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Waterparks: ‘Intellectual Property’ and the forgiveness of sins

Awsten Knight is more than just the frontman of Waterparks, although that is what we’re meant to be talking about in an interview about their latest record, Intellectual Property. Instead, Knight has exposed his Crocs collection (“I’ve got two pairs of fuzzy crocs and then I’ve got some regular ones”) and showed off the first drop of season three for his streetwear label. He jokes about dropping Crocs similar to Balenciaga’s collab without getting cancelled: “I just won’t do what Balenciaga did.”

Returning to the matter at hand, Knight explains that despite releasing the record’s first single, ‘Funeral Grey’, last May, there was no rush to circumvent the slow burn of the album lead-up that’s brought audiences to finally getting to hear the full record a year later.

“I want songs to get their time in the sun,” Knight flags. “It’s also fucking good. It’s my favourite shit ever.” Exactly as it played out, Knight wanted ‘Funeral Grey’ “to have its own fucking era, its own album cycle. That was important to me. Plus, once something is out, it’s like, ‘What’s next?’ That’s always the question.”

The calendar by which Waterparks and their fans operate is generally dictated by the colour of Knight’s hair, which consistently aligns to the era that the band find themselves in. Using their measure of time, Knight offers that the album was “pretty much done being recorded” by the time his hair was red, but he “still had the [2021 record] Greatest Hits’ tri-colour hair for the recording.

“I think I even had a moustache for a third of it,” he continues. “I had a moustache for [tracks] ‘Real Super Dark’ and ‘ST*RFUCKER’, maybe ‘Last Night on Earth’…So that was definitely a lot of 2021, writing and recording. But with music, I see how it’s consumed, I see how it’s handled, and I wasn’t in a hurry to put out an album.”

Part of what makes Intellectual Property the best Waterparks record to date is how personal it is, rendering the lyric “nice to meet you” on its first track ‘ST*RFUCKER’ as a genuine reintroduction to a version of the band that listeners actually haven’t – despite this being their fifth album – met before.

“It’s very much a reintroduction into the world after it was shut down for a couple of years and coming back with everything learned in that time. There was a lot of being alone for that long, that it allowed time for introspection and learning about yourself, you know what I mean? I did so much therapy in that time and I realised so much.”

You can hear Knight’s epiphanies on the record – from how the extreme standards of morality he grew up with subconsciously had him burning in the flames of anxiety hell on ‘Ritual’ to how he realised his tendency to self-sabotage and destroy his relationships on ‘Self-Sabotage’ and ‘Closer’. If you’ve experienced what Knight is singing about, the earnest way in which he expresses it might have you triggered and burning up, but the result is a kind of uncomfortable beauty that, between moments of comic relief, elevates Intellectual Property above anything else that Waterparks have released.

“So many of the things that I’d be dealing with I learned were rooted in religious trauma, the stuff you learn and pick up naturally growing up going to church multiple times a week.”

“So many of the things that I’d be dealing with I learned were rooted in religious trauma, the stuff you learn and pick up naturally growing up going to church multiple times a week. I was always like, ‘Why do I feel like shit?’ It would wind up getting tracked back in therapy and everything, all back to that. And so it’s like a re-introduction into the world, but this time looking at everything through that lens and with that information and trying to come to terms with it, and come to terms with real life again, and the way those things fit together. Who I am, the way I live, where things are now and trying to move past it.”

Raised within the confines of different Christian churches, Knight was in a cycle of not realising why he was plagued with guilt, manifesting in the question on album closer ‘A Night on Earth’: “Am I gonna go to Hell in my sleep or will God forgive me?” The way that ‘ST*RFUCKER’ halts itself halfway into the song feels like a reflection of the forced press of the pause button in Knight’s life to process that guilt rearing its ugly head, crowned in thorns and all. It’s an abrupt way to make that point, and for those who are curious, there were different iterations of the track before it was finalised in its half-form.

“It all just came to me very quick while I was driving, which is very dangerous, but we lived, everyone lived and the idea got finished and I was so psyched…I pulled up my voice memo, I’ll drop the voice memo eventually, but I was like, ‘Okay, it’s gotta do this, and then it’s gotta have the break beat here and then there’s no fucking music.’”

Intellectual Property as a whole becomes a deposit for Knight navigating through the before and after chapters of his life, and the double entrendre of its title reinforces the space Knight has made to express that duality – in addition to simply representing the IP of the world-famous pop punk act.

“It’s obviously a play on that, but to me it’s the mental real estate or space that you give something. Like, obviously mental, in your head ‘property’, the amount of real estate you’ll give whatever is flooding your head and anything that’s causing you anguish or issues or whatever. I liked that because it also sounded like a physical space, and I liked the idea of making a place where this trauma can be stored and left, you know what I mean? Creating its own world that way, it’s not as present in this one. Giving it its own space so you can eventually compartmentalise it.”

Knight is on his own journey to insulate and forget what he experienced in the making of Intellectual Property, although, as we all know, it’s usually not that simple to exorcise our demons. He acknowledges that what’s crept up on him before is likely to rise from the dead and haunt him again, but this time he might have the weapons to face it head on.

“Just because I was able to learn the sources or triggers of anxious episodes and depression, that doesn’t mean it’ll go away, but it’s definitely a start – knowing what something is and where it came from. I think I used this example the other day, and I was like, ‘That’s a good one.’ It’s like in horror movies when they learn the demon’s name and they’re able to start to try and control it from there. Identifying it is a really important first step.”

Intellectual Property is out now via Fueled By Ramen.

Waterparks Australian tour dates

With special guest Lights
Tickets are on sale now.

Tuesday, 3rd October
Magnet House, Perth 18+
Tickets: Destroy All Lines

Thursday, 5th October
The Gov, Adelaide Lic AA
Tickets: Destroy All Lines

Friday, 6th October
Metro Theatre, Sydney Lic AA
Tickets: Destroy All Lines

Saturday, 7th October
Princess Theatre, Brisbane Lic AA
Tickets: Destroy All Lines

Sunday, 8th October
170 Russell, Melbourne 18+
Tickets: Destroy All Lines