Hey you, in the front row/Are you coming backstage after the show?/Because I’ve got a chaise longue in my dressing room/And a pack of warm beer that we can consume.”
– “Chaise Longue”
When we first heard Wet Leg’s Rhian Teasdale insouciantly sing those lines back in June 2021, the world was in the middle of a year-plus-long lockdown, a period that decimated the touring business and had most of us isolated in our homes, clinging for signs of life.
Who knew salvation would come from the tiny Isle of Wight, an island in the English Channel off the southern coast heretofore best known in rock lore for the annual rock music festival where Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Jimi Hendrix all famously played in ’69 and ’70? Unlikely still it would come from two women in their late 20s who’d been toiling for several years trying to make it in various bands, and only succeeded when they gave up and started writing some “silly songs,” as Hester Chambers – the silent Teller to Teasdale’s chatty Penn – recently said. Making it in the music business, for them, just wasn’t in the cards.
Then came that joyous hook of a song called “Chaise Longue,” the French spelling for the lumpy sofa Teasdale slept on after returning to her hometown from her wardrobe assistant/stylist job doing commercials in London. There she would move in with Chambers, who was working in the family jewelry business, and her partner Joshua Mobaraki (a guitarist/synth player for Wet Leg’s touring band) to create the songs that would become Wet Leg.
The name was chosen randomly by the equivalent of throwing a dart at the wall, when they combined the emojis for “water” and “leg.” A homemade video – featuring the duo prancing around in floppy straw hats and long, white summer dresses in the sun –recalled the trippy and foreboding vibes of Ari Aster’s Midsommar and immediately connected the organic, homegrown image to the song.
“I remember asking them, ‘Are you sure about the name?” recalls the band’s veteran manager Martin Hall, whose firm, Hall or Nothing, has worked with Manic Street Preachers for three decades and also boasts The Script. “And they’re both saying, ‘Yes, we’re sure.’ And that was the end of the conversation. They had great pop songs with terrific lyrics and plenty of attitude.”
“To be honest, the name has really come into its own,” says Teasdale via WhatsApp in the middle of what sounds like happy hour at a noisy pub in Birmingham. “At first, it felt kind of clunky and funny. Now, we say it so much, it doesn’t mean anything anymore.”
Perhaps other than Amazon, Zoom, Postmates or Pfizer, no entity profited more from the pandemic than Wet Leg. After years of absurdly fraught politics and two years of fraught COVID, America – much as it embraced the Beatles’ bonhomie after the bummer of the JFK assassination – wanted something genuine, unpretentious and just plain friggin fun, a pop watermelon sugar rush perhaps akin to “She Loves You” or “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The rise of Wet Leg offers a case study in how to break a band step-by-step via the kind of virality, like word of mouth on steroids.
“I think I changed my mind again/I’m not sure if this is the kinda life/That I saw myself living.”
– “Too Late Now”
Teasdale admits she’s gobsmacked by Wet Leg’s rapid rise after signing to Laurence Bell’s small and mighty U.K. indie Domino Records. “It’s really, really strange,” she admits. “We had only released two singles – ‘Chaise Longue’ and ‘Wet Dream’ – so we were a bit pleasantly surprised. It’s a completely unheard-of thing for a band to do that and be told by their management and label that we’re going to book a quick, little American tour. It’s been just really, really wild and so unexpected. It’s hard to take it all in.
“We had basically quit doing music,” the 28-year-old frontwoman says “Wet Leg was just something we created to hold on to music in our lives. Both of us had stopped dreaming about making it. It’s like all of your friends are having babies or embarking on proper careers. We were just kind of going along with waitressing jobs pretending we were musicians. But not really, because it hadn’t paid a single bill.”
When they first came to the States in December, Wet Leg was booked in Los Angeles at the 350-capacity Echo and the 200-capacity Moroccan Lounge after shows at similar-sized venues in New York like the indie-anchor Mercury Lounge (250-capacity) and Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right (280 capacity).
By the time they returned in March, they were selling out the 1,200-capacity Fonda Theatre in Hollywood and, in their largest stateside show to date, the 1,900-seat Brooklyn Steel, moving the show after the original booking, the 650-seat Music Hall of Williamsburg, sold out in less than an hour.
“I was nervous about moving it,” admits manager Hall about shifting to the larger venue. “We’re trying to be strategic about it. We don’t want to skip any steps along the way, but we have to go with the demand.”
Wet Leg has also been an opening act for CHVRCHES, will be supporting Florence + The Machine later this summer and are penciled in as Harry Styles’ opening act when he tours Australia and New Zealand next year.
“You don’t want to put the pedal to the metal too aggressively,” cautions Wasserman Music VP Latane Hughes, who is responsible for the day-to-day touring of the band under EVP/Managing Executive Marty Diamond, overseeing a personal roster that includes Cashmere Cat, Floating Points, Flume, G Flip, Pink Sweat$ and Snakehips, among others. “We’re being very careful to put them in the right-sized rooms for where they are in their development even if we could sell more tickets. We want them to grow into their big venue shoes and look to be reactive on our feet as to how this thing is moving along.”
To that end, Wet Leg just announced a bigger North American tour that begins in Chicago with Lollapalooza and includes their own headlining dates (among them New Orleans’ fabled Tipitina’s Sept. 1) as well as major festival plays such as San Francisco’s Outside Lands (Aug. 7), the Olympic Peninsula’s Thing fest (Aug. 26), L.A.’s rebooted This Ain’t No Picnic, Denver’s Westword (Sept. 9) and Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful (Sept. 16) in addition to Florence + the Machine’s October arena and amphitheater dates in Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego.
“We want to put them in front of as many people as possible right now,” says Wasserman Music’s Hughes. “So we’re mixing in festival dates and opening acts where it makes sense with their own headlining shows.”
“It used to be so fun/Now everything just feels dumb/I wish I could care/And now I’m almost 28/Still getting off my stupid face.”
– “I Don’t Wanna Go Out”
“We are having a lot of fun,” gushes Teasdale, whose press exchanges actually resemble the witty banter and self-deprecation displayed by The Beatles when they first landed at New York’s JFK Airport in February 1964, albeit with far less hype.
“I’m 29 and that’s kind of considered over the hill for a new band. Especially being women. Hester and I were on different paths and pretty happy with where we were. When we started the band, we just wanted to play a few summer festivals alongside our day jobs. Even when we were signed to Domino, that was amazing, but we still expected to keep on working. So it’s wild that we’re able to do this full-time. Because it was so unexpected, I think we have this perspective of how lucky we are and how completely bizarre this is.”
As for playing before increasingly large audiences, Teasdale compares it to “wearing your mum’s high heels,” adding, “It’s uncomfortable but you feel fabulous. It’s like the show doesn’t fit, but we’re all in it together.”
Hall was originally made aware of the band by Michael Champion, a bassist for the group Champ – one of his management clients – and an A&R scout at the company, who first sent his boss tracks along with the “Chaise Longue” video.
“The lockdown gave them the time to perfect their craft and record the album. The trajectory from doing that first gig last July to where we are now has been pretty remarkable. It’s been a quick rise, the buzz has been incredible, and the timing was right. People were looking for something different, a breath of fresh air.”
Wet Leg released a remarkable string of singles – after “Chaise” and “Wet Dream” came, in succession, “Too Late Now” and “Oh No” – but their strategy called for holding off on putting out their self-titled debut album until earlier this month. The strategy worked like a charm in the U.K. where it debuted at No. 1 on April 15 with 2022’s second-biggest opening week. Dan Carey, who has worked with the likes of Geese, Grimes, Fontaines D.C., Black Midi, Franz Ferdinand and Hot Chip, produced the 12-track debut in his South London studio during quarantine. While the disc’s glorious sonic amalgam of new wave, post-punk and riot grrrl stridency are wondrous, the disc’s themes of Millennial malaise encompassing such hot-button topics as social media, feckless boyfriends, masturbation and supermarket shopping while getting “too high” are a way to exorcise all our pent-up
frustrations from two years of quarantine.
“Some of the songs certainly fit that,” agrees Teasdale. “Though I think I’d still be feeling those things and writing about them even without the pandemic. But I wouldn’t have had the time to put pen to paper, so I think the themes and topics discuss things that applied to me pre-pandemic.
“The reason it’s so funny is we’ve come out of all this with that same sort of social awkwardness and anxiety, but 10 times more intense. Still, it’s really, really great to be gigging. I’m so proud of us, and I’m so stoked with all the boys that we have in the band. We’ve known some of them since we were 17.”
Even while Wet Leg was traveling the U.S. on their tour bus, COVID reared its ugly head. Bassist Ellis Durand tested positive and the band had to cancel its opening slot for CHVRCHES at L.A.’s Palladium. Later, when drummer Henry Holmes contracted the virus, the band had to train a new drummer for their performance on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
Domino and management’s plan is to keep Wet Leg in the U.S. as long as possible, hoping “Chaise Longue” can follow in the footsteps of such previous label Stateside smashes as Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” or Arctic Monkeys’ “I Bet You Look Good On the Dancefloor,” going from Alternative radio to cultural ubiquity.
The band’s Domino U.S. label manager, Peter Berard, notices that, “While the three bands’ sound, audience and trajectories are all unique, there are some similarities. All three broke out with lead singles that captured the imaginations of music fans globally. All three performed at the Mercury Lounge in the Lower East Side on their first-ever trips to New York City as bands and all appeared at SXSW to promote their debut albums.”
The giddy, tongue-in-cheek strains of “Chaise Longue” are seemingly everywhere, with the song featured in the recent series finale of Pamela Adlon’s critically acclaimed TV series, “Better Things.” Manager Martin Hall and the label team are banking on the single, “Wet Dream,” to be a strong follow-up.
“Rhian and Hester don’t take themselves or the business too seriously,” he explains. “That’s their ethos. They’re not particularly bothered by chart positions, airplay or streams. They’re touring with their friends. And I believe that down-to-earth quality is why people are drawn to not just their music, but the two of them as personalities.”
“Everything is a surprise, especially all the promo that goes with this,” says Teasdale. “It’s kind of ignorant, but I never really thought about that being a thing. As a fan, I’d read all these interviews and I never once thought about how it must be for the person doing them.”
As for their personal lives, the duo are seemingly in good places: Chambers is partners with bandmate Mobaraki, while Teasdale says she’s “dating a woman at the minute for the first time and it’s really great. And I’m very in love. It’s fun, it’s new and it’s a side of myself I didn’t know.”
The question remains, though, how huge can Wet Leg get? Their debut album proves they’re more than one, two, three or even four-hit wonders. Can they maintain that blend of sarcasm and innocence as they get more popular?
“We’ve seen this kind of growth before, but it’s amplified by social media,” says Wasserman Music’s veteran agent Marty Diamond. “My 15-year-old daughter loves them. It’s stylish, it’s hook-laden, two and three-minute songs you can’t get out of your head. And they just keep getting better and better live.
“The data won’t predict what Wet Leg is doing. A band could have 100 million streams, but until someone takes $20 out of their pocket to buy a ticket, it means nothing. It has to be something you want to see for yourself. We’re not skipping any steps with Wet Leg. You have to know what to do next. If something isn’t built with a solid foundation, it can blow away in a heartbeat. You have to maintain the artist’s integrity.”
Wasserman Music’s Hughes adds, “We needed a guitar band with staying power that can integrate itself into modern music and be appealing to a 20-year-old and a 50-year-old.”
Even as they climb the ladder one rung at a time, Wet Leg’s ceiling looks limitless. Teasdale confesses that Wet Leg has already achieved most its initial goals. “We’re playing festivals. We’re just riding this crazy wave that could end at any moment,” she says. “We’re just trying to enjoy it. We’ll see what happens … Who knows?”