International Teachers of Pop released their nostalgically-futuristic Pop Gossip yesterday. Bombastic, brash and up-to-the-minute despite all the 1980's pomp, it's an album that lives and breathes club culture and hedonism. We love it. And we wanted to find out more. So we spoke to Leonore Wheatley and Adrian Flanagan about it...
Read on to delve deep into the big shoulder padded, gatefold sleeved, fairylight synth stabbing world of Pop Gossip.
Leonore Wheatley: I think Disco as a genre gets a bad rep. People will moan "ugh I can't stand Disco it's well cheesy" but then they'll listen to something which has heavily sampled it, or put on a Todd Terje record and dance around their house.I teach Music at a secondary school in Manchester and I think that from having to sit down and analyse different musical styles and then teach them, you see where influencers have come from and how important their role on the musical timeline is. 'Don't Diss The Disco' is a homage to that really, lyrically coming from the perspective of maybe taking something to enhance that experience or the internal feeling of the music; 'enter my mouth, slip down my tongue, fall in my arms, breathe through my lungs'. Imagine the absolute chaos of Studio 54?! I doubt there will ever be anything as outrageous as Grace Jones riding a horse through the middle of a packed club - not legally anyway - but living in Manchester there are still some people trying to keep the hedonism alive and I think Homoelectric is one of them. In fact I was in the pub the other day and someone I met on my last Homoelectric before lockdown was there too, the excitement and joy from that night was still as fresh as it was in February, the disco/club/fabulous community still in full swing as it was in the 70's.
LW: Strap in! Hold tight! Gaslighting in the moonlight! you take those tales you're telling me, and turn them to reality'. [Gaslighting is] a concept which has been around for quite a few decades since playwright Patrick Hamilton coined the term in the 30's with his play of the same name, the term 'gaslighting' has recently been given a new lease of life through social media platforms, empowering people to speak up, acknowledging what it means and how to spot it. As someone who has fallen victim to gaslighting the best way to describe it is utter confusion and hopelessness, where that person starts to change how you see yourself and your own identity; 'frog is in the frying pan, make me lose who I am, becoming you to be me, I'm not me.' The music itself can be quite menacing, it has a deep descending bassline but the strings add an element of hope, although that hope can seem far in the distance and the darkness takes over once again. The main feeling of this track is a sense of travelling, wanting to get away or escape, a modern-day Thelma and Louise. Ultimately 'Gaslight' is written from the victim's perspective whilst they're still in the depths of its grasp. I think I wanted to give hints of the signs of gaslighting within the lyrics, just in case anyone could relate and then may have some strength to speak up. We all need to have each other's backs, no matter what format it comes in!
LW: Following on from the dark feeling of 'Gaslight', 'I Stole Yer Plimsolls' is a more comedic reaction to past relationships. I attended Sheffield University in 2005 when indie nights at local grubby pubs and cheap lager was in full force and with that came indie boys and girls, who were never too far away from waking up on a random coach, making loose relationships and then outstaying their welcome by about 6 months. Unfortunately, I think some people are still trying to rock that look 12 years later: "windswept, cigarette, always in a cold sweat, look at you, 32, walking around without your shoe". When it came to getting Jason Williamson involved I couldn't believe he agreed as there wasn't anyone else more perfect to collaborate with on this track.He mentioned that he was once very similar to the type of 'softboi' we were describing and so maybe it was his way to redeem a bit of that guilt: we pretty much guilt tripped him into collaborating! Jason travelled to Sheffield to record his part and he pretty much just riffed it. After a bit of amateur dramatics fake arguing to get him in the mood, he managed to channel into his past demons and came up with the goods. There should be a separate track just for the outtakes, I nearly had an aneurism trying to hold in the laughter whilst he was recording.
LW: This song is about climate change. As I've mentioned before I'm a teacher for my day job, and so you do have a responsibility to discuss day to day issues and answer difficult questions about them.I also think that because it is what I do Mon-Fri it's hard to switch off from those issues and so lyrics tend to be a little bit more politically-based sometimes because you're so absorbed in the life of learning and teaching throughout the week. Last year lots of kids went on the climate strike, and we really started to see a change in ownership of the planet and their future. Children are acting way more responsibly than older generations and are articulate with it. Have you ever been to a school debate recently? They are so passionate. I teach in an inner-city school and so many kids are faced with challenges daily, where they argue and fight for what they know is right. So why not have a pumping dance track where the lyrics are about environmental issues and how complacent we can be?I also like the concept of that juxtaposition of a club/synth anthem mixed with lyrics based on global events heard on the news. It's like some kind of subliminal message, "here, dance to this but also be politically aware while you're at it!"
LW: I was listening a lot to Solange when I was thinking of the melody for this one. It's a lot different to the other tracks; always nice to throw in a cheeky curve ball. Normally Adrian and Dean will send me the instrumentals in advance and I'll tend to write some basic lyrics and melodies before our recording sessions. I remember I had written something completely different at first and it just wasn't working, I think because it was such a different vibe to what we had already got in the pipeline it was a switch in genre and so that's like stopping the train completely and changing tracks! We slept on it and that night I listened to Solange's second album When I Get Home and I just love how delicate her voice is and the harmonies are like they've been blown in on a summer breeze. Obviously, I thought I'd have a go. When writing lyrics sometimes I need the melody first, it helps me to form the shape of the lyrics and the word sounds.Lyrically it's mainly about being caught up in a thunder storm after the leaving the house on a sunny day without a brolly. Which I do quite often. Ironically living in Manchester I don't think I currently own one. So not the warm West Coast tones of Solange but more the unpredictable sounds of the North West.
LW: I think of all the tracks we've done this is the one that is most classic School Disco Cheese Pop and it's also the track which features main vocals of Katie Mason, who is my partner in crime on and off stage and has been for 20 years.As the title suggests, this is written about Prince and our love of him. Growing up he was my idol, and I was lucky to see him at Manchester Academy on his tour in 2014, not knowing at the time that it would be his last. "When I heard the news I went a little crazy, and the music then became a little hazy, I'd die for a chance to see you once again, our one and only Prince amongst men."I was doing Dry February and so pushed my way to be 14 people from the front and stayed there for the full 3 hour set.It's amazing how much you realise you miss when you're not frequently going to the bar and back. Prince and his all-female fronted band was probably the best live show I'd ever seen: I wanted to dedicate something to him. Dean and Adrian had already written this amazing instrumental which was like a mixture between 'Let's Go Crazy' and Yazz's 'The Only Way is Up', so the lyrics fall somewhere being upset about Prince passing away, but then on the chorus celebrating his legacy and wanting to learn from him because he was fucking ace.
LW: Ahhh internet dating. It's an absolute minefield and puts you off dating for life. I must have installed and deleted a few different apps over the course of 2 years, with probably only ever going on 4 dates in total as it would put me in total fear and panic that I was making a huge mistake. Maybe the gaslighting years had a bit of an effect...anyway, you see a lot of profiles of individuals hopefully giving away their stats and interests like it was a meat raffle at Bury market. And I started to notice that instead of people (and this includes myself) saying exactly what they thought of themselves, people would try and appeal more to what their ideal woman or man would want them to be, to adhere to the 'norm' which for me completely takes the fun and human feeling out of the process of getting to know someone: "you like your morning walks, take yoga seriously, in love with Sartre books, a blatant fitness freak, you say you're 6ft1 although begrudgingly, you love your neighbour's dog."By the way, there is totally nothing wrong with liking going to the gym, but I wouldn't necessarily call it part of your personality. We also decided to add an extract from 'The Age of Reason' just to send it a little bit more over the edge of Tinder pretence "who is it, that's cruel, jealous, hard, who cheats, when he can, hold, a card."
Adrian Flanagan: The title for this was taken from my old friend & journalist Martin Lilleker's book on Sheffield music in the 80's/90's. Martin was one of the first people I met when I moved to Sheffield from Salford: in fact he reviewed my very first Sheffield band for the local paper and gave us a pasting, he basically said my band was crap but "Adrian has something about him, I'm just not sure he has worked out what that is yet"..and he was right..After that I sacked that band off, went solo, started working with Sheffield producers Dean Honer & Ross Orton and everything changed.
Martin was a massive supporter through a lot of my musical projects, certainly locally and for the past 20 years I've kind of existed semi-professionally on the fringes of the music industry because of that one crap review..as a begrudging oddity! We became pretty close pals for years, we'd go to gigs together, hang out in the pub or he'd invite me over to his and we'd just play each other records all night, whilst drinking lots of wine. He even got me writing reviews of touring artists that he didn't like or random pop bands as he knew it would appeal to my twisted sense of humour. I wrote a great one about that awful pop group Hear'Say: Martin said he got loads of complaints off teeneage girls to the newspaper after it. Unfortuantly Martin got very ill and died a few years back which was tragic and really hurt, made worse as I couldn't attend his funeral as thousands of pounds on flights had been booked for a Moonlandingz session in upstate New York. I guess this little tribute to him is my way of saying both thank you and goodbye. He was just a really sweet guy, if you were out with him it was like being out with a celebrity as just everyone gravitated towards him to say "hello" or have a chat or some young kids wanting to give him their demos. A big loss personally and a big loss to Sheffield's music community.
AF: This is a cover of the Pink Floyd song 'Another Brick in the Wall' which is something that we have done in our live set since our very first live shows supporting Jarvis Cocker in a cave in Derbyshire. When we got the nod off Jarv that we were to do these shows with him we only had about 5 songs and needed to extend our set so we chucked in this Krafterwerkian type cover version of Pink Floyd and it ended up becomimg a staple of the live set as people really like it. It was my idea to sing it in German as I'm very against Brexit; very against leaving the EU. I wanted to annoy those fucking idiots who voted Leave.
As an artistic statement I wanted it to be a nod also to all the great things musically that were awarded to us by European musicians and artists and by being a part of Europe. Why anyone wouldn't want to be part of a universal community is beyond me. England is becoming a scary place to be: not only have we a pandemic to deal with and how that's impacting on everyone's lives and livelihoods, but we are being run in to the dirt by these complete fucking imbeciles who havent got a clue what they are doing, who are not only willing to murder half the nation with their 'go to work - but dont go to work' codswallop, but are about to plunge us into being this shitty little insignificant joke of an Island that will be riddled with homelessness. If i could afford it, I'd leave this country in a shot. Alas Im probably dooomed to be fighting over a shop doorway sleeping spot outside HMV. How have we allowed these fuckers to get us in such a mess, I'm truly ashamed to call myself English!
LW: Feminine + Energy = Femenenergy is a newly trademarked term by The International Teachers of Pop and it's a word which celebrates womxn, from all corners of the earth and the power that comes with it. ITOP has two driving forces behind it in my opinion. There is that of the studio, which you can't argue that Dean and Adrian rule the roost, and therefore the masculine drive is very present. However, on stage is where womxn have total power and I love every second of it. It's not every day where you're allowed to piss about on stage with your best mate in front of an audience and the bouncers aren't trying to drag you off your platform for being 20 tequila shots down and forcing people to do the Macarena. When we threw 'Femenenergy' into the mix and started to play it live I felt a change where both myself and Katie felt allowed to grab onto our own sexual power without care or worry. For some reason (maybe growing up in the 90's surrounded by bubble-gum pop) the thought of being sexy on stage felt out of our comfort zone, something the younger and more polished acts do. But then we thought fuck it, it's way more important to normalise womxn everywhere to completely express themselves the way that is inspiring for themselves and in turn for others. I think if we can go on stage with that mind set, anyone can and they should, and that's what it's all about, that's power and that's what 'Femenenergy' is all about. "Feminine ways, we entice you, we ignite you."
LW: As we come to the end of the record 'The Tower' is a final message to our younger listeners who I spend most of my life with when I'm not gigging or on tour. It's come at a time when politically I can't think of many leaders I wouldn't want to throw in the Tower of London. I think sometimes it's common to mistake pop as casual, where it shouldn't be the place you talk about serious issues, but Jarvis Cocker has done it for years and throughout the 60's/70's protest songs were part of popular culture: it's strange that we decided to deem it unnecessary in recent times. I also think that it's a huge platform to reach people of so many ages so why not talk about the corruption of our own government? "Children, welcome to heaven, where wealth is based on inheritance given, try not to be angry, you'll live as long as you're selling your country". I think it's absolutely the right time to speak up and be open about our views on the world, without being worried about the kind of backlash it will cause, I think they have bigger worries than an ITOP record. It's more about building that bond with others, sharing and connecting ideas and ideals and listening to an explosion of synth pop. "Take them to the tower it's a beautiful day, take them away take them away, can you hear the ravens call?"
AF: Another one of my great choruses (laughs) - we wrote this on the day The Queen kicked Prince Andrew out of her gaff, all our tunes will become incredibly relevant or bite you on your arse when you least expect it..
Read our review of Pop Gossip here.
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