INTERVIEW: Kelly Zutrau from Wet
By Allison Barr
Brooklyn indie pop two-piece, Wet, have consistently made waves throughout the indie-sphere since their arrival on the scene as early as 2013. Comprised of duo Kelly Zutrau and Joe Valle, Wet’s transient, hallucinogenic sound has the ability to transport listeners into a separate reality, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kelly prior to their show with Kilo Kish at Wonder Ballroom in Portland, OR to discuss Wet’s beginnings, her background in the arts, and the impact that artists such as Cat Power have had on her personally.
Heart Eyes Magazine: First of all, I wanted to say that I’ve listened to you since I was in high school, and I’m in my third year of college now. I have a very distinct memory of skipping school to go to a radio show you played in Portland. Who is someone you loved in high school whose music you still listen to today?
Kelly Zutrau: In high school, I was really into Cat Power. I was listening to a lot of people but she was probably the person I was the most obsessed with where I would skip school to get a ride with someone two hours to a show. I saw a bunch of her shows, and I still listen to her.
HEM: Did you ever meet her?
KZ: Actually, I did! I got to meet her. I was backstage at a Florence and the Machine show in London and she had just gotten off the stage. And I never go up to people; I never want to bother anyone, but we were in this backstage area and I was just like, ‘She's my number one person that I have to just say something to.’ So I just went up to her and said, “Thank you for your music. You’ve been an inspiration to me.” And she was so nice.
HEM: That’s so cool. What are your thoughts on your music becoming associated with nostalgia? Did you intend for it to be like this with your music?
KZ: No, I didn’t. I think I take it as a compliment. I mean, some of my strongest memories I associate with music [are] when I hear songs from high school or middle school and it brings me back so intensely. I think that’s one of the best experiences to have with music so I’m glad that our music can be that. It’s just crazy. I can’t believe that we’re at the point.
HEM: Ugh, that’s so cool. What’s something you want your audience to take away from your shows?
KZ: I like that our shows are generally kind of quiet and calm. I think that what I've heard from people is that a lot of people go alone or with their partner and hug and its kind of like an emotional thing- it's not really a party thing- which is fine with me. I mean, I think it makes sense with the music. It’s slow and kind of more introspective. My favorite experience is when I leave a show inspired and I feel like my head got cleared for a minute and I was fully just transported to this place with the artist and outside of my life for a minute. And that can give you a lot of clarity. So, I hope people can have that kind of experience.
HEM: I’m going tonight by myself and I’m not worried about it at all. I’m really excited.
KZ: A lot of people go alone. I like it.
HEM: I love it. It’s very calming. So, Heart Eyes is very young girl-focused so what’s something you’ve done in your music career you never thought you’d do when you were younger?
KZ: I have really bad stage fright and I have for a long time so there have been a few things but probably the biggest one was when we did late night TV. We were on Jimmy Fallon and I was so nervous and I think my younger self would have been so surprised I got through that.
HEM: Oh yeah. You were more nervous about something being recorded than a live show?
KZ: Yeah, just the scale of it- like, knowing how many people were going to see it. It just felt like a lot of pressure.
HEM: Was Jimmy nice?
KZ: He was super nice, yeah! And it went fine. And it was one song and it was kind of easier than a full show but conceptually, it was scary for me.
HEM: I’m sure. Was the audience still there when you performed?
HEM: Was that scary?
KZ: Yeah, totally.
HEM: What’s some advice you’d give to any young girl who want to get into any part of the music industry? What would you say to them?
KZ: Don’t do it.
KZ: Just kidding. I do think it is a very, very hard place for girls and women and I think that's true about everywhere in the world and all industries, but I think the music industry is particularly focused on age and physical appearance. Kind of. What it requires to be really successful can be so unhealthy and emotionally demanding for women in particular. I think there are such high standards. And I've seen a lot of people go crazy and get burnt out and lose a sense of self in it. And I'm sure that's true about other industries but I think music is at a particularly toxic place right now where it just fetishizes really young, beautiful girls and sexualizes them. The reason that's so dangerous is that then, it puts an expiration date on women and not men. So, I think the music industry is really toxic particularly right now. I think it's the worst it's ever been from what I can see. But I don't know- I've only been a part of it for a few years. There are obviously good people and good parts of it and to be able to make music as your job is obviously incredibly lucky and amazing and I’m really grateful for that. I just think it’s a really high cost a lot of time.
KZ: I would say, basically, find someone who doesn't have any attachment to your success. I feel like I have had a few people in the industry like that- that have really helped me when I didn't trust my managers, I didn't trust my label, I didn't trust anyone. I would also say if it's something you really want to do and you're not having success at it, to just keep going. Because a lot of the time- just, time weeds the people who aren’t that dedicated to it out, and eventually if you're half good at it and you keep going, you'll meet enough people and something will connect and you'll be able to do it on some level. I don't think everyone will have the chance to be playing arenas and to be huge around the world and make lots of money- that’s so rare. But I think everyone has the chance to do it on some level that can make them happy if they adjust their expectations and just keep trying and working it out. So, I would say be patient.
HEM: That helps a lot. I think especially because I want to go into music photography, that definitely applies to me too. That’s really good to hear.
KZ: And another really recent thing that I've learned that I think is some of the best advice I've heard is to work for free at first. You just have no idea who you'll meet and what amazing pictures you’ll get and eventually, you'll work your way up to a point where you’re so good or you're so recognized and you’ll have such a big portfolio. But in the beginning, it's so hard to get people to pay you. I think willingness to work for free for a little while...I've seen it work for a lot of people.
HEM: That’s really good to hear, thank you. Did you work for free at all in music?
KZ: Totally. I still do a lot. There are a lot of things I do [that] I don't make any money from because I just think it could pay off or it’s something I'm really passionate about. There's a chance it could make money in some way but there's so much that I do for free still. And in the beginning, yeah, you don't make any money. For the first year, I didn't make any money and had another job and was barely able to support myself. Eventually, hopefully, you get a to a point where you build yourself up enough and you're confident enough and you have enough experience and you know enough people that you can ask for money. But I would say generally, in the beginning, it's hard to do that.
HEM: What was the turning point for you? How did you start turning it into a career rather than a passion?
KZ: I had no intention of doing this as a career. I was a nanny in New York and I was trying to be an art teacher and was really broke, and just, like, confused. Me and Joe and our other bandmates at the time we just were making music for fun. We played a couple of shows and put out a couple songs online and just noticed it started getting a response. Blogs just starting writing about it, the numbers on Soundcloud just shot up all the sudden, and we were getting emails from labels. It just happened really quickly. And then they were booking us for CMJ [NYC-based music events company]. We played a bunch of CMJ shows, and then it felt like during those shows somehow- we had only been doing it for a few months and rooms were full and people were singing along to the songs. It was a really quick thing. I don’t really know how it happened.
HEM: That’s so neat. I was going to ask if this is what you thought you’d do when you were maybe my age- like 20?
KZ: It isn’t. It isn’t really what I thought. I wasn’t opposed to it or anything. But I went to school to be a painter and then I went back to school to be an art teacher. So, that’s sort of what I thought I was going to do. And I think I will do that again at some point. I think in an ideal world, I’d like to be painting, teaching, and [doing] music.
HEM: Wait, where’d you go to school?
KZ: I went to Cooper Union in New York for painting, and then I went to RISD for teaching art.
HEM: I haven’t heard of any of those. But I was going to ask what other creative outlets you have. It sounds like painting?
KZ: Yeah, I do a lot of painting.
HEM: Do you still? On the road?
KZ: No, not on the road. It’s too hard, but at home I do. And cooking, I guess, can be sort of creative. When I’m at home, I like to cook.
HEM: This is my last question: Did you explore Portland today or in the past at all?
KZ: I have in the past. Today, I was just so sick that I got up to go eat some food and I had to just get back in bed because I just felt so shitty.
HEM: Aw, I’m sorry! But do you have a favorite thing about Portland? Or favorite place?
KZ: I’ve had really good food here.
HEM: The food is sooo good.
KZ: Like, I’ve been to some food trucks and had amazing Thai food and amazing Indian food. Some of my best friends live here too. I really like Portland, it seems like a really relaxing place to live.
HEM: Oh, I love it, yeah. Well, those were all my questions!