When life in New York got too hectic for Kelly, Joe and Marty, they headed to the country. We went to see how they’re living in their new home, the snow-covered fields and sweater weather of Western Mass in February.
At Kelly Zutrau’s house in Hadley, Mass., there's room to breathe. Aside from the salt truck trudging along the slushy road out front, there is quiet. Behind, there’s an expanse of conservation land—tall, spindly pine trees and pristine white snow as far as the eye can see. There’s a practice space in the basement, a freshly brewed carafe of coffee on the kitchen counter, a sense of serenity far removed from the close quarters and rapid pace of NYC.
It’s in this house that Kelly wrote many of the tracks on Don’t You, Wet’s forthcoming debut LP on Columbia Records. “I really wasn’t seeing people very much,” she remembers. “I would take breaks just to sit outside or go for a walk. I’d go swimming if I really needed a break.” The auto-harp on which a majority of Wet’s songs are born is a permanent fixture on her coffee table.
Distance wasn’t an option at the band's inception back in New York.
Bandmates Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow each live about 20 minutes down the road. Marty, the most social of the three, resides in the more populated college town of Northampton, while Joe’s settled into a loft in woodsy Amherst, where tiny succulent plants line the window sills and an all-white piano mimics the falling snow outside.
Distance wasn’t an option at the band’s inception back in New York. Wet began to get serious just as the trio of college friends became roommates, with Kelly and Joe temporarily subletting a shared bedroom in Marty’s apartment. “Our friend group was really cohesive, and it was a dramatic summer,” Joe recalls. When things went sour between Kelly and her boyfriend, Joe found himself on the inside of a tumultuous breakup via proximity. “She definitely struggled with what was going on, and we were the people who were still there. Because of that, I think we decided to pour more energy into working on music.”
Kelly’s heartbreak turned into resilience on “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl,” a standout from the group’s self-titled debut EP that made it to the full-length. Her voice fragile yet resolute over the boys’ sparse, R&B-inclined production, the track quickly grew into a healing anthem for the downtrodden and fed-up. Blogs seized upon Wet, pressure to deliver an album encroached, things got overwhelming. “Every day, there was a meeting or some industry thing,” Kelly says. “I started to feel like it was my job to go to all of these things. The writing was getting away from me, and I think the boys were having a hard time focusing on music, too.”
Her voice fragile yet resolute over the boys’ sparse, R&B-inclined production, the track quickly grew into a healing anthem for the downtrodden and fed-up.
Fairly certain they didn’t want to make an album in New York, the choice was made to relocate to Western Mass., where Kelly went to summer camp and Marty had attended boarding school. “One of the big things was just being in a place where there's not that much to do but focus and work,” says Marty. They’d convene at a DIY barn studio in the nearby township of Florence when necessary. Otherwise, Wet found strength in a little separation.
“We've found ways to separate out roles so that it feels clear who's responsible for what,” Kelly explains. “It's my vision for the structure, the lyrics or the tone, Marty's vision for some of the instruments and Joe's vision for the overall sound, percussion and the production stuff. I think we're getting to a pretty good place with that.” On Don’t You, Wet’s vision is evolved and focused. Production moves from minimal to lush, yet never superfluous, anchored in Marty’s rippling, emotive guitar tones. Kelly’s lyrics drift between guarded and vulnerable. On “All the Ways” she asks, how do you expect me to let you in to let you go?
It’s February now; gone are the swimming breaks and bike rides to the studio barn. The album’s mastered and an Australian tour is on the horizon. As darkness falls and snow banks pile high along the Northampton sidewalks, we meet at Joe’s Spaghetti, the kind of unpretentious Italian-American institution you go to celebrate a kid’s birthday or Little League victory. It’s beloved by band members—they’ve got a favorite pizza and promise the martinis are the best in town. It certainly feels like home here.
“New York was too busy to ever feel relaxed in the way that you feel in a place like this,” says Joe. “We definitely wouldn't have made the record that we made if we hadn't been here.”
It’s February now; gone are the swimming breaks and bike rides to the studio barn.
Later, we stroll through the flurries to a dive bar where the lighting is always flourescent and pool tables are plentiful. Kelly, Joe and Marty break off to catch up with friends, never wandering much past arm’s reach. There’s an unspoken understanding: a little bit of space keeps the unit intact. “We're figuring out how to be friends and work together, which is hard,” Kelly explains. “We get in fights, but it feels like siblings. I think family is a good way of describing it.”
There’s an unspoken understanding: a little bit of space keeps the unit intact.
“It feels really similar to me, painting and writing songs. I always wonder, if I tried a different kind of art, would the process carry over into that too? I think it would. I don't start out knowing what it's going to be like. I'll have a very small starting point with a painting or a song, like a phrase, a color, or a shape. I work pretty intuitively and just start doing stuff, then I’ll take a step back and try to think critically about what I'm doing. What's working? What's not working? How would this come across to someone else? I’ll go back and forth between trying not to think, just to express something emotionally, and then trying to be a little bit hard on myself.
When I'm painting, it's definitely a solitary thing. It's your job to finish the painting. I feel like with the music, it's my job to get the songs to a certain place, and we'll finish them all together. With certain songs, I'll get them to a place where I feel like they're done and I don't want any of the chords to change, I don't want the lyrics to change. Then there will be times when the song’s not fully written and I don't know how to finish it. They'll change some chords and say, like, this area, these words might not be working, and I'll go back into it and go from there.”
“It feels really similar to me, painting and writing songs. I always wonder, if I tried a different kind of art, would the process carry over into that too? I think it would.”
“I think I've been collecting things pretty much forever. I like organizing things, so those two play off of each other. For me, it's easier to remember specific memories when you attach them to objects or images. I like little souvenir things, and to be able to see how those change from place to place. It's kind of the most important part of being in a different city for me. With touring, there are a few common denominators that you can find in every city, especially for souvenirs. I like lapel pins, or enamel pins, the designs of those. Flattened pennies—you know, those machines—those are great because they also have really cool designs.
Recently, I was listening to the radio and someone was talking about their father, who had this insane library of like 20,000 books. When he died, it came upon them to sort through it to pick out the ones they thought were important and donate the rest. That got me thinking about not just collecting things and having these possessions for me, but as something you can give to someone later on. That made it seem like a more worthwhile endeavor. I don't know who would want the weird things that I collect. I hope there will be someone to give a lot of this stuff to, because it's good stuff.”
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