Back to school with ITOP
Exhilarating synth-led boogies are back on the syllabus, thanks to International Teachers of Pop.
Dean Honer and Adrian Flanagan have been making music around these parts for years, but never under their own names. Dean has variously been part of I Monster, All Seeing I, Skywatchers and the Eccentronic Research Council, as well as running his own Nether Edge recording studio. Adrian has a similar Sheffield music pedigree with bands such as Kings Have Long Arms and Chanteuse and the Crippled Claw on his CV. More recently the duo cropped up in the pretend band that somehow became a real band, The Moonlandingz, which also features Lias Saoudi of Fat White Family – with the odd cameo from the likes of Maxine Peake and Yoko Ono thrown in, just for good measure. Their latest innovative collaboration is called International Teachers of Pop, a ‘nerd disco’ project which was so well received that within weeks of being formed they had a recording contract on the table.
Always one to have his interest piqued by anything avant-garde and synthy, we provided Mark Perkins with some pack-up and a couple of shiny apples before he headed out to meet the Teachers – sans vocalist Leonore Wheatley – for a lesson well worth paying attention too.
How did you two originally meet?
Adrian: Dean and I have worked together since birth – well, it seems like it. I was working in Sheffield in a rehearsal room during the early nineties called One Groove, and Dean was coming in there with his band at the time, All Seeing I. I’d be sitting there trying to make up tunes, getting really annoyed and frustrated, and all the legends of Sheffield music would be rocking up: Phil Oakey, Jarvis, Roisin Murphy from Moloko. They’d be ringing the doorbell, I’d have to keep stopping what I was doing and then have to listen to these amazing bands, but then Dean eventually had a listen to what I was doing and said it sounded alright. He ended up inviting me to his studio and said, “I’m going on holiday, here are the keys, just make up some tunes.” Unfortunately I was just doing stuff on guitar, and all his studio was full of modular synthesisers, which I had to learn from just experimenting. So I handed in my acoustic guitar and flew with something else. It’s also been a problem playing guitar since I had a bike accident and broke my wrist, so really I don’t have much choice.
How did this latest collaboration come about? Because up until recently you’ve been increasingly successful with your band Moonlandingz. Why something different?
Adrian: Well, we’d reached a sort of pause with Moonlandingz. Our lead singer is also in The Fat White Family, and he had plans to do some recording and gigs with them. We’d worked so hard together, so while he was busy we didn’t want to let it go to waste. We met up with our singer Leonore Wheatley at a music workshop, and decided to see if we could carry on together.
Dean: We already knew her work anyway. She’s a fantastic singer and we’d heard her with Soundcarriers and Whyte Horses. We came up with a name, called ourselves International Teachers of Pop, and played our first ever gig at the Devil’s Arse cavern with Jarvis Cocker. It went down very well, and it’s all taken off really quickly since then.
A huge gig to announce yourselves at. How did it come about?
Dean: It was simply that someone suggested us for it. I had worked with Jarvis in the past, so I had history with him, and somehow managed to put us forward to open that show.
Adrian: Although I remember I was getting really agitated as he never got back to us, so I sent him a snotty email saying ‘What’s happening with this gig? I’ve got to book a van!’ He didn’t get back to me until four days before the gig, as he’d been away touring, but he was really enthusiastic: “Yeah. Let’s do it,” he said, so we did two nights as the support.
And it seemed to take you almost no time at all to get signed up.
Adrian: Well, after that gig we were asked to do a session for Marc Riley at 6 Music, and it happened soon after that. The problem was there were lots of labels who wanted us, but they didn’t want to put anything out until next year. We already had an album ready to go and we wanted to get something out almost immediately.
Dean: The problem is that you have to fit in with their roster of artists and the schedule of releases that the label already has pencilled in, and that didn’t suit us. We found a company called Republic of Music who aren’t really a record label in the old sense of the word, more of a distribution company. Unusually, they are behaving like a traditional record label in that they’re giving us money for videos and tour support, which isn’t something labels do very often, so it was basically like a traditional record deal. Most record labels seem to be operating in the ways they have done since the eighties, and that model doesn’t really work anymore – not for the artist anyway. They want more and more from the artist but give less and less. Since artists aren’t selling records like they once did the record companies take it from your tour fees and merchandise. The only people who can make money are the artists at the top selling millions of records.
I’ve heard one track, ‘Age of the Train’, but nothing else so far. Are you intentionally staggering things?
Adrian: That’s the idea. We wanted to do a few shows, build a bit of a buzz, but just release things slowly over summer. It’s going well, we’ve started to get some plays on BBC 6 Music, and there’s another single coming out in September. The album is virtually finished and will be out in early 2019.
Dean: We’ve only done three or four recording sessions. We’ll both write some tunes and Leonore is eager to write lyrics. It’s good when you’ve got a good singer who’s into co-writing the lyrics. We’d come up with little tunes, like rough sketches, and send them over to her. She could then choose what she liked and could write over. Leonore came over and in a really short time we’d put together an entire album of material. It’s probably been done over about two weeks of recording in my Nether Edge studio.
And there have been several other collaborations over recent years, such as the Eccentronic Research Council with Maxine Peake. Is that something you might return to?
Adrian: That’s another thing we do as and when the ideas come and the inspiration is there. It’s still something we intend to do more of.
You seem so busy with other parallel projects. Do you see this continuing or is this more like a one album thing?
Adrian: We’ll see how it goes. If it takes off and goes well, who knows? I’m not interested in playing to 100 people. Maybe 1,000 people would be better. We’ve already done a few good support slots so far: Jarvis, obviously, Roisin Murphy in London and a few others. The headline tour has only just been announced and tickets are going well.
You’ve both managed to make a living from music, which is quite an achievement these days. How do you see the music scene in a wider sense? You must have noticed it changing in the time you’ve worked together.
Adrian: One massive change is that people rarely listen to a full album anymore, certainly not younger people. They listen on YouTube for free, and then if they like it, they download it. The problem is their levels of concentration are gone; they don’t listen to one side of an album for 20 minutes then turn it over.
Dean: Some things you had to work at to discover. You might hear a track on John Peel and never know what it was until you heard it again 20 years later.
You’re playing as part of the Sensoria Festival in a few weeks, in the University Drama Studio on 5 October. What can we expect from the show?
Dean: There will be five of us onstage: myself and Adrian, Leonore singing with her friend Katie, and Richie on drums, who’s also our Moonlandingz drummer. We’re touring and playing London, Leeds, Glasgow and a few festivals. We’re even on at one festival with Noel Gallagher and his band. He’s on straight after us. I think our music will go down quite well with his audience. I don’t think anyone coming specifically to see us will really like him that much!
Words: Mark Perkins // Photography: Duncan Stafford