Glaswegian goth-glam Walt Disco emerged as the brooding 80s-inspired six-piece prescribing to a new wave art-pop sound. And in their new era, Walt Disco is transcendent. The band’s latest venture – a debut album – is synthesised brilliance. Aptly titled Unlearning, the record refuses to divorce the band’s prior identity but demonstrates an erudite understanding of Walt Disco’s flamboyant origins. Now, taking their next steps, Walt Disco are reimagining their sound.
Comprised of 12 tracks, Unlearning is an operatic effort if there ever was one. Built in the depth of the pandemic, the album shows no signs of its mighty DIY effort. A meld of modern made-at-home clanks and on-the-spot sounds, Unlearning is a fine-tuned multi-genre experience. Frontperson James Potter’s stylised vocals are tacked onto experimental tracks staging commentaries on everything from queer heartbreak, self-discovery and anti-trans violence.
There’s no doubt Unlearning is an album with intention and melodrama. So, with their debut record out today (April 1), the band let us in on the tracks that didn’t make the cut, how a pandemic forced a new wave of creativity, and their hopes for their non-conforming debut record.
Congratulations on the new album! The record taps into the typical grand style we’d expect from Walt Disco. How did creating Unlearning differ from your smaller projects?
James: We started recording it when the lockdown was announced. We sort of bought a set of really cheap speakers, a cheap interface, borrowed our friend’s mic and started demoing in Dave Morgan’s bedroom. But because those bedrooms and have any live drums or even guitar amps, two guitars, middies keyboard and a MOOC that informed the sound of like the album. Along with us listening to a lot of electronic music shaped the unloading sound.
Charlie: We were all trapped and we didn’t have all the stuff that we usually had. It really helped us. We’re going further than what we’d gone before, experimentally. It was a massive learning curve.
Did you face any difficulties in engineering your creative sound with that experimental DIY approach?
Charlie: A lot of the hurdles we stumbled upon were because often there wasn’t anything right in front of us, so the solution to make the song better was that it needed this addition that will be somewhere on the internet. This is the crash that isn’t anywhere in the room so we need to find it on the internet or go get a pot or a pan!
James: We used a beer bottle to hit against the mic stand. We use samples from St. Pancras station, air raid sirens and car crashes. It was a lot of weird ways that we definitely weren’t taught when we were first learning music or when we first started a band because every time we wrote a song it was all together in a room with instruments.
Sophie is the master of the modular, the synthesised clank but we’ve wanted to find the sounds like that in real life. We’re like what about that fire door in the studio. It never made it onto the album, we wrote a song, kind of as a laugh, called I Guess I’ll Have To Fuck The Postman just because was a dry time for everyone, and we used the letterbox as a snare. Very DIY.
How was the mood of the album informed by lockdown, the band’s Glaswegian and LGBTQ+ themes?
James: There was less life experience going on and things were very deep, personal and introspective. There was kind of no choice but to go deep into your psyche and see what comes out on paper. As a songwriter, songwriting is the best way to start to understand your feelings and your mind growing.
Charlie: It’s nice to look back at earlier songs to see how things have developed and how we will develop.
Weightless is a punchy and introspective song that explores James’ relationship with gender identity and queer heartbreak. It’s quite an impactful moment to lead with. How did this song become the album opener?
James: It was actually one of the later demos. We thought we had a quite clear picture of what the running order of the album would be, but then Lucky Number came on board and heard that demo, they were like that needs to be on the album. It made us reevaluate. [It] made the ambition of the album go way farther than we ever thought it would go.
Charlie: I was quite proud of James for writing that and being so brave because it is really open. When James came with the lyrics, we saw this song forming and we wanted to push it.
James: The thought of being left behind by people who you see yourself in is scary to young people nowadays. ContraPoints did a really good video essay on envy. It’s said trans women and queer people start off envious of cisgender women, but then that fades. The envy towards other transgender when women go up massively because that’s now the achievable goal. Seeing your peers being more outward and behaving the way that you want to can hurt sometimes, but they’re just further along in their journey than you. It’s hard, but I think everyone does get there in their own time. People are speaking about it more nowadays and we have more information than ever. There were definitely artists I looked up to who have been brave before me and done it for me. I think it’s very important that artists are honest with things like this.
Unlearning features a mid-tracklist instrumental song, The Costume Change, which is an aptly titled album break. Whose idea was it to include an instrumental interlude?
James: It’s very much the white swan going to the black swan idea. When we were talking about the running order of the album, we always imagined it flowing like an opera or musical and the idea of having an interlude felt really right and the name ‘The Costume Change’ came very early on, even before we wrote it. ‘Costume change’ felt so right and on so many levels.
Charlie: It is the album’s costume change from the start. It’s quite bubbly and then it goes into a darker tone.
James: Possibly a more honest tone too.
Macilent was written in response to the violence queer and anti-trans people face every day. How did the song come about?
James: It definitely was a topic that upsets us even before we wrote it. Even the subtle violence that I’ve faced or we’ve faced just walking on the street and being honest to ourselves. It grinds you down. You experience lots of emotions from anger to scared to positive and I think Macilent has all those emotions in it. It feels quite badass as well. It’s great.
Do you think fans are going to be surprised by the new direction of this album?
Charlie: It was an extension of what we released before. Since this whole campaign started, I’m excited about it. I want people to like it and people have been saying they like it and that’s so rewarding to see.
James: We’ve been hinting at it for a while through the EP and the singles that have come out. We’ve wanted to get more electronic, darker and poppier and to shake off the 80s throwback thing that people have put on it – even if it was justified! We wanted to show all our interests and our sides on this album. We wanted to really mess with lots of genres in a lot of genres in almost a sick way.
Charlie: It started as a joke but we kept asking ourselves what genre could we put on this song that isn’t already on the album. Each song had different influences from at least five genres at a time. ‘Being An Actor’, for example, had African rhythms on the drums and hyper pop-influenced, so we just tried to make something new out of things that already existed.
Did you take on-board fresh influences for that creative process or was it all a retrospective type of inspiration?
James: We definitely got into the habit of listening to tunes before we started writing. It became a full-time job. You would get up, get your coffee, maybe go for a silly little mental health walk and then start writing. There was less inspiration from your day to day life, it was more sitting and listening to tunes for an hour and deciding to try something new. Even with Timeline, we wanted to try and make a bedroom pop song which we’ve never tried before – we were like, ‘We’re in a bedroom so fuck it, let’s see what comes of it!’
Last of all, what are you hoping fans and first-time listeners will take away from your debut record?
Charlie: We were saying the other day that we just want people to enjoy it by themselves as much as we want them to enjoy it in a group of people, almost as like a little bit of escapism, but also to be able to party with it as well.
James: It’s hard because there are lots of things that we’ve taken away from it. I’m really excited to shart hearing what it means to different people. I find that really exciting.
Charlie: It’s an unreal thought because we’ve been sitting on it for so long and we all know the album inside and out.
Unlearning is out now via Lucky Number records and is available to buy or stream on all platforms.