Young but Ready, Indie Post-Punk Rock Group English Teacher Gain Major Momentum Post-Pandemic
Photography by James Brown
English Teacher only realized they might be becoming famous when someone recently recognized them in a pub. Coming out of Leeds—an industrial city in the north of England and a place renowned for its DIY indie scene—the band is made up of Lily Fontaine (vocals, rhythm guitar, synth), Douglas Frost (drums, vocals), Nicholas Eden (bass) and Lewis Whiting (lead guitar).
Making a swirly mix of awkward indie post-punk rock, they managed just one live show before the pandemic but spent their lockdown busy building up a substantial following both with music fans and the UK music press. Releasing music on the specialist independent label Nice Swan Records, they’ve now found their music. In particular, standout tracks “R&B” and “A55” repeatedly played on BBC’s Radio 1 and Radio 6. Reflecting the anger and mundanity of the past two years, there’s an urgency to their music that’s striking a chord across the country.
Born from the ashes of a dream pop outfit called Frank, English Teacher’s drift to something with a bit more edge has been gradual but organic. “I was listening to a lot of psych like Tame Impala, Melody’s Echo Chamber and Brian Jonestown Massacre, as well as lo-fi artists like Clairo and Mac DeMarco,” Lily explains. “In my third year of university, I started getting into bands like Shame, and I think that’s when I realized I wanted to move away from the dreamier side of things.”
A product of the evergreen Leeds DIY community, (whose alumni includes Yard Act, Pulled Apart By Horses, alt-J and Wild Beasts) the members of English Teacher played in more than one band. Like most of the musicians around the scene’s epicenter, at the legendary live music venue Brudenell Social Club.
I think having a lot of friends who are also musicians makes the lifestyle easier to cope with. There’s definitely strength in numbers. You can use the wisdom of the crowds when big decisions or tricky situations come along. We’ve all recently left our external music projects to focus on English Teacher. Personally, I struggled to cope with being in multiple projects – being in [my other band] Eades was one of the greatest experiences of my life but trying to work along- side recording and touring with two bands meant that my time and passion was divided between and that’s not fair on anyone. Brudenell Social Club is a second home for us, like barnacles to a ship’s hull. It will be a wrenching experience for us to depart Leeds for the “Big Smoke” [aka London]. I think it will happen though, we’re all keen to explore new cities, scenes and people.
Whenever there was a relaxing of Covid measures, English Teacher managed to play a decent amount of live shows and festival slots. “It felt like we were touring constantly last year; I saw our managers and the band more times than my Mum,” Fontaine laughs.
I think it was kind of playing catch-up as we hadn’t played live as English Teacher before the pandemic. We were learning our live set while playing some of the biggest shows of our lives and we became so close as a group of mates that go- ing home for Christmas and not playing or seeing each other for a few weeks felt wrong. It was hard though. I was personally ill from August and kept losing my voice. I think the lack of rest combined with a traveler’s diet meant my immune system couldn’t fight any cold. It was an intense learning experience and I’ve introduced rest, vegetables and exercise into my life so it doesn’t happen again. All I want is to be back touring with the band, It’s my favorite thing to do.
Now, as they put it, they’re “shitting themselves” about what the next year will bring. Debut EP Polyawkward comes out in April and sees them heading out on their debut headline tour to support it. “Three very special headline sets in some very special cities with songs we never usually play live; a bigger sound and some very special guests. We’re currently writing our debut album as well.” They’re also coy about naming the label they’re signing to, only saying that it’s “produced some of the most iconic faces in music over the last decade. That kind of platform is terrifying to four considerably weak and introverted individuals.”