Wet Leg: ‘If a guy had written our songs, I think there’d be less scrutiny’
Ahead of their highly anticipated appearance at Soho House Festival, we sit down with summer’s hottest ticket to talk ‘queer querying’, touring with Harry Styles, and the origins of that name
Monday 4 July 2022 By Sylvia Patterson Photography by Sarah Louise Bennett
Wet Leg, the most adored new guitar band in Britain, stroll into the 1970s retro surroundings of the eighth-floor lounge bar of 180 House, to be greeted by a tsunami of sound. Not a wall of roaring fans, as is now standard at their shows, but a fire alarm, the temperature perhaps soaring on contact with their blistering cultural hotness. Sadly, it’s not a drill – there’s a ‘fire leakage’ and we’re ushered straight back out again, past inviting barrel chairs upholstered in the softest biscuit corduroy. ‘Oh wow, we could’ve had our butts on those chairs,’ laments frontwoman/ songwriter Rhian Teasdale (the brunette) as we’re hustled into a fire escape and down eight floors.
Moments later, we’re in a more familiar setting for the Isle of Wight indie-pop nature punks: outdoors, under blue skies on a sun-baked afternoon on London’s Strand, the pair strewn with guitars in flight cases across the steps of the Gladstone Memorial. It’s almost like being at a festival, where Wet Leg belong; today, they’re mid-European tour and performing at Soho House Festival on Thursday 7 July in west London’s Gunnersbury Park. ‘I like this,’ agrees guitarist/ singer-songwriter Hester Chambers (the blonde), her butt happily perched on non-upholstered stone. ‘It’s turned out really well.’
Everything has turned out spectacularly well for the band some affectionately call The Leg: Teasdale and best pal Chambers, alongside three male touring band longhairs (synth/ guitar player Joshua Mobaraki is Chambers’ long-term boyfriend). Strikingly dressed as ever, they’re unmistakeably wandering minstrels: Teasdale, 29, sports pigtails, a black and white chequered smock, floral embroidered knee-high socks, and black platform Doc Martens. Chambers, 28, sports loosely flowing hair, tattooed arms inked in flowers and insects poking out from a sleeveless, powder-blue knitted top, baggy jeans billowing over matching platform Docs. They’re both gentle, hippie dreamers, with peculiarly high-pitched voices, especially Chambers, whose gossamer tone more befits a delicately shy eight-year-old kid. They call themselves ‘country bumpkins’ and ‘hobbits’, numbering fans today in Dave Grohl, Florence Welch and Iggy Pop (with the inevitable nod from Elton).
Loosely formed in 2019, they surged into luminous life through the darkness of the 2020 pandemic, creating songs and absurdist iPhone videos as a ‘distraction from the weirdness’. Their breakthrough visual for ‘Chaise Longue’ saw the pair cavorting on the Isle of Wight in straw hats and prairie smocks, the song an irresistible indie-pop thriller featuring ‘buttered muffins’ innuendo (a steal from Mean Girls), the repeated refrain, ‘on the chaise longue, on the chaise longue’, and the now-signature call and response, ‘Excuse me?’ ‘What?’. It was enough evidence for Domino Records (home to Arctic Monkeys), who signed them in the gig-less lockdown month of November 2020, their eponymous debut album skylarking to number one in April 2022. Do they understand their huge connection?
‘Nothing makes sense,’ insists Teasdale, sipping a green juice. ‘It just feels like the stars have aligned. Right place, right time, right team. It’s funny, last time I went to the Isle of Wight I went to this place I’ve been getting coffee from for years and the girl was (mimes handing over coffee, sings) “on the chaise longue, on the chaise longue…”’
It’s been years since any kind of band has been this charmingly, wilfully comic, an antidote perhaps to today’s grim global realities, their surrealist videos now viewed by millions: ‘Wet Dream’ sees frolics in fields with enormous red lobster claws, ‘Oh No’ stars yeti costumes seemingly made of mop heads, their shows now populated by lobster claw-waggling fans in mop head hats.
A DIY indie concept with pop-art sensibilities and a punk rock heart (including Teasdale’s full-throat screaming), there’s echoes of 1990s alt-rock, from Elastica to The Breeders (they’re also managed by Manic Street Preachers manager Martin Hall), and next year they’re supporting Harry Styles throughout Australasia.
‘Our pal, Harry!’ yelps Teasdale in jest (they’ve never met). Styles covered ‘Wet Dream’ on Radio 1’s Live Lounge this May, with its lusty, winning line, ‘What makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?’ Meanwhile, another insanely sing-along ‘Wet Dream’ lyric, ‘Beam me up!/ Count me in 3, 2, 1/ Let’s begin…’ was used as incidental music throughout both this year’s BBC Glastonbury coverage (where Wet Leg performed on the Park Stage they’ve already outgrown) and the steamy frolics of ITV2’s Love Island. Tell them they’ve cheered the nation up (and much of the world, including America), that they’re a cultural phenomenon and they simply beam at each other, bewildered. ‘But we might,’ wobbles Teasdale, ‘be a flash in the pan.’
‘We’ve been programmed to be scared of ageing. When actually I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. In my early twenties I was miserable, frustrated, and didn’t recognise my emotions’
‘Excuse me?’ A young woman in a Harley Davidson T-shirt and white-framed, retro oval shades approaches The Leg. ‘I love your album,’ she declares. ‘It’s just so different. I play bass guitar, so it’s really good to see girls rocking out. (To Teasdale) I love your screams. Makes me feel like I’ve got a bit of therapy out of my life!’
She saunters off while Teasdale whispers in disbelief, ‘She was… really cool.’
It’s taken 10 years to become an overnight sensation. They met as late teenagers, music BTEC students on the Isle of Wight, before both dropping out – Teasdale then in waitressing jobs before some stylist work dressing characters for adverts; Chambers a jewellery maker/ mender in her parents’ jewellery business. Growing up on an island ‘full of musicians’, famed for its festival, they were purist indie kids peripheral on the folk/ indie scene (devotees of Laura Marling, The Maccabees, and Björk), both solo and in various bands throughout their early to mid-twenties. Teasdale’s voice was astonishing: a Kate Bush soprano soaring to stratospheric operatics.
‘It was so serious!’ hoots Teasdale today, whose early lyrical themes were, she cringes, ‘I’m sad, mystical worlds, oh boy am I sad, I was desperate to become a very serious freak folkster’. Solo Chambers was a wistfully emo singer/ guitarist, both crumbling in the emotional and professional chaos that so often defines our twenties.
‘You feel like, “I should be sobering up, this person is working at this job, this person is marrying this person, this person is having a baby”,’ says Teasdale. ‘So, when we started Wet Leg it was, “F**k it”. Just pick up a guitar, write pop songs – stuff you would wanna play at a festival.’
‘And make everything like a joke. Writing music in the room together, it was way easier to be just really dumb,’ says Chambers.
‘It’s bad to read comments, but you do,’ adds Teasdale. ‘One comment was, “These are 28, 29-year-old women and they’re behaving like little girls”.’ She smiles, her golden tooth gem glinting in the sun. ‘I know we do but just have a f**king sense of humour!’
The name Wet Leg itself sets out their unique stall: curious, silly, saucy, a name both created from random emojis and local slang for boat-hopping mainland incomers to the Isle of Wight. They began Wet Leg, partly, as a ruse, to blag into festivals for free, forever enthralled by the alternative reality, ‘where nothing else matters and nobody’s phone has any signal,’ says Teasdale. ‘Our hearts,’ adds Chambers, ‘do yearn for the fields and merry times.’
The ever-smiling, globe-trotting tinker bells are also wryly objective, with a healthy wariness over fame, teenagers in the late 2000s who watched a then-toxic tabloid media brutalise our global female celebrities. ‘I think it has chilled out since celebrity culture was such a wild thing,’ decides Teasdale, who finds a camaraderie among their contemporaries today, sharing strategies for mental and physical wellbeing (a vital one: get your greens in). ‘There’s a real community, it feels very wholesome.’ Even if, on social media, there’s inevitable comments from male musicians.
‘I think [the industry] has chilled out since celebrity culture was such a wild thing. There’s a real community, it feels very wholesome’
‘Saying, “these girls can’t even play guitar”,’ scoffs Teasdale. ‘It’s not that important, being able to shred. Not to be all “women in music blah blah” – it’s exhausting that conversation – but if a guy had written our songs, I think there’d be less scrutiny.’
‘It’s like with Taylor Swift, when Damon Albarn said, “She’s not a songwriter, she co-writes”. What?!’ exclaims Chambers.
Wet Leg’s lyrics are deadpan, partly spoken narratives on what it means to be in your twenties: witty, sleazy, coruscating observations on love, sex, booze, drugs, emotional struggle, life in bands, life on phones, comic asides giving way to sweary, angry sideswipes at hopeless men. ‘Well, if you were better to me,’ sings Teasdale on the unambiguously titled ‘Piece Of Shit’, ‘then maybe I’d consider f**king you goodbye.’ Next March, she turns 30.
‘In this industry, we’ve been programmed to be scared of ageing,’ she muses. ‘When actually I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I am so happy. In my early twenties I was miserable, frustrated, and didn’t recognise my emotions.’
In 2023, the accidental indie-pop heroes and winsome reality escapees will also find themselves staring into an arena-sized pop audience as the warm-up act for Harry Styles (as if he needs one) – a ‘wild’ invite, especially for recent converts to the joys of mainstream pop.
‘I listened to Harry’s House and was like, ‘this is very good, Harry”,’ laughs Teasdale. ‘When you’re younger, you sculpt your identity around your music and I was, “I like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Strokes, and that’s all I like”. It’s only recently I think, “it’s OK to like Dua Lipa”.’
Do they find Harry Styles as extraordinarily attractive as everyone else does? ‘He’s a pretty good-looking guy,’ offers Teasdale. ‘But… I have a pretty good-looking girlfriend.’
This is unexpected news: all her relationship references to date have involved men. ‘It’s relatively new,’ she twinkles. ‘Until now I’ve always dated men’ – though not for any contemporary label like, say, pansexuality.
‘I would just say queer… querying?’ she decides, playing with the word. ‘You don’t have to put that pressure on yourself, to know what you are. I don’t know if I will ever date a man again.’
It was further unexpected because she’d given up on romance. ‘It’s apparent in the lyrics,’ she grins. “‘I’m done with love, never again.’ And then I accidentally fell in love – on the road – which is difficult. She’s busy too, but no matter how ridiculous it is, if you have a day off, you have to see them; go, just turn up. It’s very romantic. It’s just so good. Um… sorry!’
A hand flies to the top of her frock, fanning her neck, which is flushing light pink. ‘I am having a moment,’ she squeals. ‘I’m very in love.’
They must leave, for a meeting ‘with the accountant’, as another unexpected sound suddenly blares overhead, this time from St Clement Danes Church, the strident gongs of the fabled, surreal nursery rhyme, ‘Oranges and Lemons’. It’s a Wet Leg sort of sonnet, which inspires Teasdale to trill along with the chorus. Chambers smiles at her best friend’s beaming face: ‘It’s been so nice to sit outside.’ These are the days of their lives. More days like these to come. Yearning for fields and merry times.
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