Wet Leg on Music, Silliness, and Their Unexpected SuccessPosted by Mike Schuck
How can a song by an unknown band acquire 6.5 million listens? It was difficult to tell in the days before streaming, when we still used "popular" instead of "viral," and it's much more perplexing today.
Facebook would have created an algorithm for it if they had known. That hasn't prevented reviewers from spinning their wheels to explain the success of Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg's Chaise Longue, which was quickly followed by their astronomically successful follow-up songs, Wet Dream and Too Late Now.
They haven't even published a full-length album.
Is it because they're smart and seductive, as one critic called it, while indie music usually isn't? From Florence Welch to Hayley Williams to Iggy Pop, they're all fans. Is it because they've been likened to Violent Femmes and Björk, for example?
Not because they are derivative, but because they put everyone in a good mood, they have surely triggered a (often contradicting) avalanche of they-remind-me-ofs. We all grab for the first or last band that puts a smile on our faces.
Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, 28 and 27 years old, converse with me through video conference, something I usually avoid but which, on this occasion, is as amusing, annoying, charming, and elusive as Wet Leg themselves. They're seated against a glass-brick wall; there's a dog nearby, but it never comes into view; everything is quite independent.
Chambers speaks in a high, calm tone, her blond hair wrapped over her face like the French Lieutenant's Woman. Teasdale has the most beautiful and quirky demeanor. A bystander approaches them at one point and inquires if they are performing a TikTok.
"No," she insists, her patience becoming thin. "We're having a... discussion." It's particularly aggravating since they're located in Streatham, south London, just two miles from my home. In less time than it would have taken me to beg Chambers to remove her hair out of her mouth, I could have ridden to meet them.
They talk about their musical inspirations since they first met when studying a music BTEC on the Isle of Wight: Patrick Watson's Arts the Beatdoctor, "a lot of Nordic stuff," as Chambers puts it, and Laura Marling's And So I Watch You from afar. "I was able to answer this question really well because I was talking to my friend about what music we used to listen to when we were 17 and I was thinking, 'Wow, I was so zany,'" Teasdale recalls.
Chambers vehemently disagrees. "Oh, no!" exclaims the speaker. That's not to say that being zany is a negative thing. It's not really my vocabulary. However, it's a nice term." Teasdale adds, "Lexicon is also a good word."
Even though all the youngsters I've met get the wrong end of the stick and assume it's a song about academic failure coupled with some not-so-subtle innuendo, the lyrics of Chaise Longue are incredibly pleasant ("Is your mother worried? / Would you like us to assign someone / to worry your mother?"). "I went to school and received a D."
"Mummy, Daddy, look at me / I went to school and got a degree / All my friends call it the big D," the whole line reads. But it's possible that the kids are observant because the couple couldn't bear school.
Teasdale only made it to the BTec after failing her A-levels. "It's probably just a case of adolescent angst." 'What is the aim of it all?' I simply couldn't seem to get into it. I didn't have many pals at the time. "My mother attempted to persuade me to join the merchant navy."
Of course, Teasdale met Chambers at Isle of Wight College, so the relocation was opportune, but it wasn't the start of an academic late-flowering.
They both went on to begin music degrees, drop out, and view their experiences as a catastrophe. They may laugh about it now, but it was dreadful at the time (to paraphrase a band they sound nothing like).
"It was extremely difficult for me to say no," Teasdale adds. "I kept trying to go back because that's what you're fed as the only option if you don't want to work in a dead-end job." Beyond that, I couldn't see anything."
"I dropped out in the first year, which was sad," Chambers, who has a quiet, winning fatalism, adds. I was quite disappointed. It's simply not something I wanted to spend my time thinking about. "I'm not much of an academic."
Teasdale's stare is direct and confrontational, whereas Chambers hides behind a hat in two of their movies, Chaise Longue and Wet Dream. This anti-go-getting, dropping out, failing again, failing better reminds me of a time in the 1990s when not everyone was on the same conveyor belt and no one had heard of self-actualisation.
Maintaining a knowing distance in order to protect one's basic self used to be a key currency in pop culture, but it has since faded. However, I adore it.
Both ladies were born and raised on the Isle of Wight. Teasdale describes her folks as "boat people," which makes them seem like yacht owners.
Her father was an engineer, and her mother was a sailor, thus they met in the merchant navy. "I have no idea what she was doing there." Chambers' parents own and operate a jewelry store, where he still works on occasion. "It's a fantastic job; I fell into the family business by accident."
They didn't start creating music together until they were 22 and 23, after they had given up their degrees. "For me, it was being in the room with you, another woman, and no boys around," Chambers adds to Teasdale. "Woah, look at us, look at us making music together," I said at the time. Teasdale was perplexed as to why they hadn't done it sooner.
They decided to create a band at the top of a ferris wheel, according to the genesis myth they've agreed on. But I'm not going to question them about it since it's too pixie dream girl for me, and I don't want to promote it.
They chose the term Wet Leg since it was easy to spell with emojis. It makes sense and doesn't, since those emojis may represent "wet leg," "tsunami robot," or "rain chicken," much like a lot of their songs.
That led them to the Isle of Wight festival in the summer of 2018, when they played to "one man and his welly boots," as Chambers remembers.
Teasdale explains, "We didn't have enough songs to play a full set." "We wrote a lot of songs in a short amount of time to fill up the set, so a lot of the performance was songs we wrote in a short amount of time to fill up the set."
Some of them were simply ridiculous tunes we made up to acquire a wristband to go inside the event. "Some of them did not make it."
"It was fun," Chambers says of the mentality that this low-stakes time engendered. 'Cool,' we thought. First, we'll cook some pancakes for the dog, then we'll prepare some more pancakes.'"
It wasn't, however, a clear professional route. Teasdale recalls, "I just wanted to do it for the fun of it." Chambers continued working at the jeweller's; Teasdale worked for a season selling ice cream, then moved to London, where she worked at an ice rink and as an ad wardrobe assistant.
They didn't become ambitious in any discernible sense until the epidemic, when they were both back on the island, living with their parents. Even then, you'd just be able to recognize it.
Chambers describes the environment as "extremely sheltered." "It was dreamy," Teasdale recalls, "especially if you remember the weather."
"It was like being a child during the summer vacation and thinking, 'Wow, all this time to play about.' We started roller skating and longboarding. I'd say we've closed the door on the outer world." Longboard dancing is exactly what it sounds like: dancing on a long skateboard. A video is required to appreciate how hyper-fey it is, whimsy on stilts.
Despite this, Chambers claims that they were "productive by accident," working on demos, filming the Chaise Longue and Angelica films, and obtaining a manager via Teasdale's then-boyfriend, who submitted their tape to Domino Records officials who wanted to see them.
"We were just absolutely silly," Chambers adds, with a grin on his face. "We were like, 'Sorry, we don't have time – we're just rolling around in the grass with our guitars doing teddy bear rolls.'"
Other labels were able to convince them to meet, and the two led them to the Spyglass bar in Ventnor, on the island's south coast. No offense to the town, which is the island's independent heart, but this is a harsh way of expressing, "We don't care if we meet you or not" — it doesn't even have a railway station. However, it's a lovely boozer.
They eventually met Domino and signed with them in November 2020, but it wasn't until they performed at Latitude, one of the few large festivals scheduled for 2021, that they realized they were a legitimate band. "When we got there, we saw Dream Wife getting ready to go on stage, Lucia and the Best Boys, and all these really cool people milling around," Teasdale adds. "And we wondered aloud, 'What are we doing here?' We're simply a bunch of Isle of Wight rural bumpkins.'
"The fact that the tent was so crammed was so unexpected. We also had people dancing, which was even more surprising. And singing — back at us, singing the lyrics of Chaise Longue. We'd been in the smallest tiny bubble world and it was our first time witnessing that others had really listened to it. It didn't seem to add up at first. It still doesn't, to be honest."
"I think we come across as a real band now," Teasdale says, adjusting the set slightly. "If you like, buddy," Chambers says as he glances at her.
"As a band, we've definitely bonded really well," Teasdale adds.
Chambers ultimately admits, "Yeah."
There are still a few unknowns. What will the reaction be to their first album, which is set to be released in April?
What price will gigging exact if it is completely operational again, with no more sporadic cancellations and rebookings? "As we play more shows, we're meeting a lot of people in similar situations to us, and we've had some really nice conversations," Teasdale adds.
"What to eat when you're on the road that isn't a cold Greggs sausage roll," she says. I assumed she meant mediating life's lovely futility via synth-rock, but it's more concerning: "What to eat when you're on the road that isn't a cold Greggs sausage roll." What to put in your bag and how to load it. Fear of performing on stage. "Mental well-being."
Chambers is still nominally based on the Isle of Wight, although she does not spend much time there. Teasdale is unsure about her exact location. They give off the distinct impression that, in an ideal world, they would embark on a global tour only to avoid having to make a decision.
However, there are several well-known facts: from its inception, people have adored their feel. They've put their friendship to song, with its self-effacing yet obstinate surrealism and melodic idiosyncrasy.
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