The Glaswegian glam pop outfit Walt Disco have been making waves in the European indie scene since their debut EP Young Hard and Handsome was released in September of 2020. Consisting of six members, James (lead singer); Finlay (guitar and keyboards); Lewis (guitarist); David (synth); Charlie (bass); and Jack (drums) the group’s appearance is reminiscent of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and mid-1970s Brian Eno with a dash of ABBA thrown in for good measure.
Yet Walt Disco somehow remain totally unlike any other band that has gone before them. They have a distinctly 21stcentury feel, a fervent embrace of unapologetic self-expression and decadence (the intensity of which stems possibly from the increasingly alarming structural malfunctions seizing up our current way of life on Earth.) The band have quickly forged their own signature sound, inviting listeners into a colorful realm of rock n’ roll that Dork Magazine has dubbed, “Walt Discoworld.”
The group recently released a single entitled Selfish Lover, accompanied by a video featuring the band parading around an abandoned mansion decked out in glam rock deshabille and kabuki theatre-meets-Pierrot makeup. The Selfish Lover release coincided with an announcement that the group had signed to Lucky Number Records and were planning a tour of the U.K. to promote the single.
On behalf of Totally Wired, I recently caught up with lead singer James Potter and guitarist Finlay McCarthy for a chat on myriad topics ranging from writing pop songs on computers to raiding Grayson Perry’s closet, to the tour gigs they’re most looking forward to.
The interview occurs on Zoom, because, well, of course: it’s 2021. James Potter appears on the screen first, their dark curly mullet pushed back over their ears, and shortly after, guitarist Finlay McCarthy pops up, sporting a Mick Jagger-y shag with the tips dyed blue. “I’m in!’ he crows, after exchanging suitably chummy greetings with bandmate James. (“Thank you, it’s a mess,” he says self-deprecatingly when I compliment his hair.)
We get down to business, starting with the simple stuff: How did the band members originally meet? “Over the space of a couple of years. Me, Dave and Lewis were in the original line-up and then Finlay joined at the start of 2019, then Jack joined during a long tour in autumn 2019, and then Charlie joined in around December 2019,” James explains.
I ask what the main inspiration for starting a band was. “I suppose, personally, it’s just because it’s like the only thing I’m good at,” Finlay says. “Ever since I started playing guitar when I was like, 13, I was just like, ‘Ok. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna leave school and find people to play with…And I’m gonna take a part-time job until it works.’ And now it has.”
I inquire after who the primary songwriters in the band are. Do they all contribute equally, or do they have a Lennon/McCartney thing going on where some work on melody and some write lyrics?
“I don’t think it’s ever been six of us in the same room, but all six of us contribute,” James says.
“We kind of had to look at the way we were creating over lockdown. And we found that a lot of it has come from writing through the computer rather than jamming in a room,” Finlay explains.
“I think often I find lyrics from the feeling an instrumental will give me,” James muses. “So it’ll be quite a lush instrumental often before I start writing lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics’ll come early but more often than not, I have to have a real feeling and emotions already from the music and find something from that. Because a lot of people won’t listen to lyrics. So, you don’t always even need lyrics, but melody is the main thing that moves people in music. And you need the right words to fit a melody.”
We move on to discussing the band’s latest single, a high-energy pop number called Selfish Lover, written during lockdown: “Yeah, it was like, April last year,” James recalls. “Lewis sent a garage band demo. We really liked the energy of the instrumental. We just wanted to make it a wee bit more circusy and interesting, so we gave it the intro bassline and the sort of slightly swingy feel…”
Despite having good bones, the song took a lot of “chipping away,” at before it reached its final state, Finlay says. James grins and admits, “…the guitar riff, the middle eight and the first chorus one, was a guitar riff we stole from another song that didn’t quite make it…”
“You stole a riff from your own song? Self-piracy?” I laugh.
“Yeah, we stole a riff from our own song because the rest of the song just wasn’t strong enough, but it had a really good riff. So, we were like, fuck it, we’ll just put it in this song…David Bowie plagiarized his own songs all the time,” James says. I mention how much James’ voice reminds me of Station to Station era David Bowie on certain Walt Disco tunes, and the conversation turns to the band’s musical inspirations and influences.
“Having six of us, there’s quite a mishmash, but we all share very similar interests, like the Associates,” Finlay says. “We got really into electronic music over lockdown, cos all we were trying to do was write pop songs. And sometimes you just wanted to switch off and listen to a beat or a cool sound. That kind of seeped into the pop songs that we were trying to write.”
James delves deeper into dissecting the band’s writing methodology: “We’d often start with these quite complex, experimental electronic tracks and then complete that as its own little thing, and then send it over to a different computer and then view it differently… and then once the bass and guitar are on, give it a pop structure and pop melody. That’s the most successful writing process we’ve had.”
The conversation veers from songwriting to another crucial part of Walt Disco’s collective artistic practice: getting dressed up. Thinking of the flamboyant mix of costumes in the Selfish Lover video (where the band wore everything from thigh-high black leather boots to baby pink satin corsets, housewifely 1950s half-slips, faux fur wraps and leather harnesses,) I ask if they have a favored designer or stylist.
“For the Selfish Lover video we were working with a stylist called Jack Shanks…he’s great,” James says. “He’s kind of the same build and the same height as all of us and that means he’s got lots of great things in his own wardrobe that fit us, and then we’ll always bring lots of our own wardrobes to the shoots.
“Once everyone’s dressed, I make sure I have a look at everyone, ‘cause I love styling. It’s quite funny when everyone’s ready, and then I go round and am like: ‘I need to have a line-up,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘You’re not done,” and “you’re not done.’” They laugh. “Sometimes they’ll get a wee bit hurt and I’m like, ‘No, it’s for the video.’ It has to be right.”
“It’s always been something that’s been a big part of the band, even before we worked with stylists. Getting ready in the dressing room was always fun,” Finlay reminisces fondly.
I ask if there are any particular designers or fashion icons whose closets they’d like to raid.
“I think the one for both of us would be Grayson Perry,” James says, and Finlay oohs in agreement. “Definitely one of the biggest fashion icons of this century.”
I ask which artists first sparked their interest in music as kids, and Finlay looks a bit sheepish. “This may sound totally mad, but I didn’t like music when I was little. I just wasn’t interested in it, at all, until I got to high school. But I remember in my music class, we got a temporary music teacher that showed me ‘My Iron Lung,’ by Radiohead, and I was like ‘That’s cool.’ That kind of sent me down the rabbit hole.”
James hasn’t heard this story before, and seems vaguely disappointed that Finlay’s “musical awakening,” took the form of Radiohead: “…a shame,” they say. Finlay thinks for a moment and adds, “It’s probably subliminal, but my mum was playing a lot of Kate Bush and stuff in the car, when I was little. I didn’t like it then, but I do now.”
The soundtrack to James’ growing-up years was very different: “There were a lot of very guitar-y CDs in my house. Also, my parents would put on Queen and Scissor Sisters all the time, but I can’t remember if it was my request or not…it would kind of make sense if it was. I remember the CD player and the sound system were a real centerpiece of the living room when I was six or seven.”
I say that with the music industry stopped in its tracks for so many months, returning to the previous cycles of promo, releases and touring must feel almost alien in its strangeness.
“You get used to your face not being anywhere, and then it’s everywhere!” James agrees, laughing.
Starting in July, Walt Disco are set to embark on a thirteen-date tour staggered over the course of four months. I ask which gigs they’re most excited to play. “I’m excited to go back to Edinburgh. That’s my home,” Finlay says, face lighting up. “And the gig we played there in October 2019 was the biggest gig we’ve ever played. Can’t wait to go back and play an even bigger venue.”
After so many months of forced stagnation, live music is back in action, and so are Walt Disco.
Tickets for Walt Disco’s 2021 U.K. tour are on sale at: https://www.songkick.com/artists/9265324-walt-disco/calendar