Getting Intimate with Wet

Kelly Zutrau wonders if she’s righteous enough—for the people who listen to her music, for the people who don’t and for her collaborators. But mostly for herself.

It’s why she gets on stage, after all. Why she sorts through the feelings, the consuming thoughts, to present herself to the public at a time when she’s the most vulnerable: It’s all in an effort to determine her worth. “It’s about needing to see how people react to you to understand yourself more,” Zutrau, age 30, says. “I've been trying to figure that out—why I have that urge to put myself in front of people—and I think it is wanting to know if I'm good or not. Not good at music but just worthy as a person.”

Summer in New York City is oppressive, but this day especially—just days before the release of Wet's sophomore album, Still Run (out now)—is particularly brutal. On the back patio of a Brooklyn pizza shop, the ice in the Wet front woman's  espresso melts immediately. Napkins are used not for spills, but to dab away sweat. Zutrau, however, is hardly fazed by the heat, occasionally winding her curly brown hair into a loose rope on the side of her neck. In the midst of conditions beyond her influence—now and constantly in life—Zutrau is in control. 
A few years ago, control was a fantasy. In early 2015, Wet, then a trio of New York musician friends—Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow—decamped to western Massachusetts to craft their debut album. Working with a record deal from Columbia, the band would take Zutrau’s demos, songs written out of desperation in her bedroom sung in her slippery soprano, and spruce them up with R&B touch points, echo-y drums, strings, piano and snare flashes. The album, Don’t You (2016), is full of songs that crawl inside of you like a familiar lover, songs that sound like sex, songs that feel like crying after sex. Standout single “You’re The Best” calls out a doomed love that persists regardless of its lack of staying power, written “purely out of the need to express these insane feelings I was having and how out of control of my life I felt, how in control these boys were over me,” Zutrau says.

Though expertly produced and cohesive (almost too cohesive, Zutrau says), she is quick to point out that Don’t You is the crowd-sourced version of Wet, the band’s way of appeasing the people around them, the product of trying to be everything to everyone.

As a result, Wet reconfigured their focus on how songs were made, a new process that involved two instead of three. Zutrau and Valle continued as a duo without Sulkow for Still Run. Most often, Zutrau would write demos solo and Valle would expand, save for single “There’s A Reason”—a bright early aughts reminiscent boppy pop song—when Valle constructed the instrumentation around which Zutrau wrote lyrics. Other times, Zutrau would retreat on her own to fine-tune or to work with other collaborators, like Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, who produced the sunny and skittish “You’re Not Wrong.”
“There's a lot of duality in the way that I write…I'm trying to, on the one hand, be validated and at the same time destroy my life. That's what it feels like in my brain. 
Unlike the band’s first effort, Still Run is a masterclass in variance. “Lately” is what Don’t You could’ve — and should’ve — sounded like: angsty, yet sultry with a bubblegum pop groove. “This Woman Loves You” features mandolin, banjo and an Americana-Dolly Parton vibe. “Softens,” the album’s centerpiece, is the most accessible of the band’s repertoire and closes with a Valle-arranged outro of wailing guitars and whirling piano. Valle has a magic touch when it comes to his “happy, sad, reflective tone” of production that makes the songs distinctly Wet, what makes the project a collaborative effort.

Lyrically, Zutrau recounts a push and pull of wanting love and intimacy yet fleeing, the desire to give all of yourself to another, despite your best efforts not to. "It’s the hardest thing / that I’ve ever done / to love somebody and still run," the album’s opening and title track lays the sentiment out bare. “There's a lot of duality in the way that I write,” Zutrau says, “where I'm trying to do two things at once that are contradictory to each other…I'm trying to, on the one hand, be validated and at the same time destroy my life. That's what it feels like in my brain. There's a lot of lack of clarity about relationships and my emotional state.”
It’s always been Zutrau’s style to work through difficulties with music, her way of sorting out nascent thoughts that bloom into sometimes unhealthy rumination. Though this is how she has built her career, it’s the constant introspection that makes her feel as if her work lacks meaning, is too self-serving. Again, it’s just another tiny moment in her consciousness, magnified and distorted so many times it makes no sense at all. “Your thoughts are such a vice sometimes,” she says. “It’s a thing to lean on, this elaborate world you've built in your head, that then I write songs from them. I don't think it brings you any closer to feeling less empty.”

Zutrau glances at her phone. The home screen is stacked with text notifications. “Oh my god,” she says. “My dad.” A pause.“My dad's in Cape Cod and he just said there was a great white shark in the water.” Her large family—she’s got five sisters who also received the message—has watched Jaws together so many times, she says, that now the recent shark discovery has her father reconsidering stepping foot in the water.

Growing up with lots of siblings taught Zutrau how to share space (at one point, she shared a room with three sisters) and to care for people within that space, physically and emotionally. If someone is uncomfortable, Zutrau, by proxy, is anxious. “I'm constantly trying to control this space and be like, does everyone have everything they need?”It all comes back to control: in relationships, in music, over her own instincts—impatience, introspective scrutiny—but most importantly, over her own identity.

On Still Run’s penultimate track “Visitor,” Zutrau slides into her mid-range, a delightful development in this new material, to belt, "If you're looking for a home / maybe I could be one." In the not-so-distant past, this sort of proclamation might’ve been a desperate plea, an offering to an ungrateful lover. Now, Zutrau is less passive — it’s present in her voice. Such an invitation isn’t a cry for attention, but an emboldened call to action. “I didn't have anything that was mine then except my romantic relationships,” Zutrau says. “All the weight was on them. Now I have music and I have my career and this relationship to fans and the people I work with. That's mine and it has nothing to do with any romantic relationship.”

Zutrau pours the rest of her lukewarm espresso into an empty to-go cup and makes her exit into the sweltering Brooklyn sun. It’s still early but she’s already tackled a few meetings. Still on today’s agenda is to pick up a rental car from LaGuardia Airport, load her pit bull, Tina, and drive to Boston for Independence Day. The stresses of life seem to unwind around her as she details the plan.
Everything is under control. There’s nothing to overthink now.


Allie Volpe
Allie Volpe
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