Guitars, Quirk & ‘High Jams’: Wet Leg’s Global Rise
How a pair of friends from the Isle of Wight became indie rock's latest, and quirkiest, saviors.
On the same day that emerging indie-rock band Wet Leg announced its signing to Domino Recording Co. last June, the group released “Chaise Longue,” a minimalist post-punk rocker that immediately gained notoriety for its deadpan vocal delivery and Mean Girls references. But according to lead vocalist Rhian Teasdale, the duo’s debut single was never meant to come out.
“Chaise Longue” was “supposed to just stay in this folder that said ‘High Jams,’ ” she says. “They’re just really silly songs. They’re not for anyone else. But now it is.”
“Had we known that other people would listen to it, maybe we never would have made it,” adds lead guitarist Hester Chambers.
Teasdale affirms: “No, we definitely wouldn’t have. I say ‘chaise longue’ like 47 times.”
Since then, the pair from England’s Isle of Wight has sold out venues across the United Kingdom and the United States, with more shows scheduled worldwide from now through November. Its catalog has earned over 13 million U.S. streams, according to Luminate, formerly MRC Data, and singles “Chaise Longue” and the dreamy, reflective “Too Late Now” have charted on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay and Adult Alternative Airplay, respectively. The band is in good company with acts both past — like the speak-singing Art Brut a decade ago — and present — including contemporaries Fontaines D.C., with whom it shares producer Dan Carey. And now, with its self-titled debut album arriving April 8, Wet Leg is already being touted as a shining example of how the world is hungry for the return of guitar-fueled indie rock.
Teasdale, 29, and Chambers, 28, met as music students at The Isle of Wight College. They first played together in 2018, when Chambers joined Teasdale for some gigs as part of RHAIN, Teasdale’s piano-based solo project, and in 2019 officially formed a band built around straightforward lyrics and “playing guitar really loudly,” says Teasdale. “I think before when I was writing, I would try and overcomplicate stuff, and the singing. I would try and show off the full range of my voice, but that is just unnecessary. It’s like guys on guitar who shred; it’s just musical masturbation.”
Though they previously attributed the band’s name to random hits on an emoji keyboard, they now say it came from an unfortunate sweat stain experienced by their drummer, Henry Holmes, who is joined by guitarist-keyboardist Josh Mobaraki and bassist Ellis Durand. The first Wet Leg show occurred on a local stage during the Isle of Wight Festival in front of a small crowd in 2019, but with Teasdale working in London as a wardrobe assistant and Chambers helping with her family’s jewelry business on the isle, the band could only play sporadically.
When pandemic lockdowns began in 2020, Teasdale and Chambers both ended up in their hometown, and although they collaborated remotely at first, they soon reunited in person, making the video for “Chaise Longue” that April. Former Wet Leg studio bassist Michael Champion, A&R executive for management company Hall or Nothing, sent the video to his boss, Martin Hall, who became an immediate fan and signed on as the act’s manager. “The fact that you can’t see Hester’s face in the whole video, the humor involved, it’s hard to do humor in music videos, but it’s so dry, the way Rhian sings to camera,” Hall says. He adds he had never heard the song prior to watching the clip, saying, “It sounded unlike anything else.”
Hall sent the video and some other early Wet Leg songs to labels including Island Records and Domino, which both dispatched representatives to the Isle of Wight to meet the band. “It seemed to me that they were making guitar music for themselves,” says Jordan Whitmore, Domino’s U.K. A&R manager. “They were not trying to be like anyone else or taking themselves too seriously.” Over a pint and some chips at the Spyglass pub, Teasdale and Chambers bonded with the Domino team and signed with the label in November 2020.
Following the signing announcement, Wet Leg resumed playing live last July, and by December, the band had played its first string of U.S. shows across New York and California — and sold out every date. “In our experience, we find it is good to get artists out to key international cities and turn people on to something new nice and early in the campaign, way ahead of the album release,” says Domino founder/owner Laurence Bell. “You get all those early adopters and tastemakers coming down to the small shows, and the excitement on the ground just swells from there.” Adds Hall: “It has gone incredibly quickly, more than any band I’ve ever managed in terms of putting the music out to where we are now.”
When the band returned this March for another round of touring, more sellouts followed, including one at Brooklyn Steel. (The show was originally scheduled for Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, but demand forced an upgrade from the 650-capacity club to the 1,800-person venue.) Attendees near the front wore lobster claws, as Wet Leg does in the “Wet Dream” video. Audience members screamed “I love you!” and someone in the crowd threw a bra. The band had enough material for about an hourlong set, playing through most of the upcoming album plus a Ronan Keating cover. Toward the end, Teasdale took a beat to stare out into the whooping audience. “This is very funny,” she mused aloud, smiling in disbelief before plunging into the next song.
This story originally appeared in the March 26, 2022, issue of Billboard.