Louis chats to alt-pop outfit Walt Disco about social isolation, the Glasgow scene, and the latest single from their upcoming EP.
When I catch up with Walt Disco, they’re self-isolating in their Glasgow apartment. "Yeah there’s six of us in one flat", confesses frontman James Potter, “I share a bed with Finlay, our bass player.” They’re hard at work writing and recording their debut album while in quarantine, and I talked with them about their love for Dua Lipa, the need for queer music venues in the UK, and where exactly their tagline 'Young, Hard and Handsome' comes from.
Walt Disco cut an interesting niche for themselves in the current legion of bands sweeping through venues. Their particular sound is, in their words, “glam-goth-art-pop-rock-opera”, and is probably closest to something like HMLTD: archly camp, darkly hilarious and, above all, catchy as hell. They had a tumultuous 2019, with bandmates exiting, their guitarist falling ill and ultimately finishing the year as a six-piece, with a revamped lineup.
But they also had career highs – their session for BBC Radio Scotland was an absolute triumph, a glistening confection of choirs, feather boas and dance routines. “Obviously, those BBC sessions, people make a lot of effort with”, James elaborates. “A BBC Scotland one can be the first stepping stone to doing one at Maida Vale. But we thought if we’re gonna do this, and it could be seen by a lot of people, we’ll just do it as ridiculously as possible”. The producers had never had 11 musicians in the studio before, but the session did indeed prove a stepping stone for the band, being viewed thousands of times and netting them countless opportunities, including a coveted spot at SXSW.
The band are careful to define themselves as pop – a descriptor that’s often kryptonite for certain guitar bands. Debut single Drowning In Your Velvet Bed is their nearest approach to the punk-flavoured sound that is the current zeitgeist. “Velvet Bed was kind of our very dramatic, operatic version of post-punk… it’s as close as we’ll get to an IDLES song”, adds James. Bassist Finlay quips that there’s “absolutely no hair on that track”.
'Their session for BBC Radio Scotland was an absolute triumph, a glistening confection of choirs, feather boas and dance routines'.
Indeed, the band are unabashed in their love for the art of a good pop song: “Pop is the obsession of the geekiest people in music, because you have to restrict yourself to a structure, so if you want to make interesting music, you have to really think about it”. Finlay explains that, “if you are a band with a message, you need to have some sort of pop elements in your song. You can write an 8-minute long song, and go on this mad journey, but if no-one’s going to actually listen to what you have to say, is there much point?”.
I wondered who their current pop idols were. James immediately picks Dua Lipa, saying “[her] album is ridiculously good.” Finlay chimes in: “it’s amazing because there’s 11 songs and there’s no features whatsoever, whereas so many of these massive major-label pop acts have huge, 15-song albums. Charli XCX had a great year last year too”.
Our conversation turns to the fact that Charli brought out local drag queens at every date of her tour last year – a drag influence is undeniably present in Walt Disco’s music, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into that. “Our latest single, Cut Your Hair, has a tempo referenced from a Ru-Paul song. It’s just really high energy”, James asserts. He wears makeup on stage, and happily admits to taking notes from Drag Race – “it’s slightly different to do it on a masculine face… and we do enjoy watching it when we’re hungover!”.
The touch of aloof, camp glamour can be felt all over Walt Disco, and is perhaps most overtly evident in their slogan and forthcoming EP title, 'Young, Hard and Handsome'. It’s an uncannily good description of the band, but was apparently entirely serendipitous, originating when their manager spotted an eye-catching title in a sex shop. “He said ‘you guys should use this’, and then we started putting it as a signature on emails. So, when we came to name the EP, we’d been saying it for so long we couldn’t call it anything else”.
I could hear laughter from the rest of the band in the flat, who had stopped watching Spongebob Squarepants to commentate on what the intended meaning of the mantra was. Their cohabitation reminds me of another talked-about young band, Sports Team, who also live together. Walt Disco struck up an unlikely friendship with them, James tells me. “They played after us at a one-dayer in Manchester”, he says. “By the end of their set, we were steaming, and I said to Alex [Rice, frontman], ‘you’re like The Magic Gang, but interesting and you have dynamics’”, James can’t help but laugh. Before they knew it, Walt Disco were the opening act on Sports Team’s UK tour. “That was our first proper tour, so then we learnt how to be a band a bit. Then they put the single out on Holm Front [their label], which is really good – they get singles sent out to Tokyo”.
“Pop is the obsession of the geekiest people in music, because you have to restrict yourself to a structure, so if you want to make interesting music, you have to really think about it”.
Walt Disco apparently still go to the pub in Glasgow with Sports Team whenever they’re in town (The Laurieston, if you’re interested). As I imagine quite a few music fans south of the border are, I feel woefully uneducated about what’s going on in the Glasgow music scene. “Anyone who’s in Scotland and wants to be in a band will eventually move to Glasgow. It’s too good to be a scene”, laughs James. “It’s like calling all of the music in London ‘a scene’. It’s just people that go to the pub together”. I ask him who they’re fans of at the moment, and he reels off a gargantuan list. “Lucia and the Best Boys, Medicine Cabinet, Wuh Oh… there’s too many!”.
Despite his obvious love for his hometown, however, it’s not without its flaws. “I think Glasgow is missing a few types of venues”, confides James. “I’m always glowing about Glasgow in interviews, and I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere, but I think it’s missing queer spaces and alternative venues”. He elaborates that the band scene, while very accepting, “isn’t very queer at the moment. There are queer people that go to the gigs, just none of them join bands!”. He blames a lack of queer venues in which to perform. “If I had the money, I’d open one myself. I think most places, apart from London, probably don’t have that type of venue. There’s queer clubs in every city, but most of them don’t have anything to do with live music – there’s a gap in the market in the whole of this country”.
Walt Disco are flying the flag for alternative Scottish music in the best way imaginable, feeling like a band definitively of these times. While they reference and pay homage to alternative acts of the 80s and beyond, they never feel staid. I’m interested which Scottish acts they feel particularly indebted to. “Simple Minds, The Blue Nile, Cocteau Twins… in fact Dave got a Blue Nile tattoo only yesterday. Orange Juice, Fire Engines, The Associates…”, James continues. In fact, the band have made us a playlist as a who’s who of the Scottish old guard.
Walt Disco are an intriguing blend of pop and a thousand other influences, and they sound like nothing else around at the moment. They fill a niche that is woefully uncatered for in today’s guitar bands, and are hopefully a harbinger of change to come.
'Cut Your Hair’, the latest single from Walt Disco, is out today. They have a limited run of merch in collaboration with So Young Magazine available via Everpress.