Walt Disco, the innovative pop band from Glasgow, Scotland talk to us about their exploration of identity and self-acceptance, and the vulnerable but glittery translation of this into their album Unlearning. Full of attitude, sex, and glamour, this six-piece band gets honest about the two versions of themselves they portray through eccentric electronic pop – both confident and anxious.
Walt Disco, you are a Scottish pop band defying convention and reinventing pop into your own sound to create a queer world of acceptance and identity. It’s really heart-warming to see a band from Glasgow have this level of hype around them, as someone else from Scotland’s most expressive city. For those who haven’t heard of you, how would you describe yourself?
We’re all about championing free expression of self and freedom of identity. The band is our way of unshackling ourselves letting it all out, and we want to encourage others to do the same. Outside of the band we’re not always the most confident or outgoing people, but Walt Disco gives us the space to release this larger side of ourselves and we want to share this space with anyone who wants the same thing.
Listening to your music, I was struck by the layers of noise to it, and the blending of genres in your songs. I couldn’t decide if your music was pop, dance, or electronic, and this is accompanied by twangy guitar riffs, and instrument layering that is almost chaotic but exists in harmony. It is definitely a sound as diverse as the six of you, and reminds me of bands like the infamous Sparks. What were your main inspirations for this sound?
Pop and electronic music like that of SOPHIE and Arca were huge inspirations for the making of this album but we wanted to mould those inspirations with our earlier influences such as Sparks and The Associates. Moulding genres as freely as Kanye does on Yeezus is hugely inspiring and trying this ourselves gives us the feeling of tapping into something new and pushing things forward a bit. Between the six of us we are pretty eclectic music listeners and we each have a lot of different things that turn us on musically, and we’re eager to try as much as we can.
Your 2020 EP Young, Hard & Handsome was a raging success, and allowed you to perform at TRNSMT Festival, Dot to Dot, and also to support Duran Duran. What did the band learn from this experience?
The experience of creating the EP was very weird and prolonged as we released it during lockdown and didn’t see the fruits of our labours for quite a long time. We didn’t really see the full impact of it until we were able to get back on stage and have people screaming the songs back at us. A big thing we learnt through this experience is how to independently release music, and how to back yourself until the best thing comes along. Which it eventually did with our signing to Lucky Number.
Unlearning, your debut album, is out today, Friday 1st April 2022. It conveys the unique experience of self-acceptance as a queer individual, identity, bodies, love, and glamour. The album is set up like a theatre stage show in two parts, one instrumental track mid-way through even named The Costume Change. Why did you decide to create an album in two acts like this? Is it a commentary on the “act” that queer people have to present to society before eventual pride, as eluded to by tracks like Be An Actor?
That’s a very interesting way of looking at it. The album does have a sort of duality to it, as in the first half is largely more humorous and self-assured, and then it gets more vulnerable and introspective in the second half. Weightless sets up the album as being very honest, then in the following tracks it goes into more outward-facing and less introspective themes. And then in the way the second half of the album is more dark and honest, it’s almost showing you can only keep a smile on for so long. We feel this duality reflects how most people have two versions of themselves; the side they feel comfortable showing others, and the side that shows how they’re really feeling.
The way that your singer performs also seems like a performance, the long drawn-out notes reminiscing glam pop in a new electro-diva persona, and brings forth ideas almost similar to those of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, scandalous and sexy, and a little bit cabaret. What is this persona of the singer?
(James) You kind of nailed it there. I suppose the way I try to perform a song shows a sliding scale between the sexy cabaret of Tim Curry as Dr Frank N Furter, which is very tongue in cheek and lends itself to the way I often write lyrics. But much like any theatre performance you need a timbre to perform the more delicate songs, which is more in the style of crooners like Scott Walker. And even though I don’t have the voice type of people like Billy Holiday and Doris Day, I’ll always think about the way they sing when I perform a more delicate number.
I wanted to ask you about the title of this album, and the cover of the album itself. Unlearning refers to the fact that it’s never too late to become who you are, and the album cover features the six of you in variations of angelic white outfits climbing up a dark rocky terrain to reach out to a rainbow-toned shimmer in the air. Is this image also representative of the struggles conveyed by the album to reject internalised homophobia and to unlearn self-destructive hate, to then grasp your potential and true identity?
Unlearning was first titled Unlearning A Perfect Life. With this we were saying that it’s important to make peace with the fact that life can’t be perfect, but this shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing. Much as in the way we create melodies, soundscapes and visual art, there are many different ways to find and create beauty out of things that could be considered imperfect. Early on in the planning of the artwork we knew we were going to be working with Furmaan Ahmed, and that we wanted the artwork to be centred around a structure we were overcoming in a way. The rainbow toned shimmer, i.e the destination we are striving for is hopeful, but hopeful in the way that hope is mystical and exists despite opposing forces. This mysticism was conveyed through the lens of Scottish folklore and fairytales that inspire the visual accompaniments for the album.
The setting of your album cover is fully realised in the music video for Weightless, the first track on the album, and the booming anthem of discovery and rebellion. Watching this video, I was struck by the amount of imagery in it, as it depicts you in armour fighting an invisible foe in the dark, and later accepting the light of acceptance, shedding your armour, dropping your weapons, and sporting the more vulnerable outfits shown on the album cover. It feels almost biblical, seeing your faces by candlelight, and grappling in the dark. What was the creative process behind this video?
We always knew that Weightless felt like the best representation of the album as a whole, so it made sense to tie in the album cover and the video together. For this we worked with Furmaan Ahmed, and Eric and Kaspar from Humble Films Productions. The video was never scripted, but we just went in with really good sets and outfits that were meticulously thought about in relation to the emotion of the song and the album. But most of the direction of the way we performed the video came on the day, and a lot of the movement direction came from James subtly directing the rest of us whilst out of shot. It was the biggest production we’d been a part of for a music video, and we knew it would be the biggest in terms of the album campaign, so we really wanted to seize the moment and give as impassioned a performance as we could.
The most recent video you have released in anticipation for the album is for the new single How Cool Are You? I read that by painting over the black and white ice-rink in rainbow colours while a group of sneering peers watch, as depicted in the video, you are showing that “coolness shouldn’t come at the cost of having fun and accepting yourself!” Can you expand on this?
 A lot of people perceive coolness as something to be attained, something they aren’t yet. The facade of coolness or desiring admiration is exhausting when you don’t love yourself, because everything you do will be for the perception of others rather than for yourself. Becoming cool isn’t always synonymous with growth, and when pursuing this people can end up diminishing parts of their true selves. We believe the truly cool people are those who are undeniably and unapologetically themselves, and people who actually deserve to be around you will be drawn to that more than any facade.
I noticed that the condescending group viewing the band from the sidelines in the video, is actually all of you in different outfits. Is this representative of who you used to be before unlearning past behaviours and accepting yourselves?
That’s a much better reason than we had for it, we just wanted to look c*nty.
Who do you think needs to hear this album, when it comes out?
We’d love for people who have gone through, or are going through similar experiences to hear the album. But we’d also love for people who have no experience of what we’re talking about to give it a chance. We’d love nothing more than to expose these people to a new perspective, and for this to perhaps lead to them progressing themselves and their ideas, and how they perceive the modern world.
What is the future dream of Walt Disco?  To spread glamour across the world?
Oh absolutely this, and so much more too. As divine as sparkling glamour across the world is, a lot of our dreams are quite simple. We want to be allowed to create art and music as this group of friends for a long time, and the things this does for ourselves, we hope might permeate to a few other people across the world as well.