Name: Liyah Knight
Occupation: Singer, songwriter
Current Release: Liyah Knight's Travellers Guide is out via The Orchard.
Recommendations: Wherever you go there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn (book) and Never Would Have Made It by Marvin Sapp (song)
If you enjoyed this interview with Liyah Knight and would like to stay up to date on her music and creative activities, visit her official website. Or drop by her profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been writing poems for as long as I can remember, but I only started putting sounds to them about three or four years ago. I was drawn towards the way music and sounds cradled words and kind of added a whole other world to them.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
While in high school I remember we’d study different styles of writing every semester. I think when I was about sixteen we were learning about confessional poetry; Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath etc. I was blown away by how intimate, yet accessible the writing style was and it really inspired me as a writer and musician to just be open.
I was drawn towards artists like Amy Winehouse and Frank Ocean in my teens because their music very much had that super personal aspect that made you feel like their story was yours too. I think I’m constantly developing my own voice and looking for different ways to use it. I’d like to think the transition will never stop.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I grew up in Australia to an Australian-Italian mother and Nigerian father. I was always too this, or too that kind of bouncing between cultures and cliques and never really comfortably fitting anywhere. As a kid it was pretty challenging but as I grew up I kind of found my own comfort in always being neither here nor there.
In terms of creativity, it became more or less the same; constantly finding comfort bouncing between sounds and themes.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The biggest challenge at the beginning was having no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know how to sing (I didn’t think I did, at least), I didn’t know a thing about production. All I knew about music was from the perspective of a listener. It was really daunting and a lot of my first songs sounded like hot garbage.
Now I bask in those moments of not knowing. It excites me.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The first session I had as a musician was with a producer that made me feel like the size of a pea, to be honest. I think I had a clear idea of what I wanted to create from an early stage but without experience or knowledge, there was always the odd occasion of being spoken down to. I can thank that producer for inspiring me to enrol in a production course and invest in my first DAW which was Logic.
After that I started experimenting with sounds I liked, and entered sessions with producers having a better ability to communicate that.
My first / only instrument is keys; very basic skill set, but recently a friend and collaborator sent me an old guitar of his, so I’ve been chipping away at that.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I think before I made music I underestimated the significance of arrangement. I’ve always gravitated towards the lyrical aspect of songs but now when I listen to a song I really just want to understand why this follows that and where the build up is, if it’s too long or too short or just right.
It really does frame a song and the best songs have these perfect pockets for lyrical moments to shine.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love collaborating with people I mesh with. Every good collaboration in the past has come from a solid hour or so of chatting and getting acquainted, finding common ground between our individual experiences. After we find that, the jamming is kind of just second nature.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
The things I like to keep consistent throughout the week is the time I wake up and the time I go to sleep. The latter tends to fluctuate when you factor in gigs and TV binge sessions but mornings are more or less the same.
Wednesdays are always reserved for vocal lessons and stage rehearsals. Sundays are family days and any days outside of those two are left for sessions, down time and helping out at my mum’s shop.
I like to keep music separate from my family/work life. I think they all operate seamlessly in their respective lanes.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I think "Threads" was a breakthrough for me - I wrote it with Tasker and it was the first song off Travellers Guide written.
I’d heard of Tasker through a mutual friend he’d worked with; the song they had made was totally outside of my friend’s comfort zone, but a beautiful song nonetheless. Much alike, "Threads" was outside my comfort zone but it was a beautiful marriage between our two styles and I loved it. I think it changed my approach to collaborating and inspired me to work with people outside my immediate comfort zone.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The ideal state of creativity for me is usually when I’m feeling confident within myself and open to those around me.
Distractions are largely a product of my ego; those moments when I get a bit tunnel-visioned and become fixated on temporary feelings or ideas.
Corny as it sounds I usually look outwards when I hit those points, go for long walks, hang out with friends, reposition myself in my perspective.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music has mostly been a healer. It can hurt when you use it as some sort of distraction from reality though.
I think the greatest potential for music as a tool for healing is through its ability to be a vessel for empathy. We get to listen to another person’s perspective in such a unique way and that’s really beautiful.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
You’re right, the line is very fine. I think when you’re operating in predominantly white spaces like Australia there are definitely challenges.
I’m a firm believer in diverse spaces, but I also don’t feel particularly inclined to ask for space. It’s just a matter of taking it.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I’d say the connection between sight and hearing is probably my favourite overlap. I love that feeling when someone tells you a story and you’re visualising it as they tell you. The way you’re seeing it might be completely different to their experience, but somehow there’s a connection.
What that tells us is that the way we connect is largely dependent on perception and past experience, which is really cool and makes me want to know more about how / why other people sense things differently!
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I’m just a curious student and a evolving storyteller.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
The colour, the nuances, from the pitch of the exclamation to the tremor in the confession. It does it in such a raw and unfiltered manner, like nothing else.