Waterparks’ Awsten Knight: “Being Able To Cut All My F*cking Hair Off And Release A New Song Feels Like A Reset…”
After a mammoth social media hiatus, Waterparks’ Awsten Knight came back online in a very, well… Awsten way earlier this month: by livestreaming himself cutting off his bright green hair (with what very much looked like non-hairdressing scissors) to the sound of a brand-new song. Naturally, fans lost their collective “marbles”, while the frontman was simply stoked to see that – despite everything that’s going on in the world right now – “people still care” about his band.
“It just felt like it wasn’t my time to be heard,” he tells Kerrang! today of his uncharacteristic break from the internet, which began in April and ended in September, bar several Black Lives Matter posts in May and June. “I don’t want to be putting myself out there when there’s so many other things that matter so much more. I was just like, ‘No-one needs what I’m doing right now.’ It was about trying to elevate other people.
“But, at the same time, you can’t just be gone forever,” Awsten continues. “It was a nice time and way to step back, and it was also good after being out [on tour] for so long. While we were gone I was like, ‘I hope too many people don’t forget us!’ (Laughs) But all the numbers on Spotify and all that stuff just went way up, and we hadn’t even been putting anything out. It was really weird. People seemed to have been finding us during this time…”
Clearly, Waterparks have still been on repeat as a much-needed source of comfort for many throughout the past few months. And now, there’s an additional reason to continue giving the Texan trio – completed by guitarist Geoff Wigington and drummer Otto Wood – a spin: they’ve released a wonderful new single, Lowkey As Hell.
Following 2019’s brilliant third album FANDOM, the track serves as both a welcome return from rock’s most exciting young band, as well the start of a new wave of productivity from one of the most creative frontmen on the planet. Between writing a ton of new music, finishing a FANDOM live DVD – which was shot in Birmingham while Waterparks were on tour earlier this year – bike-riding around his home of Los Angeles, and delving into the world of fashion, Awsten has been keeping himself incredibly busy behind the scenes this year. And, as ever, he’s got some big ideas…
Awsten, you’re the kind of artist who is always working on music. Has a global pandemic kept that ball rolling, or have you struggled with being creative while everything is so unsettling in the world?
“It’s kind of both. You need to feel inspired, and you need to experience to actually have things to say, and that’s really the only struggle there. But all of our songs start in the same way that they always have: I sit down and make the demo at home. So if I’m legally stuck at home (laughs), then music is just going to happen.”
When we last spoke in January, you said you could pretty much write a song a day. What’s been your level of output lately?
“Well, it’s definitely not one a day (laughs). Let me think… It’s tricky, because I don’t really feel ready to talk about an album necessarily, but music is always getting made. I don’t know the exact number, but I’ve probably got a few hours’ worth of music. It’s funny when you put it all into a playlist and it shows you the time – it’s like, ‘Fuck!’”
Is it all quite unorganised at the moment, then?
“Some of it is. I kind of go back and forth, and it’s a funny balance. I love pop music, and since I was 17 or 18 I was like, ‘Oh my god, Kesha is so good – she writes better vocal patterns than most of these bands.’ So sometimes I’m like, ‘I’ll lean on that…’ and make a full-on banger. But there are two sides to making music – like the angel and devil, not that either one is good or bad, it’s just in that they’re very opposite. So I’ll be like, ‘Man, I need to make fucking art – some real weird stuff, that’s really unique or out of the box.’ That’s not to say the catchy things aren’t unique, but I will go out of my way to make some shit where I don’t know what I’m doing, and it keeps it fresh. It’s a strange balance of making one that sounds like a fucking huge banger, and then making a couple of artsy ones. I’ve realised that all my favourite albums go off and let people enter the world, and they can experience it and know it, rather than just being hit over the face with singles. And right now, I just want to give people a song – that’s pretty much where I’m at. But it’s in the back of my mind that, instead of picking 10 bangers and putting them out [as an album], what do I want to say with this? In this instance, though, I just wanted to give people something, and it’s the first thing back since an album, and I was just like, ‘This is gonna fucking bang; let’s go.’”
Is this a recent realisation about all your favourite albums and how they’re bigger pieces of art to dive into?
“It is. You know, I’ve always thought about it, but over the last few years I’ve never really had the time before. I live alone, and so I’ve got all this quiet time and space to really explore shit, and learn about everything. It allows you to go deeper than you normally would. Maybe back in March or April, I was trying study it. No-one’s made a fucking textbook on it (laughs), but you can study the best albums of all time, and see what they have in common. And that’s not to say that my favourite albums are the best albums of all time, but it’s just a matter of pulling all these things together and being like, ‘I see that these five best albums of all time all have this thing in common,’ and then, ‘I also see that my favourite albums have this thing in common.’ If you take a step further back, you can see the bigger picture more, and figure out what you like, and what you want to do.”
You’re such a songwriting nerd, so to have all this extra time to go to extreme new levels is a very exciting prospect…
“(Laughs) Yeah, it’s pretty fun! Like I said, I don’t want to jump into album territory yet, but when I skim through all the ideas that I’ve gotten to make in this time, I’m like, ‘Whatever comes from this has to be – and I think will be – better than FANDOM.’ I could write a fucking thousand songs, and if a collection of them doesn’t beat what came before it, it’s just not gonna be released. There’s just not a world in which I would be down to take a step backwards, you know what I mean?”
Does Lowkey As Hell mark the end of the FANDOM era, then, or the start of the next one?
“It’s kind of both. It feels like we’re all kind of in purgatory right now. Being able to just cut all my fucking hair off and be like, ‘This is the art right here, and this is just us…’ feels like a reset to me, if anything.”
Is that what you’re feeling on a personal level? Is that what the hair cut symbolised?
“Yeah, and I think it’s good to just remind people that you’re a person (laughs). Especially with this song and the lyrics being as personal as they are, it just felt like a good visual to put with it. With how much the song dives in and how deep it goes, it just felt like the right move to pair with it. I’ve always wanted to make sure this band is very visual as well as musical – because you can have badass songs all day, but if you’re just boring or whatever, you’re missing out on so much. It’s like A Quiet Place: we’re not those monsters that can only hear (laughs). We’ve got eyes! There are so many things you can offer to people, and you’re missing out if you’re not [presenting proper visuals too] – it’s like you’re fighting a battle with one arm tied behind your back. You can make insane videos that enhance your songs.”
How long has Lowkey As Hell been in the works?
“You know, time just blurs at the moment… If it’s September now, maybe it happened in June (laughs). That could be completely wrong, it’s just so hard to gauge anything because every day is just the same. The only time I actually know the day is on Tuesdays when I can’t order food from the Chinese place that I really like on Postmates! I don’t have a calendar – I just wake up and make shit.”
In that case, do you remember the specific moment you were inspired to write it?
“With songs in general, and especially making FANDOM, I’ve realised that I really like songs that have a specific concept. I like to try to identify what I want to talk about, and then figure it out from there. Sometimes things can be a little scattered, if you let them be, so I’ve really been trying to consolidate what I want to say. And with Lowkey, originally I thought it would be funny to write a song called Drake Problems. It’s a weird thing to talk about in this world when there’s so much insane shit going on, and it makes a lot of the things that I’m dealing with or problems that I’m having not feel quite as valid – and it is true that everything that’s happening right now is bigger than anything I could be dealing with, but Lowkey is kind of like that: it’s things that people don’t necessarily know how to relate to. Everybody has got problems, but they’re all just different problems, and so I wanted to call Lowkey… Drake Problems originally because of the irony of him being one of the most successful people ever, but he still has time to complain or whatever – it was kinda funny. So those lyrics happened very quickly, once it started. But I basically started talking about the time since FANDOM came out. Like I said, I like to try and keep it very concise, but with this I just started talking, going over the last six or eight months. So it’s not what I’ve been trying to do, but it came out really well (laughs).”
Would you say it’s a happy or sad song? The verses are pretty bleak, while the chorus is really lovely…
“It’s kind of both, and that’s one thing I really like when I’m writing. I’ve realised that I really like it in movies when there’s not a clear-cut good guy or bad guy. Like, everybody is both. It’s just so much more real and interesting. I was talking about [2019 folk-horror film] Midsommar to some friends the other day, and it’s like all the characters are semi-good-guys or semi-bad-guys – it’s not a clear-cut thing. I think that’s really cool, and I’ve started really liking movies like that a lot. And I think it’s a cool thing to do in songs as well. You can have a lot of angles, and it’s not just a one-dimensional being where you’re like, ‘I feel this one thing right now.’ It’s more like, ‘This is what I’m dealing with, and this, and this, and this.’ There was one day where I looked at my Instagram, and there were so many people commenting stuff like, ‘Please come back!’ and, ‘I miss you so much!’ and all this stuff, and bringing in the chorus was kind of like that: the lyrics, ‘If you need me now / I’ll be there somehow.’ There’s all this negative shit going on in the world, but seeing those messages from people when you kind of feel like no-one’s thinking about you was really nice. I don’t like to put too much stock into what people say online, but it was still a really nice thing to see, and I think that’s what creates the duality of the song.”
Explain the lyric, ‘I haven’t had a day off since my blue hair.’ Did that come out of a sense of mental exhaustion or burnout?
“Kind of both. What we get to do is really fun, but it’s still a weird, creepy, insane, unstable job (laughs). You still can get burnout even if you have a month off between tours, because it’s not like the job is done when you get offstage. You’re always working, and always being looked at, and I understand that you can’t do what I’m trying to accomplish without those things – I get it, and I don’t hold anything against the process. But on days where you’re dealing with 10 things at once, it’s easy to experience that kind of burnout. And yeah, the blue hair was the last time really that there weren’t any expectations – it was 2014, and outside of Texas, nobody knew who we were. And it was still a cool thing and we could sell out small, local venues, which was really fun, but there wasn’t [the aspect] of me logging online and everyone’s like, ‘Music, music music! Album, album, album!’ I appreciate it and I know it comes from excitement, but it all just adds pressure. That line specifically is because back in that time, nobody expected shit; I expected stuff for myself, but I was pretty much the only one (laughs).”
You’ve also got a nod to FANDOM in the song, with the Watch What Happens Next reference. Does that point to maybe not quite wanting to let FANDOM go just yet?
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily about not wanting to let it go; we’re still so close to that time, and I’ve not evolved past everything that I feel on that album. When I put that album out and said everything that I was trying to say, it’s not like that changed everything. I still feel those things. And I just thought this was a cool way to shine a light on it, and show a new twist of: I still want all these things, but right now I’m also kind of scared to fucking go outside (laughs). Everybody’s scared and freaked out right now, and they’re looking for people to punish, and the world itself is just fucking on fire. And so when I’m like, ‘I like cool shirts, I like cold rings / I want a big house, but I’m hiding,’ that’s still everything that I wish for, but now isn’t the time. I can’t bring myself to try and navigate or push for that in this time. People are outside fucking dying, and in California the sky is on fire and shit. It’s kind of hard for me to then be like, ‘But my dreams!’ You know what I mean?! I have all these things that I want to do, but it’s just not my time right now for that.
“At the same time – and I’m not singling anybody out – I’m watching these releases that I think are very good and very cool, but they get talked about for a very short time and then people move on. Everybody’s brains are just fucked right now, and they’re working differently [than usual]. This year is going so quick, and I was watching videos about it, and it’s because when you do the same shit every single day, your brain doesn’t hold on to it as much because it doesn’t have to. Your brain isn’t retaining every single day. I’m seeing cool shit being forgotten, and so I definitely don’t want to give anything too big right now…”
Waterparks’ new single Lowkey As Hell is out now.
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