Waterparks' Awsten Knight: "There's At Least Three New Songs That Sound Like Movies Scores"

With a brand-new single, record label and brightly-coloured look, it’s all go in camp Waterparks right now. And, as Awsten Knight introduces their new ‘green’ era, the frontman explains how this is only the start of what will be the band’s biggest chapter yet…

Waterparks' Awsten Knight: "There's At Least Three New Songs That Sound Like Movies Scores"
Emily Carter

If you were hoping to bump into Awsten Knight out and about any time soon, there are realistically only two places you’re going to be able to locate him: in the studio recording songs, or driving around in his brand new car. Fresh from treating himself to a shiny blue Lexus, the Waterparks frontman still can’t believe his day job afforded him the chance to “level up” from his first-ever ride – and he’s using every moment he can to enjoy it.

“I’m not a ‘car guy’, and I just like all the stuff that I shouldn’t care about – like a heated steering wheel, which I leave on forever now,” the 27-year-old chuckles excitedly to Kerrang! as he returns home from an outing in his latest purchase. “The thing is, everybody is always like, ‘There’s no money in music.’ When I dropped out of college my parents were freaked. They’re not rich – my mom’s a PE teacher and my dad’s a nurse – so when I quit school they were tripping. Even my parents’ friends are like, ‘Oh, you quit school to do a band?’ And you can hear it in their voice that they’re thinking, ‘Dumbass!’ So when you get to that point where you can actually live a comfortable life – and a really fucking cool one – it just feels so good.”

Things are indeed really fucking cool for Awsten right now. Just two days before playing the main stage of Slam Dunk Festival at the end of May, Waterparks unveiled a new single, Turbulent, and revealed that they’d signed to Hopeless Records. Oh yeah, and an entire new ‘green’ era – complete with Awsten’s matching fluorescent hair colour and guitar. Better find out more, eh?

Waterparks recently returned to the UK for Slam Dunk. How did you find it?
“Dude, it was so good. The jetlag was hitting me really hard, like it always does, but it was so much fun. We just put out new music, and all that stuff kind of outshone the wave of tiredness. Whenever we were playing it was, like, 6am [U.S. time] or something, and it takes my body about a week to get used to another time-zone (laughs). So even though I was in semi-zombie mode it was really good, because the song went over so well.”

How did you feel ahead of playing Turbulent? Were you nervous?
“A little bit! I was like, ‘If it goes wrong – which it definitely can – then this is going to fucking suck so bad.’ Everybody always wants to film the first performance, so if you fuck up it’s on YouTube forever. It definitely made me a little nervous, but it was crazy. On both days everyone knew the words already, and I was like, ‘Fuck!’ That made it so cool.”

Surely you knew your fans would learn the words within two days, though?
“The thing is, I worry about taking anything for granted, or being like, ‘Oh yeah, they’ll know it after a day.’ It’s good to be confident – otherwise you’re just going to be insecure all the time. But I feel like that’s just not something that I can just comfortably expect. Like, ‘Oh, we put out a song two days ago, we’re playing it in front of a few thousand people, and they’re going to know it.’ I think we have different perceptions of the band (laughs), but I like your perception more.”

Was it intentional to kick off the ‘green’ era in the UK, or was it just a happy coincidence?
“Oh, that was definitely the plan. I was like, ‘These are going to be the biggest shows we play this summer, and we can’t show up and just play the same kind of set that we’d already done on [previous album] Entertainment.’ That would be so weird and redundant. I also said no to touring this summer – we got a bunch of offers, but I wanted to be able to be home while we wrap up this new album. I wanted to really be able to put all this time, energy and focus into the new songs. With most of the other releases, we’ve been on tour and I’d be in vans listening to mixes on headphones like, ‘Guys! Shut up!’ while I’m trying to make notes on them. I just wanted this release to be perfect. You know, I like the other ones, but there’s always just stuff that either I wasn’t 100 per cent satisfied with, or they weren’t really done, or we’d run out of time. I want to have that time to really focus on all of this, you know?”

Was that part of the reason why you signed to Hopeless – they could give you that luxury of time?
“Yeah! Originally we were considering every other option. We weren’t the happiest in our last arrangement, so I was like, ‘We need to go with somebody who can actually help us, who wants to put money behind us and who gives a shit.’ We were talking to some major labels, and we were also literally considering just doing it unsigned, but Benji [Madden, manager] hit me up and was like, ‘Hey, I had an interesting conversation with Hopeless and I think you should hear them out.’ So I was like, ‘Okay…’ Naturally, I was very apprehensive to get into another indie deal. But they just seemed to really care, and were like, ‘We’ll do anything!’ That’s just something we never had before, and it’s almost more important than anything: for the people behind you to really genuinely give a shit. I was like, ‘You know what? Okay, fine, let’s see what you can do.’ So far, it’s just been a night-and-day difference.”

Awsten Knight caught in his natural habitat.

Were there any conversations about making sure that you all remained in creative control, too?
“What’s cool is that everything that will come out next is written already – we just need to finishing recording. Everything has got demos. Recently, actually, like a week before Slam Dunk, Hopeless said, ‘Hey, can we come and hear stuff?’ And I was so apprehensive, because it’s a weird thing for someone to come in and hear something that’s unfinished. I didn’t want anyone to say it wasn’t ready, because it’s like, ‘No shit!’ But people from Hopeless came in and were listening and going, ‘Holy fuck!’ I explained what I wanted to do and how I wanted this album to be: I want every song to be the best fucking song, and I want them to be able to all live in different worlds. Like if we’re referring to playlists or anything like that, I want every one of these songs to be able to just live on its own in a completely different fan base, you know what I mean? That’s the idea behind this. There’s one song that could have been considered a little bit pop-punk, and I was like, ‘Fuck this!’ So we just changed it up. We get on all the playlists that are like, ‘Pop-Punk Forever!’ and I’m just like, ‘Meh, I guess…’ I just want every song to be able to live comfortably with completely different sets of people. That’s a cool, conscious thing that I’m really excited about.”

Is there anything you take influence from outside of music – like movies or TV shows?
“Yeah, definitely. While we’re making albums I try not to listen to any other bands, just because it’s so easy to accidentally fall into somebody else’s lane, and I never, ever want to do that. It’s funny that you mention movies being influential because there’s at least three songs that come to mind right now that feel like a movie score (laughs). But it’s cool – it’s like taking a movie score and then putting a song into it. I don’t want to get too in-depth yet, but you can probably find most genres, or at least pieces of genres, in these songs.”

Back in March you deleted the files for what was originally set to be your new album, Friendly Reminder. Is there anything at all that you’re using from those sessions?
“There are some things that I’m bringing over, but I’ve changed them up. The thing is, there are certain things that I still want to talk about, and there are certain songs that I just loved so much. None of them are the same recordings, and the ones that are being kept and brought over have been re-recorded and restructured. I listened to [Friendly Reminder] and I was like, ‘This just isn’t it yet.’ Everything you do should feel very good and natural, and this just wasn’t that. It was a hard thing to talk about – especially with the producer we did it with. I had to wait until we were in person just to be like, ‘Yo, I just don’t think this is it.’ It confused a lot people at first, because they were like, ‘What are you talking about?! We’re kind of on a little bit of a timeline here…’ And I said, ‘I promise this is just going to turn out better this way.’ Everyone has been really supportive, and now when they hear the differences, they go, ‘Fuck!’ I played the album to a few friends, and they were like, ‘This is really good,’ but then when I played the new versions, they were like, ‘What the fuck did you do? How is it this much better?!’ When you follow your gut and you’re right about it, it’s so validating.”

That must’ve been a tricky conversation to initially have with everyone. Did it cross your mind to just keep quiet and release Friendly Reminder anyway?
“Honestly, I was kind of like, ‘Maybe it’s just a mental thing and everyone will actually love this album. Maybe it will just take some time to grow on me.’ It’s a luxury that people trust me, though, and they trust that I’ll make the right artistic decisions. Literally, the day after we got home from our ONE OK ROCK tour was when Turbulent was written and recorded. I could just tell when I was in the studio [with producer Zakk Cervini], and as soon as we started laying down the instrumental I just couldn’t stop fucking jumping (laughs). When I actually felt that, it was like, ‘Okay, yeah, this is how we have to do the album.’ It was probably one of the most important decisions I’ve made for the band, maybe ever.”

Is that a normal thing for you – when inspiration strikes, you can just blast out a song in a day?
“Yeah (laughs). I hate this word so much, but it helps when you’re ‘triggered’ by something. I was kind of triggered, and all of the lyrics for Turbulent were written in about 15 minutes. I was like, ‘Loop the instrumental real quick,’ so it was just the drums and guitar, and part of the bass, and I just got out my notes and it was like, ‘There it is!’”

It’s an interesting song, lyrically, about a break-up…
“This time around I really don’t want to make a bunch of whiny break-up songs. I wanted to come from a more empowering place – rather than just, ‘(Pretends to cry) Wah, I got my heart broke!’ So many bands do that, and I feel like it kind of trains your brain to go, ‘Okay, when someone hurts you, you have to be sad and mopey and all this shit.’ And I’m not blaming it on those kind of songs necessarily, but it definitely played a role for me about how I felt. When I was sad and depressed in high school, I would listen to all my favourite bands singing this ‘woe is me’ pity shit, and I feel like it kind of trained my brain to be depressed about shit. I think it’s a cool thing to approach it from a more empowering standpoint, because that can change the way that other people handle it when someone hurts them. If I had an album that was like, ‘Nah dude, they fucked up and you’re tight as hell,’ then I might have come out of being devastated quicker when I was younger. That sort of thing is more prevalent in hip-hop and pop: for people to seem like they have self-worth. I think it’s an important attitude and view to have in this kind of world – especially because with a lot of people that I meet or talk to, it seems like they have low self-esteem. I think it’s cool to give them something to look at and be like, ‘Hey, maybe I’m actually pretty tight.’”

You name-drop Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump in the song's opening lyrics. If Pete didn’t approve of you using his name, did you have a back-up?!
“I didn’t (laughs) – I was just really hoping that he would like it and not be mad that I used his name! It’s really not me saying, ‘Yeah, I’m better than both of them’ – that’s not what it is at all. It’s just saying, because Pete writes the lyrics and Patrick sings, it’s me saying, ‘You had someone who would write you songs and then sing about you to people.’ And the person that’s about, we both love Fall Out Boy very much, and it was kind of also a little Easter egg for me.”

Before Entertainment was released, you admitted your break-up “ruined” that album. Is it strange to be in a place where you’re feeling positive about new music?
“It is, actually. This is probably the best I’ve ever felt putting out a song, and it’s also probably the best it’s ever been received. In less than a week it was already just short of a million streams, and I’m like, ‘What?!’ That’s never happened for us before. It’s already Number One on our Apple and Spotify playlists, which is crazy. And there are dudes in bands that never talk to me, or who I feel like, ‘Oh no, these guys definitely don’t fuck with us,’ are tweeting at me, or came up to me at Slam Dunk and are like, ‘Yo, that new song is fucking crazy – it’s so good.’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God, thanks!’ It’s crazy to actually get the acknowledgement when you’re trying something new and unfamiliar – there are so many people that don’t normally reach out to give you that validation.”

What are your plans for the rest of the year – can UK fans expect a headline tour at some point?
“You know, I actually just saw a rough, tentative schedule, and I can’t confirm anything – but there will be a Waterparks album this year. I think if I got, like, 10 full days in the studio, then it would be done.”

So it could be coming fairly soon?
“It could be! This is the first opportunity we’ve ever had to do a real, proper rollout, and I want to take advantage of that…”

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