In conversation with Walt Disco

By Mia Smith, music editor

Epigram catches up with the coolest band around right now ahead of their debut album slated for April 1st.

It’s always funny to hear someone’s normal voice when their singing voice is so distinctive. In Walt Disco, leader James is deep and brooding. On Zoom, they sound comfortably Scottish. I caught the band at the Dot To Dot festival in September and have been looking forward to chatting with them ever since. I desperately seek their approval, because they really are the coolest band around. James, Charlie, Finlay and Jack agree that my hair is cool and it’s the best day of my life.

James beams when I mention Dot To Dot: “Oh my God, I like That’s how it is.” Charlie smiles too, “That was so much fun!” performance is an important part of the band: “the resulting live spectacle is something that we always think about when we write a song. “I think that we and the energy of our songs really come through live”, agrees Jack, “I’ve had a lot of people say they listened to us and weren’t bothered, but then they saw us live and it clicked”.

Walt Disco at the Dot to Dot Festival / 1 credit

I wonder if being so overly extravagant on stage has always come naturally to the band. Finlay laughs, “that has do not come naturally – but I think that’s what’s so great about it”. “That’s what this kind of group also gives us,” adds Charlie, “an outlet to wear what we want and act the way we like.” The Walt Disco uniform also gave the band confidence offstage. James explains that they “started buying outfits to go on stage – outfits that looked like you, but that you were afraid to see yourself wearing in everyday life. But then you owned it and a day you wore it to the store. And then all of a sudden your whole wardrobe is stuff you would wear on stage.’ I joke that they should go to Big Sainsbury’s in their flamboyant outfit , but Finlay is dead serious: “I love dressing up to go shopping!” Looking mysterious in a dress with a box of Linda McCartney handmade sausages sums up the Walt Disco experience. “You have to flirt with the people in the vegetarian section,” laughs James.

Between looking cool in supermarkets, the group is gearing up for the release of their debut album “Unlearning,” slated for April 1. I’ve already had a sneak peek, and it’s magic. I’m curious to know exactly what the band is “unlearning”, and it turns out it’s a lot. “There’s a lot about yourself that you’re not taught,” James explains. “Whether it’s your understanding of your gender, your sexuality, or even the way you – I don’t know – you might find out that your mom or dad taught you how to cook eggs really badly”, laugh- they. Walt Disco unlearns the big and small – from frying to colonialism: “Obviously we live in the UK, so colonialism wasn’t taught as a bad thing. You have to learn that yourself”. This unlearning and relearning always comes back to the queer expression so intrinsic to the group: “of course, colonialism was bad for the whole world in terms of understanding different genders and sexualities”.

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The album carefully explores gender identity, right from the opener and lead single “Weightless”. “It’s kind of the bittersweet feeling of when you’ve had a big breakthrough on who you see yourself in the world, but you’re kind of sad that it took you so long,” James offers. Charlie nods, “It’s like the opening line – ‘I feel like I was way too late for the party'”. But now the Walt Disco party is in full swing and we’re all invited. “At the bottom, there is hope,” continues James. “It’s never too late to find out things about yourself – whether it’s your gender or even something like your career. You’re not given all the answers, so why would you know?” The band played a vital role in navigating James through his gender expression: “I listen to the songs I was writing earlier and I go ‘Oh, now I know what these words are about. The rest of the group laughs; it sounds like the classic case where your friends know something about you before you know it yourself.

James is grateful that Walt Disco allowed them a “stage to play and try new things, and just figure out if you like them. You can kind of put a character on and see if it works for you, and most of the time it does”. These characters allow the band to explore their most authentic selves – Walt Disco is “like a bigger version of ourselves”, says Finlay. Charlie chimes in, “Yeah, it’s like an enlarged version.” “That’s going to sound so–“James moaned sarcastically”–but you’re probably acting more in real life than you are when you’re making music and literally performing”. It sounds awfully grumpy, but they’re right. Jack agrees: “I think in normal life people expect you to maintain a certain normality, and that can be very constricting.” Walt Disco freedom also extends to the public: “everyone is here to do exactly the same thing as you – come out of your shell – or so we hope”. With the rallying refrain “Hey, boy, you’re one of us!” that runs through the track “Hey Boy (You’re One of Us)”, it’s impossible not to come out of your shell during a Walt Disco show.

For their latest music video “How Cool Are You?”, the band tried on the characters of Torvill and Dean for size. I ask if they’ve ever ice skated, and Finlay laughs, “There were varying degrees of skill involved.” There is a very good moment in the video where Charlie falls, and Finlay laughs again: “unfortunately most of the falls were not filmed”. James chimes in, “You know what’s really impressive that you won’t see in the video – the cameraman. He was filming moving as fast as anyone in the video”. So big congratulations to Kaspar the cameraman. As Finlay concludes, he was the “real star of the show”.

One of the best comments on another clip is begging the band to go to Eurovision, and they thought about it. “I always said we couldn’t do it for the UK,” laughs James. “But in an independent Scotland…”.

Even though Eurovision isn’t on the cards, the opening for Duran Duran is. They were invited back after supporting them last year, where Jack says they got a ‘platter of antipasto and a potted plant which we were allowed to take home’. As Finlay puts it, it was “a big step up from four cans of lager and some ready-made salty crisps.”

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The band will headline Rough Trade Bristol on April 18th. There probably won’t be an antipasto platter, but tickets are still available here.

Featured Image: Neelam Khan

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