Two years ago, Kelly Zutrau and her Wet bandmates opened for Chvrches at a sold-out show at the Orange Peel in Asheville, NC. Donning a comfy, white sweatshirt with the cuffs rolled up, she held tight to the microphone. She stared into the eyes of everyone in the crowd. Then, she shared the messy details of her love life as if the 1,050-capacity venue was her bedroom and the audience her best friend.
“I’ve always been pretty open and honest to a fault about things going on in my life,” Zutrau says. “I don’t really hold back anything.”
That sincerity and honesty produced one of the best musical collections on the intricacies of love and dissolving relationships with the release of Wet’s self-titled EP in 2013.
Drenched in emotion, the four-song EP keeps Zutrau’s alto front and center. Multi-instrumentalists Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow set the tone for Zutrau’s lyrics with electronic elements and sparse R&B beats that never overshadow her voice, even when she hits the apex of her range for a breathy, ethereal phrase or two. Sulkow’s warm guitar tones and the pleasant pop melodies provide a hint of hope, but the lyrical content is characterized largely by sentiments of heartache such as, “My baby / he said he loved me/ a thousand times/ they’re all lies.”
In their most popular song, “You’re the Best,” Zutrau doubts her relationship and wavers between wanting to figure it out and quitting while ahead. She sings, “All I know is/ when you hold me/ I still feel lonely/ lonely when you hold me.”
The songs on the EP served as an extension of conversations Zutrau was already having with her friends at the time. Zutrau, Valle and Sulkow, who are all 27 years old, met years earlier through mutual friends during their undergrad years in New York City. After graduation, Zutrau moved to Providence for grad school at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Valle headed to Los Angeles. They all stayed in touch by collaborating long distance on those breakup songs, but none of them expected it to go anywhere. That changed in the summer of 2012 when the trio reunited in New York.
“We were all going through a time of being lost and little confused and not really sure what we were going to do and we just ended up spending more and more time just working on music,” Zutrau says.
They self-released two songs online, and a couple of indie blogs praised the tracks.
“That was enough to like push it to the next phase,” Valle says.
A friend suggested the name Wet and it stuck. The name isn’t exactly easy to Google, but Sulkow swears the other options (which he refuses to share) were worse.
“I don’t regret it,” Valle says of the band’s name. “I think it’s certainly the best option we had. But I also really like it as a name.”
The name hasn’t held them back. Neon Gold, a boutique record label in New York City, took notice of the tracks online, helped produce the EP, and released it in 2013. Wet played CMJ, toured with Chvrches, and eventually signed with Columbia Records. Sasha Frere Jones highlighted “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” in his best songs of 2014 for The New Yorker, and the band continues to earn praise from indie blogs. They recently wrapped a tour opening for Tobias Jesso Jr. and finished recording their full-length debut Don’t You, which is due out Jan. 29.
All three friends relocated from Brooklyn to western Massachusetts to write and record Don't You.
“It's just really hard to get things done in New York sometimes,” Sulkow says. “Moving somewhere quiet where we could just be bored was very appealing to us.”
The new album is mostly self-produced.
“Part of the reason that we decided to work with Columbia is that they have given us a lot of freedom on the creative side,” Zutrau says. “There wasn't ever a moment that they stepped in and said the album needs to sound like this.”
Zutrau writes the lyrics and composes the basic chords, structure, and melodies of the songs on an autoharp. Then, Valle and Sulkow send the tracks back and forth, adding and taking away elements, sharing ideas, maybe changing chords. They mostly work solo, but as the demos near completion, the trio gathers together in the studio to cut final versions.
Don't You has a fuller, more organic sound than the EP, according to Wet. Although it's still electronic, they also recorded real instruments and added strings and piano. You can hear this rich, full-bodied sound on singles “Weak” and “Deadwater.”
“The way we describe it might sometimes come off as cheesy,” Valle says. “We're like strings, piano, and I think when people hear those things they might assume something different than how the record actually sounds. But more than cheesy I think that people might think it's melodramatic, which is fine.”
Like a lot of bands in 2015, Wet pulls from a variety of genres. You can hear R&B, indie rock, and folk influences on the EP. They've been compared to The xx and Solange as well as a mashup of Haim and Chvrches. Of course, none of those descriptions gets at exactly what this band does.
Wet is painfully earnest. The music and production create a sense of intimate space, and with Zutrau's forward vocals, it's like it's just you and her—an effect mirrored in the live shows with her piercing intensity.
“One message that we've tried to put out through the music and interviews and in our visuals and through Twitter and Instagram is that we're really earnest and genuine and we're just like trying really hard to make something that we care about and we think is good,” Zutrau says.
The band's ability to balance that earnestness with a sense of humor allows the music to resonate rather than feel too maudlin or overbearing.
For instance, they once joked on Facebook that they belonged to a new niche genre with Australian band The Harpoons. They referred to themselves as “sweatshirt-rave jammers” due to their shared affinity for sweatshirts seen in both group's self-aware press photos.
The trio maintains an often hilarious Twitter account, exchanging quips with followers and randomly retweeting people who accidentally tag @wet (“Sometimes we have to censor ourselves because it's just porn,” Valle says).
They get the most attention for their website— www.kanyewet.biz.
“We'll take it down the second he tells us to,” Zutrau says. “We'll do anything he wants us to do.”
They've had the domain for a few years and so far, no word about taking it down. No one can prove who actually came up with the idea. According to an email investigation, Valle originally registered the domain but Sulkow says he joked about using kanyewet back when the band was settling on its name. It definitely wasn't Zutrau's idea.
“I didn't even get it for like a year,” she says. “That's the funniest part. I did not put it together that Wet was standing in for West. I just thought they put Kanye in front of our name. I was like that's not funny.”
Keeping a sense of humor helps the members cope with the more difficult parts of trying to make it as a band.
“We’ve really been dealing with that a lot on this tour, like dealing with realizing the three of us think about measuring our success based on really different things than other people,” she says. “Certain little things can weigh heavily on you and you don’t even know why. One thing that someone says in a review can turn into like, ‘Oh maybe it’s time to quit, like we’re doing horribly.’”
She calls it a disorienting experience, and the boys agree. “I’d be really curious to hear how other bands think about this stuff and how often they think about quitting,” Valle says.
“I would be totally fine with moving on to a new job,” Zutrau says. “Not to say I don’t love doing this, but there’s an intense trade off. And it’s not work that you leave at 5 o’clock, and you have a hard time sleeping, thinking about the ways in which we have failed or might fail in the future.”
Ultimately, she says she hopes it doesn’t end any time soon.
“Sometimes it’s really great, like when you hear people singing along to words that you wrote about a breakup,” she says. “Coming from a place where you feel incredibly alone and then seeing all these people there singing along and like fully on your side, that’s a really incredible feeling.”
She even finds something special when Wet returns to the Orange Peel on a Monday night in October as an opening act again, and this time, when she takes the stage only 40 or so people stare back. This is Wet’s worst-selling show—no, make that its most intimate show, she says.
Then, in between songs, she learns the names of everyone in the front row.