Awsten Knight – Waterparks ‘An Eccentric Life in Technicolour’

For years we’ve been following the rise of Waterparks and their colourful delivery of album cycles, thought-provoking lyrical content and frontman Awsten Knight‘s eccentric mannerisms, all of which have made us fall head over heels for his addictive personality. But what makes him tick?

For someone who so openly shares his life through his music, albeit struggles and personal battles, with every release we connect with him and the band on a personal level and on Friday the boys will be dropping their new album Greatest Hits, which isn’t what you think it is, it’s a collection of new songs as opposed to the band’s best hits so far and to celebrate we jumped on zoom with Awsten for a chat all about it, the inspirations behind the music and leaving his mark without regrets…

How are you? How is COVID in America going in all that chaos?

I think today they said we can stop technically wearing masks in places, but I’m like, nah, keep it on for a minute. I’m fully vaccinated. So that’s good. But yeah, I think they’re starting to kind of loosen guidelines, which is spooky because it’s still around.

At least it doesn’t look like you’ve got any mutations or anything like that. No confirming conspiracy theories then?

No, actually I have a foot growing out of my back that kicks me while I sleep. It’s great!

Did you end up picking up any hobbies or anything in quarantine? Soccer maybe with the extra foot or I know bread making got really popular for a while there.

I did try and make bread once. I tried to make banana bread because I love it. A lot of the problem is a lot of people think it’s a good idea to add nuts to banana bread, and I’m like, fuck you all. Also with cornbread, they want to put jalapenos in it and I’m like, why? It’s fine on its own. So I was like, I’m going to try this out. It was so stupid. I think I cooked it for eight hours maybe and it was still mush. I was like, why is this happening now? It didn’t even taste good. But I did try… 

I also went through a puzzle phase! In the beginning of quarantine there were 12 complete puzzles in my living room floor at once. So I was like, I’ll pick them up when this is done. But it took too long and I wanted my floor back. I got a bike too. I used to do hot yoga a couple of times a week, but obviously not right now. So, yeah, I like riding. I started playing tennis maybe like a month and a half, two months ago, maybe two months ago, actually. Time is weird.

That’s impressive. I think Pete Wentz plays tennis too right?

We have the same business manager and I was talking to him the other day. I’d just gotten back from a tennis match and he was like, you should play with Pete Wentz. I was like, oh shit I’ll hit him up.

That would be an iconic game of old first new emo. OK, so slightly more relevant album related question! You’ve spoken about not really getting an opportunity to step back from the limelight with the previous album and then now obviously with the whole world kind of forced to take somewhat of a step back. Has that influenced the direction of Greatest Hits?

Conceptually it did. It also gave a lot more time to make stuff for it because as far as the concept goes, I want it to take place over the course of the night. That’s how it’s written and that kind of repetition of days and evenings being exactly the same, like I live alone and shit. It definitely influenced that idea. Song wise, we are normally gone all year, and I was home and made 108 songs for this album, so that wouldn’t have happened. Now there’s not like a quarantine song. I made one and I was like, everyone’s about to be dropping quarantine songs and no one’s going to want to hear that shit. Every other movie is doing that at the moment. Nobody wants to fucking watch that. I’m in quarantine. Let me watch a movie about people being stuck inside, especially when it’s like an anti-vax propaganda shit. Hollywood is silly.

With the 108 songs that you ended up writing, how do you decide which go on the album and which don’t?

That’s the hardest part, because it’s not like 17 of them were DOPE and then the rest of them were just shit. You want to cover a lot of ground stylistically, you know what I mean? You want there to be obviously a variety. If the whole thing was just good pop rock songs, I’ll be like, this shit is not happening. You want to make sure conceptually everything makes sense and is covered. It’s really hard and sometimes you ask yourself ‘OK, would I fight and not put out this album if this song is not on it?’ ‘Snow Globe’ happened and I was like, I won’t put out the album without this. It’s a combination of things, but it’s the shittiest part of making an album.

I’ve noticed that your songs are super happy in sound, but then the lyrics, are kind of depressing in a very poetic form. I don’t know whether or not to laugh or, like, hug you and tell you everything’s going to be OK. What genre do you think that technically fits into?

I like that juxtaposition a lot! It’s really hard because honestly, it’s such a useless, outdated concept; It used to be – you’re a rock band, you’re a country artist, you’re a hip hop guy, you’re like whatever, but you don’t have to do that anymore. That’s not interesting or fun for me. My brain just can’t sit still and it needs constant stimulation. I would get so bored if an album was just like one thing. And I know people say and it’s so corny ‘I just want to make music’ but truly, putting a genre on shit really is just limiting. Even if you think about it just for a second while you’re making some creative shit, that’s just a slight little roadblock, you know what I mean? I just want to make dope shit.

We just dropped ‘Just Kidding’ and I wanted that to sound like 90s RnB but with some haunted keyboards in it, you know what I mean? I wanted it to sound like in the vocals I’m trying to get the lowest (makes humming noise) on those verses. I want this to be like we made a song with Usher on the worst day that he’s had with Kid Cudi vocal type production, but with some really kind of haunted broken sounding guitars. I even made this keyboard for the chorus that sounds like fucking windshield-y, almost; it’s like slippery, but kind of clear, but then I reversed it and layered them. Everything just sounds fucked up and haunted.

So when someone asks me, what genre is this album? I’m like, I don’t fucking know, you know what I mean? It’s tough and then you bring in a song like magnetic and that shit is so industrial and fucking heavy, but also kind of hip hop leaning, but with new metal guitars and borderline hyper pop elements. I could talk about this all fucking day. It’s just hard to classify that kind of thing when you just have a lot more to offer. It’s like if someone’s asked, what are you? I would only give an answer if I felt like I wanted to be nice.

You know what? I’m glad you didn’t give me a proper answer then! I’m flattered.

*laughs* If I told you I was in a rock band then I was having a bad day. It is what it is.

It sounds like you’ve got a real hand in the production. Has that always been the case or have you become progressively more hands on?

It’s never been even remotely out of control. Normally, labels are like “hey, can we come here?” And I’m like “Nope” and then it’ll get to be like 90 percent done. And we have to let them come hear. And they’re like, “it’s really good. It doesn’t sound done yet.” Yeah. No shit. That’s usually how that goes. There would always be pieces of things that I recorded from the demos that get used. There’s definitely more on this album though and that’s why this is the first one where I actually have a co-producer credit. I’m really excited about that. I think lockdown kind of forced me to pick up that role a little bit because otherwise the album still wouldn’t be done. It was so difficult to plan those things.

Well since you were officially producing this time around was there anything that was super new to you in that job role? Any eye-opening discoveries?

The thing is, I knew what the job pretty much was. But I got a lot better at specifics or like new equipment. So it’s not necessarily that I learned new aspects of the job. I just got better at the ones that are there.

Regarding a side you’ve been very familiar with for a while now, you’re very open with your personal life in your lyrics. Have you ever, listened to something like years later and thought, fuck, I regret saying that?

I don’t know if I’d necessarily say I regret saying any of them. There was a period where I was going through a breakup and I was like, man, I wish I didn’t have to fuckin sing this shit. I always talk to Benji and Joel [Madden], our managers, about this kind of thing, if there’s something I’m really hung up about. They told me, and they both said this to me separately, too, which is interesting. They were like, you know what? You need to stop looking at these songs like it’s about someone and instead be like, the song is about love instead of a love song about this person. It’s not that I regret any songs, you just have to reassign what they mean.

Awsten Knight – Living a life so colourful

Now in regards to the band’s visual aesthetic, which I find really interesting, because I’ve seen interviews and actually I was at your Sydney show last time and I heard a girl yell out about you having synesthesia.

Someone yelled that at me?! That’s such a specific heckle, you know, like someone in the crowd “I love this song. Duuuude synesthesia.”

Yeah, you’ve got a unique following. But I guess it kind of makes sense finding that out, because all of your albums have a very strong visual aesthetic. So what would you say inspired this era? Because I see you’ve got colourful hair and everything is very technicolour. So what inspired that?

So I knew that it was going to be Greatest Hits. I knew that I wanted that to be multicolour because the idea is each era gets its own designated colours and my hair is always blue and purple and green with Double Dare, Entertainment and Fandom, but, the idea for Greatest Hits is giving people a bunch of eras that they never got. A bunch of eras that went from, let’s say like an alternate timeline or some shit. Or things are different. I want to give people a set of multiple things and make a greatest hits out of it. And so the idea is making it multicoloured, same with the album cover we’re wearing all yellow blue sky in the background.

I told the photographer that I don’t want any of the shadows to be black, it needs to be a deep, scarlet kind of shade. The problem is when you do red, blue and yellow, it’s very easy, if you just stick to those exact colours. To be Microsoft Paint kind of clowny, you know? Like, it’s easy to look very cheap. So it’s a matter of picking the right shades, because even if you just get close, when you look at blue, yellow and scarlet, you’re still thinking red, blue, yellow. It’s still primary. Same with the logo! It’s different fonts from different eras and different colours and stuff. And so everything is kind of like that with this title and with this era.

It does seem like you treat them like art projects rather than just albums that have visuals.

Yeah, and honestly, I didn’t even know what synesthesia was. I had it, but I didn’t know it was a thing until like 2016 or 2017 in an interview. And I was trying to describe it. They’re like, why this? I’m like, ‘well the tones just sound so pink to me.’ and they’re like, ‘oh like synesthesia.’ And I’m like holy shit!, because even when I was younger, I could pick it out. I’ve known our photographer/videographer guy, John forever. We went to the same elementary school, but we would talk about it. It was like, ‘dude, this song is kind of like red and blue.’ He’s like, definitely, you know, that kind of thing. So it’s always been there. It’s just that I learned what it was from talking about our stuff. So when you see that with the music, it’s hard not to incorporate them. We’ll pick the setlist and then I’ll send our lighting guy all the colours for each song ahead of time. And then, in person at the rehearsals, we’ll do specifics.

Looking forward to you guys playing a venue in Australia that allows you to design the lighting properly soon then!

Me too honestly, all the Australia dates we’ve done, we’ve been opening for somebody. So we don’t really get that or they’ve been in tiny places that don’t even have lights, you know, just rooms or festivals that are outdoor in the daytime and shit.

Is that kind of terrifying for you, though, with the smaller venues? Sydney, for example where there were crowd surfers and minimal security. So people are just falling on you. Is that an adrenaline rush or terrifying?

I love it so much. When we did our first headline tour, most of it was sold out, which is fucking amazing. It was like the top of 2017. But yeah, they were all like 100 cap. The New York one was eight hundred, which is sold out and at the time it was like, holy shit. But most of those shows were like one hundred to three hundred cap. And so I remember Chicago especially when we played this place called the Beat Kitchen. I think it’s like two hundred. But everyone was crowd surfing and just falling on our pedal boards and breaking shit and everybody was on stage. It was so fun. I either want to play stuff like that or do like reading and Leeds type shit. When we did the main stage it was like fifteen thousand people maybe. And it was just ahhhhh but it was fun. It needs to be huge or incredibly intense and personal, like I want to see your fucking face if you’re in that room.

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I don’t think America is going to do it because they seem to have been easing their restrictions in a more abrupt manner. But in Australia, we’ve been having seated shows. So does that sound like a massive nightmare?

That sounds like a fucking bad dream. We did that once; we played at a college. We had just started talking like maybe three months before we got a college show and we agreed to do it cause the money was dope at the time and it was outside, which kind of sucks. And everyone was sitting and we’re just like this is just not fun because, if the crowd’s not dope, I’m having a bad time. If it’s just me up there performing, it’s fine, but I’m not having fun. I need crowd surfing and circle pits and shit. Otherwise it’s just ehh.

I think anyone who’s had to deal with a seated show recently would agree with you. Well, with the newest album, what are your biggest influences, both visually like favourite artists and stuff at the moment and also musically.

Honestly. I’ve been pulling a lot from past stuff. Before this one interview a while back, I was feeling really weird, and Josh, who works in our management, he told me, OK, listen to a bunch of shit from your childhood before you go into this and I did, and it kind of set me on a… OK, here’s the thing, I’m really bad at copying shit, which is good. There have been times where I’d be cool to make a song like that and I make it and it’s just nothing like it at all. Well. cool. So, I mean, I’ll be listening to like just real dark nu-metal or like just very sludgy shit that I used to like when I was younger, I’d listen to some of that, and like a lot of indie rock shit, like The Hives and The Vines and stuff. The Numb riff dude! That sounds like it should be a Hive’s thing. Death Cab, Jimmy Eat World, American Graffiti and shit, that’s really where influence rolled in. Kind of a lot of that, and then at the same time, I was really trying to decide.

When I was wrestling with the concept for this one, earlier on, there was a time where I was sort of like, what if this was just like 10 bangers and every song was just like the biggest song we’ve ever had. The Greatest Hits! boom done. But I realized that when you’re alone and you just have time to think about shit. All of my favorite albums are longer and a little more indulgent for the artists that are doing them and they go so many other places. It’s not just singles and shit. I think especially being in this time and like looking for any kind of fucking meaning or good shit or whatever that you can have. I think I needed to be more artistic and be able to go off on those side streets to feel more fulfilled with this album.

Well what would you say is your favourite, more indulgent song on the album like? The one that really achieves that for you.

That’s impossible.

Like picking a child right?

Exactly. I go through phases with it, like Magnetic is probably not going to be a single, but that’s one of the best instrumentals that I’ve ever written. Ice bath; Because I love the scary *makes grudge sound* type vocals that you hear out of Mudvayne or Manson or some shit. I mean, obviously, not so much now. but that was the idea for that kind of thing, or I doubt, See You in the Future, would be a single, but that instrumental is just so fucking unhinged, hearing it in the car, you’re just like Woah. We started doing live rehearsals and that one just goes off. Auto just shreds on the drums, it’s crazy. It’s impossible to choose just one.

That’s completely understandable. Well, overall what do you feel is important for people to take from this album when they listen to it as a full thing?

I just hope they appreciate it and understand it, because I feel like it might take some people some time. But I’ve lived with it long enough and I know that this is the best one so far.

Interview by Bree Vane. Instagram: @mindtheweathervane

Waterparks’ album Greatest Hits is out Friday. Pre-order here

Waterparks – Greatest Hits tracklisting:

1. Greatest Hits
2. Fuzzy
3. Low Key As Hell
4. Numb
5. Violet!
6. Snow Globe
7. Just Kidding
8. The Secret Life Of Me
9. American Graffiti
10. You’d Be Paranoid Too (If Everyone Was Out To Get You)
11. Fruit Roll Ups
13. Gladiator (Interlude)
14. Magnetic
15. Crying Over It All
16. Ice Bath
17. See You in the Future

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