Album review: Waterparks – INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Waterparks follow-up 2021’s sprawling Greatest Hits with more concise – but no less genre-defying – fifth LP.
Just over five years ago, Waterparks landed in London for what should have then been one of the most special shows of their career. The Texas trio were gearing up to support All Time Low at the 5,000-capacity O2 Academy Brixton – one of the most iconic venues in the capital. But, well, it didn’t quite go to plan for the band…
“We’d just come from our first headline tour in America – we were in a van, it was winter, it was fucking freezing…” Awsten Knight tells Kerrang! today, “and I was probably in the top-three most sick I’ve ever been. We finished a show in Florida, got on a plane immediately and I couldn’t fucking breathe, and we went straight to the venue that night. I just couldn’t sing no matter what I tried – I couldn’t fucking speak.”
The frontman is currently recounting this depressingly underwhelming moment as he strolls around a random truck stop in Germany, as the band gear up for the biggest UK and European run of their career: the See You In The Future tour. As fate would have it, it includes a stop in Brixton.
Bumping into drummer Otto Wood nearby on his German wander, Awsten lets his bandmate continue their woeful 2017 tale.
“He was very sick, and the rest of us just hadn’t slept,” Otto remembers. “And then there would be all these strangers walking by, and I don’t even know if they had any affiliation with the venue, but they would walk by and be like, ‘Lotta history in this room!’ ‘This is the big one!’ ‘There’s a lot of people out there, huh?!’”
“I’m not even kidding, like five different people walked by and just said shit like that,” Awsten groans. “And we were just like, ‘Stop!’ But Otto had to sing that show, and I just played guitar – I would try to hype people or whatever, but it was miserable (laughs). It sucked so bad!”
This time around, though, Waterparks are headlining the whole damn place – and, as Awsten promises, it will surely be a moment of triumphant “redemption”. Armed with brilliant new single FUNERAL GREY, and all the songs from last year’s Greatest Hits which have only been played in the UK a handful of times since release, it’s got all the makings of an incredible night.
Here, we catch up with Awsten on all things Greatest Hits, FUNERAL GREY, and what to expect from the See You In The Future tour…
It’s been a year since the release of Greatest Hits. How do you reflect on that whole time period?
“It’s kind of hard to! But, as I take a moment to try and reflect for maybe the first time (laughs), I think it’s crazy because I feel like everybody who put out an album in that time kind of feels strange, or has some conflicting feelings about it. It’s hard to hear those songs and not think about the fact that nobody was at their best during 2020, obviously. It’s hard not to tie those things together, but that album did really grow us a lot. I mean, you have to be thankful, otherwise you’re just ungrateful! You don’t get a lot of tangibles as an artist, but when you can see Spotify numbers or tickets sold in a city has all gone up because of that album, then it’s like, ‘Okay cool, that’s a great thing.’ A lot of people took steps back or even called it quits in that time, but actually I think we owe a lot to Greatest Hits that I can’t see yet.”
So you can’t quite tell the real-world impact of the album?
“Yeah, everyone’s finding out what it’s translating to right now. But our Spotify numbers were less than half of what they were before Greatest Hits! Going into this tour I’ve been trying to look at numbers less because normally I obsess over them, but I glanced at them the other day for the first time in a while and it was like, ‘Oh, cool!’ All the UK dates are more people than we’ve ever had, so even though I know touring is kind of a strange thing right now and everybody’s sort of uneasy, there’s still that growth for us – and we’re really lucky, because I feel like that’s been a consistent thing for us, throughout all of the weirdness!”
Your first post-Greatest Hits single, FUNERAL GREY, came out at the same time that My Chemical Romance released their first new music in years, The Foundations Of Decay. But it doesn’t feel like that impacted the release of your single?!
“Dude, not at all! FUNERAL GREY was our biggest first week of streams, by far. I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ It hit a million in four and a half days. There obviously are moments where you’re like, ‘Oh man, how do I compete with that?!’ But you have to remind yourself that we’re not competing with that. We’re in completely different leagues, obviously – they’re just legends. And so the way I looked at that was that we’re not competing; if anything, we’re fucking friends. And I think it’s just cool when great music can come from bands, no matter what. That’s the bottom line of what matters.”
That feels like a very healthy approach…
“It’s taken a fuck-load of therapy, and time, and hitting my head against the wall! Knowing the numbers is good; obsessing over them, not so much. It just distracts you from creating more stuff that people would enjoy, or would make me feel fulfilled.”
Before release, you teased the single on TikTok, and obviously in the past few weeks there has been a lot of discourse online, with Halsey saying their label wouldn’t release their new music without a viral moment on TikTok. What’s your relationship with promoting things and social media?
“It kind of depends on the day! But no matter how healthy or unhealthy I am with it between what day it is, I think the most important thing is that I see it for what it is, and I understand that that’s part of it. I think I’m blessed and cursed enough to have spent so much fucking time online that it’s kind of natural. And, you know, not being cool growing up in school, it gives you a sense of humour and you’re able to laugh at yourself. A lot of those TikToks that do well are kind of self-deprecating, and I think that being able to find the humour in things, and laugh at yourself – but not so much that it’s like pissing your pants (laughs) – it’s just another medium that’s becoming more necessary to put yourself out there. I would love to be able to be less online, and I kind of have been less online lately, but it’s important to put what you need to out there and do what you have to do, but you don’t have to be drenched in it all the time.”
On to the song itself: what made FUNERAL GREY the first thing to show people after Greatest Hits?
“Honestly, there were so many songs that we were stuck between! A lot of the time I’ll have a very clear idea of, ‘I want to do this, and then this, and then this…’ – and I still do have a lot of those specifics, but as far as what came first, I just knew that, where Greatest Hits was very introverted and kind of dark, I wanted something that was the exact opposite; I wanted something that made me feel good. Another deciding factor was also wanting something fun, because we’re going to be playing it live a lot now. When I’m stuck I definitely do ask others’ opinions – not as an end-all be-all, but just, ‘Hey, what do you think is the one?’ Because if there was a resounding one and I was unsure, then I would be like, ‘You know what? Maybe it is that one then.’ But everybody had different favourites [this time around], and it was like, ‘Shit!’ So it wasn’t helpful in picking the first song, but it’s really good to know that there’s not only one really good song – it’s reassuring that there’s so much good stuff, and it felt like we couldn’t really make the wrong choice. And I’m not mad at what we chose!
“A lot of what’s been – and being – written is very extroverted, because Greatest Hits was conceptually over the course of a night, and had a lot of references to indoor shit, and this one I wanted to feel almost like a reintroduction into daytime. And that’s kind of how things are right now – I’m not saying, ‘Everything’s over, throw away your masks!’ I’m not saying that at all, but people are going back out into the world, and they’re re-socialising and re-experiencing things again for the first time in a long time, and a lot of these songs are about those kinds of connections.”
Was it written before you signed to Fueled By Ramen?
“It’s so frustrating, because people say so much online with so little knowledge of how things actually work! People are like, ‘Oh my god, they signed with Fueled By Ramen, they’re gonna make them sound like pop bullshit!’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, the album was 95 per cent done before we even met any of them.’ They flew from New York to LA just to hear the new stuff – because I’m so protective and careful about it, because I have nightmares about our shit leaking! That’s one of my biggest fears. I don’t want to work on an album for a full year of my life or more, and then just have it get leaked. So yeah, they flew over to hear it and were like, ‘Holy shit, this is amazing!’ And I’ve seen how they’ve handled their bands, and they’ve given us more resources than anybody has – and there’s no label-oriented change to the music. So it’s really best-case scenario for us!”
As well as the new single and label change, your clothing company HiiDef has been a huge success. Is that taking up more of your time now than you expected?
“You know, it’s something that I always wanted to do. Very early on with the band I used to micro-manage fucking everything, and it took up 100 per cent of my time, but I’ve kind of realised that perfection is… what’s the saying? ‘Perfection is the enemy of progress.’ And that’s true, because I can sit there being nit-picky over everything, and it’s exhausting! Obviously I’m never gonna half-ass anything, but now I don’t get hung up on everything and it’s opened up so much more time to work on so many other things – and HiiDef was one of those. In band world you want to sell as much merch as possible, but with this everything is very limited in the collections – it’s all 300 [pieces] or less, and it’s just about making the coolest stuff. The other day I dropped this heat-sensitive thing with buttons all around the neck, and if you breathe on it or go outside it looks fuckin’ crazy! This is stuff that you can’t really make in a band scope, because it costs more and it’s just not as sustainable. But I’ve always been into fashion, and I’ve wanted to design shit for long. At the end of 2019 I had a full binder of 50 designs, and then the fucking pandemic hit and I was like, ‘Oh damn, okay!’ But it gave me more time to study because the factories shut down. Since then, I’ve just gotten better at it, and I’ve also realised that being able to do all this can’t be a one-man thing, and you need a good team around you. I can sit there and say, ‘Hey, I want to make this!’ and leave and go to Europe for a tour, and they can begin production on it. So it’s basically just about building teams and having smart, creative, capable people around you. I would be a fucking asshole liar if I took credit for everything going on around me!”
It still seems like juggling everything must be quite stressful…
“It can be, but the thing is there’s time for everything – if you’re not just wasting your day on social media! And that’s easy to do; you can fall into that trap. But, as long as you divide your time appropriately, you can manage so much more than you think if you just put your fucking phone down (laughs).”
Right now you’re focussing on your UK and European headline tour this month – what can fans expect from those shows?
“It’s exciting, because we’ve been able to take the time to transform some of the songs, and add new arrangements, new production, new instrumentation. The production is fucking next-level, and we’ve got some special surprises – especially for London. I will say there’s going to be some history made in London! I hate spoilers, but it’s a really good introduction into what’s next…”
Will you be playing any more new music?!
“Yes! I’m just going to say ‘yes’ and leave it at that!”
After the UK and Europe, your 2022 tour dates wrap up supporting My Chem in America. How does that feel?
“Amazing! Amazing! I can’t fucking wait. Obviously we’re very tight with Mikey [Way, bass], and I’ve talked to Frank [Iero, guitar] a handful of times, but the other day I got to meet Gerard [Way, vocals] and it was so cool. It was just a by-chance thing, but everybody was so fucking nice, and it’s so weird to meet them people that you watched growing up – and it’s like, ‘Oh my god, they’re really cool, they’re not assholes, this is amazing!’ I was able to thank them for having us, because that’s a big bucket-list thing that I didn’t know would ever get crossed off.”
Finally, do you see the Greatest Hits era as done at this point?
“I think that, for me, it’s done. I also get impatient, and – like I said – nobody has the best memories associated with their ‘pandemic albums’. And with so much good, bright new shit ready to go, it’s hard to not move forward.”
Waterparks’ See You In The Future tour hits the UK later this week
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