A killer debut EP, tour dates with CHVRCHES and a label bidding war have all made the indie R&B group the toast of the tastemakers.
Last week, during a performance at the Westway in New York, Wet singer Kelly Zutrau swayed harmlessly in the center of a tiny stage, in front of several scouting eyes. On a blisteringly cold New York night, multiple prominent artist managers -- and representatives for labels like Atlantic, Universal and Columbia -- ventured to Manhattan's west side to catch the 11:00 PM set, standing back near the venue's bar and studying Zutrau's guileless voice as Wet unfurled its small collection of sparse R&B songs.
Zutrau was shy and gracious, quietly asking if Joe Valle's drum pads could be turned up slightly near the beginning of the set; meanwhile, a handful of teenage girls took iPhone videos of themselves passionately mouthing and miming along to the words of the song "Dreams" with their backs to the stage. The performance was unassuming, in the best way; the members of Wet certainly didn't act like they were the band that many young fans were there to worship, and that many older crowd members were there to discover.
Wet's self-titled debut EP, released last October on Neon Gold Records, has sold 1,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But several figures within the music industry seem to think that Wet's first release is the first precursor to something much bigger.
"We're talking to a lot of people," Zutrau cryptically tells Billboard about the Brooklyn trio's label situation, at an East Village bar the week before the group's Westway performance. When asked about a timetable for a label deal and the group's future musical output, the three members of Wet chuckle under their breath about how little they can report. "Right now it's like, 'Just keep working until something becomes clear,'" guitarist Marty Sulkow says with a smile.
That stasis at least gives others a chance to catch up to "Wet," a hypnotic four-song collection defined by the friction between Valle's brisk percussion movements and Zutrau's restrained sorrow. Wet's debut EP was performed at a series of CMJ shows days after its release, and in late November, the group joined CHVRCHES for a string of five live shows. Collectively, the four songs on "Wet" have been streamed 928,000 times on Soundcloud. And the EP has been recognized by dozens of tastemaker blogs; Google "Wet Debut EP," and read the raves of the Fader, Earmilk, Examiner and Okayplayer.
The songs that Wet has released thus far are all "breakup songs, at least superficially," says Zutrau, but that won't be the case forever. The threesome has been practicing and recording all day in Brooklyn -- preparing for the many live shows and debut album that will both inevitably come -- and then crashing hard at night. "It's exhausting," says Valle, "and so much fun at the same time."
The three members of Wet met while Sulkow and Valle attended NYU and Zutrau was a student at Cooper Union in New York, and the trio began making music casually. When Zutrau moved to Providence to attend the Rhode Island School of Design and Valle headed to Los Angeles for a brief period, the three continued to email each other unfinished tracks, and when they reconvened in New York in mid-2012, passing songs back and forth turned into seriously focusing on a handful of tracks.
"A lot of stuff happened separately in the beginning," says Zutrau. "We kind of like having hours alone with [a song], since it can be difficult to put new ideas out in a room full of people."
Zutrau had been performing in musicals since she was a kid -- she laughs through a story of singing in a production of "Big" when she was 13 and telling her family that she would be on Broadway when she was 20. Eventually, her musical interests shifted to 90's R&B, which she nods to in most of Wet's songs; she name-checks TLC, Destiny's Child, SWV and Usher as her favorites growing up, and says that she delved into folk-influenced artists like Joanna Newsom and Cat Power in college.
"Every time I see my family," says Zutrau, "they're like, 'This is amazing! You have to get on "The Voice"!' And it's like, you don't understand at all what I'm doing!"
Wet started posting demos on Bandcamp last April, and emails from "random people," as Valle puts it, arrived soon after. Following the EP release and the resulting rise of touring opportunities (Wet is represented by the Windish Agency), the group was finally able to give up its non-musical jobs and start hunkering down on the project.
"It's easier when you're all sort of allergic to having a full-time job," says Sulkow. "We've all had part-time hustles from as long as I can remember, from personal assisting to repairing voting machines. It was a very gradual thing, where as music took up more time, we were able to give less time to the hustles."
"I wake up, and I'm anxious to go to work," adds Zutrau. "I've never had that before."
The singer promises that some sort of new music from the band is coming "really soon," and adds that Wet was recently joined by Chairlift's Patrick Wimberly in the studio. Two more New York shows, at Rough Trade on Mar. 8 and at the Mercury Lounge on Mar. 9, will lead into South by Southwest, and the band will also perform at the U.K.'s Great Escape festival in May.