakthrough EP ‘Nesting’ with its hit ‘Tipsy’.

Liyah (real name Alliyah Cici Adejoke Fareo) has swiftly developed her own confessional avant-soul sound, uploading the revelatory debut single ‘Mine’ on triple j Unearthed in only August last year. The singer-songwriter has also collaborated with Nerve on ‘Cheers’, and recently joined Peking Duk live on the ABC’s The Set.

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Evoking Jhené Aiko at her most cerebral, Liyah approached ‘Traveller’s Guide’ as a conceptual project, drawing inspiration from Kelley and Conner’s 1979 theoretical paradigm the Emotional Cycle of Change. The six songs chart a transformational romance and Liyah’s coming of age. It was led by three singles: ‘Moon Baby’, the groovy ‘Threads’, and subliminally acoustic ‘Hurricane’. For the project, Liyah worked with the likes of IAMMXO, Tasker and Cyrus (yes, the former X Factor Australia winner), plus rock legend Mark “Diesel” Lizotte.

Talking to NME by phone, Liyah discussed her musical evolution, working with Diesel, and album plans. She noted, too, the pandemic’s influence on ‘Traveller’s Guide’, imagining it as a hike through a mysterious forest to the ocean. “During lockdown, obviously not going to many places and stuff, it was really refreshing thinking about the cycle of change and seeing some kind of journey – a physical journey.”

You share the diminutive ‘Liyah’ with Aaliyah. Are you a fan?

“That’s right. My parents for some unknown reason named me after her, but never played her at home so I kind of had to stumble upon her through friends. But, yeah, I love her music. She’s such a boss vulnerable lady in such a male-dominated field. It’s really cool, who she was.”

You’ve had such a steady ascent. When did you start singing and writing?

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“I’ve definitely written all of my life – since I was a kid. But the singing probably started three years before I first released [anything], actually. I was a bit of a loner at school, so my mum bought me a book and she was like, ‘Here you go – you can write all your thoughts out.’ So I wrote my conversations with myself in a book. And then one day I was like, ‘Well, maybe I could put this into a song.’ That’s how it came about.”

You had a huge response to your first EP ‘Nesting’ – you even had an AIR nomination, for Best Independent Soul/R&B Album Or EP. What did you learn from making it that you applied to ‘Traveller’s Guide’?

“The first EP felt almost like I had all of these stories stocked up through my adolescence and my early 20s – so that one was kind of like a backlog of feelings and stories – whereas the ‘Traveller’s Guide’ feels a little bit more recent; a little bit more aligned with where I’m at right now in terms of writing. But I don’t think I could have one without the other, either way. I think that I started writing songs on ‘Traveller’s Guide’ before ‘Nesting’ was out.”

This EP sounds like self-therapy. Did writing it help you get to the place you wanted to be?

“I think it did, in a lot of ways. It definitely made me more self-aware and I think it required me to take accountability for a lot of things. When you look at change and you look at emotion, it’s so hard sometimes to focus when you’re so wrapped in it and it’s so personal. But having something like Kelley and Conner’s Emotional Cycle of Change – you know, it applies to everyone and you can kind of step outside of yourself and look at it. And, yeah, that’s pretty much what I did.

“I wrote [the closer] ‘No Strings’ before I fully believed it – like I wrote it before I’d fully moved on and I used it as a guide. I’d listen to it and be like, ‘Yes, I’m going to be that bad bitch one day. At the moment I’m crying, but I’m going to get to that stage’ – and then I got there and I was like, ‘Wow!’ It’s cool writing about where you wanna be and then falling into that place.”

‘Hurricane’ has that element of apprehension or danger to it – something subconscious. What you can tell us about that song?

“Yeah, there’s definitely that apprehension – it’s almost like you know that there’s red flags there, but you’re so wrapped up in everything good about a situation that you don’t really factor those things in, ’cause they don’t seem bright enough to pay attention to. And, where that song came from, it was me hearing people around me with warnings.”

The name Diesel in the credits was unexpected, because he’s most associated with ’90s rock. How did your paths cross?

“The executive producer of ‘Nesting’ and ‘Traveller’s Guide’, Mo [IAMMXO], knew Diesel through Mushroom. He said, ‘Hey, would you like to have a session with Diesel?’ I went home and obviously I told my mum straight away and she was squealing. But I don’t think I’ve ever learned that much in a session before. He’s a veteran – like he knows so much and he has so much life experience.”

What are your ambitions from here? Would you like to do an album? Is there a game plan?

“I’m not a goal person. I don’t really like goals, ’cause I feel like they’re quite restrictive sometimes. But I do like ideas – and I think my ideas are to live a little and write a little; maybe do some travelling. I guess with the EPs, I was like, ‘Plan, plan!’ So I’ve kind of gone through the process of planning a whole project. [But] I kinda wanna just sit for a second and just breathe a little and just do some live shows and just make music – and that’s about it. So no plans for an album at the moment. I just wanna write with as many people as I can.”

Liyah Knight’s ‘Traveller’s Guide’ is out now via The Orchard

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