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Koe Wetzel refuses to be typecast

Country star will also rock during show at Coliseum

Koe Wetzel’s The Road to Hell Paso Tour will stop at Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, March 23.

Alan Sculley

Whatzup Features Writer

Published March 15, 2023

Nine songs into his latest album, Hell Paso, Koe Wetzel inserts a 56-second interlude where he raises a toast to people who like the album, then drinks to those who have hated it to that point. It concludes with a big, fat kiss off to those who think he has no business being called a country artist and is a disgrace to the genre. 

“Yeah, people get pissed off whenever you tell them that we’re country and then they listen to our stuff,” Wetzel said in a February phone interview. “So yeah, (“Cheers”) was kind of a f— you to everybody that’s ever said that.”

That commentary, which is best taken tongue in cheek, is perfectly in character for Wetzel. He makes no secret about his rowdy ways and no apologies if his hard-hitting music doesn’t fit someone’s idea of what qualifies as country.

You’ll get a chance to experience Wetzel, along with The Cadillac Three and Dylan Wheeler, when The Road to Hell Paso tour stops by Memorial Coliseum on Thursday, March 23.

Little bit country, lotta bit rock

Hell Paso, which was released in September, is Wetzel’s hardest rocking and edgiest album yet — to the point where even he might well agree with those who consider it a rock album and not at all country.

That musical direction gets established at the outset as Wetzel and his backing musicians launch into the song “Creeps,” which sounds like it could have fallen off of an Everclear album during the ’90s with its big riffs and grungy rock sound. The hard-hitting sound carries through to tracks like “April Showers,” “Money Spent,” and “Better Without You,” which have an alt-rock feel. 

In fact, the album is almost half-way through before a bit of twang seeps into the hearty ballad “Oklahoma Sun” and a little high and lonesome guitar opens the emotional ballad “So Low.” Even those songs pack enough grit and punch to be considered as much rock as they are country.

The thing is, Wetzel doesn’t go into his albums pursuing a predetermined sound or style. 

“I didn’t go into it thinking it was going to be a rock record,” he said. “We just went into it knowing we wanted to do something different than what we had done before. I think that was kind of what pushed it to be as edgy as it was and more edgy than what we had done before. It just kind of came out that way.”

No ordinary studio

In the making Hell Paso, the music and lyrics flowed quite effortlessly once Wetzel, some songwriting buddies, and other musical partners set up shop at Sonic Ranch Studios, a residential studio near El Paso, Texas, that has drawn raves from numerous acts. 

“It’s just a magical place,” he said. “You’re about 25 minutes south of El Paso and you’re 200 yards from the border of Mexico. You get out there and there are no distractions. It’s a big pecan orchard, man, and once you get out there and you get into the studio, there are Picasso paintings on the wall and there’s every kind of guitar you could ever think of. 

“Just the vibe you get while being out there, man, it really helps bring out what you’re trying to get out of it.”

The recording process was also decidedly smooth, Wetzel said, noting the bulk of the music was recorded during the first two weeks in the studio.

“We would add, you know, little tiny things throughout once we had vocals on it, but for the most part, man, the music came really quick and really fast,” he said.

Moving to major label

A native of East Texas, the 30-year-old began his music career after an ankle injury sidelined him from playing football at Tarleton State University. After dropping out of college, he gained traction as he started blending rock and country with touches of hip-hop, rap, and punk.

Within 18 months of playing multiple nights a week around Texas and Oklahoma, Wetzel’s shows were starting to sell out. By 2020, his three albums — Out On Parole (2015), Noise Complaint (2016), and Harold Saul High (2019) — a half-dozen singles had generated combined sales of 200,000 copies and 500 million streams.

Still, Wetzel felt he needed the resources of a major label to achieve national and international popularity and signed with Columbia Records. He titled his 2020 debut album for the label Sellout as a cheeky response to fans who thought he would soften his sound and bad-boy image to fit into the mainstream country world.

That hasn’t happened. Wetzel’s popularity has continued to grow to where he now predominantly plays arenas and amphitheaters. His shows, which he said will feature upwards of seven songs from Hell Paso to go with a selection of material from his previous albums, have scaled up to suit these venues.

“The production, man, it’s pretty insane,” he said. “We’ve never done anything quite like this before. Last year, we brought in a lot of pyro and a bunch of stuff like that. Now it’s kind of doubled on everything we did last year.”


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