The question of what constitutes ‘rock’ music in 2018 is one that causes fans to verbally lump seven bells out of each other on a daily basis. Rock music, it now seems, is less about a sound and more an ideology and aesthetic: Enter Shikari, Hey Violet, Lil Peep (RIP), Twenty One Pilots, PVRIS… none of these bands make what you would regard as ‘traditional’ rock music, and yet they all fit under the umbrella of the modern, youthful alt-rock world. The broadening of rock’s horizons is undoubtedly for the better – after all, who wants to be part of a stagnant, box-ticking genre? But the dialling-down of the guitars and the emergence of electro, rap and pop influences in alternative culture is upsetting the purists, and there aren’t many acts better at pissing off the old-guard than Waterparks.
Led by a man, Awsten Knight, who has always been steadfast in the belief that his approach to alternative music is the right one, Waterparks – completed by guitarist Geoff Wigington and drummer Otto Wood – are on a collision course with, as Awsten puts them, “the old beardos,” (more on them later) who despise everything the band are trying to do.
“I’ve never doubted we were going to be successful,” begins Awsten, who instantly comes across as a confident individual. “I had to believe we were going to be a success. Whatever I do in life, I want to be great at; I don’t see how you can’t want success, especially when you’re working as hard as I was in the early days. I always thought we’d get there, and if anyone questioned me, I’d say, ‘Trust me – we’re going to make it happen’.”
Waterparks have seemingly “got there,” or at the very least are close to conquering whatever the “it” they set out achieve was. Magazine mainstays, radio darlings and Warped Tour winners, Awsten, Geoff and Otto, are the hottest property in 2018’s pop-punk/emo/pop-rock/alt-pop/whatever-else-you-wanna-call-it pack. Yes, they’ve done it thanks to tunes with more pop than a bubble-wrap factory, but as Awsten explains, they’re just making the music they’ve always wanted to.
“I listen to pop music more than anything else,” he says. “Ke$ha is one of my favourite people, and I listen to a lot of hip-hop and rap too. There are so many great elements to that kind of music that are fun to implement into our sound. Back when Waterparks started, we had electronic elements, but there was less of it, because I didn’t know how to do it. We were writing in our friend’s garage in the middle of nowhere in some redneck town, and I’d be saying stuff like, ‘What if I go ‘Whoop whoop’ behind the vocals? What if we cut them like this and layer them like this?’ But now that I can do it myself and do it properly, we can dive head first into it.”
The detractors can complain about the band’s Ke$ha-influenced, fun-loving sound all they want, but there’s no denying Waterparks have created their own identity. Whether you call it pop-punk or electro-rock, no one sounds like they do – not that Awsten gives a damn about labels or if they’re making rock music, anyway.
“I don’t care if we’re a rock band – it’d be more fun to be a pop band! I’m just overall these subcultures and shit. People don’t have a unique vision anymore: there are so many of these pop-punk bands that do the exact same thing as one another, and it’s so garbage and uninspiring. Likewise, you see metalcore bands all wearing black tank-tops, looking and sounding exactly the same. When we do different things, some dumbass sixteen-year-old will look at a band that’s plateaued for ages, playing 300-cap rooms for seven years, and say, ‘This is what bands should be.’ They’ve no fucking idea. It’s frustrating to have a vision, execute it well and then, just for the sake of what it is, have it be shat on by someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Even when we put out [first ‘Entertainment’ single] ‘Blonde’, I didn’t look at anything online; because if I was to look at the verified responses, I’d see news sites and my friends being excited about it, and if I was to look at regular mentions, I’d see people being assholes.”
He says he doesn’t give a damn about being a rock band, and clearly, he doesn’t, but what Awsten does appear to take issue with is what he sees as the narrow-mindedness of the alt music world towards bands taking influence from pop and mixing electronics with amps. Second full-length ‘Entertainment’ finds Waterparks upping the electro stakes, so it’s a good thing that Awsten, while being pissed off with the criticism the band gets, doesn’t allow it to compromise his artistic vision.
“There’s definitely more electro on ‘Entertainment’,” Awsten states. “It’s one of my favourite things to do with us – I love cutting-up my voice and doing creative things that other bands aren’t doing. I’m excited for people to hear what we’ve done. There’s a song on the album called ‘Crybaby’, for example, that’s got all these cool layers and gets really big – I was stoked to record that one.”
Another song on ‘Entertainment’ that Awsten was excited to execute is one called ‘TANTRUM’. Standing-out both in terms of its biting lyrical content (“Maybe if I kill myself you’ll know I’m sincere”) and its razor-sharp sound (it’s the heaviest thing the band have put their name to), it’s a contender for the accolade of the album’s finest moment. But despite being a creative high, it’s a track which finds Awsten lamenting the scene to which he belongs: ‘TANTRUM’ opens with a sampled voice which says, ‘Fuck these fuckboy bands that can’t think for themselves. Let’s put away our black clothes and start cutting-up our voices – that’s what’s cool now, right?’ Clearly, the Texan’s got a few axes to grind.
“You’re wanting me to start listing names, but I can’t, because we’re friends with some of them!” he awkwardly offers. “I’m going to make something up here, as an example: say Gerard Way and I became friends; I wouldn’t be annoyed if I found out he didn’t like my band. But a lot of musicians don’t feel that way, because egos are a thing, even with cool people. As of right now, it’s not worth me getting into specific names.”
He pauses, seemingly trying to find a way to further explain his gripes without naming and shaming.
“Watching those who are bigger than us start to implement things we’ve been doing is weird, because they already have the platform and audience. If people start to discover us later, we won’t get the credit for doing those things first – people will be like, ‘X bigger band is already doing that’.”
So, would it be fair to say seeing bigger acts who might’ve disregarded Waterparks in the past borrowing from their sound angers Awsten?
“Yeah. I’ve written a lot more songs like ‘TANTRUM’, we just don’t put them on albums, because I don’t want to sound super butt-hurt all the time! When bands I like do it, it’s flattering, but it’s also like, ‘Where were you when I was doing that in 2012?’ Really, it’s a compliment, and I shouldn’t be pissed….”
Awsten clearly is pissed, though, as the lyric about killing himself to prove his sincerity attests…
“People think we don’t fucking write our music: a lot of the time we hear folks in the industry say, ‘Doesn’t Benji [Madden, Good Charlotte man and manager/producer for Waterparks] write all their songs?’ Just because those bands are heavier, they have a complex where they think that, if they write about vaguer bullshit, they’re somehow a more serious band. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, ‘I didn’t wanna like your band, but the set was so good, blah blah blah…,’ I’d be super rich. And I always reply like, ‘Thanks, I guess….’ Guys in bands don’t want to like anything they consider less masculine than themselves, and it’s fucking stupid. I feel like, no matter how genuine or real I am, my music is still going to be brushed aside because I’m not an ugly beardo.”
That last comment might come across a bit shitty, but you can see where Awsten’s frustrations stem from. ‘Entertainment’ – the title of which refers to how Awsten’s ‘private shit is aired out to amuse others’ – is at regular points a serious record. It’s an album that for its sonic adventurism and lyrical honesty is deserving of praise from both critics and fans alike. Awsten, however, is primarily concerned with the latter.
“The message of the record is definitely not open-ended – ‘Entertainment’ encapsulates what this last year has been for me. It’s weird, because fans talk about how they relate to the music, but that’s not how I write: I just write for me. When a fan says to me, ‘I relate to your song ’21 Questions’ so much,’ I’m like, ‘Dude, that sucks’.”
Awsten, it seems, is keen for Waterparks fans not to dwell on the negative, and that might be why, despite the introspectiveness and aggression you can hear on ‘Entertainment’, it sounds like a typically positive pop-rock album. But dig a little deeper, and derivative it sure ain’t.
Rock? Pop? Punk? Who cares. Waterparks are crafting their own sound, and it’s going to take them further than the sceptics can imagine.
Waterparks’ album ‘Entertainment’ is out now. Taken from the February 2018 issue of Upset. Order a copy now bellow.