Call it glam rock, post-punk, hyperpop – Walt Disco defy any snappy labelling of their sound. Not afraid to push the boundaries, their debut album Unlearning is a theatrical soundscape of its own kind, produced almost entirely from the band’s Glasgow flat.
It’s been little longer than two years since the UK first went into lockdown, when the six-piece behind Walt Disco were forced to trade an appearance at SXSW for making music from their bedroom. It feels like a full-circle moment then that, ahead of their album release, they finally made it to the festival in person. “It was amazing, we had like nine shows in seven days,” frontperson James Potter beams from outside their studio. “I think we smashed it.”
Their previous EP – titled Young Hard and Handsome, after some vintage porn, released in late 2020 – gave a glimpse of the band’s expansive and fearless capabilities; on their album, the scale is even grander. A self-produced story told in two acts (aptly bridged by the instrumental track ‘The Costume Change’), Unlearning has allowed Walt Disco to introduce themselves on their own terms, and the result is pretty remarkable.
“I think there’s something charming about the naivety of people producing their own stuff when they don’t really know much about production, because you don’t know any rules to break,” James muses. “We definitely just made loads of mistakes until they sounded good!” Putting an album together from the confines of lockdown also meant they had to rethink the recording process: “because of the set-up we had we couldn’t really make loads of noise with drum kits and amps, so we had to take a different approach,” James explains. This encouraged a more electronic sound that leans into hyperpop, drawing influences from the likes of A. G. Cook and SOPHIE, “and even fucking Kanye to an extent,” James laughs. “Just using the studio as your instrument.”
That new approach is particularly evident on ‘Hold Yourself As High As Her’, a track that scatters distorted vocals over synths and driving dancefloor drumbeat. Refusing to linger anywhere for too long, though, they immediately veer back towards the world of anthemic dance-punk on ‘My Dear’, before melting the two together on ‘Macilent’. “I think our ethos is just to always develop our sound and never stick on one type of genre,” James explains. “All my favourite artists are somewhat genreless, which I really like; I don’t like the limiting of boxes that you put yourself in. I think this album is a sound in itself and I don’t think the next one will actually sound like it, really.”
In terms of their lyrics, James explains that most of the album came from them, with help from drummer Jack. Their inspiration is often drawn from their own lives, though James concedes that they’re “occasionally making up stories or adding fictions to something that’s happened in real life, just to make a better story. Like much in the way you watch a biopic or something,” they add, “there’s definitely things that are amped up to make a better film. Sometimes I do that in song as well.” It was watching the Elton John biopic Rocketman that sparked the buoyant, ‘Crocodile Rock’ infused chorus on ‘How Cool Are You?’; the same swaggering confidence can also be heard across ‘Cut Your Hair’ and ‘Selfish Lover’, as the band rail against Boomer conformity and failed relationships with equal force.
It makes sense that the larger-than-life glamour of Walt Disco involves a little embellished reality, but that bravado does share the stage with a tender vulnerability. ‘Weightless’, the opening track, agonises over gender expression and the fear of discovering yourself too late (though, as they conclude, it’s never too late), while the thundering ‘Macilent’ deals with the everyday violence facing queer people. The charm of Unlearning is in it’s unapologetic queerness: boldly flamboyant while simultaneously intelligent and introspective. “I hope that if [people] listen to it they feel elation and sadness and happiness and all of that at once,” James says. “And I hope the lyrics are comforting to some people if they can relate to them.” The song they’re especially looking forward to people hearing is the closing track, ‘If I Had A Perfect Life’, a lyrical and sonic catharsis that serves as Unlearning’s perfect conclusion, and ends with the instruction to “keep turning the page / but stop running from your old lies”. “We’ve played [it] live once at SXSW,” James says. “I’m excited for people to hear the recorded version of that, because it’s pretty wild – I don’t think there’s a song like it.”
To be fair, there aren’t many debuts like this one. Unlearning carries the confidence and coherence of a veteran band, opening the door to an artistic universe that ‘bedroom pop’ simply doesn’t do justice to – even if that is where most of the record was produced. It’s a self-assurance that allows ‘Those Kept Close’ to amble past the five minute mark, and for instrumentals across the board to marry electronic contortion with earworm bass riffs. Matched by an equally glamorous visual aesthetic, the Walt Disco project is already a fully realised one. “I think we’ve always tried to be slightly flamboyant but also just authentic to ourselves,” James muses, “and I think the sound almost has a look to it, so it’s kind of just putting imagery to our sound as best we can.”
Walt Disco’s debut album – Unlearning – is out this Friday, and available to download and stream now