English Teacher: ‘Basically, we didn’t want to half arse it’

Daring and diverse, English Teacher's debut album 'This Could Be Texas' showcases their refusal to conform, featuring tracks that range from dreamy indie to glitching dance.

Press Shot - Landscape (Low-Res) English Teacher (c) Tatiana Pozuelo(1)

English Teacher’s This Could Be Texas is easily one of the most interesting, heartfelt and bold debut albums of recent years.

“Basically, we didn’t want to half arse it,” says guitarist Lewis Whiting.

The band has always made music that’s been tough to pin down. Debut single ‘R&B’ was a tightly-wound, twitching refusal to bow to expectations while 2022’s Polyawkward EP wrestled with social anxiety, sincerity and humour via sprawling soundscapes and punchy one-liners.

“We had no idea what we wanted our debut album to sound like, but we knew we definitely didn’t want it to be a one-trick pony,” he continues. Job done, and then some.

Over the course of thirteen gorgeous tracks, This Could Be Texas dabbles in dreamy indie, intricate math-rock, glitching dance, and swaggering rock & roll to create a bewitching record that offers both lush escapism and muscular catharsis. Moments of calm are filled with unnerving digital sounds, cello scratches, or bursts of feedback to match the surreal storytelling while the lyrics find wonder in the everyday.

“The whole process was very open-ended. We were throwing things at the wall and seeing what stuck,” says Whiting, with the band never once worried about it being too much. “It’s why some parts are really maximalist,” he continues. “There was no manifesto, we just wanted as big a scope as possible, even if we didn’t necessarily know the specifics of that.”

Press Shot English Teacher (c) Tatiana Pozuelo
Credit: Tatiana Pozuelo

English Teacher had the same approach to the lyrics of This Could Be Texas. “Each song is its own thing. It’s just anything that I felt like I needed to talk about,” says vocalist Lily Fontaine. The self-aware title track was written about creating an album, while the glitching rave of ‘Best Tears Of Your Life’ is about becoming an artist. 

“I was reading George Orwell, which made me want to write more politically, and then there’s also themes of indecision and being in-between on the album, which relates to the displacement that I’ve felt,” she explains, with a number of songs inspired by her time growing up in Colne (a market town just outside of Lancashire) and the “northern small town, semi-rural experiences” that came with that. “Don’t take their prejudice to heart. They hate everyone. The world around them never showed how loving can be fun,” she sings on the album closer ‘Albert Road’. 

“It’s not a unique feeling, but I’ve often felt like I don’t belong because I’m mixed race,” says Fontaine. “Being half-Yorkshire, half-Lancashire and growing up in various towns in that area hasn’t helped either, because there’s such a rivalry there. And musically, I grew up on pop music before discovering the guitar, but there really wasn’t much in the way of representation for people who look like me in indie music,” she says. “One of the first songs we wrote was a straight-up criticism of the government, so I’ve always felt confident just being honest about how I’m feeling.”

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Rather than following in the footsteps of countless rock bands by writing about wanting to escape their hometown or finding comfort on the other side of that coming-of-age getaway, This Could Be Texas sees English Teacher straddling the two, trying to make sense of where they belong, and encouraging others to do the same.

“There have been many situations in music where I’ve been made to feel like I don’t belong, but I’ve never felt that in Leeds. It’s one of the reasons why I’d struggle to make that presumed move down to London,” offers Fontaine. “It’s super important to find your scene.”

It’s perhaps why the band have been so vocal in supporting grassroots venues in recent months. As well as being ambassadors for Independent Venue Week 2024, they appeared in Parliament earlier this month as part of a panel of experts to discuss the various issues facing musicians with the Government’s Culture Media & Sport Committee. “It’s so important for all people to have access to the arts,” offers Fontaine.

Press Shot - Portrait (Low-Res) English Teacher (c) Tatiana Pozuelo
Credit: Tatiana Pozuelo

The Music Venue Trust has been having conversations about the plight of the UK’s grassroots scene for years now, “but it’s the first time it feels like tangible changes could happen,” she continues. “We’ve come into it very late on but it’s a pleasure to be able to give it a wider platform.”

“It’s vital,” adds Whiting. “We wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing now without those grassroots venues and the community they inspire. Without that support, we wouldn’t be where we are now.” Rather than focusing all their efforts in growing the band and their own fanbase, English Teacher are determined to pave a way for the next generation. “We do have a platform, which is mad,” Whiting says. “But it’s also important to acknowledge that platform and use our voices where we can, especially because we’re on a major label now.”

“It’s a really critical time and it feels like a now or never situation,” says Fontaine. “It’s a lot of pressure, though. At the moment I’m a bit stressed because I don’t want to say anything wrong. It’s been incredible to be able to use the band to explore other things that we’re all interested in though. Long may that continue.”

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English Teacher have been ones to watch since the release of ‘R&B’ in 2021, but the release of This Could Be Texas feels like the start of something very special indeed. They formed from the ashes of a dream pop band that had been playing countless local shows but fizzled out over the pandemic, with English Teacher something of a reset. There was no grand plan, they just wanted to do something after months of inertia. 

When debut single ‘R&B’ was released, the band were rightfully celebrated for bringing a new energy to the blossoming world of angular, aggy guitar music and things snowballed from there.  “It was a shock,” says Whiting. “It really did change everything for us, and the next few years just felt like we were playing catch-up,” he continues, with the band ticking off appearances at Glastonbury, Jools Holland and Reading & Leeds Festivals. “We did get thrown into it, but that’s obviously a good problem to have,” he says.

“Those first few shows were fine, but we largely didn’t know what we were doing. We just weren’t used to that scale,” explains Fontaine. “Now, stepping on stage feels like home and everyone in the band seems more confident,” she adds, with that self-assurance fuelling This Could Be Texas.

“There was a lot of pressure, which is natural ‘cos it’s a debut album, but we tried as much as possible to put that to the side and focus on the music,” explains Whiting. “We were very aware of the chance that was in front of us, and the weight of that opportunity definitely wasn’t lost on us. For better or for worse, we all had many sleepless nights, there was plenty of bickering and lots of stressful days.”

Rather than being afraid of that pressure though, English Teacher have used it as fuel to create something brilliantly daring. “We were always aware that it was an ambitious album,” says Fontaine. “There was this fear that it could potentially be a stressful, confusing listen. We were asking people to accept just how chaotic the album is, but it’s also somehow found this sense of cohesion.”

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“I really didn’t think it would be received as well as it has been,” she adds. Already This Could Be Texas has racked up a number of five-star reviews, while a string of gigs across the UK and Europe have seen people quickly and whole-heartedly connect with the new music.  “I always think about how other bands have affected my life in such a big way. If we can write a song that someone else can have that same relationship with, what more can you ask for?” says Whiting. 

“So many people make music and release it into the ether, but it’s nice to be recognised,” says Fontaine. “It would be nice for English Teacher to also stand for social change or certain political views but the general idea of our music finding its way into people’s lives and having meaning, that’s the ultimate goal,” she continues. “We’ve just started writing another album and everything about the band just feels more secure, which is cool.”

“We’re definitely a step closer to figuring out some things,” explains Whiting. “But I don’t know if you ever figure it all out.”

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