No More Tears for Wet

With their debut album no longer held up in mastering, the trio behind the dreamy heartbreak music of 'Don't You' finally have something to smile about.

Photography By Ariel LeBeau

“I’d like to explain to you why there’s a turtle movie playing,” yells Joe Valle, the producer and multi-instrumentalist of the band Wet. A movie called Turtle: The Incredible Journey plays on two TVs in front of him in a room at Electric Lady Studios, while his band’s debut album, Don’t You, plays at full volume. The explanation, Valle says, is that mix engineer Tom Elmhirst worked on Wet’s album here while playing lots of nature videos, so the turtles are a tribute to him. That the reptiles’ actions sync so eerily well with the band’s songs is simply a coincidence.

Wet’s listening party begins in 40 minutes, and the band’s team from Columbia Records is trying to nix the bass feedback coming off the vinyl they hope to play to a crowd of roughly 100 people. This moment feels like a long time coming to Wet. Kelly Zutrau, the group’s lead singer and songwriter, started writing songs for their album in January 2014, and Valle and guitarist Marty Sulkow put the finishing touches on it in spring 2015. The band thought it would come out that October at the latest, but Columbia, the band’s label since spring 2014, pushed back the release to Jan. 29, 2016. A Columbia rep says, “The band had a few changes during the mastering process so together we decided to release the album the top of the new year, in time with their headline tour.”

Two of the album’s songs—an early version of “You’re the Best” and “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl”—have been with the band since they appeared on Wet’s self-titled debut EP, which came out on Neon Gold in the fall of 2013. The boutique New York City label has also released music with HAIM, Charli XCX, Tove Lo, and other artists known for pushing pop’s boundaries, making it a natural home for Wet until they got picked up by Columbia.

Before the EP, Wet’s music either went to Bandcamp or stayed in house, circulating through emails after Zutrau and Valle moved out of New York City after college. The three played together in larger bands when they met through friends as undergrads, but they split after graduating. Zutrau headed to RISD in Providence, R.I., for grad school, and Valle went to L.A., but Sulkow never left the city. His Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment became home to all three of them when Valle and Zutrau moved back in 2012.

From the beginning, Zutrau has always written the band’s songs and based her lyrics around her relationships. This results in lines like “All I know is, when you hold me, I still feel lonely,” which would make Wet’s music seem unbearably depressing were it not for the hope in Zutrau’s voice. She has a bright, stark sound that cuts through the watery production and guitar parts in which Valle and Sulkow, respectively, surround her.

Describing Wet’s sound as liquid-like is not just some cute pun: The music floats and bubbles, and an echo effect creates a sustained ripple in the notes both sung and played. There are no heavy drums, which maintains the languid atmosphere, and that, along with Zutrau dotting her music with “Baby, baby, baby”s and heart-on-her-sleeve levels of pleading, gives the songs an R&B lean; however, other elements—the electric guitar, the wispy pop melodies—prevent them from fitting squarely in that genre. Their atmospheric style has found fans in hip-hop and led to outreach from Kanye West’s team (they sent songs but have yet to hear back), a remix from Clams Casino, and even a collaboration-in-progress with Nineteen85, one of Drake’s go-to producers on songs like “Hotline Bling,” “0-100/The Catch Up,” “Too Much,” and others.

Wet might already be over the honeymoon phase with their album, but listeners will get a chance to catch up this Friday when Don’t You finally drops. On it they’ll find previously released tracks like “Weak”—a vulnerable song that is hard to look away from and has a video to match—a revamped version of “You’re the Best,” as well as more singles, EP cuts, and a handful of new material. No matter when the songs came about, they all join together seamlessly to make one dreamy abstraction of an album guided by an honest inner monologue. This is music that will put you in your feelings, and that is exactly where Wet wants you to be.

You guys have been finished with this album for a while. What’s your level of excitement?
Kelly Zutrau: Eh. I feel like I was excited when we finished the album.

When did you finish the album?
KZ: The bulk of it was done last March, and we’ve been tweaking things since then because we’ve just been sitting on it. One of the songs we re-recorded parts of it a couple months ago just because I freaked out and was like, “I want to change a lyric, we’ve been sitting on this song forever, and there are four more months till it comes out, so I want to change a lyric!” So we’ve been tweaking and figuring out album art and stuff, but the bulk of it’s been done for almost a year. It could have come out last March.

When did you start working on the album?
Joe Valle: I think we all have different answers to this question. The ways we contribute to the music are all different.

KZ: I remember I started working on writing in earnest in January of 2014, when I went to my mom’s house in Boston and started working on songs and trying to isolate myself.

Marty Sulkow: I think Joe and I, especially, marked that around June/July 2014, when we moved to Massachusetts to start working on that.

KZ: That’s when we were all living and breathing the album.

Valle: And it went from demos to songs.

You guys made music together a bit in college, but when did you feel confident enough to start posting songs on Bandcamp as Wet?
KZ: We were doing it that summer [in August 2012]. I think we were just feeling out the reaction: Do people like this? Should we keep doing this? Should we not bother? I don’t think it really mattered too much to us either way, and people liked those first ones, but no blogs wrote about it or anything. And then we had these two new songs that I think we all believed in, we thought, “These are stronger songs than the ones we had previously put out. Let’s really work hard on these recordings, not just do them in Marty’s bedroom, let’s go into a studio.” And we found a friend who let us use the studio, and we worked a lot harder on those two recordings—“You’re the Best” and “Bad Idea” with the idea that “You’re the Best” was the lead, like if people liked that song, let’s do this. If people didn’t react to those two songs, then in my mind, it was like, “Let’s put this on the back burner and focus on other stuff.”

How did you come up with Wet?
MS: Joe and I were at a bar with a friend of ours, and we were talking about band names, and he was just like, “You guys should just be Wet.” And we were like, “Yeah. That sounds good.”

KZ: It kind of seemed crazy that no one had it, and no one exactly had it, but there are a lot of bands that are close. There was a W.E.T and there’s Wet Wet Wet, but no one had Wet.

MS: I want to interject here, that when you have a succinct, one-syllable band name, you are fighting a constant battle against people who want to capitalize all the letters of your name. It is everyone.

KZ: There’s something really ugly about it to us, the big “WET,” and that’s not what we want.

Joe Valle

You guys have said that you wanted the LP to be mostly self-produced. Is there anything that happened during the making of the EP that drove your desire to be self-sufficient with the album?
JV: I think looking back on the experience, I have no regrets, nothing like that. It was the first time I’d ever been in a studio like that and tried to make music in a serious way. I think with the record, it’s not so much that we wanted to self-produce, but we wanted to dictate when songs were done and just have control over the timing of it.

KZ: And our first album, if we were ever going to fight that battle, this is the one that we should feel like it’s ours. And it was a fight, not with the producers, just it was difficult having these conversations and figuring it out, and we felt like we didn’t have a lot of guidance. It seemed like no one knew the way to figure this out, including people at the label and our team. We kept asking, “How does this work?” And everyone’s like, “Well, there’s no one way to do this.” So it was really complicated, and that’s part of why it took so long, just navigating the process, because we’d never done it.

MS: We kept waiting for this moment for the people from Columbia to come into the room and be like, “Alright, you’ve hit this level, this is how it’s going to be now.”

KZ: And that never happened, which is cool but so hard that we were navigating it the whole time, kind of on our own, with mixed signals from everyone along the way being like, “You should self-produce!” “No, you definitely need a producer.”

How did you reach a stopping point then?
KZ: A few things really brought it all together. There were the backing vocals and harmonies and final vocals, and then we did strings with Patrick [Wimberly from Chairlift], and that really brought the songs together.

JV: We wanted Tom [Elmhirst at Electric Lady Studios] to mix the songs from very early on. It was a lot of working with him and figuring out when he could, so there was this window of time when Tom had two weeks at the end of January. In the end, that was what pushed us to finish [the album] when we did.

The album was finished in March 2015, and the original release was October. How did you feel when it was moved to January?
JV: At that point, we felt like we had to go into Columbia and be like, “It’s not happening. I’m putting my foot down on this one. It’s coming out in October.” But we didn’t. In the end, I don’t think either choice would have been right or wrong.

KZ: It would have been nicer for us to have it out sooner. I think it’s cool to have music come out close to when it was created. Part of a piece is related to what’s happening in the world at that moment. It’s so hard to plan around a project that keeps getting pushed.

Kelly Zutrau

How did you come up with your band website URL,
MS: It’s disputed.

JV: It originated somewhere within the three of us.

KZ: It definitely wasn’t me. I didn’t even get it at first.

Was it a traffic play to get runoff from Kanye West’s website if people typed it in wrong?
MS: It really wasn’t that cynical, I don’t think. We were never going to get That was just never going to happen.

JV: I feel like a lot of people who have a very simple band name, their Twitter handle is, “iam” or “weare,” and that wasn’t going to work for us.

KZ: IAmWet. No. That’s really gross.

Speaking of Twitter, you guys have a very entertaining feed from which I learned a lot. What was it like to meet Kid Rock in Nashville?
MS: So cool. [Laughs.] It took us 15 or 20 minutes to figure out who he was.

JV: We met him as Bob. I thought it was Jeremy Renner at first, and then I saw the Tigers tattoo.

OK another Twitter fact: Someone’s sister got drunk and lost in Williamsburg.
KZ: My sister did.

But you found her.
KZ: I didn’t find her that night. It was really complicated.

JV: This will be the ultimate public shaming.

KZ: Two fans helped us. We had to get on the bus to go to Philly, and I was freaking out because I put her in an Uber and then I get a call from the driver, and he says, “Your sister’s gone. She jumped out of the cab.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” And he’s like, “I was driving and she opened the door and jumped out. I’m sorry miss. I have to go.” I immediately get a charge on my Uber for $200 for a mess that resulted in a cleaning fee. I was like, “What the fuck is going on?” So we ran around Williamsburg trying to find her. Eventually, I figured out that she got home safe in another cab.

Last one: You played a Bernie Sanders fundraiser. You guys team Bernie?
KZ: Yeah. We were talking about it on the train ride here that it’s becoming more and more possible that Trump and Bernie will be the candidates.

JV: It does not bode well for our country that we could have such extremes.

Looking ahead to album number two, will you guys be working with Drake’s​ producer Nineteen85?
KZ: He has some songs. We need to check in with him.

Marty Sulkow
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