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English Teacher


Having signed to Island Records, Leeds’ finest English Teacher are on the cusp of releasing their debut album, ready to welcome even more fans into the world of immersive, literary indie. Meg Firth heads round for a cuppa with Lily and Lewis to reflect on just how far their band has come. 

"We've not packed yet". It’s the evening before the hotly-tipped Leeds band English Teacher fly to Hamburg for a festival to round off their whirlwind summer. The big light is on and frontwoman Lily Fontaine and guitarist Lewis Whiting are sat propped up on the sofa, seemingly without a care in the world. Fontaine is casually eating saucisson cut up into bite-sized chunks on her plate, a gift from her boyfriend on a recent trip to France (“He sends me dried meat instead of flowers”). 

“I’ve not even washed the clothes I need to pack yet,” she jests, looking guiltily up at the ceiling as if she can see through to the large washing pile on the floor upstairs. The pair have just finished up a busy band day together — “We’re a last minute kind of band” — and have only just got back.  

Their chosen home of Leeds is where the foursome met while at university, constantly crossing paths at house parties and gigs before forming the now heavily championed band.   

“I have vague memories of seeing them passed out the sofa,” quips Lewis, who joined the project when they evolved from dream pop project Frank into English Teacher. “I’d just think, ‘Oh, these must be Lily’s mates’.” 


The foursome have since enjoyed a dreamlike stint of souring successes, from galavanting across festival stages and signing to a major label for their debut album, to being splashed across the cover of NME. It’s been a short somersault of a journey since they formed back in 2020, when they first pricked the ears of listeners with a string of support slots accompanying the likes of Yellow Days, No Vacation and Sports Team, followed by impressive festival stage appearances and their cult single ‘R&B’. Now, they’ve been tipped by various corners of the music press to be one of this year’s breakout bands. Ever self-deprecating with their wry smiles and quick-to-the-trigger humour, the band of best mates have taken on each milestone in their stride.   

“I don’t think I’ve had a chance to reflect on most of it,” says Lewis. “It’s all been such a whirlwind.” On a recent trip back to Kirkham to see his mum, the guitarist was surprised at people in the local corner shop stopping to congratulate him for the band doing so well. “I’m surprised when people have heard of us, I don’t think it will ever be normal.” 

Boasting about their milestones doesn’t come naturally to the humble foursome. Lily still cringes when her mum proudly posts about the bands' successes on Facebook, hating being in the spotlight. When their recent NME cover circulated, it triggered mixed emotions, ultimately settling on pride.   

“[NME] is something I religiously bought as a kid and I discovered so many bands through it. It’s a huge teenage dream ticked off. It’s one of them moments where you take a step back and realise it’s not all just in our head. There’s tangible success here - it’s a really good feeling.”   

Whether it be major milestones or post-work pints, the band share every moment together. Since the beginning of the project, they’ve seen each other grow both in ability as performers, and in confidence as young adults. Their music has evolved with them, with each release able to strut on legs of its own. From track to track, listeners can hear English Teacher finding their feet, whilst still delivering their signature scathing and sentimental lyricism. Yet, with nearly 80,000 monthly Spotify listeners, it seems that everyone is a fan of their current discography except the band themselves.    

“There are early songs that did really well but they’re not the type of music I want to be making anymore,” says Lily. “It’s weird because at one point I thought it was the best thing I’ve ever written but now I look at them and know it’s not us anymore.” “I reckon it never ends,” muses Lewis.  “Maybe we’ll look back on the album and think ‘Oh for fucks sake I can’t believe we ever did that’.”   

The laid-back pair take a moment before answering each question, communicating almost telepathically with each other in a way that can only be cultivated by bandmates who spend as much time together as they do.    

“When you’re in a band you become like best friends - you have to be comfortable around each other” reflects Lily. “We all have our own little way of communicating. Almost like a different language - there’s a lot of in-jokes.”  

“When any of us is struggling we take turns to get each other through it,” says Lewis. “There's always one of us worried about something. We balance each other out.” The way the band steady each other is a delight to witness. At gigs, they share post-performance cuddles on stage before they’ve even put down their guitars; in their music videos they don’t take themselves too seriously; on tour, they share comfortable silences and bizarre nights out. “We played one of our worst-ever shows in Blackpool but had the best night out afterwards,” starts Lily, with a knowing glance towards her bandmate. “Imagine Benidorm with cruise ship entertainment, everyone’s seated and it’s open til 5am,” continues Lewis, painting a picture of a Blackpool fever dream. “Everyone’s middle-aged and in fancy dress, there’s a woman dressed as a policewoman who keeps handcuffing me…”. “... It was Halloween to be fair” adds Lily.  


It was after this night out that the first track of English Teacher’s debut album was conceptualised. Voice notes were sent from each other's bedrooms and the album opener ‘Albatross’ started to grow its wings. The pair tease that the album is an eclectic range of tracks, each one taking inspiration from their individual music tastes. Not yet heard by anyone outside of the band’s close-knit circles, the album has been thoughtfully crafted and exhibits English Teacher’s newest sound.   

“We managed to cover everyone’s interests and all the things we wanted to explore, but it’s still cohesive,” says Lily. “It’s really important for us to feel like we’re not just making the same thing over and over.”   

Lewis adds: “We could have done it simpler and just had a couple of [easy big hits] on there, but I’m proud that we took the time to explore different sounds.”   

Originally written on piano, it can be assumed that the album will be doused in that sauntering English Teacher sound, thick with breakneck wit and unashamed vulnerability. Still shrouded in secrecy but expected early next year, the album is set to define English Teacher as a band and propel them into a new realm of success.   

The album will also be the band’s biggest offering so far under the guidance of a major label. The four-piece may have signed to Island Records this summer, but they are quick to credit all their successes so far to Yorkshire’s independent labels, music networks and local bookers. 

“We literally wouldn’t be doing this without the support of the Yorkshire music scene,” Lily explains, as a proud small-town Northerner. “There’s a chain of great people in Leeds who we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without. We are massive examples of how local support systems can really make a difference.” 

“We’re extremely lucky to have had the whole support network of Leeds in general,” Lewis adds. “We went into [signing to a major label] with a healthy amount of scepticism - it’s been a jarring experience stepping into that world,” says Lewis. “But we never in a million years thought we’d be in that position, so we thought we might as well take it.”   

Signing to a major label is a huge decision for any band, especially for one that is so deeply attached to its independent roots. The band are proud and unassuming Northerners, and would probably still gather around their usual table at their usual haunts (Brudenell Social Club and Hyde Park Book Club) even if they became household names.   

“You don’t expect to be playing Glastonbury and getting offers from major labels,” Lily explains. “You can’t say ‘‘Go big or go home’ without sounding like a dickhead, but if we’re going to do this let’s just do it and see how far we can get.”   

English Teacher are a gang who seem to see every opportunity as a chance to do something fun together. They are like cowboys running into a bank robbery, side by side and winking down the barrel of a gun. Even when things get big, they still go home for tea together after, treating life like one big slip and slide and appreciating every moment.   

English Teacher are on tour this Autumn.

English Teacher

Words by Meg Firth

Photography by Andrew Benge

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