On a dreary Sunday afternoon outside of London’s KOKO, there’s already a queue of thirty-strong people eager for the venue to open. The band everyone’s waiting for is Waterparks – a few months earlier they released their second album ‘Entertainment’, and are now back on our shores to celebrate.
Somewhere in the depths of KOKO, frontman Awsten Knight is beginning his day in awe at this new reality. “It’s so cool! I got off the bus, looked to my left and I was like ‘OH SHIT!'” Getting to this point, however, did hang in the balance before the album had even dropped.
In January, Awsten released an open letter stating that ‘Entertainment’ had become unlistenable to him. It took some time, but eventually, he found a new level of depth to this particular set of songs, and, he announced, was excited to actually release them.
Well, now that he’s on a tour solely dedicated to them, is he worried at all about this changing again? “The thing is, yeah I stopped listening to them and everything,” he considers. “But I knew that they were good songs still. I don’t know; I’m at the point now where, for the most part, they’re cool with me.”
Awsten talks with such hyperactivity that it’s hard not to get consumed by it. With each thought dancing like electricity, he speaks from a heart filled with fire and conviction.
“They’ve gone over live really well. I think seeing how into it everybody was – especially yesterday, Leeds was so sick – was adding an extra layer of energy, and like, ‘OK, we gotta fucking do this hard. Right now’. It makes it, I guess, easier to perform?” He says, trailing off in a higher pitch. “You know what I mean? Because I feel like if I were up there acoustic the whole time, I’d hate myself a little bit more.”
This next chapter for Waterparks is one that’s seen them taking strides in cementing themselves as nothing but honest. They’re unashamedly their inspirations; they don’t hide the fact that pop is just as much an influence as punk – and no, that doesn’t make them pop-punk. It makes them the next step in a natural evolution.
“The way Waterparks songs work, it’s like, you’ve got a trojan horse that shit,” Awsten enthuses, smirking. “You send it in disguised, dressed up as like a fucking pop-rock/electronic banger pop thing, except… inside…” breaking down into a secret-sharing whisper he ends: ‘it’s all the sad shit…”
While Awsten may use allegory to describe the basis for Waterparks, and what you’ll get, it all comes from a place of sincerity. They only deliver what they truly feel conveys what they, or at least Awsten, have suffered through. When the topic of those that write songs for the sheer purpose of being relatable crops up, he finds a new surge of energy.
“See, but what’s even worse is when they aren’t writing about a specific thing. I know a lot of people who, they’ll write vague struggle lyrics, and I fucking hate vague struggle lyrics!” he exclaims.
“I’ll ask out of curiosity what it’s about, and they’ll be like, ‘Oh you know, I just want it to be relatable for people so that way they can apply whatever they want to it, that’s why we keep it vague’. I don’t fuck with that.”
You can hear the sheer emotional investment all across ‘Entertainment’. The targeting of bands that he touches upon here (‘TANTRUM’), and heartbreak (‘Crybaby’), being two of the leading themes that, ultimately, cursed it for Awsten. It’s this fact that gives Waterparks a solid leg up in the battle to be heard.
“It’s pandering. You’re like, ‘You’re sad, you want something vague to be sad about?! This is applicable to almost anything!'” he muses, before sidetracking. “That’s my favourite word to say by the way, applicable. Applicable. But yeah, vague struggle lyrics are ridiculous. There’s nothing exciting about that.”
With the investment paying off, and their crowds growing ever bigger, Awsten’s become even more acutely aware of everyone around him – for a reason you might not quite suspect.
“I really see them now! This is the first tour where I can actually see the crowd, and this is my first time seeing faces – and it’s so weird!” he blurts excitedly, referring to his recent eye surgery. “And so, now I can see if someone looks bored, but I can also see if someone’s crying… It’s not like I’m sitting here like, ‘SOB!’ – but I want to know that it’s hitting because it gets me, you know what I mean? So, if it’s only getting me, that means I didn’t translate it well enough.”
To be fair, it’s not far from reality. Waterparks fans love them with such palpable energy that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the ensuing adoring madness.
Awsten’s no stranger to this life himself, after revealing that he occasionally ditched school to go see the likes of The Used, Taking Back Sunday and even Childish Gambino. He’s entirely in disbelief of the growing crowd outside, a solid eight hours before the doors even open.
“See, I keep having weird little moments like that… it doesn’t feel like we’re ‘there’,” he contemplates. “I still don’t feel all of that, but there have been moments on this tour – like yesterday at soundcheck, I walk in, and I see them lifting up this giant banner that says our name, and then the big metal things that have the lights. And I see like someone tuning my guitar; then I’m like ‘Ohhhh shit’, it’s like a real band, kinda.”
While Waterparks are still climbing the ladder, their growing popularity is impossible to ignore. “I block a lot of that out,” Awsten begins on this developing spotlight. “And I try not to look at internet stuff too much, like you know mentions and things like that – well, depending on my mood.
“But what I do like to do,” he admits, “is when I’m in my room, I keep a stack of like the magazines I’m on the cover of, just next to my bed. It’s a grounding thing. But I honestly don’t think I can get to a point where I’m like, a dick about things.”
The humble part of Awsten is never too far away. For all the jokes, the excited takes on just about everything, there’s always that grounding that brings it all back around and makes peace with the madness. Being managed by two veterans of the scene, Benji and Joel Madden [Good Charlotte] has offered its own wisdom. “They stress the importance of celebrating the wins and seeing things that are happening and acknowledging them.
“I try to do that, but I don’t know. When I think about stuff too hard, I’m like ‘Oh shit’, so it’s better if I just keep driving my shitty car and look at magazine covers and be like ‘Ok, we’re cool!’ You have to find that balance. You don’t want to fall into the pit of ‘Ah, shit’,” he ends through laughter. “You know what I mean? You have to find that nice little middle ground.”