There are some artists’ worlds that you just want to live within. At the moment, it seems to be the niche of pop music to create fun and exciting microcosms into which listeners are dragged and invited to stay. These artists repurpose the idea of pop music as simply being popular, and in doing so, create a diverse and exciting genre in its own right. We need look no further than the usual suspects of Charli XCX, FKA Twigs and Christine and the Queens to see how pop is being repurposed, communicating vital expressions of society in 2020 within the confines of 3 minutes – complete with a catchy chorus. It is in this context that Walt Disco have emerged, brimming with both style and substance, cornering the market for a compelling art-pop-cum-goth-rock band.
Walt Disco are all about creating a space where anthemic choruses and soaring operatic vocals are de rigueur, and flamboyance and non-conformity is encouraged. This space we have all been welcomed into will be fleshed out on the band’s new EP ‘Young Hard and Handsome’ (a name taken from a vintage gay porn book).
Considering their expertise in world-building, it is apt (or perhaps slightly clumsy) that the majority of the preamble in my conversation with James Potter and Finlay McCarthy from the band centres around discussions on Minecraft. As Potter describes of his lockdown experience, “You know on Minecraft where you set yourself boring tasks – you don’t go on the game to have fun every time, you go on to do the things you have to do”. Despite their obvious attentiveness with a pickaxe, Walt Disco is undoubtedly the boys’ greatest creation, a future monolith of pop music notable for their avant-garde and androgenous style, adorning corsets and heavy makeup with enough glam appeal to dethrone Adam Ant.
It is a low-key Thursday when I call James and Finlay, who are dressed down to suit a hot and muggy day in Glasgow. The boys proudly show off the clear blue skies which hover over their city, and as the webcam pans over to the open window, I catch a glimpse of guitars strewn across the front room. Clearly lockdown hasn’t been totally misspent on computer games, and instead on the front line of genre-pushing musical endeavour.
You have been labelled as integral to the new ‘Glasgow School’. Do you feel a level of pressure or expectation coming from a city with such a rich heritage of genre-defining bands?
James: I think it’s more of a pride and encouragement that it can be done. There is always a bit of a thing in Glasgow that it’s harder to make it because you are so far away from London, but time and time again the fact it’s been done by our favourite bands – like Franz Ferdinand and The Associates – means that we are confident that we can do it too.
Finlay: I remember finding out that a lot of my favourite bands are Scottish and I didn’t know.
James: Telling people that Cocteau Twins are from Scotland is like a really good flex. Everyone knows them from indie films so telling people they are from fucking Grangemouth is quite fun.
There seems to be a resurgence in art pop/ glam rock influences with bands like yourselves and HMLTD. I also think that the explosive and operatic lyrical delivery is also somewhat evident in the likes of Viagra Boys, Ninth Wave and Vegan Leather. Why do you think that art rock as a genre is becoming more prominent?
James: I suppose people probably delved a bit further into Bowie after Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust because they are probably the first albums people hear from Bowie, and then it gets really art-rocky. Also wanting to experiment with a pop song within a band setting is always a desire for people.
Finlay: It’s liberating.
James: Writing a pop song is liberating because you can put any sound in it, and they [pop sounds] are the sounds that satisfy us the most.
I think there is a real courage you have to have in your convictions to lean into the pop song aesthetic and do it justice.
Finlay: Yeh, it’s all about trying to write a pop song in the weirdest way possible.
Do you find it as easy to express yourself and communicate your band through aesthetic as you do through your music?
James: Yeh I think we sound how we look!
Finlay: It all goes hand in hand.
James: Even when you are just practising it’s good to dress up how you feel and how you feel this band represents you, then you are in the headspace. In the same way that hair metal bands probably practise really loud and with some glitter on, it’s good to have every aspect of you in that headspace when you are making the art you are making and have conviction in it.
Finlay: It is definitely easier to write a glam sounding song if you have heels on.
James: Yeh, because you are able to strut.
I have heard you describe how fundamental a sort of dandyism is to your style – dressing incredibly but affordably and with an element of thrift. For you, is there an importance in making flamboyance and androgyny accessible to everyone?
James: It sometimes feels a bit too far away from people. Even when I moved to Glasgow I knew I wanted to experiment but I didn’t know how to do it affordably because everyone who does it always looks really really expensive. I think telling people that it can be done very cheap and with charity shops does make it more of an attainable goal. It needs to be an attainable goal for us because we don’t have any money!
Finlay: It’s quite liberating delving into the 99 pence women’s section of the charity shop for the first time.
James: Yeh the first time you do it, like putting on a women’s item of clothing, is really liberating and then you are like, “I have 70% more clothes to choose from, why wouldn’t you give yourself that option?” – cardigans don’t have a gender anyway.
That ethic seems to go against a lot of what is prominent in current fashion discourse with big labels and big brands, are you consciously rebelling against that?
James: I think a lot of the problems in fashion aren’t really high fashion because a lot of the looks that people get from the charity shop are influenced by the runway. The runway is an important part of society. Obviously it has its issues as well but more so with the sizing and the size of the models. The clothes are still beautiful and the silhouettes are still beautiful but I think fast fashion is the main problem.
Finlay: It’s about being conscious with what you do, and not be wasteful.
James: In the same way you choose to be vegan or choose to recycle, you aren’t always thinking about it, but as long as most of the time you are conscious of it then you are doing your part.
How important do you think androgyny is in a time when productive conversations about toxic masculinity are being had?
James: I think it’s important. Androgyny is a new argument recently because a lot of people are learning about what non-binary means, because for a lot of people, as soon they learn about non-binary they normally see a beautiful androgenous person when they think of it. But you don’t need to be androgenous to be non-binary, it’s just how you feel. It is funny, normally a man who is fine with putting on nail varnish or putting on a cardigan will be able to tap into their feminine side and then probably be a bit more in touch and hyper-masculinity won’t be too much a part of their life.
Finlay: It might be to do with the fact that as soon as you start dressing that way, you get shit walking down the street like women do all the time. Women are scared of walking down the street and when you start dressing that way you are also scared walking down the street, so you can start empathising with women. It probably is very important even if it isn’t a man’s style to wear a dress, just little things to make you empathise a bit will lead to a better world.
Why do you think that it has taken us so long since the likes of Bowie, Prince and Freddie Mercury to have another individual at the forefront of culture that has challenged traditional ideas around masculinity and sexuality in the same way?
James: I don’t know. I’m still puzzled by it which is why I’m wanting to do that. The ‘90s and the 2000’s was a bit of a blip for that type of star, maybe Mika was the last one? But he’s like high-camp – and so are we – but I’m still puzzled by it. People need that person, like Freddie Mercury or Bowie, because some rocker who was definitely homophobic will have rocked out at a Queen gig so hard, found out that Freddie Mercury was gay, and then maybe questioned how he acted towards people. I think it’s important to have queer icons at the forefront of society and not just in the art scene or the queer scene, because we are already convinced that everyone is beautiful.
Finlay: There definitely wasn’t a thing when we were growing up though.
James: Like I’m 22 and for all of us there wasn’t that sort of person, especially for people who were interested in bands like Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys. As much as they were great, they didn’t make you question how you act, they just had good tunes.
Finlay: I do think 2020 though is an amazing place to be for pop music. So much good shit coming.
James: It’s really nice to like pop music, because I didn’t ten years ago.
Finlay: Yeh I was a 13 year old that said I hated pop music and now I only love pop music.
What sort of pop music are you listening to now then?
Finlay: Christine and the Queens, Caroline Polacheck …
James: A lot of the PC Music type of stuff like Easyfun and AG Cook and Charli XCX and the art pop stuff like Perfume Genius – it’s just endlessly good. It’s just a very very good time for experimental pop music.
Finlay: It’s just diverse and interesting and exciting.
You have spoken in previous interviews about the power of art to put you in a certain place, the world of the artist if you will. To me that is the main success of ‘Hey Boy (You’re One Of Us)’- it seems to really lean into that idea, acting as an invitation into this flamboyant and vibrant world. Was that the purpose of this song?
James: Yeh it was and what better way to achieve that than doing a chant! It’s kind of along the same lines as “Young, Hard and Handsome”, it’s very tongue in check, from a gay porn book but it’s for everyone to sing. Just let the hate go from you and say, “Hey I feel young, hard and handsome and I’m one of these wacky people at this gig and having a great time!”
Finlay: It feels like the first chapter in a book.
Something that I picked up on, because I really loved listening to the song over lockdown, is the start bit where it dissolves from this heavenly and ethereal introduction into the pumping and hard-hitting main section.
James: Funnily enough there is a Bristol easter egg in that song! When we played in Bristol in January we got a video of us playing “Past Tense” and then, during the round of applause, there was a “Ahhhh!” [gestures a loud, high-pitched scream coming from the crowd]. We couldn’t stop watching it and laughing at it! Then we showed the producer just how amazing this sound that was created was, so we put it in the song. When it dissolves and there is an ‘Ahhhh’, it’s someone from Bristol whilst everyone is clapping.
The song ‘Cut Your Hair’ seems to encapsulate your aim to appeal to, in your own words, ‘both people who are queer and go to vegan restaurants but also those who love garage rock and go mental at gigs’, and this comes across in the interplay between the lyrics and the floor-ready bass line. Is that the power of this song to you?
James: It’s just a fun song. It’s very band-y, but we wanted a club bassline so it’s like 6 bmp faster than regular pop music and just with a fucking really long guitar solo as well.
Finlay: The bpm was taken from “Sissy That Walk” by Ru Paul.
So ‘Cut Your Hair’, is that a metaphor to you guys, is there something more in that sentiment?
James: It’s kind of like maybe you are walking down the street and some gammon has told you to cut your hair you roll down your trousers or roll up your trousers, [but we say] “No, let us be young, hard and handsome, and fuck off!”
Walt Disco’s debut EP ‘Young, Hard and Handsome’ is out tomorrow (30th September) via Blood Records. View the video for ‘Hey Boy (You’re One of Us) below.
Words by Oscar Edmondson Photography by Alasdair Scott