Photo: Hollie Fernando
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Wet Leg On How A 6-Week Sleepover Spawned Their "Jaggedy" Indie Rock — And Global Fame
The Isle of Wight duo detail how they overcame fear through collaboration, which resulted in their viral hit "Chaise Longue" and a debut album that earned them three nominations at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
When Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers first started making music together, they never imagined their silly tracks would ever be heard — let alone get nominated for GRAMMYs.
It was December 2019, and the two singer/songwriters — now better known as indie rock duo Wet Leg — were in the midst of a six-week long sleepover at Chambers' house in the Isle of Wight, a small island off England's South coast where they both grew up. In between doing cozy activities like baking cookies and following Bob Ross tutorials, the two would stay up in the living room quickly getting out unserious song ideas with Chambers' boyfriend, Joshua Omead Mobaraki, who is now their touring guitarist.
Two years later, a song birthed from those delirious jam sessions called "Chaise Longue" almost instantly took off. The quirky track hooked listeners with its effortlessly cool post-punk guitar riffs, sardonic vocal delivery, Mean Girls-referencing lyrics, and sexual innuendos.
The viral popularity of the single — as well as of the other impishly upbeat tracks on the duo's 2022 self-titled debut — has propelled Wet Leg's whirlwind success, which includes landing three nominations at the 2023 GRAMMYs and an opening slot on Harry Styles' tour in the spring. (Their album also received two more GRAMMY nominations, Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical and Best Remixed Recording for the Soulwax Remix of single "Too Late Now," but those nominations go to the engineers and remixers, respectively.)
Though the two first met at Isle of Wight College — where they both studied music and subsequently dropped out — they first set out as individual solo artists. After becoming a little defeated from playing countless gigs with no certain direction, they both decided that they should stop taking things so seriously — and having a friend certainly helped.
"I feel like we're quite encouraging of each other," Chambers tells GRAMMY.com from a hotel room in New York City, where she and her bandmate had just arrived the night before. Teasdale grins, "Sometimes quite aggressively."
This emphasis on joy and camaraderie has led Wet Leg to writing their most gutsy, hilarious lines ("I went to school and I got the big D," goes one cheeky line on "Chaise Longue") as well as lyrics that capture the modern anxieties of directionless millennials. Any sense of unease is erased when their songs descend into cathartic guitar strums — making the magic of Wet Leg as blissful as it is fun.
Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, Wet Leg reflect on their unexpected nominations, having retro sensibilities and leaning on goofiness.
Welcome to New York! How are you feeling?
Teasdale: A bit dozy, a bit tired. We went to see LCD Soundsystem [during their residency at Brooklyn Steel] last night. The night before that, we were flying from LA on a red eye. So a little bit weary, but it's good to be in New York.
Congrats on the GRAMMY noms. How have you been processing them?
Teasdale: Well, it's so weird to see us nominated, for one. Then it's so weird to see us sandwiched between like, Karen O <a href="https://www.grammy.com/artists/yeah-yeah-yeahs/15944">of the [Yeah Yeah Yeahs] and Björk in the Alternative Album [category] — all these really legitimate artists.
Chambers: It's surreal.
Do you have any hopes of winning?
Chambers: I don't really think it's for us to say. Maybe it's common for musicians to not really think about that part of the music industry. The main thing is that we're getting to make music, it's not really about the wins. To be honest, being in New York and getting to go to all these places and play music — that's the win for us that we're most focused on.
Teasdale: It would just be nice to go. When we got nominated for the Mercury [Prize], it was just cool to see the show and how it all works. I've always dreamed of going to the Mercurys in particular, since it's Brit-centric. But I wouldn't have even thought, "I want to go to America and go to the GRAMMYs." So long and short of it is, I'm very excited to go and see the ceremonious happenings [Laughs].
I know you two met in college, but only started making music together in 2019. When you decided to become a duo, what kind of things did you connect on?
Teasdale: I'd say… fear? [Laughs.] I think when we started Wet Leg, we had just been to see some local bands at Isle of Wight Festival, and we were watching a lot of people playing music kind of nonchalantly and not being scared. We were like, "That looks really fun. Why don't we stop caring? Why don't we have a fun time?" It sounds simple and a little bit dumb, but before we started Wet Leg, both of us made music separately, and it was just scary.
Chambers: Yeah, scary. I found [myself drifting] into not really wanting to do music when I was by myself. When we started [Wet Leg], I definitely felt this feeling of sunshine [wiggles fingers]. It was a big shift, and it's much easier to face the fear when you're not alone.
Some of the big themes that stood out to me on the album was being a little dissociative and antisocial, and navigating weird sex stuff. When you were writing the songs, were you stopping to talk about these themes, or was it more fast and intuitive?
Teasdale: No, it was really funny when we finished the album and looked back at the patterns in what all the songs were about. It's funny, it's like a snapshot of that point in life. We were 26 and 27, and for me, I didn't really know what I was doing with my life, career-wise, and I had just been through a big breakup. I was feeling like all my friends around me were getting legit jobs and getting married, and I was just going to the same kind of festivals and parties. I was getting that feeling of like, "OK, maybe it's time to knuckle down and find my way." I guess that kind of all [leaks] it's way in there. But we didn't discuss it, because we also didn't really think that we could make an album.
Chambers: Or that anyone would listen to it.
Teasdale: Yeah, so it's gonna be interesting going into writing the second album knowing that we can do it.
What was the vibe of the writing sessions when you were writing these songs on your debut? Can you set the scene?
Teasdale: With "Chaise Longue" and "Wet Dream," they were both written off the cuff at Josh and Hester's house, in the living room. They were written quite late at night.
Chambers: Not even writing for Wet Leg, it was just a fun thing to do.
Teasdale: Yeah, they were just supposed to stay in the folder on the computer and never see the light of day. Those ones were just kind of [born] out of silly energy. Oh, and "Ur Mom" was written in a Hilton hotel in Croydon [England] after a long day shooting an ad for KFC.
Some of [the songs] were written in solitary, then we sent each other the demos. Then some of it was written together. "Too Late Now" would've been written in a band practice environment. So, there's no set way, which is maybe why the album is so jaggedy.
Watching your music videos, you two are wearing prairie dresses and there are retro television sets. I feel like your aesthetic calls back to an older time. Is there any particular reason?
Chambers: I think we do generally have an appreciation for old things. All of the furniture in our room is secondhand, and we wear a lot of vintage clothing. When we get to a city, we always [search for] vintage clothing shops, it's a really good hobby. Aesthetically, in movies and stuff, it's just comforting.
Teasdale: I also think it's because we shot most of the videos on the Isle of Wight, where we're from. If you ever go there, it's like it's still the '70s over there.
Chambers: It's also a nice juxtaposition. Because we're making music now.
Teasdale: Yeah, making music with the times, I suppose.
In the "Wet Dream" video, you have lobster claws on. How did you think of that as a character?
Teasdale: Me and my friend Emma, who was the stylist I used to work for before we started doing music, were somehow like, "Yeah, let's make some lobster claws." Then we were like, "Should we dress everyone in blue, so it looks kind of cult-y?" I don't know where these ideas came from, it just kind of happened.
Also, the song is "Wet Dream," so obviously the video had to be very sexy. I think that the only way for me to be able to [perform sexy moves in the video] is put on something goofy, like big lobster claws, to embrace my sexuality. There has to be something offsetting it. I'm getting a bit embarrassed saying that.
That reminds me of one of my favorite lyrics of yours, which is on "Too Late Now," when you say that you don't need someone to tell you to "shave your rat." I like it because it's a little gross and unexpected, since the typical slang word would be "kitty" or "cat."
Teasdale: Maybe it's a U.K. thing, because when I was growing up, I'd hear things like, "Get your rat out!" Not that I'd call mine my rat, but some boy across the street would shout that at me.
Growing up on an island, do you think that affects your mentality as a musician? Maybe it feels insular, or like you're in a pressure cooker environment?
Teasdale: Now that we've made some musician friends [who live] off the Isle of Wight, you can see how they fit into a scene and everything that they do, the music industry is right there [watching them]. There's an A&R person like, sniffing around.
Chambers: Whereas on the island, it's not as sizzling. There's not so many venues, and you don't get bands coming into town. You're much more incubated, I think. Pressure cooker is a good way to put it, because there's so many passionate, creative people anywhere you go [on Isle of Wight], but there's less [outside] influence.
Teasdale: But part of Wet Leg being busy and doing alright is that, all of a sudden, bands from the Isle of Wight — like, Coach Party, for example — can ride the wave a little bit. [We're] kind of drawing peoples' attention to Isle of Wight bands, and that's cool.
Do you have any goals for the far future?
Teasdale: To do 20 consecutive nights at Brooklyn Steel? Leave all our guitars up and not have to go anywhere.
Chambers: Yeah, we were saying that it must be so nice that LCD can just pop home once they're done with a gig, wake up in their own beds, and then pop over to the venue and play a show. Touring is also nice, but it's just that traveling definitely makes you a little tired bean, doesn't it?
I really like gigging and seeing places has been really rad, so we're just trying to enjoy where we are and where we're going and see what happens. I really can't think too far ahead right now — it's a bit scary.
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Photos: Jason Stoltzfus; Jasper Cable-Alexander; Christian Alanis; Jada + David; Courtesy of artist
6 Female-Fronted Acts Reviving Rock: Wet Leg, Larkin Poe, Gretel Hänlyn & More
Long a staple of the form, 2023 sees even more women leading the hell out of rock bands. Read on for six rising acts whose bold sound and brash energy are taking rock to new heights.
Neil Young once proclaimed that "rock and roll can never die," and while the genre isn't necessarily topping charts or playlists today, there are signs that rock music is coming back in a big way. In 2023, Neil's truth is being upheld by female rockers.
Long a staple of the form — rock was pioneered by a woman, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, iterated on by female-led groups like Heart and Jefferson Airplane, revived and reformed by the likes of Bikini Kill, and onward to Paramore — women's contributions to rock remain less feted than those of their male counterparts.
Yet female rockers and female-led bands are resonating with today’s younger audiences in big ways, following a culture shift that has resulted in more space for young women to express themselves. Gen-Z and younger millennial artists such as Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo and boygenius are known for their honest lyricism; it’s only natural that they’ve gravitated toward the fiery release of rock to further reflect their own individual experience.
Eilish’s GRAMMY-nominated breakup anthem "Happier Than Ever" invokes the classic rock format of beginning acoustic and swelling into an epic band finish complete with a guitar solo and a final 20 seconds of feedback-driven noise. Rodrigo has several rock songs on her smash hit debut album SOUR including "good 4 u," another enraged breakup song with emo tinges that is currently sitting at 1.7 billion streams on Spotify.
Finally, while the debut album from boygenius, the record, is mostly in the indie wheelhouse of members Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus, the single "$20" is an alt-meter rock song. The trio details the stories of early youth wherein all it takes to avoid responsibility is $20; Bridgers literally screams her request for money at the song's close.
But how to define rock — is it a feeling or an attitude? A sound or a set of instruments? For the purposes of this list, rock is categorized as guitar-forward and band-based. First and foremost, guitar is at the forefront — generally distorted, though an acoustic or clean sound can lend an upbeat energy or psychedelic quality. Second, rock is a band genre, even if a group is named after one person, the band creates real cohesion (e.g. the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Steve Miller Band). In 2023, women are leading the hell out of these bands.
Read on for a list of rising artists whose sound and spirit rock.
As Wet Leg, Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers took home a number of golden gramophones at the 2023 GRAMMYs: Best Alternative Music Album for their self-titled debut, and Best Alternative Music Performance for "Chaise Longue."
Although they didn’t win in the "rock" categories, their guitar-driven success defines the current generation of rock music (to the point that they even beat out well-established acts like Arctic Monkeys and Yeah Yeah Yeahs).
Utterly simple in its song form, "Chaise Lounge" captures Gen Z's disillusionment about college, viewing it as more of a gateway to light-hearted debauchery than a path to vocational freedom. Then they tear through the disillusionment with a high-energy, limb-shaking guitar riff.
Rock and roll was certainly invented by Black American artists, but British musicians have consistently innovated and expanded the genre — from the Beatles launching the British invasion, to Sabbath morphing rock into heavy metal, to Pink Floyd’s exploration of progressive psychedelia. Coming out of London, Gretel Hänlyn (pronounced hen-line) is upholding all the best traditions of British rock.
Hänlyn explores every current corner of rock on her recently released EP, Head of the Love Club, and her previous, Slugeye.
With a uniquely deep and resonant tone, Hänlyn has the power and versatility of a crooner. That ability defines the sound of "Dry Me" and other works throughout Hänlyn's catalog. She alters her delivery to befit the yelping and joyful side of rock on "King of Nothing" as well as the seething and scary side on "Drive."
Coming out of Sinaloa Mexico, BRATTY is one of the female rock artists playing Coachella 2023, sharing her invigorated brand of the languorous sound of surf rock.
BRATTY's seaside exploits surely influenced the loungey and chilled-out feel of songs like "Honey, No Estás" and "tarde." With swells and sustains that are reminiscent of ocean sounds, BRATTY’s music transcends language barriers.
Given that the festival has been without a major rock headliner since Guns ‘N Roses in 2016, the rock artists on the lineup this year are there to demonstrate the lifeblood of the genre. BRATTY’s contribution demonstrates that rock can be slower, softer, and just as effective.
Olivia Jean isn’t just a former member of Jack White’s touring band. She’s not just his wife, either. She’s an artist all on her own, and she rocks hard.
As a solo artist, Jean has released two albums, an EP, and a single on White's Third Man Records. Prior to that, she was releasing on the label via The Black Belles, her all-female garage-goth project, which put out a self-titled album in 2011 along with four singles.
Jean’s fingerprints go even deeper into the Third Man archives via her session contributions to different releases like Tom Brosseau and John C. Reilly’s seven-inch single, Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar.
No matter where she’s lent her vocal and instrumental talent, her loud yet bubbly sound is a welcome addition to the catalog.
Jean’s forthcoming album, Raving Ghost, (out May 5 on Third Man), and its first single, "Trouble," touches on all the traditional rock favorites like pentatonic power chords and call-and-response guitar squeals. You can check out Oliva Jean's rock on her American tour in May and June.
Fun fact about the sisters Megan and Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe: They are distantly related to Edgar Allen Poe. With that kind of connection, it’s only natural their rendition of rock carries a certain connection to the sounds of generations past. Many of those older sounds of rock and roll stem from their native American South, and manifest in influences of blues and Americana that were born of the same region.
Larkin Poe's Venom & Faith was nominated for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 2019 GRAMMYs. Grounded in swinging rhythms and twangy notes that have hallmarked the blues since its inception, the Lovells demonstrate their understanding of the music’s roots on a technical and emotional level, alongside their ability to carry the genre into the present.
Their latest album, Blood Harmony, follows the hereditary thread of blues giving birth to rock and roll. Larkin Poe dial back the swing just a bit and turn it up to 11 for hot and distorted tracks like "Bad Spell," which features guitar breaks that will have Stevie Ray Vaughn jamming along in his grave.
Another product of London, Sarah-Jayne Riedel fronts the just-out-of-the-gate alternative rock band, Dutch Mustard. Last year Dutch Mustard released their debut EP An Interpretation of Depersonalisation, and was quickly featured on BBC, getting airplay on Radio 1’s Future Artists and being selected by none other than rock's enduring sage Iggy Pop on 6 Music.
Dutch Mustard produces a sound that is as dreamy as it is heavy, finding that middle ground in guitar tone between fuzzy and pristine. Then on songs like "Something To You," vocal layering adds a hopeful flavor. Dutch Mustard, like the other artists on this list, make listeners feel hope not just for the band, but for the future of rock.
That future is especially bright considering Riedel wrote all the songs and demoed all the instruments herself in her bedroom before bringing in other musicians. The first EP was written entirely during the first COVID lockdown as well.
With that kind of creativity and versatility coming from her, there is no telling where she’ll take her music as her career moves forward into an open industry.
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Photo: Lorne Thomson/Redferns
9 Must-See Acts At SXSW 2023: Wet Leg, Balming Tiger, Armani White, The Lemon Twigs & More
As the music showcases kick off at South by Southwest 2023, get a preview of some of the most-anticipated acts who will hit the stage in Austin.
When South by Southwest takes over Austin, Texas every spring, the city explodes with culture, new ideas and fresh sounds. Hundreds of artists descend to perform a variety of engaging showcases, intimate sets and show-stopping performances hoping to make their mark.
Since the festival's inception in 1987, the SXSW music showcase has become one of the largest music festivals in the world; everyone from Patti Smith to Childish Gambino to Garth Brooks has been on the bill. But one of the biggest draws of SXSW is the chance for music discovery, as bands from all over the world travel to Austin each year — and this year alone, 1,400 bands will perform throughout the week.
As the 2023 iteration gets into full swing, check out nine buzzing artists appearing at SXSW, including a recent GRAMMY-winning duo, a viral rapper on a victory lap, and popular English music collective rock outfit who is starting to turn heads stateside.
Performing as part of the British Music Embassy showcase, the curiously named Wet Leg is composed of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, who spin bright, buoyant pop that reflects an innocence. As a result, their knack for songwriting and performance garnered them two GRAMMYs in February for Best Alternative Music Performance for single "Chaise Longue" and Best Alternative Album for their eponymous debut (they were also nominated for Best New Artist). As if that weren't enough, their charming hilarity has helped them they've also become TikTok darlings, collecting over 13 million likes on the platform.
"We're just trying to enjoy where we are and where we're going and see what happens," Chambers told GRAMMY.com last year. "I really can't think too far ahead right now — it's a bit scary."
Recently singled out by The Hollywood Reporter as a highlight of this year's festival, Italo-Congolese artist Sans Soucis' sound is branded as a "soul-invigorating" artist. They blend a variety of disparate styles — such as Congolese Rumba, R&B and alt-pop — into a tidy and refreshing sonic package, landing somewhere in between Solange and PinkPantheress. Just listen to the effervescent melodies of the standout track "All Over this Party" for evidence of a sharp talent.
"Sometimes I do solo improvisation sessions," they recently said of their songwriting technique. "I just connect pedals to my synth and record random stuff. On another day, I'll start sampling sounds from them."
Hot off his viral track "Billie Eilish," rapper Armani White rolls into Texas as one of the festival's more well-known featured performers. It's a victory lap that also marks a new chapter for the 26 year-old Philadelphia native who recently released the follow-up single "GOATED," an extension of what he refers to as "happy hood music."
"You see the smile on my face, you see all my jagged teeth and you have no idea what the hell I've been through," he told Notion earlier this year. "That's really what I want to portray – no matter what you go through, you still find a way to stand up and smile."
Influenced by '60s-era bands including the Beach Boys and the Lovin' Spoonful, Chicago natives Divino Nino trace their roots back to Bogota, Colombia. As a result, the mix of the music of their heritage along with their various influences from the '60s manifest itself in spirited and catchy songs like "XO" and "Drive" which boast both Spanish and English lyrics.
"When I listen to a good song, my body inherits the feelings of that track," said vocalist Javier Forero to the website 15 Questions. "I just become intoxicated and get inspired to dance or make a track that reminds me of those feelings."
Considered a household name in the busy London music scene, the collective Steam Down makes their American debut at SXSW to demonstrate why their star is rising back home. A music collective founded by the producer Ahanse, their debut single, "Free My Skin," promptly set the internet on fire upon its release. Along with now infiltrating the American market, they're currently prepping a highly anticipated debut album.
"How can we live in a more harmonious way?" says Ahnase of his overarching goal to Sussex Jazz Magazine. "How can we create the feeling of what that can be? That inspired what Steam Down is now, which is: how do we start thinking about how music can be the tool for creating harmony between people?"
From a London music collective to a South Korean one, Balming Tiger is made up of a ragtag group of creatives (including rapper Omega Sapien and the singer/songwriter Sogumm). Their esoteric production and melodically adventurous songs may make you think of BROCKHAMPTON, but with a K-pop twist. The group heads to SXSW riding high on their biggest success to date, the popular "섹시느낌 SEXY NUKIM" which features BTS member RM and has collected 52 million streams on Spotify alone.
"We are pushing our agenda to broaden the genre of K-Pop," frontman Omega Sapien told High Snobiety last year. "The world is not ready for this part of K-Pop yet. Welcome to the dark side."
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
With a name like that, you could have perhaps guessed that the group is a stoner-rock band. Hailing from Newcastle, England, the eccentric group — also known as Pigs x7 — has been steadily rising since the release of their quirky 2017 debut Feed the Rats, which began a fearless hard-rock reputation. The group rolls into Austin weeks after the release of their fourth album, Land of Sleeper.
"As a band we're constantly playing on the edge of absurdity and absolute commitment to seriousness," guitarist/producer Sam Grant recently told The Line Of Best Fit. "Somehow we're constantly trying to sit in the middle of it..."
The Lemon Twigs
Hailing from Long Island, New York, this duo made up of brothers Brian and Michael D'Addario was born out of a childhood as Broadway performers. Now in their late 20s, the pair later zeroed an artist project of their own and set to release their fourth studio album, Everything Harmony, in May.
As a result of their indie-slash-glam rock sound, the group has won praise from everyone including Iggy Pop and Elton John, the latter of whom raved of the group: "They're so out of left field in their songs. They don't have any rules and that's sometimes the way it should be."
After California native Samuel Regan met Bologna, Italy-born Luca Lovisetto while studying abroad in Italy, the two became musical partners — and now, they're eight years and four studio albums in. The shimmering sounds of Baseball Gregg will be on display all over Austin, including a showcase presented by the Italian Trade Agency. Their music, meanwhile, has inflections of sunny California pop; take for instance "Sad Sandra" which opens with a glistening synth and is complimented by falsetto vocals that joyfully shine like the sun.
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Photo: Rebecca Sapp
6 Things To Know About Bonnie Raitt: Her Famous Fans, Legendary Friends & Lack Of Retirement Plan
During "A Conversation With Bonnie Raitt" at the GRAMMY Museum, 13-time GRAMMY winner detailed her career trajectory, history of big-name collaborations, and how her win for Song Of The Year at this year’s GRAMMY Awards was "a total surprise."
For the uninitiated, Bonnie Raitt is just an "unknown blues singer" — albeit one who managed to nab the Song Of The Year award at the 2023 GRAMMYs, plus two other trophies. But to the millions in the know, and the choice few in attendance for a chat with Raitt at the Grammy Museum on March 5, she is a living legend.
Over the course of her decades-long career, Raitt has earned 30 GRAMMY nominations, taking home 13 golden gramophones for tracks like "Nick Of Time," "Something To Talk About," and “SRV Shuffle,” as well as albums such as Luck Of The Draw and Longing In The Hearts. Last year, Raitt was awarded the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, and at this year’s ceremony, she snagged GRAMMYs for Best American Roots Song, Best Americana Performance and the coveted Song Of The Year.
Before she heads out on a tour of the western United States and Australia, Raitt sat down to chat with moderator David Wild for about two hours, musing not only about her "total surprise" about snagging the Song trophy, but also about her experience at the ceremony. It was an illuminating and downright charming experience — as well as an educational one. Here are six things we learned at "A Conversation With Bonnie Raitt."
Taylor Swift Is A Fan — And A Humble One At That
Raitt recounted being chatted up by Taylor Swift during the GRAMMYs, with Swift telling Raitt backstage that she felt okay losing Song Of The Year to her. Swift's "All Too Well (10 Minute Version)" was in competition, alongside works by Lizzo, Adele and Harry Styles.
Swift also introduced herself to Raitt, whom she’d never met, saying,"Hi, I’m Taylor." Raitt said she responded, "Ya think?" — which made the audience in the Clive Davis Theater crack up.
She’s A Master Collaborator, With More On The Way
"No one commands more respect" amongst their musical peers than Bonnie Raitt, said Wild, who's worked on the GRAMMY Awards as a writer since 2001. Whenever the show’s team has struggled to think of who could best pay tribute to someone like John Prine, Ray Charles, or Christine McVie, "the answer is always Bonnie Raitt."
That’s probably why, as Raitt noted, she’s recorded duets with more than 100 different musical acts — from Bryan Adams to B.B. King. Raitt added that she’d still love to work with Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, and H.E.R., and that fans can anticipate new collaborative work coming from work she’s done with Brandi Carlile and Sheryl Crow.
Raitt added that she’s gotten really into Unknown Mortal Orchestra lately, who she heard about through Bruce Hornsby.
She’s Learned From And Befriended Musical Masters
Raitt was effusive about her love for King, among others, saying that one of the great joys of her career has been sitting at the feet of blues greats like Sippie Wallace and Son House. The singer/songwriter expressed her gratitude for being able to help get so many of these once-forgotten masters both the attention and the pay they deserved. She cited her work with the Rhythm And Blues Foundation as being of great importance to her personally, saying that it’s vital that the roots of blues and jazz are taught in schools today.
Wild also got Raitt to open up about her friendship with legendary gospel-soul singer Mavis Staples, who toured with Raitt just last year. Calling Staples, "all the preacher I’ll ever need," Raitt said she thinks she and Staples bonded over being the daughters of famous fathers. "It’s a great honor of my life being friends with her," Raitt said of her "mutual sister."
Later, Raitt also waxed rhapsodic about another famous daughter, Natalie Cole, who she said she’d been thinking about all day.
Raitt’s Got An Independent Spirit And An Independent Label
A good portion of Wild and Raitt’s chat was devoted to the star’s career trajectory. The two detailed how, as a 21-year-old college student, Raitt signed to Warner Bros. only after they promised her complete creative control of her own indie label, Redwing.
Raitt said it was only with the help of a"team of mighty women" that she was able to go independent. She cited lessons from friends like Prine, Staples, and Jackson Browne, from whom she learned going it alone could be done successfully.
Bonnie Raitt Almost Missed Out On "I Can’t Make You Love Me"
Raitt also talked a bit about her previous GRAMMY triumphs, including her run of nominations and wins around 1989’s Nick Of Time. Her popular single, "I Can’t Make You Love Me," was originally written for Ricky Skaggs, who intended to make it a lively bluegrass record.
Raitt added that she thinks the song "Nick Of Time" struck a chord because she opened up about what it means to be getting older.
She’s Not Planning On Retiring (Or Dying) Any Time Soon
After joking that COVID lockdown felt like "house arrest" and "hibernation," Raitt said that her recent tours have been a blessing. "It feels like I was under the earth without any sunshine," Raitt says, reassuring attendees that she’s "never retiring." She said that while she’s lost eight friends in the past three or four weeks, including the great David Lindley, the 73-year-old is optimistic that she can "be here and celebrate for another couple of decades."
Raitt capped off the event doing what she loves best, teaming with long-time bassist Hutch Hutchinson for an intimate four-song set that included "Angel From Montgomery," "Shadow Of Doubt," "Nick Of Time," and the GRAMMY-winning "Just Like That." Raitt ended the evening by thanking the Recording Academy for inviting her out, joking, "I can’t believe I get to do this for a living."
Bonnie Raitt Essentials: 11 Songs That Showcase The Breadth And Depth Of The 2023 GRAMMYs Song Of The Year Winner
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Meet Tobias Jesso Jr., The First-Ever GRAMMY Winner For Songwriter Of The Year
"I felt the weight of what it meant," the man behind the curtain of massive songs by Adele, Harry Styles, Marcus Mumford and more says about his win in the brand-new GRAMMY category.
Tobias Jesso Jr. wanted to know how to write a hit song, so he read How to Write a Hit Song. Not that he needed to figure out how to break into the mainstream: he had already written a tune with Sia and Adele that cracked the Billboard Hot 100. But in an effort to take his young career seriously — that of writing behind the curtain for the stars — he cracked open the book at a café.
Just then, a voice: "What the hell are you doing?" He glanced up. It was Sia.
"She was like, 'Why are you reading that?' and I was like, 'I honestly don't know,'" Jesso remembers with a laugh. "I think I just put the book away from that point on and was like, OK, I don't need the books. And I just felt like there's been a different one of those lessons at every step of the way where I'm just like, Man, I think this is what I got to do, and then I just figure it out."
Since that exchange, Jesso has written with a litany of contemporary stars: John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Pink, Haim, Harry Styles — the list goes on. (As per the latter, he co-wrote "Boyfriends" on Harry's House, which was crowned Album Of The Year at the 2023 GRAMMYs.)
And at said ceremony, he received a historic honor — the first-ever golden gramophone for Songwriter Of The Year. As Evan Bogart, Chair of the Songwriters & Composers Wing, recently toldput it to GRAMMY.com: "We're looking for which songwriters have demonstrated, first and foremost, that they're considered a songwriter first by the music community. We want to recognize the professional, hardworking songwriters who do this for a living."
Read More: Why The New Songwriter Of The Year GRAMMY Category Matters For The Music Industry And Creator Community
Clearly, Jesso fits the mold, and possesses technical chops worthy of How to Write a Hit Song. But his realization — that he can literally throw out the rulebook — speaks volumes as to his flexible, collaborator-first and fun-first process.
"I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people, and the songs will come if we're all just being honest," he tells GRAMMY.com. "If you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper."
And while working his interpersonal and collaborative magic, he keeps his ears and imagination open — a momentary trifle can become the heart of a song. It happened with Cautious Clay's "Whoa," which came from messing with some, well, whoas.
"It was a little silly at first," says Jesso,the songwriter whose first output was "inappropriate" high-school joke songs. "But now it wasn't silly anymore."
GRAMMY.com sat down with Jesso about his creative beginnings, the experience of working alongside pop titans, and how his inaugural GRAMMY win for Songwriter Of The Year happened during the happiest, most creatively fruitful period of his burgeoning career.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
How did it feel to take home the golden gramophone — the first ever in this category?
It felt tremendous. It felt amazing. It's such an honor to have received it, and I felt the weight of what it meant. I get really stage frightened, and so I kept telling myself there's no way I was going to win, just so I wouldn't be nervous or anything like that.
But weirdly, when I did win, I was very not nervous. I don't know how to put it, but it was the opposite of what I thought I would feel. I don't know if I've never been awarded something so prestigious. My elementary school did a piece on me after I won the GRAMMY, and it was sort of largely a "We didn't see any talent at all" kind of thing.
So, I'd say "tremendous" would be probably the one word I would feel most aptly describes it. I'm just really, really proud of the category and its creation, and super lucky to have been a part of it at all. Especially in the year that it comes out. I was baffled that I was nominated.
I had already felt like that rush of whoa, this amazing thing happened when I was nominated. And then winning was the next level of completely beyond what I could have ever expected.
How does the win help chart the next stage of your career?
As a songwriter, your job is to serve the artist. Your job is to serve the artist — the person who the song's for. And I think because of that, most songwriters have a very serve mentality, which generally doesn't work out well on the business side of things for you.
I think if you took all the producers in the world and took all the songwriters in the world and tried to look at which ones are more business savvy, I'd say nine times out of 10, it's probably the producers.
I think a lot of people — artists or songwriters among them — have imposter syndrome, feeling like they don't really know whether they belong there or they're just lucky or they have what it takes for the next one, even. If they know they had a good run or whatever, they're always going back to the well and praying that there's something in there.
And I think this GRAMMY is almost like having a symbol of a really good run — a really good, fertile time of creativity or something. TI think the way I see it is sort of a symbol of this period of time where I had a lot of ideas, and worked really hard, and managed to somehow win this thing, which is, for me, is huge. It means a lot.
For the songwriting community to have the award to look forward to, to have this symbol of Hey, you can be creative as a songwriter and just be a songwriter who doesn't sing and doesn't produce, and [the fact] you can get this prestigious symbol of your gifts that the world will now recognize — I think that's a wonderful thing for songwriters to have.
Take me back to the beginning of your career writing songs, either for yourself or others. The first time you really embraced this magical act of creation.
I was such a lazy songwriter for so many years because I always loved writing songs, writing songs with my friends in high school and stuff like that. But I never really wanted to play an instrument, and I never really wanted to sing them myself.
I think probably back in high school, in 1998 or '99, it was because they were joke songs. So I probably didn't want to sing them because they were inappropriate or something. I always wanted to. The beginning for me was definitely a sort of moment of hearing Tracy Chapman when I was like, Oh, this is what I'm going to do. Not be Tracy Chapman, but write songs.
From there I was really lazy and I just tried to do as little as possible, but I had this sort of confidence that I was somehow good at it. So, I would sometimes have my friends who played guitar or my friends who played piano, or whoever was around, do the music part for me, and I could just kind of pipe in and direct where I felt like my skillset was.
I started writing on piano for the first time when I was 27. That was a big moment for me where I was. I feel like I finally figured it out. It took me a long time: I still don't know how to play the piano, but I know I'm going to figure this out now.
I made a lot of mistakes along the way with bands and with albums or whatever. Things that just didn't exactly go the way [I planned them]; my gut was eventually telling me it just wasn't right. And then, when I started playing piano, it just finally all felt right, and I didn't think too much about it. I just sort of started doing it.
During that time, I unfortunately had to sing to get my album out, which was sort of a means to an end. But as soon as I was able to, I ducked away from that and started writing. Then I just had a new job. I was like I got promoted or something.
As you honed your ability and developed your craft, how did you follow that chain of connections to be able to write for who you've written for?
It's funny because Adele was the first person I worked with — [but] not in a professional way where managers and stuff like that are involved, and it's not just a friend of mine from high school or something. She was sort of my blueprint for how those things went.
I couldn't have gotten any luckier than with Adele, because her blueprint for how to do a writing session is the most pure in the game. There's nothing to hide behind. There's no producer in the room. She came to my friend's grandparents' where there are no mics; there's no studio equipment at all. There's a piano. And she just goes, "Great, let's write a song."
I don't know that that even exists much anymore. There's not even a microphone to capture what's going on, let alone one of the biggest players in the entire world doing it — just showing up, being like, "Let's write a song." And there's nothing to record her. I thought that was really cool. I'm like, "That's how I write songs. I just sit in front of a piano and just do what I think I like." And she was like, "And me too."
So, that's how we got along real great off the bat. And then from there, I would say it was just the most epic amount of failures and trial and error to figure out what the hell I was doing in every different session. I mean, I was treading water at times, and I felt like I was smoking crack sometimes, because I was so creative in a certain scenario I didn't expect to be creative in or something like that.
I think it's just this kind of learning process. There are a lot of people who are typically geared towards one style of writing. You're the country guy or you're the pop guy, or you're the ballad guy. And I could see that I was getting typecast. I was starting to get typecast, especially early on in my career because ballads, that's just the tempo that's naturally within me. It's sort of my soul tempo to just slow things down. I can write much easier in that tempo. I'll always sort of naturally progress there.
But I wanted to push the limits of that, and I wanted to figure out a way to get out of that typecast. And so I tried as quickly as I could to pick people who would be like, "Please don't play a ballad."
And when I started doing that, it was, again, trial and error. I think Niall [Horan of One Direction] was the first person I worked with who was in the pop world, and he was very much an acoustic singer. So I think that I was going into that session thinking I wanted to do upbeat pop. So I don't know — you get in the door and then you just try to acclimate yourself to the environment and help out as much as you can.
I think that's the best way to put it, because you never know what you're going to be doing. You never know what the artist is going to want from you or not want from you. A lot of the job is just figuring all that stuff out and then trying to just have fun while you're doing it. I think it's just that good energy, good attitude, and good people tend to sort of gravitate together.
How would you characterize the state of your artistic journey at this point?
I would say it feels the richest, in the sense that I'm the happiest I've been working.
I've found my rhythm — my perfect work-life balance kind of thing — so I can spend time with my son. And I think because of all of the time I've spent writing songs and how many songs come out, which is not a lot compared to how much you spend writing, you kind of learn that the relationships you make in the room are really the things that you really take out of it. It can be a lot more than, "I'm just a songwriter here to serve this artist" or whatever.
Lately, probably because of all the time I've spent doing it, I get into a room and I really want to enjoy the people. And the songs will come if we're all just being honest. We all know why we're here. We don't need that pressure in the room, and we don't need the A&R sitting in the room. We can get a song, but let's just be honest and really enjoy each other's company for a while.
And I think once that starts happening, it's way, way more fruitful in the long run. Because if you take a few days or weeks to get to know somebody, all of a sudden, your songs are deeper.
As a songwriter, your job is to point out metaphors or parallels — and things that could spark some interest in an artist's mind. And the better you get to know somebody, the more amazing the writing process can be.
That's been happening a lot in my recent sessions with Dua [Lipa] and Harry, another just amazing person. He is a great guy, but we haven't done that much writing together, but we know each other mostly through Kid Harpoon — Tom [Hull], who's the best.
I'm getting to know the people, and that's the most important part for me — I'm working with the people I want to work with. That's my journey now. I'll always work with new people, but I don't need to work with people I don't really vibe with or listen to. That's not really my interest anymore, especially if I'm in it for the right reasons. I'd say it's just more intentional, and I'm being more honest.
When you walk into a room to write with somebody, what are the first steps, or operating principles?
My operating principle is: Do I want to get to know this person, and do they want to get to know me at all, or do they just want to write a song and not want to open up?
If it's somebody who seems very open to talk, that's usually a good sign. And if not, then you just do what they want. You start writing a song and that's fine too. Sometimes there's great, catchy stuff. It's not always the deepest stuff.
Maybe they're the ones writing the lyrics, so maybe it is. But my operating principle is kind of, if I'm having a good time and everyone's having a good time, we're doing something good. We're not writing a bad song. We're just not. If we were writing a bad song in this room of professionals, we wouldn't be having a good time.
And when you're having a good time, good ideas do come. Even if they are silly at first and they're more openly accepted, and everything in the room is flowing better when those channels of enjoyment are sort of open, and everyone's laughing and having fun and dancing and being silly, that's how you get creative.
I don't know of many songwriters who are just dead serious. I've maybe met a couple. So I think my operating principle is to have a good time. That's going to be the funnest day, no matter what. It's probably going to be a better song for it if you're having fun and you like the people and they like you, and everything's going well.
Why is it crucial that the Recording Academy honor not only public-facing creators, but those behind the curtain?
I won't speak for myself as much as just the amazing people who I've worked with. You can't understand what kind of work has to go into a song. It's so funny, because it's a three-minute thing that sounds like most people can do it in an hour or something, but some of these things take months of work to get right.
I think it's really important to acknowledge everyone involved in each of the processes, because to give credit to just producers and artists, and then it's like, "Yeah, but the storytellers aren't even in the room," is like the congratulating a director and an actor, and then being like, the writer is s—. It's like, what? The movie wouldn't exist without them!
That just wouldn't happen. So, it feels like the right thing. I'm a bit overwhelmed and still a bit in disbelief, but it's snowing in LA, so miracles do happen.
What would you tell a young songwriter who wants to roll up their sleeves and do this?
I would say just be a good person and keep learning. Everyone's not perfect at the start. But if I had to give one piece of advice that was super, super important to me, is the good guys are winning in the end sometimes.
Like I said, the friendships and the artists, you don't want to come in being a d—. And I don't mean that strictly for men. I just mean whoever's coming in, you want to be a nice person. I think there's a lot of good people, and there's a lot of bad people too. You find your crew — energy finds energy.
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