“I wrote 108 songs for this record. If I’m not being productive, my brain can turn on me…” - Waterparks’ Awsten Knight opens up about the making of new album Greatest Hits
Waterparks mainman Awsten Knight has been a very busy man. While his band have been off the road during the Covid-19 pandemic, Knight has turned his hand to fashion with a clothing line due to emerge in the coming weeks, broadcasting with a podcast, which he presents with fantasy author Travis Riddle where the pair read and review Waterparks fan fiction, and to film editing, with the result being the band’s concert film, FANDOM: LIVE IN THE UK, which dropped at the end of 2020.
As well as all that, he has written, recorded and co-produced Greatest Hits, the band’s fourth studio LP.
The album is the follow-up to 2019’s Fandom and sees the band working once again with producer Zakk Cervini. Largely recorded at Knight’s apartment, with some studio top-ups, the album is a 17-track epic, which finds the band’s Day-Glo pop-punk stylings turned all the way up for another playful collection.
As the album drops, we spoke to Knight about why he’s been so busy during the pandemic and why he'd rather quit music than rip off his earlier work...
Was this record planned or did you get to make it because you couldn’t tour?
“Both. If we were on tour for the whole year, it wouldn’t have gotten done, or at least if it had, it wouldn’t be the same record at all. I can go back and look at old tracklists now and guess what kind of record I might have made, but I had a year to write and record, so that changed everything. I definitely wouldn’t have a producer credit. That’s pretty dope. Most of this record was made right here (points to his kitchen table)."
"I made it look cooler than it does now, I’d work at night and I’d have coloured lights going. I’ve also enjoyed the fact that I can drink as much coffee as I want and eat spicy food, I can’t do any of that on tour, it destroys my voice. I’ve been drowning in coffee and the hottest food.”
While it must have been great to have all that time, there’s the classic homework paradox, isn’t there? If your teacher gives you two weeks to do an essay, you’ll still write it the night before it’s due. Did you actually use the time to be more productive?
“I wrote 108 songs for this record. Those are full songs too, not ideas or instrumentals, full songs. It was an everyday thing. It had to be. If I’m not being productive, my brain can turn on me. Especially if I’m stuck at home all the f**king time, I live alone, I have to be doing something. I got a lot done. The DVD we put out was done in quarantine, I started designing clothes and my first line is about to drop.”
As you do…
“I love fashion. I wanted to make sure I did it properly and didn’t just stick out a load of generic singer merchandise. Nobody needs more of that. I’ve made sure to give myself projects upon projects. I’ve got the podcast too as well as the record. Every day there was stuff getting done, no last-minute homework for me.”
How did you get from 108 to 17?
“Slowly and painfully. A lot of different tracklistings. I spent months moving things around. The only things that were fixed were ‘Greatest Hits’ being the intro and ‘See You In The Future’ being the outro. That’s all that stayed consistent. Everything else moved around all the time.”
You co-produced the record with Zakk Cervini. Was that always the plan or did the circumstances dictate it? It would have been very difficult to build a relationship with somebody new over Zoom…
“He’s an absolute legend. This wasn’t done out of comfort. Zakk is the f**king best. That’s why I worked with him. Really established are coming to him now because they hear our new stuff. I think Zakk Cervini is the new Eric Valentine (Producer on Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf, Good Charlotte's The Young and the Hopeless, Third Eye Blind's self-titled record among many others...). He’s going to be the biggest rock producer around. That’s not me being arrogant because he’s done our record, I just absolutely believe it.”
How hard was it to get an artist/producer relationship going when you’re not in the same room? If you’ve written 108 songs, you don’t need a whip-cracker, but you do need someone to get a performance out of you...
“The way we worked was the same as we did it on Fandom, but it was even more important this time. I’d make the song, I’d send it to him, all the raw materials, and we’d find a day in the studio and we’d re-do all the vocals and then we’d decide which version was better. Sometimes the demos had the better vibe. Those tracks are different, you’re so relaxed, there’s no pressure and it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally.”
When did the rest of the band get involved?
“We had to be very careful and very sparing about travel. Otto (Wood, drums) came through a couple of times to do his drums and he did some guitar too. Geoff (Wigington, guitars) came through for a day too. Although obviously, it was important to have them come and play, what felt like more important was the end of the record. We had so many songs and so many transitions to work out, Otto came through and we made this giant board and got the final tracklisting down."
"I don’t trust a lot of other perspectives. Industry people mainly just like to talk. But to have him there and tie it all together, that was vital. The back of the record is actually those little slips of paper we used to get the tracklisting down, it’s a photo I took after we finally stopped moving things around. I know bands do that to try and impersonate an old punk aesthetic, but this is what we did. It suited the record and how we got there.”
When did you decide that Greatest Hits was the right title for the record?
“2015. I didn’t know how or why or how we were going to get there. But I decided then.”
And you stuck with that all the way through?
“I got plans, baby. I’m always on it.”
What did the other guys think?
“They were into it. I said one day “Greatest Hits”, and they thought it was cool.”
Obviously, you had the other guys come in to record, but how have you found maintaining relationships within the band? This has been a really odd time for a lot of bands who’ve spent so much time together for so long…
“I don’t play a lot of video games, but I bought a PS4 and the guys and we'd play Call Of Duty. I made sure we all had the headsets so we could talk to each other. We’d text our group, it’d be just a gun emoji and we’d all be there in minutes. We’d play prop hunt. Do you know what that is?”
“I love prop hunt. I don’t actually care for the real game all that much. It’s fine, I can do it, but prop hunt is so much fun. You basically pretend to be items and hide and people have to try and kill you. You can pretend to be a bucket or a door or something and it makes for a fun game. We talked on that all the time. Which was great, we could all keep in touch. The problem normally is everybody talks to me and I’m forever trying to get them to talk to each other. Call of Duty got everyone connected. We’d play at least every other day. We tour forever too, so not getting the time to talk while travelling, it’s a big miss.”
Are you back rehearsing yet?
“We’re getting ready for the album release show. They’re actually arriving in a few hours so we can start practising. Geoff has just taken on a part-time apartment out here in LA, which is a block away from me. Our videographer and our tour manager have just moved back out here. Finally, I’m not alone!”
To throw something else into the mix with this new album, you’ve also got a new record label in 300, how has that been?
“It’s been interesting actually. I took some time to work it out. 300 is a bigger label than we’ve ever been on. They’re not technically a major label, but they kind of are. A lot of people are used to artists needing a lot of help and going to labels for input and help. I know what I want and I’m pretty good at executing it. I’m not one for notes, not really. We’ve found a groove now, working out where they can help and how I can open up more.”
What did you go looking for? With a fanbase your size and the records you already have, it’s a question of what a major label can do for you?
“We had traditional major labels interested. But I just want to be left alone to do my thing, I don’t want hundreds of notes on every little thing we do. The reason I liked the prospect of 300 was because they don’t have bands and they told us we would be “Their band”. They have Megan Thee Stallion, Gunna, Young Thug, we stick out. But it fits with what I want. We’re an eclectic band and I want our surroundings to partner up with that."
"I didn’t want to be around bands we could be lazily classified with. Separation is a good thing. I also didn’t want to be on a label with the biggest alt bands in the world. They’d be the priority. I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond. They also made it clear they would never interfere creatively. We can use some guidance, but mostly leave me alone.”
We spoke to a band years ago who’d signed to a major label and the singer said the first time he knew it wasn’t going to work was when he got an email about the roll-out of their first single and there were 25 people CC'd on the email…
“That much input will just freeze me up. I did a few calls with a lot of people in the beginning, but I cannot have that many opinions flying around. I said if they need me, I’m approachable, I’ll always talk, but I’ve gone a long way trusting my gut and I want that to continue.”
It also makes you hoard stuff, not wanting to show people anything in case they try and interfere...
“It’s true. I know what I want. And I know how I want a song to come across and how things to be handled. We don’t need our hands held.”
How’s 2022 looking? You’re booked in Europe until the end of the year...
“We’re announcing a big tour soon. We’ve not blocked out any time for new material for a while. We’ll be out for the foreseeable future. I hope people still give a s**t.”
Now you can see the beginning of a touring cycle, are you ready to slim down your projects and just become a touring band?
“I’m not mad at this time. This week alone we’re shooting two music videos and a bunch of performances to livestream, I like being busy and I prefer the creative side, by far.”
“I do miss performing. It’s fun. That hour and a half of the day is very fun. The rest of it is fine, but it’s not fulfilling. A good day for me is two new merchandise designs for me and a new song.”
A lot of musicians have talked about missing crowds and the lack of fulfilment in that regard, but it’s difficult because that’s all so temporary…
“That’s exactly it. I did this band with Geoff and Otto before anyone gave a s**t. I would do it after everyone stops giving a s**t. If you put your barometer of success in the hands of strangers who don’t care about you, it won’t be good in the long run. You can’t do this for anybody else, you have to do it for yourself."
"People will get things out of your music and it’ll make them feel, but everything you do in art has to be for you. If you rely on external forces for validation, you will be unhappy. That’s a guarantee. You’ll be the bitter guy. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to be on a boat, but I also want to score a horror movie and make more clothes. And that’s all for me.”
That must feed into writing too, the idea of trying to rip off your younger selves, it’s especially true in pop-punk…
“That’s not tempting for me. Not ever. Let’s see you decide to put all your energy into doing that and you come up with a song that beats your best work. It doesn’t matter. Even if you like the song more, people’s memories and nostalgia that is tied up with that, how it reminds them of simple times and their younger selves. You cannot beat it. You have to go forward. If you’re not doing that you’re not making art, you’re making commerce. Nobody wants that. I’d rather quit.”