Back in May, we published one of our “My Favorite Album” columns from the alt-pop band Waterparks. Frontman Awsten Knight chose Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, so we went with the throwaway gag “Waterparks Man gets Childish” headline. The response from the band’s rabid fanbase was a mixture of ecstatic glee and incredulous disbelief, en masse. So hey, time for a bigger feature. They deserve it.
Waterparks, originally from Houston, Texas, formed nearly 10 years ago and have now put out four albums. Knight is a driven, highly motivated, and undeniably hyper cat who seems to have his band’s career mapped out. It’s always been that way.
“I get obsessive with shit,” he says. “If I focus on something, I’m hyper-focused, and I’ve got a lot of goals. I’ve got a big bucket list. So many of them have to do with music and the band that it keeps me pretty stuck to it. Tunnel vision.”
Waterparks’ debut album was Double Dare back in 2016 and they were instantly Alternative Press darlings thanks to the alt-pop / pop-punk sensibilities. But there was always so much more going on; elements of synthpop, R&B, and even hip-hop make their way into the sound, and that blend is something Knight continues to be determined to explore.
“It’s gone off in so many different directions,” he says. “Harder directions, more hardcore. In jazzier directions, R&B, pop — it’s just gone in a million different ways. Industrial, gothy. I like so many things, and I’m thankful because we’re in a time where if you love different kinds of music, you don’t have to be like ‘we’re a rock band,’ ‘we’re a pop-punk band so we make a pop-punk album.’ With our stuff, every song has to be different from each other otherwise they’re not gonna make it on the same release.”
The core of the lineup — Knight, guitarist Geoff Wigington, and drummer Otto Wood — have been together since 2012, as bassists have rotated in and out. The singer says that’s down to the fact that everyone has a role.
“[It’s about] seeing how everyone works and thrives, people knowing where to step away and let someone else handle something and where to be more hands on,” Knight says. “With our merch, I’m the one who knows how to design that so people know to leave me alone and let me do that. I know how to do this, I know what’s gonna look good, I know materials and all that. We know our roles. I’m the most hectic, but the guys being easy-going about stuff keeps it flowing.”
The new album is called Greatest Hits. Don’t be confused though; it’s not a “best of” record. It all comes back to Knight’s meticulous attention to detail. And his hair.
“I knew it was going to be called Greatest Hits in 2015, I just didn’t know why,” he says. “I’ve got notebooks where I’ve got it sketched out — the album titles. So much got made for this album, I wanted it to be a “greatest hits” of different eras that people never got. An alternate timeline of us. Normally, our eras are separated by colors. Album one, I had blue hair. The second one, I had purple hair. Fandom, I had green hair. For Greatest Hits, this is multiple eras which is why I have multiple things going on. The logo for Greatest Hits is a bunch of different fonts in different colors. I wanted to make sure that even though it’s supposed to feel like a collection, it’s still cohesive.”
There is a concept, with the events on Greatest Hits taking place over the course of one night immediately after the events of Fandom. The whole thing is very meta, with Waterparks playing the role of a band within a band. And Knight is always getting inspired.
“I’m always recording what’s around me, especially if there’s some kind of significance, or a vibe or whatever, just with my phone,” he says. “The day Fandom came out, I was recording traffic sounds in New York. Also, right when we got back from Fandom, it rained in L.A. which it never does. I was walking around my building, recording the rain sounds. I got the sounds from right when Fandom was coming out and when it was over, and layered them. I took the clock ticking sounds from the end of Fandom, the album ends with those. I started the new album with that.”
The album was recorded during lockdown, both in the studio and at Knight’s desk. The abundance of time that the pandemic offered was used to create, create, create.
“Normally, the writing would happen if there was a week or two between tours,” Knight says. “We’re always gone. But since we were stuck inside for over a year, I was gonna do what I normally do but there was so much more time. There were literally 108 songs made for this album. We had to cut it down from so many songs, that I love. Everything has to be a different style or it’s not going to be on the same album. So it’s like asking if you prefer Italian, Chinese or Mexican food. It’s all different – whatever you’re in the mood for that day.”
Knight moved from Houston to Los Angeles in 2018, so that he could be closer to the label, management, studio, etc. The other two are spread out, but they make it work. The internet has made the world a very small place.
“We’ll get together before a tour and rehearse for a week or whatever, so things still get done,” Knight says. “We make it work and use time wisely.”
We would expect nothing less from Knight, the ultimate organizer. With that in mind, Waterparks are preparing to tour Greatest Hits this year.
“It’s selling faster than any U.S. tour we’ve done, which is awesome,” he says. “We’re doing the biggest rooms we’ve done in America.”
Should be a blast. ❖
Making a Splash: Waterparks’ Greatest Hits is out now. They play at 6 p.m. on Monday, December 6 at the Wiltern.