Watching the newest music video, ‘Only Water’ by New York three-piece Wet, you’ll get to experience the sensation of the kind of sadness words can’t describe. Taken from their third album, ‘Letter Blue,’ floating fully clothed in a lake and walking barefoot in a muddy forest, pretty much sums up the making-of process with overall feelings of freedom and looseness. You can witness this in full glory at London’s Scala on November 23rd.
Guided by the magnetic singer/songwriter Kelly Zutrau, Wet presents their most natural feeling and playful songs to date. We caught up with the songstress just before she hops on a plane in New York to head out to LA for a video shoot. Kelly shares that most of the album came out of profound sadness, where she reflected on her life purpose and own failures.
The sound of ‘Letter Blue’ falls somewhere between Wet’s two albums ‘Don’t You’ and ‘Still Run.’ It’s electronic, and many melodies have an R&B feeling, but it’s also soft, layered with some folk elements. The album also includes collaborations with Blood Orange and Toro y Moi’s Chaz Bear, making it the most collaborative project yet. Kelly describes the album as ‘a a breakthrough’, where her angelic voice accompanies redefining themes and a search for meaning.
In our conversation, Kelly also reveals the organic formation of Wet, ‘just a few friends that went to school in downtown NY and started making music together.’ Speaking of the Big Apple, since a couple of years ago, the New York scene has become smaller and calmer, as people have left for LA.
After almost losing hope touring will be possible again; Wet is on the road again. Tomorrow’s show at London’s Scala will see the band perform their new ‘Letter Blue’ material and much more.
Could you share what it’s like to be a band in NYC?
I think it’s definitely shaped the trajectory of the band in a lot of ways, partly just in our formation, we all met in school here and kind of grew up here experiencing a lot of the same art and music and cultural time period in this city that kind of formed out sensibilities in a lot of ways.
How would you describe the scene in New York City?
I think it’s constantly changing but right now it’s going through a fun period in certain ways. A lot of people left for LA over the past few years and then even more people left when the pandemic started and I think it’s revealed a much calmer scene of people who are really committed to NY because there’s more space but also there’s this excitement about building something new in this time. The music scene in particular feels a lot smaller than LA or London, everyone seems to know each other and overlap on projects.
How did you guys form Wet?
We were just friends all in school in downtown NY, I was at Cooper Union and the boys were at NYU and we slowly started playing music together very casually at first. Me and Joe both left for a year and when we moved back to the city we moved in Marty’s apt and we were all looking for jobs and just ended up working on some new songs I had written in the apt. We booked a few shows and put out an EP and things just started picking up from there.
What is the backstory to your stage name?
A friend of ours just suggested it to us and it was the first name we all could agree on. Something about it seemed right for the music at the tone of what we were doing at the time.
What is the band’s musical background?
Marty had the most substantial musical background, he had played guitar since he was a kid and played in different bands when he was a teenager and through college ands he went to Clive Davis to study music. Joe seemed to have a curiosity about music especially the electronic side of it since high school, maybe in a more curatorial way, I remember every year in college he would ask all of our friends bands to make a Christmas song and he would mix it and design the cover it and send it out to everyone. And I had done some musical theatre as a teenager but switched to visual arts when I was around 15 and I actually went to school for painting and didn’t consider myself a musician at all. We were all in a band together towards the end of College called “Beauty Feast” with a bunch of other friends, it was much folkier and more casual, just for fun mostly. I bought an autoharp when I was 20 and that’s really when I started writing songs, before that I couldn’t play an instrument so I had never tried to write.
How would you compare your previous albums ‘Don’t You’ and ‘Still Run’ with your third studio album ‘Letter Blue’?
I think that “Don’t You” was very natural for us in some ways, it was a struggle in some ways of course, because it felt high stakes, like we were defining our sound for the first time but in a lot of ways your first album you already have most of the songs written, you’ve had your whole life to build up a body of work and it was more about refining and picking the best ones. You also have a confidence when you’re young and a new band that’s getting attention. “Don’t You” ended up sounding pretty electronic and there’s a big R&B influence there but also kind of soft rock-y. I think at the time when it came out I felt really bad about it, that it was underwhelming and didn’t accomplish anything new. But now when I listen to it it actually sounds pretty authentic to me.
“Still Run” was just a complete struggle. I think I was going through a very intense time where I felt I needed to redefine the band and make something very different and new and better than “Don’t You” and there was a lot of experimenting, working with outside producers, a lot of turmoil within the band and our management etc. And I can hear all of that on the record! It was not a very natural album, I think second records can be really hard for a lot of groups. There’s a few songs on there that I like but when I listen as a whole it sounds like a mess and that’s pretty accurate as a document of the time .
“Letter Blue” in some ways has felt like a breakthrough for me, not because it’s so much better or anything but because there’s been an amount freedom with this one, with having come to terms with a lot of the issues from the 1st and second album, with having left Columbia and doing it completely on our own terms without the pressure that was there. With having Marty back in the band and returning to form a bit. I feel like this album is the first one that sounds like fun at moments if that makes sense. I felt very strongly that we should try to enjoy the process for this and trust our/my instincts and just make something that we liked with zero expectations of how it would be received. Working with a few very talented outside collaborators that we trusted and then just trusting the process and letting it take time and evolve naturally. Musically I think it falls somewhere between the last two albums, it’s electronic and a lot of the melodies have an RnB feeling but it’s also soft and layered and has some folk elements in there.
Could you elaborate on ‘Old Bone’? What does this track mean to you?
Haha this one is a funny one. It was actually a song from our first band that I mentioned before, so we’ve had a million versions of it for years. It was something we always kept coming back to but couldn’t quite find the right sound. We ended up working with producer Ariel Rechtshaid on it and I think he helped us find a very nice version. It’s really simple and close to the very original demo in a lot of ways. This one sort of lives on it’s own out there though it never ended up on any album.
What is unique about you new album ‘Letter Blue’?
I think in the context of our other work some things that feel different are that it was very collaborative, we worked closely with Chaz (Toro Y Moi) and Buddy Ross on a lot of the songs and we worked closely with each other for the first time in a long time. I think having Marty back in the recording process was very good for us all this time, we had all had time apart and this time I think we were all appreciating each other much more than we ever had and working together in a much more generative and fun way. There was a lot of improvisation that ended up on the record and I think that gives it a sort of freedom and looseness that you can hear in the songs.
What themes were you eager to touch upon? What do you want ‘Letter Blue’ to represent?
I think relationships as always but within the context of time passing and getting older and taking stock in your life and what you’ve done and what you have to show for it, the meaning I could find when I reflected on being in a band and working on music and touring for the better part of a decade is just these very deep and complex relationships I have with the people I work with and how special that is. I think a lot of the music ends up being about those relationships and how they’ve evolved over time. I think the words Letter Blue came to sum up the album because the tone of the record and the emotional space I was in when writing it was often a place of profound sadness about being alive and trying to find meaning and dealing with my own failures. Letter Blue sort of summed up that type of sadness that is hard to describe with language. I just kept thinking the letter blue when I tried to understand those things through writing, I think what I’m saying becomes clearer in the song “the letter blue”.
Are there any more visuals or videos in the works?
Yes! Im actually flying out to LA now to make one more video for the song with Blood Orange. Gia Coppola is directing which is exciting, we’ve done other things together over the past year which will be coming out soon too 🙂
Do you have any favourite moments from recording the album?
I think some of the first moments with Chaz early on in the process when we were writing and we hit on something with “Far Cry” and “Only One”, that was an exciting moment. It had been a while since something had clicked in that way and I just remember we were at different fur studios in SF and there was just this excitement we all had, me and Chaz and Joe were just like bouncing around the room smiling.
What is your single ‘Bound’ about?
I wrote this song with Dev Hynes which was a really special experience for me, I’ve been a fan of Dev as and artist and especially as a writer, some of the songs he wrote back in like 2012 or so were so influential for me. And he’s become a friend over the years so it was great to be able to work on something for the album. The song to me feels like it’s about assessing where you’re at in life and feeling like a failure in some ways that I think most people can relate to at some point in their career or life. And it also doubles as being about a relationship that feels doomed to fail but you’re stuck in.
How was it touring with the 1975 and Florence and The Machine?
It was an amazing experience. Just cool to get to be in venues that big and hang out with these bands that we admire. I kind of prefer opening to headlining because the pressure is less intense and you get to watch the headliner play after you’ve done your job, it’s really fun.
What are you most excited about getting back on the road?
I think just connecting with some of our fans will feel very grounding after the last few years. Everything has been so nebulous and abstract and I never knew if we would ever tour again at some points last year! it will feel really good to see people face to face and see how the music is impacting them in any way. I’m also just excited to travel and see friends in different cities, it’s been a while.
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Photographer: Lamar Kendrick
Words: Karolina Kramplova