Reliqa bares soul in new EP, ‘I Don’t Know What I Am’

Reliqa was a real lifeline for me in 2020. I was introduced to their single, “Mr. Magic,” in October of that year, right in the thick of the chaos. That slow-burning charge of a song rattled through me and met something in my chest. I’d never heard music like it, but I found something utterly recognizable in the depths of Monique Pym’s whispering, rising, barreling vocals and the steady thrumming beat leading to a symphonic, djenty breakdown. 

Somehow, Reliqa had seized a feeling, an atmosphere, a wish that no other sound had ever granted. They created a mirror to look into. In ways I’ll never be able to explain, I felt a part of myself in that music. I explored Reliqa’s catalog with a wonder I’d only felt before in stories and met a part of myself I thought I’d forgotten.

Reliqa hails from Sydney, Australia. Comprised of Monique Pym (vocals), Brandon Lloyd (guitar), Miles Knox (bass), and Benjamin Knox (drums), the band has created an atmospheric sound that’s otherworldly and wholly deadly. Since their beginning in 2018, they’ve won many hearts with their impressive stage presence. That reputation has preceded them around the world, traveling across time zones and breaking past oceans. The widespread adoration has granted them a breakout presence in their scene. Most recently, they’ve taken the stage at Full Tilt Festival Brisbane and Monolith Festival 2022. 

‘I Don’t Know What I Am’ is Reliqa’s latest EP and home to their most recent singles, “Safety” and “The Bearer of Bad News.” It’s another surprising kick of experimentation that lands a series of perfect blows. Still, there’s no denying that the sound beneath that is only theirs—signature and immaculate. This EP had me laughing in surprise, crying, and stomping my feet. 

Monique Pym sat with All The Alt Things to discuss the new EP, vulnerability, and being a small but shining fish in a big pond. 

I Don’t Know What I Am is a vicious EP, and I suspect it’s also more personal to you. You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you’re trying to write from your own perspective, and some of these songs result from that. Having written from both a personal and storytelling perspective, which approach do you prefer?

The feeling of releasing something from a personal perspective is really gratifying, but it’s really scary too. This EP isn’t even out yet and I’m worried about what people are going to discover about me when we do release it. But it’s very cathartic and nice to take something vulnerable and turn it into a piece of art that you’re really proud of. I prefer writing from a personal place because of that payoff. There’s this amazing gratification behind it, but I will say that it’s extremely challenging and presses me as a writer. I have so much respect for artists who do it as their main medium. And that’s a lot of artists that I look up to. 

“Second Nature” is the most surprising song on the album. It contains harmonious ballads that showcase a softness in your voice that we don’t hear often. In an EP that’s biting and explosive in all the right ways, how did this very vulnerable track come about?

I love that you gravitated to that song. This is my first time talking about many of these songs and it’s so cool having them be in other people’s ears. It’s the one that took the longest to take form. It originally started very differently from where it ended up, as you can imagine from the sound of the rest of our music. I wanted to create something more down to Earth, which is funny because the main lyric is, “Bring me back to Earth again.” 

We took something a lot heavier and we brought it down a lot. That gave me a lot of room to play with because we took that very open, airy verse, through the rest of the song. It really felt like the right time to open up a lot of things we haven’t addressed in songwriting before. It’s the song that delves a bit into childhood and feelings of nature versus nurture, kind of this tug of war between fear and love. It’s a bit of a love song, but it’s also a bit of an ode to being human, being a complex person with all of these feelings and things going on—like self-doubt and appreciation for ourselves, self-respect and self-loathing. That balancing act is what manifests in the song. I’m really glad the boys created instrumentation that was so open to explore those things with.

It was such an experience for me. My fiancé got to watch this wash of emotions. At one point he asked me, “Are you crying?” I had to tell him to shut up.

I cried the first time I heard it mastered. [The band] were all together in Brisbane. We were in the van, lights off, and I was just sobbing.

Your latest single, “Safety” includes vocals from Sean Harmanis. Features aren’t a common event with Reliqa. What made you decide to take on Harmanis and how was your experience collaborating outside of the band in this way?

It was great! “Safety” is one of the more traditional metalcore songs on the EP. We knew when it was coming that we wanted something else. We could have filled those gaps, but we feel we have a certain arsenal of skills and sounds and we wanted to dip our toes into other people’s sounds and audiences and the perspectives that they can bring to the songs. 

Sean was a no-brainer, not only because he’s Australian and in this monumental metalcore band[Make Them Suffer], but also because his sound made so much sense. We just kept going back to him. I was actually so embarrassed because I had to send him the demo, which had me talking through his part. I was saying, “Not like this! Like you!” And he ran with it. 

I think there’s a lot of sense in bringing in a featured vocalist. There are a lot of benefits. It isn’t something we want to do all the time, but every now and then we’ll bring someone in from the outside world. It transforms our music into something new that we wouldn’t be able to do ourselves. We’re really thankful for Sean and what he turned this song into.

You did great, it was very seamless. Sometimes features can feel out of place but you guys were perfect together.

It’s really great that you say that. We made it an intentional effort. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a feature in the third verse, I wanted to make sure he was woven into the song as if he was a part of the band. I think that’s what makes it work so well. It ended up being so cool!

Reliqa has been going through an evolution. Your works as far back as “Mr. Magic” (2020) have included a lot of experimentation. It was most notable in “The Bearer of Bad News” (2021), and it’s almost an expectation now that you will mix things up. That being said, are there particular styles that you’ve decided to continue forward with as part of your signature sound?

Oh, that’s such a loaded question. It’s really hard to pinpoint those moments. There’s a lot on this EP that we want to stick to. It’s really a condensed work, whereas an album gives you a lot more room to explore. So, there are sounds we want to develop further. This is kind of the tasting pack. 

We experimented with some synth stuff in the title track. It’s more of a synthy drop than a breakdown and we’re really interested to hear what people think about that. We don’t write based on what other people think, but it’s almost like a guide. So, I think I’ll be able to answer this question more solidly after the EP comes out. The blanket response is that we’ve done a lot of taste tests and most of them have manifested in a way that we definitely want to explore a bit more. I think you’ll see more of that in our future stuff.

Reliqa is gaining traction at an alarming rate, which is no surprise. You have such a unique, worldly sound that’s not to be denied. How are you handling this rise to something beyond the local scene, and how has it changed the band’s perspective?

It certainly has changed our perspective. It’s really hard to quantify when you stop being a local band and start being a band in a bigger pond. The best way to put it is that we’ve transitioned from being a medium-sized fish in a relatively small pond to a pretty small fish in a big pond. We’re playing every weekend with Karnivool right now and actively working with the people we’ve looked up to for so long. It is intimidating now that we’re starting to see a lot more behind the scenes. We always have to be one step ahead. 

We’re writing right now and I’ve personally struggled a little bit. We haven’t even released this EP that I’m so proud of, and it’s already old news. It’s like we need to move on! I think I need to accept that I have to be ready to move on. We’ve started writing some really cool material and it’s going well, but one of the key takeaways I’m finding is that it’s tricky to assimilate into that “one step ahead” mindset. Apart from that, we’re a band that likes to take our time. Our team likes to take  time with us because that strategy hasn’t let us down yet. We’re just enjoying it, we really like to have fun. We’re all really excitable people, which you can probably tell. So, we’re just taking it as it comes, one day at a time, and hoping that we can keep up!

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