After Wet debuted their self-titled EP in late 2013, four iridescent pop songs backed by sparse electronic production, the band’s music sent ripples through the Internet. It was a success story tailored for the Spotify era, and almost immediately, the three college friends had captivated the attention of legions of fans and major labels.
When I meet Wet at Music Hall of Williamsburg, they seem exhausted, and for good reason; Marty Sulkow, Joe Valle, and Kelly Zutrau have been treading water for quite a while. Following the EP’s success, they signed with Columbia Records and spent the summer of 2014 recording and perfecting their debut album in a period of isolation spent in Western Massachusetts. Since that time, although the band has released three singles and promoted their music tirelessly, the album has yet to come out.
But it finally seems as though the tide is moving in the Brooklyn trio's direction. Their album Don't You, a gorgeous collection of songs that expands on their established sound with more lush instrumentation and meticulous songwriting, will be released on Jan. 29. I spoke with the band before their sold-out show with Tobias Jesso Jr. about the making of the highly anticipated LP.
How fitting that we’re speaking at CMJ Festival when two years ago this was right around the time that the EP came out, and now you're promoting the album. How do you feel you’ve grown in that time span?
Kelly Zutrau: I was just thinking about those shows on the walk over here, how that was our first time ever playing five shows in a row within three days, and how I had the same sick feeling that I have today. It's different because we can totally handle it now, and at that time I got deathly ill.
You guys all met in college here in New York, right? Was the EP recorded in the city?
Marty Sulkow: About half of them were done in a friend’s studio over the course of a few months; just whenever we could get in there we would work on it. After putting a couple of tracks out on the Internet, Neon Gold reached out to us and wanted to put out an EP. We did two of those songs in about a week.
How did the recording process for the album differ? I read that you guys went into isolation.
Zutrau: For the EP we spent a long time on “You’re the Best,” but the other songs were thrown together in five days in the studio. It was really fun and intense, and we were working with someone else intensely, whereas the album was a much longer period of time, and while we worked with other people occasionally, it was mostly on our own. It’s mostly self-produced. All the songs are written by us. We also had a home studio set up in all of our houses in Western Massachusetts. We moved out of the city just to focus and were doing a lot of the recording at home.
Speaking of that track, a reworked version of “You’re the Best” appears on the album. Talk me through the decision to do that.
Zutrau: We were making the songs on the album about a full three years after “You’re the Best” had been done. A lot of time had passed, and the song sounded completely different, and it just felt like it would really stand out on the album. We wanted to include it but also make it fit with all the other songs.
In that song, there’s a verse where you say, “All I know is/When you hold me/Are you thinking Rosalie/Or is she in me?/And all the rest.” Who is Rosalie?
Sulkow, Valle, and Zutrau: [Laughing.] No one’s ever asked that!
Zutrau: She’s the ex-girlfriend of the guy I was singing about.
No hard feelings though?
Zutrau: No, no no. She came to all the beginning shows, and she’s a friend.
How do you think that the environmental shift impacted the construction of the music?
Zutrau: It might just be a coincidence, but I do think the album feels a little more organic. There’s more live instruments, it’s a little less electronic. I don’t know. I don’t think that has anything to do with us moving to the country, but...
Sulkow: —it’s funny, because it certainly I’m sure would sound like a completely different record had we stayed in New York and recorded the whole thing here, but I don’t know how you would qualify how.
Right, after it’s done, it’s done. Did you go into the album with the intention of switching anything up stylistically?
Zutrau: I remember feeling like I wanted it to be less minimal than the EP. I wanted to be challenged a little more and really make a lot of elements work, and I do think that’s a lot harder sometimes. At least, that’s a lot harder for us. It’s definitely denser than the EP.
Joe Valle: At the outset I don’t think there were any goals, for me, on how to change things, but I feel more of a sense of ownership over the album than the EP in that we really steered the ship from start to finish and had a better sense of how to do that.
So you steered clear of outside producers and writers?
Zutrau: Not completely. There’s a couple songs where there’s additional production credits, and they were all great experiences and totally helpful. But it became clear to us that we really wanted to challenge ourselves, and try to do it ourselves and figure out what our sound was. It felt like every time we worked with someone too much it started to take over in a way that could totally work in the future, but for this we felt like it was our voice and our vision.
Any producers you can mention?
Zutrau: Yeah, Noah Beresin who worked on the EP, he worked on a couple of the songs. Patrick Wimberly from Chairlift worked on two of the songs with us.
Sulkow: Robin Hannibal from Rhye, and we did some work with this guy Justin Pilbrow who produced the Neighbourhood. That was very cool.
Is there a story behind your album title, Don’t You?
Zutrau: It’s part of a lyric from what I think of as the center, the most important song of the album. It’s definitely not a single, but I think it’s my favorite song.
What’s that song called?
Zutrau: It’s called “Island,” and Don’t You is part of my favorite line from that song. It was ambiguous—taking it out of context from the rest of the sentence felt like it could be read a lot of different ways, and people could interpret it how they wanted.
What kind of music were you guys listening to during this whole recording process?
Valle: During the first two months, we were working in a barn. I remember biking there listening to James Blake's Enough Thunder EP. It stuck with me. I’ve always liked James Blake, but that re-energized me for his music.
Zutrau: I remember that summer getting into—I mean, I’ve always been into Neil Young—but I was listening to Harvest a lot and remember thinking I wanted the recordings to sound a little more like they were instruments being played in a room, rather than the EP, which sounds very digital and electronic. I think it had something to do with listening to that album a lot.
What’s the plan for 2016?
Valle: Tour, tour, tour.
Zutrau: Yeah, and working on new music for the next release after the album. We’re trying to collaborate with people more.
Can we get any names?
Zutrau: Yeah, I just did a song with Clams Casino.
Valle: We’re gonna work on stuff with Nineteen85.
Zutrau: He’s one of Drake’s producers. We just had a meeting with him in Toronto. It was very fun.
Sulkow: I did a session with Wynter Gordon. We’re still tossing stuff back and forth with DJ Dahi. He’s the best.
Have you guys been performing the new material?
Zutrau: Yeah. If you’ve been paying attention at all to our story, the album is taking a little while to come out, so we’re doing everything we can to give new music to fans.
But it’s finally coming out in January, correct?
How does it feel to finally...
Zutrau: —you kind of don’t believe it. It’s a very hard time waiting for your first big thing to come out, because you just have no idea how people are gonna react to it. It makes you feel crazy!
Valle: We're very aware that we haven’t put out that much music. We’ve been talking about this album for a long time, and it feels hard to continue to do that and still have to wait...but we’re very proud of this record.
Sulkow: I have a vinyl copy on the bus, and that feels very real to me to have that and to walk around with that. Like, this is a real thing! It really exists.