“If you are not a fan of Waterparks, you are just not a fan yet. There is a song for everybody” Awsten Knight on making music for the masses
The Waterparks frontman on production flexes, cutting out any chaff on new album Intellectual Property, and why they’re just as comfortable opening for My Chem as they are for Blackbear.
“I didnʼt look at the room beforehand. When we were going on to start the first song, that was my first time seeing it ever.”
Waterparks frontman Awsten Knight talks excitedly over Zoom from his living room, fresh from another successful tour of the UK, this time supporting You Me At Six and culminating in a show at Londonʼs legendary Alexandra Palace, a venue that has been on Knightʼs bucket list for some time.
“Normally, I distract myself before I go on but I went out there and for 30 seconds was in my normal go mode. Then as soon as I stopped singing in a music break, I was like, ‘Oh my fucking godʼ. It was pretty crazy.”
With their early mix of pop punk, emo and rock influences, Waterparks quickly established themselves as an exciting new voice in the scene, with catchy riffs and choruses reminiscent of their forebears in Fall Out Boy and Good Charlotte. But with later albums Fandom and Greatest Hitsʼ the band moved far beyond their initial influences to incorporate everything from R&B to dark synth pop into their sound. With a catalogue now sprawling across multiple genres, the band feel just at home in a rock show environment as they do among a pop crowd.
“When we open for You Me At Six and My Chemical Romance, we do the big ass rock stuff. When we open for Blackbear, we hit them with Reboot and a bunch of electronic shit. I tweeted this and its true – if you are not a fan of Waterparks, you are just not a fan yet. There is a song for everybody. You will like at least one.”
While 2021ʼs Greatest Hits was a 17-track opus, purposely challenging Knight to expand his work as a producer alongside collaborator Zakk Cervini, new release Intellectual Property sees the group strip things back somewhat, led by the often deceptively simple melodies and hooks of Funeral Grey and the pop rock earworm Brainwashed.
“Where Greatest Hits had detours and side missions, this one has no interludes or extended intros” explains Knight. “You just get hit by the absolute, 10/10 best at all times. I just wanted to make the best shit that I would want to listen to outside, on a bike ride or driving around. I want a soccer mom to hear Funeral Grey or Brainwashed and then I want the mean older brother to hear Real Super Dark and the artsy kid to hear Closer. I wanted to keep it concise.”
This approach even extended to the equipment used in the writing process, as Awsten brandishes a dollar-store bought acoustic guitar on which he wrote the majority of the recordʼs earliest ideas and demos.
“Sometimes I fear using production as a crutch. Itʼs harder to be objective with yourself, but when you strip it back, you realise a song needs to be so good it can stand alone on this. And if it can, then thatʼs a really good song.”
But what makes this fifth studio record from the group really stick with the listener is the balance between the guitar-driven riffs that first brought them success and the wider creative experiments that have driven them forward since. Ritual marries these elements together perfectly, with Knight switching between cooing vocals, whispers and screaming over the top of heavy guitars, sudden bursts from a string section and a drum and bass breakdown.
“This song is fully a production flex. Itʼs mean, itʼs tough. Itʼs a reminder that no-one can touch what we do. The production is just insane.”
2 Best Friends, by complete contrast, is built around a fun, summery acoustic line and will no doubt spark plenty of crowd singalongs when Awsten and his bandmates Geoff Wigington and Otto Wood take it out on the road.
“After we did all these crazy ones like Ritual I thought, okay, what is the most simple Waterparks song? Just trying to fully showcase the songwriting and the parts without overproducing any of it. Even at the high points of the track, dynamically, its one guitar playing chords, a keyboard, bass, drums and vocals. Where a Waterparks song at that point is normally 40 or 50 tracks, this one is like 8.”
Album closer A Night Out On Earth finishes things on a high, incorporating a big stadium rock moment and guitar solo into proceedings as Knight seamlessly jumps between an entire multiverse of musical styles across its 4 minute duration.
“On Greatest Hits I wanted it, conceptually, to be like multiple eras. I wanted it to feel like songs from lots of different eras that people never got. So with A Night Out On Earth, I wanted to consolidate that into one song.”
“I wanted to have a Double Dare 2019 and Entertainment 2019 but it’s an original song” he says, referring to the 7-9 minute medleys of songs from the bandʼs first two albums they put together after leaving a previous record label. “I donʼt think Iʼve ever thought so hard about a song before even trying to start it. Thatʼs a special one to me.”
It certainly makes for a special moment on the record but does beg the question – where do the band go from here? As the song fades we hear a sample of the groupʼs first ever radio interview. When asked about the significance of including it, Awsten remains tight-lipped (“I wanna let them hear it. I donʼt wanna say shit yet”).
Whether this is the end of a larger era for Waterparks remains to be seen but no matter what comes next, we can be certain that Knight will continue pushing himself even further musically. In the meantime, Intellectual Property provides plenty of new delights that should lead more people to discover that they were always a fan of Waterparks. They just needed to find the right song.
Waterparks’ Intellectual Property is out 14 April.
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