Surrounded by flames, amps cranked all the way up, and no f*cks given, Koe Wetzel leaves a trail of soldout venues, screaming fans, and empty booze bottles in his wake wherever he goes. Proudly hailing from Northeast Texas, he has quietly asserted himself as the ultimate country rockstar, bulldozing the boundaries between Nashville songcraft, rowdy Texas spirit, and rainswept Seattle hard rock. After moving 1 million units under the radar and popping off as one of the hottest live performers in the game, he welcomes everyone to the party on his 2022 full-length offering, Hell Paso [Columbia Records].
“I did what I wanted to do,” he exclaims. “This was straight up me. Nobody told me to do this record. We pulled in every genre we were feeling at the time. We spent the last ten years trying to make this sound —Hell Paso is it.”
Never compromising, Koe might just be the last real rebel out there. The Gold-selling singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer shakes up the status quo, shatters expectations, and sticks to his guns with a sound steeped in country storytelling, yet spiked with grunge grit. He’s unapologetic, undeniable, and unlike anyone else you’ve ever heard. Without anything to prove and nothing to lose, he continues to kick ass on his own terms. Breaking through with a series of independent releases and tallying over 1.3 billion streams to date, he has impressively notched three RIAA Gold-certified singles, including “February 28, 2016,” “Something To Talk About,” and “Drunk Driving.” The latter adorned his 2020 Columbia Records debut, Sellout, which arrived to widespread critical acclaim from American Songwriter, Billboard, The Boot, Rolling Stone, and more. At the same time, he has quietly emerged as a powerhouse performer. He graced Pollstar’s “Top Worldwide Tours” back-to-back in 2020 and 2021, moving hundreds of thousands of tickets in the process. In addition to headlining his own Koe Wetzel’s Incredible Music Festival, he has packed arenas, amphitheaters, and ballparks across North America, attracting a devout audience.
At the top of 2022, Koe and longtime collaborator Taylor Kimball retreated to Sonic Ranch recording studio—a stone’s throw from the Mexican border just outside of El Paso, TX. Holed up on a pecan farm for a month, they had nothing to do “except eat wonderful Mexican food and fucking play music.”
“It was straight-up bliss, man,” he says. “I couldn’t go to the bar because there isn’t one. I just had to make music!”
Fittingly, he set the stage for Hell Paso with “April Showers.” Powered by a galloping riff awash in distortion, it culminates on one of his most chantable choruses. “It gives you a taste of the entire record,” he adds. “It was a good song for everyone to jump into.”
On its heels, the single “Creeps” crawls on grimy guitar towards a sing-song refrain tailormade for stadium-size crowds—or karaoke at your favorite old watering hole.
“It was a feel-good song for me,” he says. “I’m big into the Zombie apocalypse like The Walking Dead, so I wanted an apocalyptic zombie video for this b*tch.”
Punctuated by nocturnal Spanish guitar and Spaghetti Western-style whistling, “Cabo” recounts a weekend of endless debauchery in Mexico with no shortage of gory details. “It’s a million percent true,” he grins. “I’ve pissed off a lot of girlfriends and wives, but other than that it’s wonderful.”
Hank Ealy from Turnpike Troubadours lays down tear-drenched pedal steel on “So Low” where Koe confesses, “I’m so low it’s f*cking awesome. Makes me glad there ain’t a cure for insane.”
“It was like nothing we’ve ever done before, so I was like, ‘Hell with it, put it on here’,” he says.
“YellaBush Road” brings him back home with vulnerable verses and another vital hook, “And I’m way too blessed to b*tch today.” “‘YellaBush Road’ is my community,” he goes on. “It used to be a lot bigger. They had a school, a church, and everything out there. Now, there’s not even a road sign for it. This is my hometown song though. You get on the road, you get away from everything you know, and you start to miss it. So, the tune puts me back there.”
Then, there’s “Better Without You.” Guitar wails in between a punchy beat as he promises, “I’m doing better without you being around.”
“I bought a house a year ago, and I’ve probably slept in my bed for maybe like two months out of the last year,” he notes. “I had to unpack everything in my garage. One of those boxes had all of my ex-girlfriend’s shit in it. It was raining outside. I was in one of those moods where I was like, ‘F*ck this, I’m going to sit on the couch and grab a guitar.’ You’re over it, but you’re not really over it.”
The ride reaches its emotional highpoint on “Sad Song.” He concludes the record with a fiery final word.
“I just got in the booth and sang,” he recalls. “It was all in the moment.”
In the end, there’s nobody like Koe, and we should be really f*cking grateful.
“We brought everything together into one on Hell Paso,” he leaves off. “You’ve got to be yourself. Once I put out something authentic, it worked. This record is going to get a lot of flack, but it’s going to get a lot of love too. I’m not going to stop. Hopefully, I go home at some point, kiss grandma, and she’ll maybe cook me breakfast.”