Neither Rhian Teasdale nor Hester Chambers intended for Wet Leg to change any thing about their lives, for the music to travel anywhere. It’s the sort of faux-modest suggestion most new artists make, but for them it rings true — they saw the band as a vehicle for free festival tickets.
When their video for ‘Chaise Lounge’ went semi-viral thanks to nostalgic millennials who had lived through 00s British indie and older people pleased that finally someone was making real guitar music again, it took the pair pleasantly by surprise. The cottagecore aesthetic and off- kilter humour felt current. Combined with the fact that everyone had spent the best part of a year and a half wasting away inside waiting for the summer of love that never happened, the debut single captured the slightly demented public mood.
The most joyous element of Wet Leg was that they seemed like two friends from the countryside having a laugh. Fun aside, what are you supposed to do if one day you’re living on an island doing something to amuse yourselves and the next you’re being called ‘the most exciting band in the UK’ off the back of a single song? To find out, we’re in a bedroom in a coastal hotel on the Isle of Wight. Multiple suitcases of clothes for a photoshoot of Wet Leg are being laid out on the bed as Storm Eunice is raging outside. On the far side of the bed, Teasdale playfully puts on a bonnet and grins openly like a baby. Chambers, meanwhile, has tried on a red-and-white maxi dress and is twirling her hair expectantly. She says something quietly; she’s like a real-life pixie, her soft, high-pitched voice reaching for the opinion of her more extroverted best friend. Teasdale, who never gives anything away facially, says: “It’s not super you.”
“I don’t really have a ‘me’,” whispers Chambers. After a beat, there is a chorus of “Awww!” from everyone in the room.
When it’s time to take photos in the hotel room opposite, Chambers slides down the bedroom wall. She tells us she really, really doesn’t like photoshoots. To suggest that we start feels worse than punishing a child; it’s like sending an angel to their own personal hell.
“We’re still a bit scared. But we’re feeling the fear and doing it anyway”
After some initial warm-up shots on the balcony and bed, we film a video for social media. Chambers’ voice is but a murmur and kindly Teasdale lowers hers to her friend’s level: they act as a duo, dropping odd-ball lines and finishing each other’s slow sentences. As the shoot goes on, it transpires they’re not keen on the wardrobe or going to the multiple locations planned. They’re both warm and chatty, but events move at an island tempo here. And in Wet Leg’s world on the isle, the spiralling pace is set by them alone.
People don’t always leave the Isle of Wight: only half of Wet Leg did. Teasdale used to live in Bristol and is currently in London. For her, the Isle of Wight is “OK if I’m visiting, but if it’s on any kind of permanent basis, it makes me feel really claustrophobic and like a trapped teenager”. Any close friends have left, bar Chambers and the rest of the band.
Chambers still lives in West Wight, though not in Wroxall, where the rumour from those both on and off the island is that people are inbred. “It’s just so weird the things that kids say with such conviction,” she says.
Teasdale adds: “I guess it’s so boring here, it’s just something to say. Just making light conversation.”
There’s little to do growing up in a strange pressure cooker where everyone knows everyone. When someone asked me if I knew Wet Leg as a joke because I’m from the Isle of Wight, I said no and then looked at a picture and did recognise Teasdale: she was a known indie teen entity who played music locally. You vaguely know of all the people your age because you don’t leave. Day excursions to the mainland for shopping or gigs are rare, unless you have the money to do so. “I just couldn’t afford it,” remembers Teasdale. “I went to the Mystery Jets at the Wedgewood Rooms [in Portsmouth], th only thing that I remember going to there. You pay for your ticket and for the ferry and it’s 40 quid at 16.”
During festival season, the island was the place to be, when holidaymakers were over and the sun wasn’t just a concept: we boasted two of the country’s best music festivals, the Isle of Wight Festival and Bestival. “I can’t believe that we got to see Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Chic, The Roots, all on the Isle of Wight, I think that’s so sick,” says Chambers.
Teasdale laments that they weren’t friends at 15 and able to festival together — they met a little later, at music college. She also mourns that the Isle of Wight Festival line-ups aren’t what they used to be, instead feeling curiously dated and unloved. “International journalists say, ‘It’s so exciting, you’re playing the Isle of Wight Festival, such a, like, prestigious, historic festival.’ It’s a totally different reincarnation now, it’s not even, like, anything to do with it. It’s just the name.”
The pair met on a BTEC music course: Chambers was 16, Teasdale, 17. They’re now on the cusp of 30. Teasdale had started studying A levels in Sandown on the east coast of the island and then dropped out and worked at an ice-cream shop where she’d make doughnuts and microwave food for passers-by. “I think my mum was kind of upset with me and worried,” she says of leaving school. “Probably thought I’d realise it was a tough world out there and get my shit together. I thought the BTEC would be easy and I quite liked singing.”
“Just go fake it till you make it”
Chambers, meanwhile, was learning the drums, but quit: “They were too loud for me, the instrument was too loud. It was bad.”
Their friendship is clearly strong, with its own sisterly, unspoken language. In 2018, Teasdale approached Chambers to ask if she would be her wing-man for her solo project. “Rhian is just a very funny and creative person, [creativity] radiates out of you ever since I’ve known you,” Chambers starts. “I’ve never had a reason to not want to do this with you, except my self-doubt I had in my abilities. I thought, ‘Why on Earth would you want me to play guitar?’ It was really scary for me, feeling really just not like the right person.”
“It’s so bullshit that it was scary for me to have asked you this,” Teasdale replies of their working relationship. “We were both just so scared. I think we’re still a bit scared. But we’re feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” Teasdale’s project was something she had started to hate: “a bit folky, a bit deliberately sad and introspective”. There are still videos on YouTube of RHAIN: the music is highly lyrical and similarly indebted to 00s indie and the likes of Joanna Newsom and Regina Spektor. “I started to be, like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ And then it was just so fun playing with Hester: drive and listen to music, play a festival, thank you for the free beer. After a summer rolling around fields, a bit worse for wear, I feel like I got to know you a lot better.” Chambers adds: “You held my hair back from me when I drank too much beer. I would’ve held your hair back for you if you ever vomited.”
Thankfully, Teasdale has a very strong stomach. Although, she says, Chambers did support her through the “creaky coat situation”. This happened at Shambala Festival where many stories of this nature occur. “I dunno how you’d write about this in your magazine,” Teasdale says, “but I took an illegal substance and was wearing this PVC fur collar and the rest of it was really stiff. I thought I was a pencil. I literally felt so enclosed, but then, like, I had this nice fur collar. I was like: ‘I can’t move. I can’t move.’ Then I was being propelled into the ground. I was like, ‘Hester, help. I’m freaking out.’”
From there, the idea of doing Wet Leg came up organically between them. “It’s quite scary ’cos if you like someone, you can have the idea, but don’t get too excited because it really might not happen,” says Chambers of its conception. “Life just gets in the way of that stuff so easily. So, it’s a bit cool that actually we said it and then did it.”
According to Teasdale, they said they’d start a band before but it didn’t happen: “We were too scared.” Or you self-sabotage by not making time for it and then say you were too busy. “Yeah,” Teasdale nods. “Part of it was that we were like, ‘Oh, we’re too old to do anything with music now. We’re pretty happy in our jobs.’ We got to the point in our lives where we were really enjoying life. But let’s do some music so that we can go to festivals in the summer and hold each other’s hair back.”
Fashion lover Teasdale was working in “commercial land, take the money and run”: dressing people for adverts. She liked the heavy lifting and the busy nature of the work. She started three or four years ago after back-to-back waitressing jobs and since it was still a new world to her, was enamoured with styling people for a living. “‘Ah, they want a street cleaner. Great. I’ll get my go-to street cleaner outfit together’ or ‘They want a granny — I’ll rummage in the studio.’ It was dressing characters.” A connection she had from the island got her the first job. “She told me, ‘You need to be confident on set. Tell me that you’re confident on set.’ I had no idea.”
Chambers encourages her in real time: “It’s OK. Just go fake it till you make it.”
They’ve both had to give up their jobs because they don’t have time, though Chambers in particular misses her work as a jewellery maker and repairer. It’s boring but she loves the quiet repetitiveness of it. “I think that’s probably what I liked about my job,” says Teasdale. “It’s so hectic that it—” Chambers smiles and finishes her sentence: “—takes your brain to another dimension.”
The video for ‘Chaise Lounge’ was made before Wet Leg were signed by Domino, home to indie darlings like Arctic Monkeys, Fat White Family and Sorry. As was their new single ‘Angelica’ and its video, along with their self-titled debut album in full. Despite this complete package on offer, they were surprised at being signed at all during the pandemic. “Usually A&R people go to see multiple gigs to really get the full picture, but we couldn’t play any gigs. And apparently it wasn’t, like, that much of a problem for them,” explains Chambers. They’d only played four gigs to date and Domino didn’t come to those. “It was a bit scary…[Wet Leg] is probably the one thing I’ve ever done with freedom.” She turns to Teasdale. “I shared so many hang-ups, but you were telling me this was a safe space and I believe you.”
“It’s not a safe space any more,” adds Teasdale.
“I shared so many hang-ups”
Hang-ups about what? Being photographed? “Everything,” says Chambers. “I can be insecure about singing and playing and writing songs or photographs.” But on the Isle of Wight, no one does anything strange and if you begin an artistic endeavour, everyone knows about it and judges it immediately, Teasdale points out. “But it doesn’t matter because we won’t do it for any reason other than ourselves,” Teasdale says. “Music was cool, but it was something that I did before. This was not giving it up completely, not erasing it from my identity. Because it does feel like that when you stop a project.”
The insularity and innocence of the first lockdown on the island was the ideal safe space for the pair to create Wet Leg. They could reflect on the past but also make something that articulated where they were at now, suspended in time, as the pandemic stretched on indefinitely. Their album cover depicts them in school uniforms, and lyrics on multiple songs are reminiscent of university or teenage years to speak to their child-like entry into proper adulthood around 30 — or rather, show how similar the reality is for a generation without the means to grow up.
“There’s a lyric ‘Now I’m almost 28, still getting off my fucking tits’,” Teasdale trails off. “I just remember going on benders — for want of a better word — ten years ago. When you are ten years younger, you don’t have this disenchanted guilt, ‘I should probably get my shit together.’ When you are coming of age, like with Skins and Euphoria, it’s all so glamourised and then you get past 27 and you can’t just be hanging out with 20-year-olds, getting off your face. I mean, you can, but you feel that you just don’t have as much time. I feel there’s certainly a sense of running out of time. And I think it’s kind of funny that we made the band as like: ‘Oh, we’ve run out of time. Let’s make a We’ve Run Out of Time band.’ Would you agree? Or am I like…”
“There’s a sense of running out of time”
Chambers nods — that’s how what they do can feel so light when it’s the pair of them. It’s what allows them to run around with lobster arms in videos and make off-beat post-punk without worrying what nosey islanders say.
“There was no judgement upon ourselves,” Teasdale continues. “There was no ‘Is this actually good? Well, it doesn’t matter ’cos we’re never gonna get anywhere.’” They’re still learning what being in a hype band means: travelling the world, playing sold-out shows in America, trying to wash some of the mounting pile of clothes when they’re home or to see a single friend between flights, wondering whether there’s enough downtime to mend some jewellery for people. It’s also critics being excited about your debut album above most other releases of the year for its sense of humour, and facing a hotly anticipated headline tour of your own across the US.
On a plane the other day, Teasdale and Chambers had their heads together looking at their camera roll. Nothing from the past six months makes sense to them: acting in new music videos, promoting music to Australians, celebrating coming second in the BBC Sound of 2022 poll, wriggling along hotel-room corridors in America, gasping at billboards with their faces on in LA. “This is such a learning curve it feels really bizarre,” says Teasdale. “Just looking through our camera thinking: ‘How is life like this? This is so funny.’”