116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When word got out in 2020 that Koe Wetzel had signed a major label deal with Columbia Records, he heard from some of his fans who worried that would spell the end of Koe Wetzel as they knew him.
“Once we signed, it hurt a lot of people, I guess, just because they felt we weren’t going to keep making the same music as it were,” Wetzel said in a recent phone interview. “So I just wanted to tell them look, nothing’s going to change. We’re still going to be the same us. You’ve just kind of got to trust me on it.”
Wetzel responded to the concerns of fans with some humor, titling his first album on Columbia “Sellout” and including a couple of brief sketches joking about his music and the label’s devious plans for him.
That response was in character for Wetzel, who has some rebelliousness in his nature, an obvious sense of humor, and is not always politically correct with his songs or during his live shows.
He thinks this authenticity is part of what makes his concerts special for his fans and part of what made him unusually successful as an independent artist, particularly in Texas, Oklahoma and other nearby states. It’s quite common to see comments post-concert from fans raving about Wetzel’s performances and even saying it was one of the best concerts they have seen.
“I think it’s just connecting with the crowd on a normal (expletive) level, just being personal with people and just not trying to be something we’re not,” he said, offering his take on what makes his concerts stand out.
“Whenever we go out there, we’re doing pretty much anything we would do on a regular Saturday night or a Friday night. We want to have just as much fun as they do, so we’re partying and we’re acting up. We’re just doing it with instruments in our hands and we’re making music that people can relate to,” he said.
“Man, we want to be loud. If you want people to hear you, you’ve got to be loud. So we crank everything up pretty loud.”
Wetzel’s fans endured a lengthy wait to hear and see him again in person. Like every other act, Wetzel found himself sidelined from touring because of the pandemic, interrupting what would have been a busy schedule. But as 2021 was heading from spring into summer, Wetzel and his band got back to some semblance of touring.
Getting out on the road played a big role in his growth in popularity as an independent artist. A native of Pittsburgh in east Texas, he began his music career after an ankle injury sidelined him from playing football at Tarleton State University. He subsequently dropped out of college to focus on music.
Within 18 months of playing concerts multiple nights each week around Texas and Oklahoma, his fan base had grown to where Wetzel’s shows were starting to sell out.
The release in 2017 of his first full-length album, “Noise Complaint,” really accelerated his momentum. Four songs from that album — “February 28, 2016,” “Something To Talk About,” “Fuss & Fight” and “Love” — generated tens of millions of Spotify streams each, as more fans were drawn to his music, which combines hard-hitting grunge-ish rock and country twang with some hip-hop thrown in for good measure.
A second album, “Harold Saul High,” followed in 2019 and gave Wetzel two more popular singles, “Ragweed” and “Forever.” By the time he signed with Columbia Records during the pandemic, Wetzel had sold 200,000 units and amassed 500 million streams.
Despite that success, Wetzel felt he needed to be on a major label to further grow his career
“I just think there’s (only) so much you can do as an independent artist all by yourself. So we wanted to broaden,” Wetzel said. “We didn’t want to be a band that was stuck in Texas or the U.S. We wanted to be with a label that was going to throw us out into the world.
“We had talked to a couple of different labels, and Columbia just felt right. They didn’t want to change anything we were doing. They didn’t have any crazy ideas. They were really straight-forward with us. We told them what we wanted to do and they were like ‘Absolutely, let’s (expletive) do it.’ So I don’t know, they just felt like the best fit for us.”
Signing with Columbia wasn’t all Wetzel did during his pandemic downtime. He also wrote and recorded “Sellout,” using his touring band in the studio. And Wetzel is right when he says the album has reassured fans that his musical style isn’t changing now that he’s a major label artist.
“Sellout” has plenty of the muscular rockers Wetzel’s fans have come to expect, with “Cold & Alone,” “Kuntry & Wistern” and “Sundy Or Mundy” bringing sturdy melodies and lots of crunch to these songs. A more prominent country element gets filtered into the galloping “Lubbock” and the atmospheric ballad “Drunk Driving.” The wild card on the album is “SideChick,” a rather abstract effects-laden ballad that doesn’t gel, but is an interesting departure for Wetzel.
However, Wetzel does feel that with “Sellout” he’s gotten closer to achieving the stylistic blend he’s been pursuing.
“I think (the difference) was just the mixture, the heavy grunge guitars mixed with the country lyrics and the country twang and then the style of the beats, as far as trying throw in a little hip-hop and just trying to actually blend all of those together and make that one sound,” he said. “I’d say we captured that a lot better on this album than we have on the other ones.
“ ‘Harold Saul High,’ for us, the album before ‘Sellout,’ I think we were getting there,” he said. “And this album, we really honed in on doing that and blending all of those sounds together and making it what we wanted it to be.”
In Cedar Rapids
Wetzel has written a number of new songs since recording “Sellout,” and he has a new single out, titled “April Showers.” But he’s making sure “Sellout” gets its moment in the sun as he continues to tour this summer, stopping at the McGrath Amphitheatre in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 12, 2022.
“We’re excited to get out,” he said. “We’ve been mixing in a bunch of our new songs on our new set and kind of mixing in everything that we’ve, we always play the crowd favorites. But we’re trying to throw this new record in as much as we can.”