EP Walkthrough: Liyah Knight breaks down her intoxicating second EP, Traveller's Guide
Almost an exact year after sharing her debut EP Nesting, the Sydney-based musician returns with a sophomore EP just as intoxicating.
Going into 2021, Liyah Knight was someone who seemingly felt unstoppable. She locked in her status as one to watch in the year ahead at 2020's last moment, building off a trio of singles earlier in the year to share her debut EP Nesting in late November - and what a debut EP that was. "She carries the power of Sampa The Great through the honey vocals of SZA or Summer Walker, drawing you in with the weightlessness of her sound that comes crashing down as she lets go, exploring facets of her life and the life around her through each song," we said with the EP's release.
In the last year, however, Liyah Knight's prowess has only become more pronounced. In the lead-up to her sophomore EP Traveller's Guide, the Sydney-based musician has shared capsules of art that further define her sound, elevating her musicianship to the highest level as she creates rich, genre-blurring art that feels less and less comparable to those around her with every listen. She's truly carving her own lane, giving Australian R&B a bold and honest new edge as she goes: "Just expect another honest body of work," she teased, as we talked to her about the forthcoming EP earlier in the year.
Now, comes Traveller's Guide in its full bloom, and Liyah Knight's intense, multi-dimensional musicianship grows even more pronounced. Arriving on Friday, Traveller's Guide is a six-song journey that pulls you into the intricacies of Liyah Knight's life, as she pulls back the layers exposed through her debut EP and questions her being amongst a stirring blend of indie, electronica, hip-hop and R&B. It's a starkly intimate and honest capsule of tracks, going into the intricate details often left disguised by musicians - Liyah providing this rich, one-stop affair to anyone wanting to learn the inner twinings of her life.
As she explains, Traveller's Guide purposefully builds on what she welcomed through her debut EP, extending the themes of her entrance and taking them to the next level. "So, I've opened up, I've removed the layers, and I've let somebody in. Now what?" She questions. "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."
It's something that's unveiled over the course of the EP, from the dreamy, fairytale-like trance of Moon Baby - "it’s that chapter of a journey where you’re infatuated," she says - right through to songs like Hurricane, which strums with this acoustic romanticism that she twists with the multi-facetedness that's become defining of the Liyah Knight name. "Your friends see their flaws, they might try to tell you, but you see nothing but perfection," she explains. "Even these ups and downs are romanticised."
However, as much as Liyah's inward-facing songwriting is impressive, the way she communicates these themes is where Traveller's Guide really blossoms. The past comparatives to SZA or Summer Walker feel lazy nowadays, as Liyah intertwines those influences with her own detail that goes a step further than what was shown on Nesting, showcasing the growth and evolution of her last year. Sonically, Traveller's Guide feels like an older sibling to most of Australian R&B at the moment, with edges you wouldn't find anywhere else.
There's a lot of beauty and meaning within the fibres of Traveller's Guide, and so to celebrate the EP's arrival, we talked to Liyah and allowed her to walk us through the EP's creation and meaning, one song at a time. Take a dive into the walkthrough - as well as the EP itself - below:
My nights are quite routine. I put an album or playlist on and sit halfway out the front door either writing, scrolling or thinking. I live about 40 minutes from the city so where I am, the moon doesn’t really have to compete with city lights. One night, Mark had sent me the beginning of what would become Moon Baby. I was sitting on the same step thinking about one person, humming along as the track looped in the background. Moon Baby has an air of nostalgia to it, kind of like a dream that keeps playing over in your head.
So this is essentially the romanticisation of a tumultuous situationship. There’s ups and downs, and people telling you you’re playing with fire but all you feel is warmth. I wrote it with Penny Ivy and Garrett Kato in Queensland and the focus was very much on this kind of insular relationship.
Threads was the first song written off Traveller's Guide and is about that weird pocket between expectation and reality where you don’t really know where you stand with someone.
Tasker and I wrote this the first time we met, so the beginning of the session was quite tame with the song initially being more stripped back. As hours passed I was thumping drum patterns on the walls and he was creating moving sounds on synths. The end product was this song unlike anything else I’d ever made; and a huge inspiration to my approach with collaborating thereafter. In terms of where it sits in the Traveller's Guide narrative, you’re going on this glorious moonlit adventure in the forest (Moon Baby, Hurricane) that kind of takes a turn when you lose your way. Initially, the music video was going to be set in a forest, but then lockdown happened so Jaytee made a visualiser with trees made out of strings.
Despite its title, this song is anything but a holiday! It has pretty dark undertones and is about opening up and getting hurt. It starts with these fragile keys and progressively gets heavier. Have you ever walked in a national park after it’s rained? The floor is all slushy and it kind of takes a little bit more effort to pick your feet up amongst all the soaked leaves and bark. That’s what I wanted Holiday to sound like. I wrote it with Mark, then went away to a writing camp in Katoomba with Tasker and Korky Buchek, where we added a bunch of other elements to it.
Like many people in the past twelve months, I’ve spent a lot of time alone at home. There were a few months there where I felt like I was writing the exact same song in 50 different ways. One day I was over at Cy’s home studio and he started playing this triumphant melody on the guitar and I was like, this is it! I’m finally ready to move forward! And that’s where Riddle came from.
Sometimes it can be challenging taking accountability for the role we play in situations particularly when emotions are attached, but it’s also that same accountability that grants us the level of self-awareness we need to move forward. This song has come a long way. From where it started with Cy to where it ended up with Mo, I’m so proud of it, and I hope to listen back on days I feel stuck as a reminder that every experience has a lesson attached to it whenever I’m ready to learn.
I wrote this song with Cy the day after Riddle and I’d describe it as the reassembling of a bad bitch. It’s that moment when you finally cut ties with someone because you realise there’s no point holding on to a loose end. I knew exactly what the last song had to be about but it was just a matter of getting there in real life before preaching it. No Strings is the sassy, self-assured product of overcoming doubts, facing insecurities and other normal human stuff. If lockdown has given me one thing besides a bunch of new hobbies, it’s the revaluation of my time and energy. It’s up, baby!