Kelly Zutrau | wet
As a member of a band, your daily work day probably looks a little bit different than most. Talk us through the different tasks you take on as a singer/songwriter.
I try to work on writing a for at least a couple hours every day. I wake up, get coffee, walk my dog, and then I'll work on new songs or start a new song. I'll walk over to Joe’s house work on music with him a for a little while, then I go back home walk my dog again, work on other music stuff like videos or art work or just emails for a while. After that, I'll make a painting and then I go see my friends at night or go to a show or something. That’s an average productive day for me.
It looks like you've mastered the art of fully taking advantage of all of the hours in a day. You’ve mentioned that your mom is a single mom and for a bit of your childhood, it was just the two of you. Can you tell us about how this has shaped your view on female empowerment?
When my mom first had me she was young, had no money, no support from family, no man, no college or high school degree, no house… It was just me and her. We moved around constantly staying with friends or renting rooms month to month for the first few years of my life. She started with nothing and slowly put her life together in front of my eyes. She raised 4 kids with help from my little sister’s dad - my step dad growing up - but their relationship was very stop and go and eventually fully ended. So my mom would go in and out of being a single mom over the course of 28 years of raising 4 kids. My mom is really strong and really smart and has done things very unconventionally; she’s found a way to survive in a world that was not made for her. I think just watching a woman do that while I was forming as a person has made me believe deeply that women are strong and smart and powerful. Having this experience of the world with my mom has also made me feel small and crazy and lost at times but overall my life is rich and full and I feel so lucky to have had a person like her as my main role model.
Who are some of the women (besides your mom) who have influenced you throughout your career?
Mary J. Blige has been one of my favorite song writers for a long time. She manages to be vulnerable and out there but strong at the same time. She’s had such a long career and seems very in control of her music and her business. And she’s also just one of my favorite singers.
Deborah Meyer was my principle at a small public school in Boston. I didn't know it at the time but she’s actually really famous in the education world and had opened all these incredibly successful public schools in Harlem before opening the Mission Hill School in Boston. She was very hands on, like if there was a problem, (I used to get in trouble a lot in school), she would deal with students directly. I have so many memories of her sitting me down and being really empathetic and direct. She would talk to us like we were adults; trying to solve problems with us. I still regularly hear things in my head that she said to me 20 years ago.
You mentioned that one of the reasons you love Mary J. Blige is that she's able to be vulnerable but still strong and in control. As a singer/songwriter, you’ve allowed yourself to be undeniably vulnerable, without knowing how people may react. How do you stop that from holding you back?
Some days it’s really easy for me to be open and vulnerable and some days I’m totally scared of what people will think and doubt myself completely. I just try to think back to when I first started writing songs, thinking no one would ever hear them. And how those songs were coming from a real place of just needing to express something real in order to get through the night or get through a break up or calm myself down. And that those are the songs people connected to before we were on a label or had Instagram so I should just trust that it matters to some people and that there’s a reason I keep coming back to it even if it’s difficult.
As much as it's a business, it's also therapeutic. Not just for you, but also for your listeners. So, you also sell paintings – what differentiates this form of expression from your musical expression?
I actually started painting again recently because I ran out of money from our last album. I thought about getting a day job for a while but I wanted to be able to put as much energy as possible into making the second wet album. So I just started posting paintings on Instagram and people starting dm-ing me and buying them. It’s how I’ve been paying my rent the last few months. It’s also been really nice to have something other than music to work on. I find that the process of writing a song or making a painting is actually really similar for me; when I get stuck on one I can go back to the other one.
Can you tell us about the scariest business decision you’ve had to make? And how you handled it?
After the first album came out I realized that I wasn’t making choices based on what I wanted or needed to be fulfilled as an artist. I was making choices for other people; managers, the boys in the band, producers, people at the label, etc. Literally anyone other than myself. I was getting further and further away from my vision, but my vision was the whole reason I was doing this in the first place. I was deeply out of touch with what I actually wanted because I had spent my whole life trying to read people’s minds and make decisions that I thought would make people like me. I realized that it was on me to take control of my life if I was unhappy, that no one was going to do that for me. It can be an exhausting and relentless battle to try to get power back over your life; women especially often aren’t supported in doing that. The process of redefining myself and my role in the project was really difficult and complicated and resulted in me losing some of the most important relationships in my life. People that I loved. That’s what this whole new album is about, going through that process and how complicated I still feel about those losses. Those choices were not only the first real business decisions I’ve made but also the most difficult decisions I’ve made just as a human being.
What's something people don't ask you about but you want people to know?
We just put a new song out last week, It's called "There's a Reason" and I'm so excited it's finally out in the world. More new songs from our second album are coming out soon too!
It's on repeat for us already. We love wet (and you)! So to wrap it up, let us see the world through your eyes. What do you want to see more of in the world? Less of?
I think this is a very exciting time in music and art because there are voices that have been historically underrepresented that are being heard more and celebrated more than ever. I feel like there’s been a shift, partially because of the internet making things more accessible to anyone, that has made people question who has gotten floor time in the past and why. People seem to be realizing that only allowing rich white dudes to have power and influence is very dangerous and also very boring. When new perspectives that have been so purposefully repressed for thousands of years are finally getting more representation, that’s a really exciting time for the world and art.