Wet Leg, the Indie-Rock Duo, Blew Up Fast. They Know It’s Weird. – The New York Times


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The group’s droll single “Chaise Longue” racked up playlist spots and star endorsements. Its debut album has more springy bass lines, jabbing guitars and sharp, observational lyrics.
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“Hi, we’re Wet Leg. I guess you guys know that, because you bought tickets,” Rhian Teasdale said to the sold-out crowd at Mercury Lounge, a small club on the lip of New York’s Lower East Side, one evening in December. Teasdale, who mostly sings lead vocals and plays rhythm guitar, looked over her right shoulder at Hester Chambers, who mostly sings backup and plays lead guitar. The two chuckled as they shared their latest moment of astonishment. “It’s so weird,” Teasdale said to the audience.
In the last year, lots of things have been weird for Wet Leg, a band from Isle of Wight, England, that has ascended as quickly and unexpectedly as any in recent pop history. It was weird when a well-known London manager signed them in May 2020, even though they hadn’t released any music, and it was weird when Domino Records, home to alternative rock stars including Cat Power and Arctic Monkeys, made a deal with them six months later, despite having heard only four songs on a private SoundCloud.
The duo’s droll and instantly catchy first song, “Chaise Longue,” arrived in June 2021, and weird things happened: Streaming services added it to prominent playlists, Elton John played it on his Apple Music radio show and Dave Grohl raved about it in an interview, saying, “There are nights when we just play that song on repeat.”
“Chaise Longue” has the feel of an epochal one-off, something unrepeatable, like “Louie Louie” or “Because I Got High.” But on their self-titled album due April 8, Teasdale, 29, and Chambers, 28, deliver more smart, frisky neo-new wave songs about the challenges of being a middle-class woman in her late 20s. The lyrics are full of modern references, including wokeness, Instagram, dating apps, sexting and late-night scrolling. Work is boring, boyfriends are fickle and deserve to be mocked, as they are in “Wet Dream” and “Loving You.” Though the lyrics sometimes linger over a feeling of being adrift (“I’m almost 28, still getting off my stupid face,” Teasdale sings in “I Don’t Wanna Go Out”), the Wet Leg album is a thrashing good time.
“We didn’t aspire to get signed. We thought it would not be in the cards,” Chambers said a few days after their New York debut, sitting in the lobby of the band’s Brooklyn hotel. “We just wanted to play some silly songs.”
Their pessimism about success was understandable. First of all, they lived on the Isle of Wight, which can be reached most easily by boat, and, with a population of about 141,000, is hardly known as a launching pad of global talent. The bucolic island is distinguished by its chalky white cliffs and Victorian cottages, and being there is “like going back in time,” said Martin Hall, Wet Leg’s manager. “It’s very English.”
In addition, Teasdale and Chambers, who met as music students at the Isle of Wight College, had been performing separately for years, with little traction. Teasdale recorded under the name Rhain from 2016 to 2018, and sang askew, fanciful songs that call to mind Björk or Perfume Genius. Chambers fronted Hester and Red Squirrel, specializing in soft-focus songs about star-crossed lovers, like Nick Drake but with lots of water imagery. “I’ve played to literally no one before. That was fun,” Chambers said dryly of her history onstage.
At one show, Teasdale had a near meltdown. She’d driven four hours for a solo gig, and everyone in the festival tent where she played was eating. After two songs, “I started crying hysterically,” she said. “I’d been playing music for five years, just because it becomes so intertwined in your identity.” She decided to ask Chambers to back her up onstage, so she’d feel less lonely.
Chambers, similarly, was crying and having panic attacks before her shows, and had begun apprenticing in her parents’ jewelry business. “I felt like, OK, maybe making music isn’t in my stars,” she said. “And I was pretty gutted.”
Once Teasdale and Chambers discovered they had similar stories, they resolved to start a new band that felt fun, with no goal beyond maybe, if they were lucky, playing at a local festival or two. They chose the name Wet Leg, Teasdale has explained, because it’s “such a dumb name,” and serves as a reminder not to take themselves seriously.
“That’s why it’s so weird,” Teasdale added, “because the moment we stopped trying to make anyone else happy and did a band for the joy of playing and hanging out, that’s when …” Her voice trailed off, but the point was clear.
“It’s rare to find a band that, from the off, sounds unique, individual and identifiable,” Lauren Mayberry of Chvrches, the Scottish band that chose Wet Leg as an opening act on some December dates, wrote in an email. “Lyrically, they can be wry, but their music feels very honest and joyful. I also think it’s rare for women to be allowed to have a sense of humor in their music, which is just another thing to love about them.”
On record, the two musicians boldly sing about sex (Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” was an inspiration). But in conversation, they are so soft-spoken that when a woman walked by talking loudly on her cellphone, I could barely hear their voices. They said they were still as unconfident as when they started, but as a duo, they gathered strength from one another, and from a motto that keeps them going: “Feel the fear, but do it anyway.”
Last August, they booked a set at the Green Man festival in Wales, and were startled to see dozens of fans waiting for them to play. Surely, they thought, all those people had come to see them by mistake. “Once we’d soundchecked our instruments,” Teasdale said, “we had a few minutes to …”
“Have a nervous wee,” Chambers interjected.
“The whole tent was full of expectant people who’d heard only one song at that point,” Teasdale continued. “It’s been really weird, playing to big audiences.”
The effect of “Chaise Longue” was that immediate. By the time they started writing the song, Teasdale had moved to London and was working as a stylist on commercials. She came back to Isle of Wight to stay with Chambers and her partner Joshua Mobaraki, who tours with Wet Leg as a synth player and guitarist. Teasdale’s makeshift bed was a lumpy chaise longue that had belonged to Chambers’s grandparents, which inspired the three of them to write the song while taking part of the lyrics (“Is your muffin buttered?”) from a scene in “Mean Girls.”
Michael Champion of the band Champs, who played bass on the song, liked it enough to contact Hall, who asked to meet them, much to their disbelief. “It’s kind of my sweet spot — the new wave indie guitar music I grew up loving,” Hall said. “They are quiet and shy people, and somewhat bemused by the success,” he added, “but there’s also a quiet ambition about them.”
The video Wet Leg made themselves for “Chaise Longue” also helped fuel the phenomenon, thanks to Teasdale’s deadpan demeanor, and attire (straw sun hats, floor-length white frocks) that makes them look like 1890s frontierswomen. They’ve since made self-directed videos for “Wet Dream” and “Oh No.” “I trust their instincts,” Hall said. “They’ve got it right so far.”
Older listeners might hear echoes of bands from an earlier generation, like Delta 5, Elastica or Art Brut. But Teasdale and Chambers aren’t familiar with any of those groups. Their closest compatriots are Dry Cleaning, Yard Act and Sports Team, young British bands who, despite having been born after new wave’s popularity crested, emulate the music’s springy bass lines, resolute drums and jabbing guitars as they limn the ruins of consumer culture, talk-singing in unmistakably British cadences. These bands share an ability to muster ecstatic objections out of their disgust.
The camaraderie between Teasdale and Chambers feels like a pact, almost at the level of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It becomes evident when I ask them to describe one another.
Chambers: “Rhian is funny and ethereal. This sounds cheesy, but when we met at uni, I knew you were going to do something really wild. You’re just a star. And you’re pretty.”
Teasdale: “I’m blushing. Hester is kind and generous. You’re very quiet, and you have the smallest handwriting I’ve ever seen.”
Chambers: “Thank you. That means a lot.”
Teasdale: “You’re very strong, even though you think you’re not. Now I’m getting very emotional.”
Chambers: “Thanks, mom.”
Underneath their talk about feeling overwhelmed and overcoming fear, there’s also a resolve about how to present themselves. “A lot of the internet is saturated with images that make you feel like you’re not enough, or you don’t have enough,” Teasdale said. “I don’t want to be in a band that makes people, young girls in particular, feel like [expletive] about themselves.”
True to their island background, the two offered a nautical simile that sums up the voyage so far. “We’re like two little seals surfing the wave,” Chambers said. “Two seal pups surfing along,” Teasdale responded, and the two friends laughed.
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