Interview

Wet Leg: ‘Chaise Longue was supposed to be just for us – it was in a folder called High Jams’

The alt-rock sensations are about to release their hugely anticipated debut album. Duo Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers speak to Alexandra Pollard about getting hyped by Dave Grohl, the Isle of Wight music scene, and being too raunchy for radio

Wednesday 06 April 2022 06:30
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<p>Wet Leg: ‘We get so much joy from something that’s really dumb’ </p>

Wet Leg: ‘We get so much joy from something that’s really dumb’

Before Wet Leg, I was very scared of electric guitars, because they make the guitar really loud,” Hester Chambers says – well, whispers. I hadn’t expected it from the co-creator of some of the most delightfully brash, bawdy songs of recent years, but the 28-year-old is incredibly softly spoken. Her bandmate, lead vocalist Rhian Teasdale, is hardly the in-your-face sort, either. Talking to the Isle of Wight duo, in a sun-soaked, pastel-coloured room in their record label’s London offices, I get the sense that their rapid success feels, to them, as strange as it does silly.

It all started with “Chaise Longue”. Wet Leg’s viral debut single, released last year, was the match that ignited them. Deadpan and surreal, it saw Teasdale speak-singing over a driving beat and post-punk riffs: “Is your mother worried? Would you like us to assign someone to worry your mother?” It was irrepressibly catchy, earning them tens of millions of streams, praise from Hayley Williams, Iggy Pop and Florence Welch, and a string of sold-out shows.

Dave Grohl told this publication: “Wet Leg are about to take over America,” adding that he and his friends sometimes stay up till 4am listening to the song “over and over and over and over again”. Rolling Stone called them “the buzziest new band of the year”. The New York Times said they had “ascended as quickly and unexpectedly as any band in recent pop history”.

So, what were they thinking when they wrote “Chaise Longue”? “Just, like, ‘Music is so funny,’” shrugs the 29-year-old Teasdale. They both giggle. “It was really late at night and it was a song that was supposed to be just for us, in a folder called ‘High Jams’.” “I loved those evenings,” says Chambers wistfully. “Just listening to whatever you did the next morning and being like, ‘Oh my God.’ We get so much joy from something that’s really dumb.” Some interviewers have tried to assign “political agendas” to the song, adds Teasdale, “and I’m like, ‘No, we were just having a good time. And that’s OK.’”

Their entire self-titled debut album, out this week, is a pretty good time. They wrote a lot of it before they even had a record deal, and there’s a no-pressure breeziness to it all, the lyrics playful and inventive, the music a laissez-faire jumble of dream pop, punk and indie rock. “Piece of S***” is scuzzy and languorous – The Moldy Peaches by way of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; “Angelica” is a staccato, antisocial anthem; on “Wet Dream”, a lively kiss-off written as a riposte to a text Teasdale’s ex sent her, she asks: “What makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?”

That one was their second single, but they were told at first that it was “too raunchy” to be played on the radio. “It was funny, wasn’t it?” says Teasdale to Chambers. “Because I think if we were hip-hop artists, it would probably go unmentioned.” “Yes, it is strange,” agrees Chambers. “We did something a few months ago where they asked you to censor ‘shave my rat’ in ‘Too Late Now’. I don’t really understand why.”

The line in question, uttered in an ASMR-inducing almost-whisper, is: “I don’t need no dating app to tell me if I look like crap / To tell me if I’m thin or fat / To tell me should I shave my rat”. Asking them to censor it is “making it shameful to shave your rat or not shave your rat”, says Teasdale. I can’t quite tell if she’s being serious. Did they censor it? “I had to say ‘cat’,” she says sombrely. Really? “I’m joking.” They collapse into laughter.

A lot of the songs on the album are about the same breakup. “Ur Mum”, twitchy, shimmering and infantile, is so brilliant that it has the potential to be bigger than “Chaise Longue” – but Teasdale seems to be having second thoughts about it. Especially the line: “When I think about what you’ve become / I feel sorry for your mum.” She doesn’t really mean it, she says. “It’s about having this realisation of, like, ‘Time to go – time to get out of this one!’ Sometimes, to do that, you have to pretend to yourself that you really hate someone. I think that’s why that song sounds so... it’s a bit harsh, isn’t it? ‘I feel sorry for your mum’ is a very mean thing to say.”

It was written, she says, when she was reflecting on a relationship “where you’re just plodding along behind someone. It’s cool being in love and everything, but it’s also cool to feel motivated and put effort into yourself and into your own goals and aspirations. Sometimes, when you’re so focused on trying to make someone love you, it’s a lot of energy that you could be putting into something else.”

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It is funny, she adds, having to reflect on that relationship in interviews. “I just feel so different now, and they’re probably really happy in their new relationship, and I’m really happy. There’s distance from it. When we play that song, I don’t really think about it. We’re just playing the songs” – she turns to Chambers – “and I’m smiling at you.”

Sisters in arms: Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers

The pair have a sweet, sisterly dynamic. They communicate via looks and smiles, often directing their answers to each other rather than me. When Teasdale finishes a sentence, she’ll often gesture to Chambers to have her say, too – an invitation her bandmate often declines. When they were pottering around the kitchen before they came into the room, I overheard Teasdale saying, “I’m proud of us.” She should be.

Wet Leg grew up on the Isle of Wight, where there’s a small but vibrant music scene. Really small. When I mention my cousin’s husband, who lives on the island and is a musician, Chambers immediately recognises his name. “Andy! We know Andy! He plays the drums!” They aren’t sure whether there’s a common thread in islanders’ music, though Chambers remembers talking to her mainland cousins when she was a teenager, “and they’d be like, ‘Yes but it has a sound, doesn’t it?’ Not in a snobby way.”

“Maybe in, like, an over-romanticised way?” offers Teasdale. “I think it is a bit over-romanticised.” (A few weeks after we speak, the New York Times profile of Wet Leg describes the island as “bucolic” and full of “Victorian cottages”, which, sure, but there are plenty of housing estates, too.)

None of Teasdale’s friends at school were particularly into music, and she’d barely played a note when she dropped out of her A-Levels to do a music Btec, a decision that was made “purely out of desperation”. Her mum panicked on her behalf. “She was of the opinion that your education was a stepping stone to succeeding.” She even suggested that her daughter join the merchant navy instead. But music was more appealing. It was on that course that Teasdale and Chambers met, and they bonded over a shared love of Laura Marling, Patrick Watson, and Nordic music.

Their first ever practice together felt strange, says Teasdale, because she’d never made music in a room with no boys in it. “It was just different to feel like it was up to us, I guess. I feel like boys have always been quite confident in those kinds of spaces. I hadn’t really found a place where I felt like I was going to flourish.” Her brows furrow. “Not that I was mad about it. It wasn’t like we were in bands with boys and we were like, ‘We want to do this,’ and they were like, ‘No. We’re boys.’” They both fall about laughing again.

We wanted the songs to be pumped up and fun, but actually we’re just a bunch of emos

Rhian Teasdale

Their main aim when they started writing music was to get into festivals for free. “The point was not, like, ‘Is the song good?’ but ‘Will this count as a 30-minute festival set?’” says Teasdale. “We wanted the songs to be pumped up and a bit fun... but then, we’re actually just a bunch of emos.” The sardonic, sometimes misanthropic vibe of their music was “accidental”, she insists. “We were trying to write party songs and then, actually, we just wrote songs about how we’re at a party and we don’t like it.”

After coming up with their band name by closing their eyes and pressing random emojis on their phone, the duo played as “the first iteration of Wet Leg” at a festival in the summer of 2018, says Chambers. “No,” says Teasdale, “I think it was 2019.” There is a good deal of hushed to-ing and fro-ing. No firm agreement is reached. They are sure of one thing, though: “By the end of 2020,” concludes Teasdale, “we signed to Domino.”

Even after they’d signed that deal, they had no real expectations of success. “Realistically,” says Teasdale, “most people that sign to a label will work another job. I think we always thought there would be more balance between being in a band and normal life. I don’t think we ever thought: ‘We’re going to sign a deal and quit our jobs.’”

That’s what happened, though. Their ascent has been so fast and steep, in fact, that they don’t really seem to trust it. They keep coming back to the same analogy. “We’re just trying to stay on top of the wave,” says Chambers. “Because it is going to end, inevitably,” adds Teasdale. “We’re very aware of that. It’s important to enjoy the ride, but sometimes you’re just clinging on and it’s hard to pop up. Some days, you pop up. Some days, you’re just grabbing onto the rails.”

Wet Leg’s debut album is out on 8 April

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