Formed by Lily Fontaine (vocals, rhythm guitar, synth), Douglas Frost (drums), Nicholas Eden (bass) and Lewis Whiting (lead guitar, synth), English Teacher was born in 2020. They pricked the ears of listeners on a national scale when “R&B” dropped one year later. Now, they’ve been tipped by various corners of the music press to be one of this year’s breakout bands. But is this heavy sense of expectation weighing them down?

“I feel a lot of pressure personally… I think we put way too much pressure on ourselves,” says Frost, who joins me for a chat, over Zoom, alongside Fontaine. “We definitely feel the pressure,” Fontaine interjects, the subtle anxieties and nervousness of both visible in their responses. Having recently departed as members of their musical side projects including Eades and Draags to focus solely on English Teacher, the pair say that this has brought added pressure to make this year a success. However, with their free-flowing debut EP Polyawkward arriving imminently, the band can let their shoulders rest a little.

“Around Christmas time last year, I discovered the word polyorchid - a term that refers to someone that has more than two testicles,” Fontaine says. “I just thought it was so interesting since an orchid is such a beautiful flower and… yeah, anyway! Polyawkward sounds like polyorchid and it’s how I’d describe myself: I’m just uncomfortable and awkward around everyone”. “And you have more than two testicles,” Frost butts in, jokingly.

Experimental flair and a knack for cool vocal delivery permeates English Teacher’s debut EP. British contemporaries such as Black Midi, Sorry and Famous reverberated around the studio at the time of recording. Lyrically, lockdown love letters and journeys of self-discovery through supermarket aisles showcase the confinements of the last two years – but this doesn’t feel like yet another lockdown record. It tickles the fringes of alternative, indie and post-punk, or even better, post-wonk.

“One of the things I enjoy most about our music is mixing up lots of weird shit. Wonk is our favourite term for when we make something that’s a bit out there,” says Fontaine, before Frost adds: “We talk a lot about the post-punk term, so we decided to come up with a few of our own like post-pank, post-wonk, post-lame (as seen on the band’s Instagram and Twitter bios). It’s not completely left-field, it’s got a bit of wonk to it, you know?”

It’s not just English Teacher talking a lot about post-punk at the moment. Mash two guitars with some spoken-word vocals and you’re bound to find someone throwing the term into the mix. Yet, despite even being described as post-punk in their own press release, the band hope that their new material will shift them away from post-punk’s ever saturating crowd. “The one thing that we want to convey that hasn’t come across is that there’s more strings to our bow than just talky-talky guitary-guitary music,” Fontaine explains.

“There are touches of this on the EP with singing in parts, but we hate the phrase post-punk. I don’t feel like we want to be a post-punk band.” Frost also feels that post-punk is becoming more of a throwaway term that they’d rather not be caught up in: “Since Wet Leg’s debut came out, I’ve seen a lot of articles pigeon-hole that as post-punk. We’re like, ‘WHAT!’ It’s not post-punk!” he exclaims. “Getting put under this one general umbrella isn’t something that sits right with us.”

Humour is an intrinsic aspect to the appeal of English Teacher. It peppers tracks on the new EP in songs such as lead stomper “Good Grief” where Fontaine explains she was “taking the piss” with her sprechgesang style vocals. But beyond the music, the band are full of quick witted sarcasm and are, at heart, a group of friends having fun making music together. “We do lots of weird things,” Frost enthuses, adding that they make surreal clay sculptures and dance to hyper-pop in their spare time.

It's this sense of humour that allows them some respite from the anxieties of being a band on the cusp of success – including the anticipation of their biggest show to date alongside the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Manchester’s 02 Academy this summer. “We’re buzzing for it, I can’t believe it!” says Frost. “I think on the day, there’ll probably be a lot of panic. There may be actual shit on the stage. Then the press will write about it and we’ll never be in the public eye again. It’ll be like our own version of the 27 club, but we’ll be part of the shit yourself club.”

Frost’s deadpan vocal delivery is another of English Teacher’s core features. She’s been making music for ten years, but being a black woman in indie music circles, it’s only been in the last three of those that she’s felt the confidence to start a band of her own. Lily hopes that people will quickly realise it’s “not that absurd” for black women to be in indie bands. “I don’t go into practices and see myself as this black woman fronting a band and will change the world of indie music by not being white,” says Lily. “R&B was the only song we’ve put out so far where I’ve really touched on those experiences. But it is important to talk about. Hopefully people will consider that it is an issue, that it’s worth talking about and go on to allow other people – non-white men in these kind of scenes – to have opportunities to create music.”

The road ahead looks prosperous for this post-wonk quartet from Leeds. Polyawkward is their most expansive work to date. Their debut album – which Fontaine and Frost claim they may or may not be writing at the moment – is set to stretch perceptions of the band to even wider musical realms. “If we have a year that was half as good as last year, then that’ll make me happy,” Fontaine says modestly. But if one thing is certain, it is that English Teacher’s journey is still only beginning.

Polyawkward is out now.