Good Times: Wet Leg on their rapid rise and debut album
Ahead of releasing their debut album, and a summer filled with festival slots galore, we catch up with Wet Leg's Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers
Disembodied voices rise up from the phone. “Rhian is this one,” goes a voice, straight and businesslike. “Hi, I’m Hester,” goes another, high-pitched and airy. “I am Rhian, this is my voice,” goes a different one still, this time dead-eyed and robotic. Still again, something else, gurgling and decrepit sounding: “It’s Rhian and Hester from Wet Leg here…”
Thirty seconds with Wet Leg and you are ensconced in their dizzying, playful world. Equally quick to speak sincerely as they are to take the piss, talking to the duo – perhaps the buzziest of UK buzz bands in a long line of them – can be somewhat disorientating, but that’s perhaps fitting for Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, who have broken big in a confounding whirlwind, one a studio executive could only imagine in their wildest 'wet dream'. 'I've never seen anything so obscene', you might say, as their song of the same name goes.
This is when we tell you Wet Leg signed for Domino off the back of only a handful of songs. That they came second in the BBC’s often prophetic Sound of 2022 poll. That their zeitgeist-piercing smash Chaise Longue has racked up nearly thirteen million streams on Spotify. That they are on the verge of releasing their self-titled debut album, a record so anticipated, so under lock and key, guarded like some precious, combustible organic material, that, at the time of speaking to Teasdale and Chambers, we – and not even the band’s PR – had been permitted to hear it.
“The damage is done,” jokes Teasdale from down the line when asked what listeners can expect of the record. Calling in from Brixton, they are both relaxed and whimsical about what they are teetering on the precipice of. After all, they are just a “baby band”, as Chambers puts it, born out of their friendship on their home of the Isle of Wight (“If you play the record backwards, you can hear in the second track ‘we’re stuck on the island, send help’,” teases Teasdale), something fun to pass the time with together, a hobby – there hasn’t been endless demoing, a run of EPs, or even much performing to hash out new songs, coming to the fore as they did in the midst of the pandemic. This first full-length collection of songs will, ultimately, be what they’re judged by, even if the shows are already selling out and their tunes have become omnipresent.
“People will get a bit of heartbreak, some disenchantment,” Teasdale says about the record. “And fun, and good times, all the time.” The latter said coldly and monotone, without any hint of being earnest, is a nifty summation of the appeal of Wet Leg. That fierce, deadpan humour, the feeling this is all just a bit of a lark for them, things happening to them, getting rolled up in the absorbent plasticine ball of the modern music industry. When Teasdale says “good times, all the time”, she kind of means it, but she is also able to play with the silliness of that as a concept. Often Teasdale speaks as if filtering every possible piece of information, every scrap of emotion. On Too Late Now, the pre-chorus goes into anxious overload; at one point she pauses the verse to clarify: 'I don’t even know what I’m saying'. She does this a couple of times in our conversation.
Chambers adds: “We're not really striving for anything in particular. It's quite free flowing. Rules are: there ain’t no rules. It's exciting to feel free in what might come out. But then, playing live is what’s important right now. We hadn’t played much together with this line-up, and so since the summer we’ve been on the same journey, learning and writing the set, and we’re just trying to…”
“…navigate this crazy wave,” Teasdale chimes in.
“Yeah, we’re just excited to play some gigs really,” finishes Chambers. They often do this while we talk – turn to each other and chat as if no one else is listening, or finish each other’s sentences. There’s a sisterly bond; on the cover of the album, they’re locked together, arms around the other’s waist. “When we’re playing,” says Chambers, “I’ll be looking down, then we’ll have a call and response vocal part and I’ll look over to you, and you’re looking back at me. It’s really nice to be in the moment together.” They both start “aaawww”-ing in unison. After a pause, Teasdale says: “Yeah, it’s sickening.” And then they both wretch, loudly.
And play live they will – almost everywhere, with TV spots, tours, and multiple festival slots this year. “We're really excited to play festivals, purely because of the atmosphere,” says Teasdale. Wet Leg’s existence, perhaps apocryphally, sprung from an inspirational moment between the pair on a ferris wheel at the End of the Road festival. “Everyone's wandering around and so there's no real expectations of you. Everyone's there to have a good time and it's really nice to just be ambling around making friends with other bands. Love to amble. We can get them all to sign our limbs. Just gonna fangirl everyone really hard. We’re really going to embarrass ourselves.”
When the wacky, but contained, imagery of Chaise Longue became an out of control sensation, its staccato Sprechgesang seemed to be in line with other British bands – like Dry Cleaning, Squid, Black Country, New Road and Yard Act – matching post-punk guitars and somersaulting basslines with speak-singing. While all these bands are popular and notable in their own way, Wet Leg seemed to hit a sweet spot that took that toolkit and smoothed down its edges and made it more listener-friendly, pairing it with twee visuals and simple, memorable refrains – at least that’s what their comparatively massive streaming numbers seem to indicate. Basically, the ‘Avant Basic’ of music: the moment when something considered artful and trending up becomes mass-produced and ubiquitous.
For better or worse, the album (finally released from the vault before this piece was finished) deviates from this blueprint somewhat. Wet Leg is filled with prettier vocals; the song Angelica builds into layered shoegaze guitars. And elsewhere the band deal in more conventional indie rock sounds. What they continue to nail is their sharp brand of humour. Teasdale and Chambers are adept at finding that liminal space between laughing and crying, where feeling everything all at once becomes overwhelming. On opener Being In Love, an album highlight, Teasdale sings: 'I feel like someone has punched me in the guts / The world is caving in, I’m kinda struggling / I kinda like it cause it feels like being in love.'
“We didn't really set out to do that. It just kind of happened,” says Teasdale. “I think some of the songs on the album are a little bit sad. And I think one of the ways you can deal with dark times is make it into a joke.”
Wet Leg may be doing everything right, but a cursory look at YouTube comments or Reddit pages titled ‘Wet Leg: the band with millions of streams and just two songs’ and you’ll quickly find enough suspicion and criticism to make you think twice. Questions like: “How can such a young band get so big so fast?” seem laced with misogyny and a retrograde ‘rockist’ attitude that still perceives music through a traditionalist lens – a world where a band made its name gigging themselves into the ground, a world that barely exists now. What even does an organic development for a band look like now?
“I'd be like, ‘I hope they burn in hell, I can't believe it, only two songs and they've been to America? I hope their plane crashes on the way back.’ I’d be jelly as hell,” says Teasdale, tongue firmly in cheek, about how they would look at themselves from the outside. “No, I don’t really think people are jealous, just overanalysing. But it doesn’t matter. Music is just about the stars aligning. It’s been quicker for us, but I think it's the same with any band, even if you have followed their journey of them grafting and working their way up. The stars still had to align at some point for them. It's a total mystery why we are doing what we’re doing but, you know, we're just trying to have a nice time doing it. If that’s OK?”
Living up to the hype will no doubt silence many of those comments. But if those criticisms affect them at all, they don’t show it, instead disarming with their wit. One recent tweet read: “Our first ever US tour starts in New York tonight. How did this happen? Anyone else getting industry plant vibes.” It’s hard to argue with that kind of good-spirited response. Teasdale, back to her usual tone, replies: “I will find a way to argue with it. It is pretty funny. I mean, it's a good thing both of our parents are really high up in the music industry. My dad actually owns all of music. He has many CDs.”
Wet Leg is released on 8 Apr via Domino
Wet Leg play The Mash House, Edinburgh, 17 Apr; SWG3, Glasgow, 17 Nov
Catch Wet Leg at a festival this summer as they play Neighbourhood Weekender, Warrington, 28-29 May; Primavera Sound, Barcelona, 3 Jun; Isle of Wight Festival, 16-19 Jun; Glastonbury Festival, 22 Jun; TRNSMT, Glasgow Green, 9 Jul; Lowlands Festival, Biddinghuizen, Netherlands, 19 Aug