In Conversation with El Tryptophan’s Gryphon Rue

Gryphon Rue is the singer and songwriter behind El Tryptophan, a highly musically and verbally literate alternative music act from New York. Growing up in a community rich with accomplished musicians of varying genres granted Rue a kind of “old soul” perspective on music that somehow enabled him to create remarkably new and different material. He also works as an art curator, adding a sense of visual perspective to his sophisticated musical and literary vocabulary.

On November 20th he released his first album, Guilt Vacation, also available on vinyl from Wharf Cat Records. Recently Rue took the time to answer Wanda Waterman? questions about his work and his creative journey.

Has anything funny or bizarre ever happened to you while in the recording studio or on the stage?
Deep into a 10-day silent meditation retreat in a room of 200 people, I remember in the act of sitting down a song just appearing in my consciousness. I broke the rules of the retreat because I had to jot the words down. The song, which is unreleased, is called “Lady of the Past,” and I could hear Lou Reed singing it almost the same moment it arrived.

So much of that retreat was either indulging in or resisting sexual fantasies, because there was virtually no stimulation, and my psyche was rejiggering. This reminds me of how nice it can be to hear things wrong, like voices through a wall, or two radios at the same time, as Tom Waits suggests. Your mind starts filling in the gaps.

Is New York a creativity-enhancing city for you?
Living in New York feels so public that It’s hard to find the psychic privacy to write without a critical voice or a presence over my shoulder. I’m blind to the amount of work I do here; It’s really a shame. There are so many distractions? and noises? it can be difficult to record, or even to relax! On the other hand, the number of shows is overwhelming. Sometimes It’s more fun to hide in the art museum!

What do you love best about Guilt Vacation? And why did you call it that?
I love the honesty of the children’s voices on “Google Portrait,” and the odd lyrics they sing, about queens, catacombs, the eye of Fatima, and depression. The album is called Guilt Vacation because it fits the songs and the mood over the three years it took to record it. Is the title paradoxical? I’m not sure. It’s accurate.

What conditions do you require in your life in order to go on being creative?
I think my music making has to be a blind reaction?I need to be filled by unmusical stuff: disgust, a small injustice, or some ironic displeasure. I spend a great deal of time alone. Townes Van Zandt said you can’t write a great song with someone else in the room, but he contradicted himself by writing For the Sake of the Song while his lover slept by his side.

What do you feed your muse?
I was sick over Christmas, so I stayed in bed, picking through Bobos in Paradise: the New Upperclass and How They Got There by David Brooks, Language Poetries: An Anthology, Franz Kafka: Short Stories, and Waves by Virginia Woolf.

I’ve been into the all-over-the-map psychedelia of Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, especially the songs “Beyond Belief” and “Man Out of Time,” which have mind-blowing lyrics. He’s comparing visions of media networks and political scandals to his personal life. I’m listening to some electronica, too: Holden’s The Inheritors, Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete, Craig Leon.

Tell us about your current and upcoming projects.
I have several rather psychedelic videos coming soon, and I’m recording another version of “Google Portrait,” co-produced with Joakim, the French electronic musician and DJ.

Aside from more shows in New York, I’m planning a European tour for the spring. High Water, of Nicolas Jaar’s Other People label, has an unreleased album, hopefully coming soon, for which I co-wrote many of the lyrics. Next September there’s an opening of an art exhibition I’m curating at Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, TX.

I recorded songs this week by my friend Dave Deporis, who is a “freak folk” singer everyone should hear. I’m sure I’m forgetting something.

Do you have anything else to add?
This was fun? thanks for your questions!

Wanda also writes the blog The Mindful Bard:The Care and Feeding of the Creative Self.