Cast your mind back to 2005 and to the beginning of the Arctic Monkeys phenomenon: after word quickly spread outside of their native Sheffield about this scrappy but inordinately talented band, and in no small part thanks to the spread of their music online, Domino Records soon came calling. Two number one U.K. singles followed, with hitherto unseen miserly levels of marketing and advertising.
In 2021, Wet Leg became perhaps the buzziest British band to emerge since Alex Turner and co., and their ascent is strikingly similar. The duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers also signed to Domino and were significantly pushed by the label despite having just a handful of singles to their name.
These songs, though, utilised the influence of the internet in a similar way that Arctic Monkeys did: ‘Chaise Longue’ and then ‘Wet Dream’ went massively viral, their droll and deadpan lyrics (remind you of anyone?) combining well with a selection of surreal music videos directed by the pair themselves.
Both bands received New York Times profiles upon the release of their debut albums, a feat that usually takes other bands a career lifetime to achieve (intriguingly, both NYT pieces cite the bands as belonging to the post-punk genre when the reality is far from that).
Both bands’ instant popularity was also partly reactionary, Arctic Monkeys returning a sense of working class lyrical realism to British indie post-Oasis and Wet Leg providing a necessary injection of fun into a musical landscape overwhelmed with often overly-serious post-punk bands.
All this is to say that we haven’t seen anything like the rise of Wet Leg in a long time. After its release, ‘Chaise Longue’ was praised by everyone from Iggy Pop to Hayley Williams to Dave Grohl; huge slots on Jools Holland and Jimmy Fallon were also secured; they sold out their entire 2022 before the release of their first album. It’s a lot for any band to take on, let alone one just starting out in their career.
Wet Leg’s self-titled debut finally arrived last week and the ensuing critical reaction confirms that the hasty hype wasn’t misplaced. Rolling Stone’s review called their album the “sneeringly sarcastic relentlessly catchy post-punk record the world has been fiending for”; Pitchfork hailed it as having “hooks stuffed with bait and a keen eye for assessing self-delusion.”
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Above all else, the songs on Wet Leg’s debut value a bubbling sense of fun (it’s why the motto “good times all the time” is written in their social media bio). Just consider how Teasdale and Chambers came up with their band name: it was the simple result of combining disparate emojis together on a keyboard. When it comes to Wet Leg, everything is random, everything is light, but it all comes together in the end.
For two musicians from the musical backwater of Britain’s Isle of Wight – with a population of just over 100,000 – it’s a scarcely believable journey. To find out more about how exactly Wet Leg got to this point, Tone Deaf talked to one half of the duo, Rhian Teasdale, to discuss their background, their rapid success, and even the unexpected influence of The Chats.
Wet Leg’s debut album is out now.
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What was the music scene like growing up somewhere small like the Isle of Wight?
When Hester and I were growing up there were literally no venues at all. 10 years later, there’s now a couple but it’s quite expensive for touring bands to come over and play these 300+ capacity venues. There’s not really any point, so there’s not a lot of touring.
There are a lot of people making music though, and there was always the Isle of Wight Festival at the beginning of the summer and also Bestival. So you’d go hard on those two weekends! Over the water, there were a couple of cool music venues but it was expensive to get the ferry. It was about 20 quid and when you’re 16 that’s a lot of money.
Would you go to the Isle of Wight Festival every year then?
I did. I think I was 14 when I was first allowed to go.
What bands did you see at the festival that had a big influence?
I don’t know, it was so long ago! Now that I’ve grown up a bit more, that wouldn’t be my festival of choice. End of the Road and Bluedot are such good festivals, those two are my favourites.
Were you and Hester in other bands before forming Wet Leg?
Yeah. We started Wet Leg after I was doing my solo thing (Teasdale used to perform under the moniker RHAIN). I just got so disillusioned with it. When you’re in the moment while touring, you go into autopilot and forget to wonder why you’re even doing it if you hate it. I had some shows left to do and I honoured them but decided after they were done I didn’t want to do music anymore.
I asked Hester if she’d play those shows with me, and we had this really fun summer just going around the festivals together. On the last one of that run of shows – which was actually End of the Road – we were like ‘I guess this is the end now,’ but then we said, ‘What if it’s not the end? What if we start a new band and make sure it’s really fun and is something we’re doing without putting too much pressure on it?’.
Would you say that Wet Leg is both of you as your most authentic musical selves then?
I don’t think we were necessarily inauthentic before. When you’re younger, you care more about what you’re doing musically, you’re very serious. But then I listened to a lot of podcasts with other songwriters and realised that you can just sort of dumb it down. There’s a lot of joy in writing like that.
So what is your songwriting process like? Do you and Hester share duties equally?
A chunk of the album was written in lockdown but we didn’t live together so we were forced to write separately. I would use GarageBand, which I’d never used before, and it’s just such a simple and useful tool. I always feel like I’m getting paid to say that but I’m not for the record! It’s just so handy (laughs).
The current post-punk revival in the U.K. can often be quite serious. Do you think people took to Wet Leg so quickly because you were essentially the opposite of this? Valuing a sense of joy and unseriousness above all else?
I honestly don’t know. It’s really nice that so many people are being supportive and connecting with songs that have choruses like “on the chaise longue all day long” (laughs). It’s wild to me.
What was it like to work with Speedy Wunderground producer Dan Carey on the album? He’s a bit of a cult figure these days.
He’s such a legend. Our A&R were like, ‘how about Dan Carey as a producer?’ It certainly wasn’t a suggestion that came from Hester or myself. Dan was so legit and we were just this baby band!
So when it was first suggested I was like “what, no!’ We were on a Zoom call with some people from the label at the time and they noticed my reaction and said ‘do you not like him?’ I was like ‘no, no, he’s so cool!’ He’s just a really brilliant, cosmic human being. I really can’t imagine making the album with anyone else. He kept it really fun and that was what we were looking for.
Obviously you and Hester are the main duo but do you have touring musicians backing you up?
No, they’re all our friends! We’ve got our best friends with us. It’s funny beginning this journey as just a duo because since playing our first gig together, we’re now a proper weird little family now.
I was going to ask if you feel a lot of pressure following all of the hype but realised that you’ve probably been asked this to death by now!
It definitely puts pressure on but everything is running at 100 miles per hour that it’s out of our control! Everything’s just surreal, I don’t think we’ve stopped to think about it. We do get asked that question a lot though (laughs). I don’t consciously think about the pressure though. It’s not a natural thing to ask yourself.
It must be helpful to have a close friend beside you through it all.
Absolutely. There’s just a lot of hands to hold with the whole band and crew. If everyone was a nightmare, it’d be a different story. The stars have aligned pretty perfectly.
Do you think coming relatively later to music fame (both Teasdale and Chambers are in their late 20s) has been a blessing in disguise? Are you better prepared to handle the media spotlight?
I wouldn’t say “fame” is the right word (laughs). It’s wild suddenly being so big on social media though. But we’re more self-assured and we know we’re so lucky to be in the position that we’re in.
Obviously Wet Leg haven’t been to Australia yet but have either you or Hester been on your own?
No, we haven’t! It’s exciting because I’ve got family out there, a lot of cousins and uncles.
Supporting Yeah Yeah Yeahs must be a big deal.
Yeah, yeah, yeah (laughs). I think it’s a really cool match as well, we’re really excited to play those shows.
Are there any Australian artists that you and Hester like?
We like The Chats! When we started Wet Leg, they were actually a bit of an inspiration. They’re really cool but there’s also quite a bit of humour in their music.