‘You have to flirt with people in the vegetarian section’: In conversation with Walt Disco

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By Mia Smith, Music Editor

Epigram catches up with the coolest band around in anticipation of their debut album due April 1st.

It’s always funny hearing someone’s normal voice when their singing voice is so distinctive. In Walt Disco, frontperson James is deep and brooding. Over Zoom, they sound comfortingly Scottish. I caught the band at Dot To Dot festival back in September, and have been gasping to chat to them ever since. I’m mainly desperate for their approval, as they truly are the coolest band going. 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 loved that show”. Charlie smiles too: “that was so much fun!”. A Walt Disco gig is one big queer party, brimming with camp choreography, gaudy makeup and plenty of tartan. Finlay explains that performing is a huge part of the band: “the resulting live show is something that we always think about when we write a song”. “I think us and the energy of our songs really comes through live”, Jack agrees, “I’ve had a lot of people say that they’ve listened to us and not been bothered, but then seen us live and it clicked”.

Walt Disco at Dot to Dot festival / Credit: Liv Warburton

I wonder whether being so unashamedly extravagant on stage has always come naturally to the band. Finlay laughs, “that has not come naturally - but I think that’s what’s so great about it”. “That’s what this kind of band gives us all as well”, Charlie adds, “an outlet to wear what we want and act how we like”. The Walt Disco uniform has given the band confidence off-stage too. James explains that they “started to buy outfits for going on stage - outfits that felt like you, but that you were scared to see yourself wear in day to day life. But then you owned it, and one day you just wore it to the shop. And then all of a sudden, your entire wardrobe is things that you would wear on stage”. I jest that they should go to Big Sainsbury’s in their flamboyant garb, but Finlay’s completely serious: “I love getting dressed up to go to the shops!”. Looking mysterious in a dress with a box of Linda McCartney sausages in hand sums up the Walt Disco experience. “You have to flirt with people in the vegetarian section”, James laughs.

In between looking cool in supermarkets, the band are preparing for the release of their debut album ‘Unlearning’, due April 1st. I’ve already had a sneaky listen, and it’s magical. I’m curious as to what exactly the band are ‘unlearning’, and it turns out it’s a lot. “There’s a lot of things about yourself that you aren’t taught” James explains. “Whether that be your understanding of your gender, sexuality, or even the way you - I don’t know - you might find out that your mum or dad had taught you to cook eggs really badly”, they laugh. Walt Disco are unlearning the small things and the big things - everything from fry-ups 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 returns to the queer expression so intrinsic to the band: “of course, colonialism has been bad for the entire world in terms of understanding different genders and sexualities”.

Credit: Furmaan Ahmed

The album carefully explores gender identity, right from opener and lead single ‘Weightless’. “It’s kind of about the bittersweet feeling of when you’ve made a big breakthrough of who you see yourself as in the world, but you’re a bit sad that it took you this long”, James offers. Charlie nods, “It’s like the opening line - ‘I feel I was far too late to the party’”. But now the Walt Disco party is in full swing, and we’re all invited. “At the core there’s hope”, James continues. “It’s never too late to find things out about yourself - whether that’s your gender or even something like your career. You’re not given all the answers, so why would you know?”. The band has been vital in James’ navigation of their gender expression: “I listen back to songs I was writing earlier on and go ‘oh, now I know what that lyric is about’”. The rest of the band laugh; it seems like the classic case of your friends knowing something about you before you do yourself.

James is grateful that Walt Disco has allowed them a “stage to perform on and try new things, and just figure out if you like them. You can kind of put on a character and see if it’s right for you, and a lot of the time it is”. These characters actually empower the band to explore their most authentic selves - Walt Disco is “like a larger version of ourselves”, Finlay explains. Charlie chimes in: “Yeah, it’s like a magnified version”. “This is gonna sound so-” James groans sarcastically “-but you’re probably acting more in real life than you are when you’re doing music and literally performing”. It does sound awfully cringey, but they’re right. Jack agrees: “I think in normal life people have expectations of you to maintain a certain amount of normality, and that can be very restricting”. The Walt Disco freedom extends to the audience too: “everyone is there to do exactly the same thing you are - to come out of your shell - well at least that’s what we hope”. With the rallying refrain ‘Hey, boy, you’re one of us!’ that courses through track ‘Hey Boy (You’re One of Us)’, it’s impossible not to come out of your shell at a Walt Disco show.

For their latest music video ‘How Cool Are You?’, the band tried the characters of Torvill and Dean on for size. I ask if they had any previous experience ice-skating, and Finlay laughs: “There were varying degrees of skill involved”. There’s a really great moment in the video where Charlie falls over, and Finlay’s still laughing: “unfortunately most of the falls weren’t actually caught on camera”. James interjects “you know what’s really impressive that you won’t see in the video - the cameraman. He was filming while moving as fast as anyone in the video”. So big shoutout to Kaspar the cameraman. As Finlay concludes, he was the “real star of the show”.

One of the top comments on another music video begs the band to go on Eurovision, and they've considered it. “I’ve always said we couldn’t do it for the UK”, James laughs. “But in an independent Scotland…”.

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

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

Featured image: Neelam Khan


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