“We are our own worst critics”: An English Teacher Q&A

English Teacher are one of the hottest prospects in the UK: fresh from the release of debut EP Polyawkward, the Leeds band are now embarking on a headline UK tour.

The EP itself is a wonderful mix of thoughtful melancholy and no-holds-barred math punk. Lilly Fontaine is frontwoman, utilising her impressive voice as spoken word as well as impressive singing and guttural shouting. Her introspective lyrics offer an innate sense of malaise which is present throughout English Teacher’s earliest singles- a theme that continues on Polyawkward. Fontaine explores themes of dating, parties, late-night supermarket trips, and the anxiety-inducing yet mundane aspects of life – with her lyrics acting as a window into the dysfunctional and nihilistic lives of young people in modern Britain. English Teacher’s instrumental output is just as engaging – groovy, funky basslines dual with punky and frantic guitar, combining to create ethereal, intriguing compositions that are punchy and powerful.

Upon stepping into English Teacher’s green room, I’m met with a band who have achieved phenomenal success in their short career: critical praise and some impressive support shows (including a Manchester slot with Yeah Yeah Yeahs), they’re a group on an incredible high. The previous evening English Teacher had been hometown heroes, tearing the roof off of Leeds’ legendary Brudenell.

Riot: How was it playing the Brudenell headline show as local headliners, how was the live reaction to the new material?

ET: It felt like the biggest gig of my life, to be honest with you… it was our first main, big show in Leeds, we spend so much time there it’s great to play there. We literally live ten minutes away! The songs went down pretty well too and The new new stuff was good.

Wow, can you tell us about the new new stuff?

I don’t know – it’s definitely sadder. Last night was the first time we had played two of the new songs, so they were okay… it seemed to go down well!

What’s the songwriting process like for English Teacher, Do you write on the road or do you tend to write at home?

We’ve never tried writing on the road, maybe we should. It tends to be like, someone brings an idea and we work it out in a room, as a band. Sometimes Lilly will have a lyrical idea, or if Doug’s got a little riff then we tend to pull it together as a group.

With the lyrical content of your tracks, do you often draw from real-life and the world around you?

Pretty much, yeah. I normally hear about something or hear stories and use that as a basis to talk about something that I feel needs to be talked about.

In a recent interview, you described your work as a “mix of weird shit”, which is a term I really liked. What were you listening to when you recorded Polyawkward?

We recently had a playlist article published, I spoke about Blur, and Joni Mitchell – there’s Black Country, New Road in there, Sorry, Shame, there’s a lot of South London bands involved. But I also like a lot of classic indie, I’m going through a bit of a renaissance of ‘indie sleaze’ music. A lot of pop stuff too; I like Charli XCX, and SOPHIE among others. And Primus. And Tool!

What bands are you listening to at the moment, what’s on your playlist?

Thank for sure! I recommend them every time, but it’s only because they’re brilliant. A Leeds band too! Fuzz Lightyear as well, I just think they’re incredible. Loads of the bands around Leeds are great: Pop Vulture, Treeboy and Arc. Last night was so good because we had our friends and their bands supporting us – we were watching the support and turned to one another mentioning how good a gig it was, forgetting it was ours.

English Teacher have had a lot of plaudits and praise from a variety of publications and fans. As a young band, how do you deal with the pressures that this kind of attention brings?

It is nice… it’s a lot though. I (Doug) don’t read a lot though, whereas you (Lilly) do… I do, but I’m petrified of them being bad reviews… It can make you anxious, worrying about bad reviews. Although we are our own worst critics, right up until a song is released we’re always worrying and fretting about it, like “oh my god, it’s shit, it’s terrible”. I just can’t get my head around it. But it is nice, but can be scary. It’s great to have people enjoy the songs we write… it’s really reassuring.


photo credit: Tatiana Pozuelo


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Charlie Brock

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