Kelly Zutrau of Wet paints a song 

click to enlarge From left, Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow are Wet. - COURTESY SYDNEY SHEN
  • COURTESY SYDNEY SHEN
  • From left, Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow are Wet.
When Rhode Island School of Design graduate Kelly Zutrau conceives her abstract paintings – which often feature animals, foliage and strokes of midnight blue – it’s simultaneously a nebulous and specific process.

“On one level, I’m playing around with composition, trying to get a balance – something that works that’s really strong,” says the artist, whose works have sold for up to $3,000. “”But I’m also thinking about a narrative, a story I’m telling, and usually I don’t know ahead of time. I’ll have a vague starting point, and the rest will just be intuitive.”

Zutrau uses a similar method for songwriting with her ethereal New York trio Wet, which plays The City this weekend, promoting its self-titled debut EP for the chic imprint Neon Gold. The band will premiere tracks from its upcoming, as-yet-untitled full-length CD: “Weak,” “Deadwater” and “It’s All in Vain” – which Zutrau promises are Jackson Pollock-dense, along with “Wet” songs “Dreams” and “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl,” which are almost José Guadalupe Posada-skeletal.

“We wanted the EP to be really simple, but with the album, the songs are packed and there’s a lot more going on,” says the composer, for whom studying an empty song notebook is like staring at a blank canvas. When writing, she needs to be alone, in a quiet environment, with no distractions.

“I have to be coming from an intense emotional place. If I’m content and things are going well, or I’m bored, I’m not going to write a good song,” she says. She’ll have a vague sense of direction and a single starting point – a title, a melody, or one lyrical line. Then she starts building on that foundation, scraping away excess colors along the way.

“But then I’ll take a step back and look at what I’ve got, and I’ll try to think critically about it. “And I’ll imagine other people hearing it, and I’ll imagine playing it live, and then I’ll go back into it with those things in mind,” says the artist, who started making music in college with guitarist Marty Sulkow and drummer Joe Valle in an ensemble called Beauty Feast. They pared down membership and approach to become Wet.

The singer also understands restraint. So she bowed out of sketching cover art for Wet’s album, although she toyed with doing a painting to accompany every track on some future effort.

“But then I think, God, that would be so self-indulgent,” she says, laughing. “Like, ‘Here’s my sad song and here’s my sad painting to go with it! Don’t you want to know everything I’m thinking?’”

IF YOU GO

Wet

Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Feb. 27

Tickets: $13 to $15

Contact: (415) 861-2011, www.snagtickets.com

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Tom Lanham

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