De’Wayne and Awsten Knight: “The rock scene should look like how the world looks – and that’s a lot of different people…”

De’Wayne and Waterparks’ Awsten Knight join Kerrang! for an in-depth chat about their “new brand of alternative music”, standing out from the crowd, and playing the long game…

De’Wayne and Awsten Knight: “The rock scene should look like how the world looks – and that’s a lot of different people…”
Erik Rojas

Despite being best mates and touring buddies, De’Wayne describes asking Awsten Knight to guest on his new single Perfume as “like asking a girl on a date”. He was scared.

“He hit me up and it was the funniest voice message,” the Waterparks frontman laughs of his friend’s adorably nervous request. “I still have it! He was so shy about it even though he knows I’ll do anything for him. He was like, ‘Ah, so… hey man… I was thinking… and you can tell me to shut up… I’m sorry!’”

“I’m such a fan of Awsten’s, and I would hurt someone over this guy – I really would!” De’Wayne reasons passionately. “And I just have this, like, little kid in me, and with anything that happens. I don’t I’m ever gonna be like, ‘Yeah, hop on this [song] tomorrow!’ It’s more like, ‘Hey, let’s get dinner… and then do you wanna hop on this verse?!’”

“You’re gonna wine me and dine me and then be like, ‘Hey, you wanna be on a hit?!’” Awsten jokes.

“We’ll keep you updated on that,” grins De’Wayne, “but for now I think I’m still gonna be sending two-minute voice messages with kisses at the end…”

Regardless of their back-and-forth collaborative methods, De’Wayne and Awsten’s first single together is everything you’d want from two of the most exciting young artists in rock. In fact, upon hearing it for the first time, De’Wayne had an overwhelmingly powerful reaction…

“I show Awsten everything that I do – regardless of if it’s a song or a picture,” he explains. “I sent Perfume to him and I didn’t even think about asking him [to guest on it] until I already had the song. It made sense, and when he sent it back I cried driving down the 101 in my car with flat tyres!”

With Awsten promising more “stuff in the secret bag” to come, Kerrang! joined the musicians over Zoom for a wide-ranging conversation about collaborations, the state of rock, and the importance of making real art…

On collaborations in the rock scene

De’Wayne: “Collaborations work in every other genre, and I think people are starting to notice that. My thing about collaborations is that I want to do it with my friends, and people that I actually love and care about. We’ve been getting [offers] for features and I have to turn some of them down because I’m like, ‘I don’t know you. The song is cool, but you just want me to rap and put my hair on it, and I just don’t really care about that.’”

Awsten: “Yo, I know how that goes! They just want our hair!”

De’Wayne: “And that’s fair, but to have Awsten on this song is so perfect for me, and I think the song is just so great. I did a song on Chase Atlantic’s album – those are my friends and I love them, and I love this fucking guy right here. If it’s a collaboration, I want it to be a real collaboration.”

Awsten: “I agree with all of that, and I think it’s important to be friends with people [that you’re working with]. Because what if they’re a total piece of shit?! (Laughs) And we’ve had people suggest things to us, like, ‘Why don’t you get this person to feature on your song?’ And it’s like, ‘I don’t even know that guy, why would we do that?!’ This could just be weird personal shit, but we’ve been working so hard for so long that I wouldn’t want to look at our Spotify top songs and – out all of these songs I’ve written – the first one is me and some fucking asshole dude. That would bum me out so much, and feel like a mistake, almost.

“Collaborations are cool if they make really good sense, but sometimes labels aren’t thinking about the art or the song and they’re just thinking about the commerce side of it and, ‘What will get streams?’ I’ve talked to a lot of friends on labels and stuff, and they still try to revert to the old rules of what they feel like works. It’s like, ‘Well, features get streams…’ I feel like features are done for the wrong reasons often, but when you do them for the right reasons it’s fucking awesome – like this! De’Wayne being one of my best friends, and Perfume being one of my favourite songs of his, it’s like, ‘Fucking duh, of course I’ll do that.’”

De’Wayne: “There are one or two artists that I’d be down for [who I don’t know personally]. I mentioned [The 1975 frontman] Matty Healy in [2020 single] National Anthem and if he heard a song and wanted to yell over it, that’d be cool. And I’d love to have Julian [Casablancas] from The Strokes sing a bridge for me – it would be something like that if it wasn’t my best friends.”

On the financial impact of streaming

De’Wayne: “Just getting my [record] deal, and just starting to consistently put out music, I have a fanbase now and we call ourselves The Circle and people care and buy merch and listen to the songs, and that’s enough for me. If the label can give me an advance so I can live for six months and then I can make the best music and people will consume it – even it’s just downloading or through streaming services – then that’s enough for me at the moment. The other stuff I’ll figure out. I’m okay with that right now because I still get to eat my food while also getting to make art for a living and build a true community. I’m not worried about getting a million dollars right now! I can go outside and jump on my trampoline and then come inside and make a song, and that’s fucking cool.”

Awsten: “I would prefer to still be in the times where people bought what you do (laughs) – that would be dope. And luckily we do have the kind of fans that do that; we drop a vinyl variant and it’s sold out in 30 minutes. I feel like that even ties in to the whole collaborations thing; I think I’d be more okay with features if people bought albums, because I feel like it wouldn’t necessarily take away from stuff. If you go to anybody’s Spotify or whatever, even if someone has a million better songs, it’s always the song that has the star next to it at the top.

“Also, it would be dope to sell more albums, because then De’Wayne could get a bigger trampoline, and I could buy a jet-ski and put it on the trampoline.”

De’Wayne: “That would be fucking tight.”

Awsten: “Here’s the thing, though: there’s no point in yearning for the old days because it’s just a waste of time. I think it would be dope to have the benefit of being around in a time when our job was at its height, but all you can do is adjust. Mentally it’s one of those things that I try really hard not to [focus] on because it is what it is – what’s the alternative?”

On how TikTok can benefit the music industry

Awsten: “I think it’s a really good thing for music, because nothing else has been this good for the discovery of music since MySpace. With anything new like this, of course there’s gonna be dumb motherfuckers that try and bend the system – like, ‘Oh, why don’t we make art based around what TikTok will think?’ And it’s like, ‘Go fuck yourself!’ But besides those corny fuckers that do gimmicky meme shit just for the sake of it, I think it’s a good thing. I’ve even found shit on there myself; I skim TikTok all the time – I hate going on Instagram and Twitter now – and I find so many cool songs, and it’s awesome. I’ve never been scrolling Facebook in the past and been like, ‘Oooh, check out all these dope new things!’”

De’Wayne: “That’s true. I feel like I find more dope comedy stuff on there – but maybe I need to get more into the music vibe…”

Awsten: “Dude, I stay on paranormal TikTok all the time! I don’t send it to you because I know you wouldn’t like it, but I’m on it constantly (laughs).”

De’Wayne: “I think it’s cool, but I definitely need to be on there more and experience it more. I think it allows me to be a bit looser, though, and that’s what I enjoy about it. I think people think I’m so serious all the time, and TikTok allows me to get on there and twerk to my songs! You can’t do that on Instagram; people are like, ‘You released a political song, you can’t do that.’ TikTok allows that kind of energy, and people are way more accepting to that, and that’s fucking cool to me: that balance of trying to be a great artist and say something, but also liking shaking your ass to your own music!”

Awsten: “That’s the headline (laughs). We’ve gotta do that for Perfume, dude…”

On being forward-thinking artists

Awsten: “One thing I really remember is Waterparks played this festival in 2016 when we first started properly touring – I’m not gonna say which one (laughs) – and I was looking around, talking to Otto [Wood, drums] like, ‘Yo, every motherfucker here looks exactly the same. This is terrible. Let’s just agree right now that we’re never gonna dress like any of this!’ And when we were maybe almost done recording our first album [Double Dare], I wanted to make sure we weren’t listening to what was around us. It can be subconscious that you take in a lot of what your surroundings are, and it was really important to be like, ‘Okay, I’m not absorbing what I’m hearing right now.’ No shade to anyone, and there are exceptions to everything, but sometimes things in that world can get so repetitive and so monotonous, and just so unremarkable, that you have to keep yourself in check and make sure you’re not accidentally taking in shit!”

De’Wayne: “I agree with all of that, Awsten. I feel like for me, it started early on in Houston – I just came out being a little to the left or right of what everyone was doing, and that was even before music. I was always trying to figure out what worked for me. I realised that I was going to have to come to LA to make something of myself, and I don’t mean to say that to sound cliché, but I knew that at, like, 17. So then when I did that, I wasn’t trying to be different from anyone; I was just being myself, and that was it. I grew up with church music, and with soul music, and with hip-hop, and then for the past five years I went to the school of songwriting, and learning songs that nobody else showed me – I just went and studied them. And now this is what’s coming out, and if people like it that’s fucking cool, but I’m just myself.”

Awsten: “That’s exactly right – you are so fucking right. When people are like, ‘How do you make a song?’ It’s like, ‘Dude, literally the answers are right there – you can open up your Spotify and click on anything, and the answer is there.’ Being quiet and paying attention for a second gives you everything you need to know about songwriting.”

De’Wayne: “I just got my situation to where I’m on a label now – I’m under MDDN with Awsten and Waterparks – and I had to watch for the longest time, and that really has helped me. I thought I was ready at 19, and I was not. But I got to be quiet and watch, see other people get really good, and I was like, ‘When is my time?’ I got to rehearse, and practice, and do my push-ups for the last five years so that I could be like, ‘Now I can knock somebody out through my music.’ I’m a nerd when it comes to expressing myself, and I keep Kurt Cobain’s diary around and I’m always reading books on staying in a meditative state, and I’m always writing and eventually the songs come.”

Awsten: “Musically I never really get stuck, but vocally and lyrically I’m really picky. I’ve been getting a bit stuck on that lately, and I think that just comes from wanting to say something new and I’m not just harping on past shit, or making a less good version of something we’ve already done.”

On achieving career longevity

De’Wayne: “I wanna be here for a long time. Sometimes people around you say silly things like, ‘Try that!’ and I’m like, ‘No, that’s gonna be gone next week.’ If you write good songs every day, and you make sure that you feel good about what you’re putting out, you may stay around. I really care about being a great artist, and I think you’re required to do that: you want to have the album booklet be beautiful, you want to have the lyrics be meaningful, you want to have your voice be impeccable. That’s what I’m striving for.”

Awsten: “Exactly. I was talking to Josh [Madden] about this the other day: it’s so important, because we’re over here trying to make our Nevermind, and these other fuckers are making McDonald’s albums – quick things where it’s like, ‘This will stream well for a second.’ It’s not about that; it’s about playing a different game. Sometimes you get in your head and it’s like, ‘Fuck, PewDiePie just dropped a diss track and it’s sold more than anything we’ve ever had combined.’ It’s important to keep your head down and focus on what you know you have to make.”

De’Wayne: “Facts.”

Awsten: “I want to make a classic album; I want to make something that feels timeless and it’s not going to be weird six years from now, and someone’s gonna be like, ‘Oh my god, remember when everybody sounded like this?’ You have to put on those fucking blinders. And I think quarantine’s been good for the blinders. You’re seeing less people, and we’re not at music festivals going, ‘Oh my god, 20,000 people really seem to like that…’ Right now it really can be that tunnel vision in your own shit.”

De’Wayne: “You’re on it, bro! That’s so fucking true.”

Awsten: “I think what you and I are both making right now, we’re making because it’s art. We’re not worried about, ‘Oh man, I sure hope it gets to this feat.’ When you make real art, I feel like it’s more about the long game.”

On genre and the rock scene

De’Wayne: “Lately I really haven’t been into describing what I make…”

Awsten: “It’s limiting!”

De’Wayne: “I don’t think anything is dead, because what’s happening right now, we’re doing our own thing. But I fucking love the idea of having sexy-ass, hard, big guitars, with pop melody, rapping sometimes, yelling, and saying real shit. I think I do make rock music, and alternative music, and new wave shit, and punk, but regardless of that I’m giving you something that you can sing along to, and if you listen very deeply, it’s real. That’s what I want to stand for. If there is a rock scene right now, I think it should look like how the world looks, and that’s a lot of different people – and I think we’re a part of that [movement]: just bringing in a new brand of alternative music.”

Awsten: “Besides really extreme genres, I don’t think there are any glass ceilings. I think people can have glass ceilings with their ability if you don’t practice and work on your shit, and aim to always be levelling up on what you do. But I also feel like anyone has the potential to do great shit and always go up and up and up. You can be the biggest fucking thing in the world and still be a ‘rock’ artist. I would consider Waterparks a rock project more than any other genre, but I don’t think it’s fair to yourself to bring on that pressure of, ‘I’m bringing rock back!’ It’s been said a million fucking times. I think it’s going to happen when it happens. It’s not really up to us; it’s up to the zeitgeist and the culture when things are going to shift, and it’s happening right now. To me, it’s not about who’s going to save it; it’s about who times it right to ride the fucking wave. I don’t have a blind allegiance to a genre – like, ‘We’re a rock thing and we’re gonna save it and blah blah blah!’ Maybe when we were smaller we were embraced a lot more by that kind of community, and I’d have a built-in loyalty. But I think that’s too much pressure when the whole thing should just be about trying to keep creating, and keep moving. If you have to sit there and be like, ‘What’s an original idea for me, and also what’s this going to do for the culture and the world and everything around it?!’ then that’s gonna fucking freak you out.

“You can’t carry yourself and create based on trying to effect an entire culture, because it’s going to happen when it does. And plus, anyone who does shift the culture isn’t fucking saying that. Kurt Cobain wasn’t saying that; he just did what he did.”

De’Wayne: “I also think people don’t really know what they want until you give it to them, and I’m here to serve that purpose. It’s like, ‘I believe in this, I believe in punk music, rap, rock, whatever the fuck. I just think it’s good.’ And I just want to serve it up regardless.”

On rock and alternative music having a bright future

De’Wayne: “It has a very bright future. I think it’s fucking sexy and it’s beautiful and it’s hot. I was [on tour] with Waterparks and I was onstage grinding!”

Awsten: “Those moms watching wanted to kiss you, dude!”

De’Wayne: “And at the end they’d kiss me in my mouth after the show (laughs). At the beginning they weren’t sure, but by the end they’d [be won over], and that’s what I think is sexy about rock and alternative music. It’s going up right now, and we’re a part of that. [Touring with Waterparks] was really interesting and that’s why I thank Awsten every damn day. I think rock and alternative music have a bright future, because am I not alternative? Am I not of the culture? That’s why I think it’s cool to challenge all those things, all the time, and do it boldly and do it bravely. I’m here for that shit!”

Perfume by De’Wayne featuring Awsten Knight is out now.

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