“Actually, I don’t even have three testicles,” says Lily Fontaine.
The English Teacher’s lead singer and lyricist explains the making of their debut EP’s title track on a chaotic Zoom call with the band.
The track’s name “Polyawkward” derives from the term “polyorchid” which refers to someone with more than two testicles. Fontaine uses this idea as a metaphor to paint a picture of her secret “social awkwardness,” addressing the sincere over the silly, seamlessly transferring between conversation and song.
Around their double-edged lyrics, the band do wobbly exclamations and theatrical riffs. It’s visual, driving and exciting, building suspense and then releasing it.
English Teacher have just returned from three premieres at Glastonbury. Formed in Leeds in 2020, the band consists of Fontaine (vocals, guitar, synth), Nick Eden (bass), Douglas Frost (drums, vocals) and Lewis Whiting (lead guitar).
They come to me from different corners of the country while we grapple with the usual dose of muted mics, poor connection and Frost’s cat, Hector, meowing all the time.
It quickly becomes clear that this band has more than just musical synergy; there’s also respect and love in the mix: “It’s the most collaborative thing I’ve ever been in,” says Whiting, while Frost attributes the band’s harmony to their ability to give each other their own space — “we feel a lot probably silence”.
Given their loud guitars and “rogue singing,” the band is unsurprisingly caught up in the lazy label of a “post-punk” revival. Bands like Black Midi, Wet Leg and Sorry have all been assigned to this genre, which is problematic given the stark differences in their sounds.
English teachers strive to break away from this narrative: “I don’t think the term post-punk is wrong,” says Fontaine, “I just think when you put so many things that sound completely different into the term post- Punk or any genre, then it just becomes obsolete.”
so what do they sound like? “Arts Indie,” says Eden, before Whiting interjects, “silly noisy guitar music.”
“That’s a less pretentious answer,” Eden agrees, before Fontaine says diplomatically, “I think both are right.” Finally, Frost tosses his hat in the ring: “silly-billy wonky-tonky honkytonk,” he decides.
English Teacher are witty and self-deprecating about their sonic ambiguity, but they’re not lacking in talent. In fact, this soup of charm and originality makes her more endearing.
On their debut EP Poly embarrassing (released via Nice Swan in March) Variety and juxtaposition are refreshingly key to the music; There are tempo changes, humor and sincerity, surrealism and personal experiences throughout the five tracks.
While their lyrics command attention, the music by no means takes a backseat, perfectly demonstrated in “Yorkshire Tapas” where a spoken word opening and instrumental ending allow both to get the attention they deserve.
Lyrically, however, Fontaine has a knack for articulating both the deeply personal and the universally relatable, jumping between broader themes and intimate experiences: “Keys in fancy dress as a sleeve cuff / I walk into the night / Try not think about love / And how it gets you home safe / And then messes up the house.”
The words in “Polyawkward” address many issues, but most importantly articulate a troubling walk home from a party Fontaine left early for social reasons.
She recalls “wishing I had someone with me” due to the “scary” prospect of making the journey alone in the dark. Fontaine likens her “underlying mysteries of the things I mess with in my brain” to the idea of ”hiding that secret testicle.”
The band’s talent for combining wit with candor is also evident on “Good Grief,” where swampy riffs meet Fontaine’s lyrical poignancy. As she watches the atrocities of the pandemic through the personification of the NHS app, she screams: “Track’s seen enough this year / Of anything and everything but Trace.”
It’s just an example of the cynical yet playful storytelling we’ve come to expect from the band. Heavily influenced by surrealist art and prose – especially Franz Kafka and Salvador Dalí – Fontaine finds both inspiration and comfort in the concept: “Sometimes I think surrealism feels more relatable,” she says. “I just feel something because life is so weird.”
This is really a stroke of luck, because as fate would have it, the band had to get used to the surreal. After finishing third in Glastonbury’s young talent competition, they were given the chance to perform at the festival.
The John Peel slot brought Fontaine to tears. “It was all for the public,” Frost muses jokingly, before Fontaine is quick to tell him to “fuck off!” “No, it was such a special moment,” he says sincerely.
Fontaine recalls being handed a Polaroid photo by a young woman in the crowd: “I was her! That’s the position I was in and I always wanted to be the one on stage,” she continues. “In moments like that, you’re just proud of yourself for really going out there and trying to be that person.”
Frost agrees: “I never imagined playing on these stages, but three years later we’re suddenly there and it kind of hit me!” He almost seems to be processing it as he speaks.
With such great opportunities presented to the band so early, I ask how they overcome the fears of such experiences. “I poop a lot,” Frost explains. “I thought you were going to say alcohol!” Fontaine laughs. “Oh yes, schnapps! Booze and poo,” Frost agrees.
For such a low-key band, the growing hype only adds to concern: “It’s such a double-edged sword in that sense,” Fontaine muses, “It’s a good opportunity and it’s amazing, I’ll never change it — but that’s who we are.” small.”
Frost agrees, “Playing John Peel at such an early stage feels like more people are expecting a lot from us, even though we’re actually still trying to figure things out.”
This underlying pressure relates to the inevitable debut album with so much personal interest at stake now.
The band insists they will take their time to get everything right: “We want songs that make us proud of what we’ve made,” says Frost, “we don’t just want to do what they’re made of.” we want to do.”
I wonder if those concerns extend to the judgment of her fans: “I worry about what other people think about it; it’s a big reprieve,” Frost says. Fontaine agrees, “I think that’s one of the main reasons I have trouble writing.”
It’s a powerful combination though; a band as intent on pleasing their listeners as they are on staying true to themselves.
That integrity even extends to social media, despite new pressures on bands to be constantly visible. They’re cautious about their online presence: “I’ve decided to personally stay away from it and keep everything private.
“We’re very, very little in the public eye right now, but I don’t really like it that much,” Frost says. “But I know it’s coming,” Fontaine comments on the impending horror of forced TikToks. Frost interjects:
“But we won’t do it, because that’s not us. We won’t follow trends, I can’t imagine that we would ever do that.” This keen sense of authenticity is perhaps one of the most striking characteristics of the Leeds foursome.
With so many bands emerging post-pandemic, English Teacher rightly has longevity in mind: “It’s going to be hard to get through this and be one of those artists that stays for a long time. It will be interesting to see how that develops,” Frost says thoughtfully.
But it doesn’t look bad for the band to stand out, including the testicles.
Fontaine wants to make it clear that there is nothing wrong with polyorchids, and imagines that it would come full circle if she met such a person: “Knowing myself, I would romanticize it and think it was destiny,” says you. “In fact, anyone who reads this and has more than two testicles slaps me.”
‘Polyawkward’ is out now.