why wet’s debut album ‘don’t you’ was worth the wait
After decamping to Western Massachusetts to focus on crafting a different pop sound, the buzzy trio’s first full-length effort is finally (almost) here.
Photography Zachary Chick
It's early afternoon on Martin Luther King Day when I meet up with Wet at their rehearsal space in Brooklyn. It's bitterly cold, even in the sunshine. The three-piece pop band's singer and songwriter, Kelly Zutrau, is bundled up in a multi-colored puffa jacket. Its thick, red stripes and blocks of bold yellow match the cozy rehearsal room's decor: wall-to-wall metallic fringe curtains picked up at a Party City. I join Zutrau on an upholstered car seat -- one that almost certainly belonged to a mini van. We discuss area codes and Chipotle with her bandmates, Marty Sulkow and Joe Valle. We watch videos of Hillary Clinton dabbing.
Here, sandwiched between streamers and sound equipment, time doesn't seem to be passing at all. But Wet is acutely aware of its movement. When we meet, the band's debut full length album, Don't You, is less than two weeks away from release. Arriving tomorrow, the record contains 11 emotional, direct tracks that herald a new kind of pop sound. The countdown is on, but they're not in a rush; Don't You is an album nearly four years in the making.
Though its members met during their sophomore year in college, Wet wasn't formed until five years later, when a bad breakup left Zutrau motivated to process her negative feelings creatively. Sulkow and Valle supported these cathartic ambitions by furnishing her introspective lines like, "All I know is/ When you hold me/ I still feel lonely," with textured electronic instrumentals. In October 2013, the band released a four-track EP that was produced, from start to finish, in a matter of months. A few later, they signed a deal with Columbia.
But in early 2015, the trio of twenty-somethings did something a little remarkable for an emerging band who'd made their name gigging around the Brooklyn scene: they broke from New York's frenetic pace and relocated to Western Massachusetts. There -- in real houses with backyards, under unmuddied skies -- they created Don't You, a product of space, focus, and ultimately, time.
As deftly demonstrated on the self-titled EP, Wet's sound blends together genres as diverse as indie, country, and twinges of hip-hop (which is probably why A$AP Rocky and Mac Miller beatsmith Clams Casino has found the band's material ripe for a remix). But Don't You is an expansion in more ways than one. Lyrically, Zutrau's exploration of romantic relationships has broadened into just as poignant meditations on fear, loss, and reflection. But no matter how much time she's taken, her writing hasn't sacrificed its immediacy. Lines like "When you say you love me, baby, let me see your face," are always gonna hit.
Sonically, Don't You is much fuller bodied than its R&B-inflected predecessor. "It's definitely less minimal than the EP," says Zutrau, explaining that this early sparseness was as much a stylistic choice as a result of limited time. "The album is much more cooked. We spent many, many times going back, redoing, taking away, adding. One of the goals we had was not to rely on that minimalism and push ourselves to make it sound good using more elements within each song."
Some of those elements will be familiar to fans: Sulkow's guitar strums add richness to the record -- especially on standout single "Deadwater" -- and Valle's sensitivity to layered melodies has only built stronger end products. Yet some of these elements are new, and the results of exciting collaborative efforts. Patrick Wimberly from synthpop duo Chairlift had his hand in its production, as did Robin Hannibal, the multi instrumentalist forming Rhye's neo-Sade sounds. "As things have been moving forward, bigger people have been reaching out," Valle says. Drake hitmakers Nineteen85 and DJ Dahi have hit the trio up, and Zutrau's been working with Vampire Weekend's newly departed producer, Rostam Batmanglij.
"One thing we're really excited about is collaborating," says Zutrau. "Once the album's out, we can really take some time to collaborate and work on music in a more experimental way without a clear goal and deadline." And in today's pop landscape, unexpected crossover is the name of the game. Justin Bieber tapped Blood Pop for Purpose production, Chairlift siren Caroline Polachek has a writing credit on Beyonce's surprise smash album, and Carly Rae Jepsen definitely called up Devonte Hynes. "It would be incredible if Beyonce or Kanye or Rihanna somehow factored in," Zutrau laughs, "but we're equally excited about working with different levels of people who we respect and love."
One of those people is Kelsey Lu, a Brooklyn-based cellist who contributed string instrumentals to Don't You and will be joining the trio as the opening act on their just-embarked tour. "We played a show with her and Chairlift a few weeks ago. It was the first time I'd seen her live, and it was breathtakingly beautiful -- really special music. After that, we knew she had to come on tour with us," says Zutrau. "We had a few people we were talking to, but it had to be her. Everyone else we were looking at were men; it's hard to find women -- and a really cool woman -- on the road, generally." That tour will bring the band first along the east and west coasts before they depart for Europe. Zutrau hopes to tour the US more extensively in the fall; Valle adds that some summer festivals are in the pipeline.
Since the conversation veers toward touring women, I offer up a disparaging fact: in its 17 year history, Coachella has only booked one solo female headliner -- Björk. The band is surprised and disappointed, but it's a reality they aren't ignorant to: "I actually looked through the last 10 years of Pitchfork's Album of the Year to find a woman. In 2006, The Knife won it," says Zutrau. "Isn't that crazy?"
As musicians across genres speak out about their industry's male dominated landscape, it's a conversation the band will likely be having more frequently. But for now, we bounce from the merits of Bernie Sanders to Lil' B's tweets as the Party City curtains shimmer in the room's low light. I can't help but feel like we're the first people who showed up at a basement birthday party, chatting excitedly, knowing that the real fun will start soon. "We have fears and anxieties about it coming out, but we've had a long time to process them. The album's been more or less done for a while, so we've had time to get excited, get scared," Zutrau says. "Now, it's a little like 'let's just get this over with!' but I feel pretty prepared for whatever happens."
Text Emily Manning
Photography Zachary Chick