INTERVIEW: WRYT

Hi Mychael, welcome to Vents Magazine! How has the first four months of 2021 been treating you so far? 

Thank you for having me, incredibly grateful to be with you. So far, 2021 seems like it’s helping me come out of my quarantine shell a bit more. I’m ready to re-enter the world and play some shows!

Congratulations are in order for your debut singles Ivory Tower and Milk & Honey! Can you talk with us a little about the genesis of both songs and what they mean to you as an artist? 

Thank you very much, I’m incredibly proud of these songs. Both were written as a means of processing much of my personal experiences with oppression, race, and a bit of anti-establishment. These were written around the same in 2015 and 2016 while I was living outside of Washington, DC in Arlington, VA. We had an apartment with a perfect view of the entire DC skyline and would sit on my balcony many nights just looking at the city. I made the comment to my former partner along the lines of “What a beautiful city. It’s a shame the slaves that built it will never get the credit they deserve.” That thought, along with all of the rhetoric surrounding the 2016 US Presidential Election created a lot of personal strife that ultimately made its way into these songs.

You recorded these striking pieces of music under the artist name of “WRYT.” Who are the members of WRYT? 

You’re talking to him! It worked for Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails for decades, I figure I’d give it a shot. I did start WRYT with my former partner and am immensely grateful for her encouragement and help in every step of the journey. She is featured in both videos and sings harmony on all of the tracks I did in this project. The goal is that WRYT will ultimately be a group but knew artists like Dallas Green of City & Colour and Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional were solo for quite some time. Granted, they were both in incredible bands before their solo efforts, I’m hoping to carve a similar path.

WRYT features a delicious cocktail of one part- social commentary mixed with the sounds of Grunge-influenced guitars. This is such a distinctive and memorable style. Can you speak to us about how you view your music?

I firmly believe that if you have a platform that can reach people, you use that to educate and inspire change. I recognize that’s not for every artist and respect that many people just want to be entertained. But WRYT will always be about raising the social consciousness of the people that listen. It’s an opportunity for me to strengthen my understanding and education, but also deepen my empathy and stand in the margins. I think many people have lost sight of the fact that no one gives a damn about which church you go to, how much money you have, what school you went to, or what job you have. They care about your heart and how you treat others around you. I loved the grunge-era so much. Alice In Chains, Nirvana, and Soundgarden definitely earned their names on my backpack in middle school. The angsty guitars and tense melodies caught me and pulled me in from an early age and helped create the foundation of much of the music I’m still attracted to today. I love knowing that while so many other pop artists are hearkening back to 80’s electro pop, WRYT reaches the grunge fans. 

Your music began as Contemporary Christian. Do you still ply that genre in your recorded work? 

As often as possible. With roots in gospel, R&B, rock, and CCM, there are parts of each that I love and adore. I’m very intentional to not just focus on making the song sound like one-specific thing, rather a blend of what sounds good to my ear. There’s this moment that happens most noticeably in Christian music that I don’t think many secular artists always recognize happening in their world too. But, that moment that you look around and see all of these people singing along in unison with as much emotion and passion as you are. Even speaking of it makes my skin tingle. It’s a pure feeling that doesn’t care about your genre, skin color, sexual and/or gender identity,  religious belief, economic status, nothing. None of that matters in that moment where we are all unified and connected. If there’s ever a feeling I’m chasing after, that one’s pretty close, if not at the top.

A notable figure in pop music that began his career in the world of Gospel before switching over to Secular was the legendary Sam Cooke. Was Cooke ever an influence on your style? 

Without a doubt. “A change is gonna come” was one of many songs I listened to so much when writing Milk & Honey. It’s a poignant example of the black experience in America and one that I have etched in my heart. I’d like to think I made Sam, Otis, Marvin, Nina, Billie, and so many more proud of the songs that continue to push America, and the human race forward and away from the divisiveness that plagues our country even today. Sam was right, it has been a long time coming and we still have such a long way to go.

You’re from Washington DC. How has that city shaped you as a person and as an artist? 

I actually grew up all over the east coast and am damn proud of that. I got to experience so much in every state that I’ve lived in. DC is such a unique place where you have a liberal, progressive city with our nations capital smack in the middle of it. It’s always interesting to me to see the tribalism of politics play out in DC neighborhoods. But beyond that, we have so many musical inspirations I look up to: Duke Ellington, Marvine Gaye, Animals as Leaders,  Bad Brains, Minor Threat. So many great artists. It’s good to know there’s something in the water that’s helped so many achieve so much.

With everything going on in the world at the moment, do you use any of it as gist for your own songwriting? 

Honestly, I don’t think I really know of any other way to write. As someone that has battled depression or anxiety for most of my adult years, music is the peak of the mountaintop for processing emotions. I usually find myself stuck on one topic for days at a time and use music and lyrics as a means to process them out. I’ll start with creating a melody that stirs up the emotions I’m feeling and let those emotions tell me what the song needs lyrically. A number of artists I grew up aspiring to be like have talked about using this method before but object writing and morning pages are other means that I’ll use. Highly recommend songwriters take a look at both of those! True lifesavers for songwriting!

For you, which comes first: The Music or the lyrics? 

A mix of both, but definitely leaning more heavily to music. My voice memos on my phone is a mix of melodies I’m humming out and lyrics I think might sound cool. Technology really is a lifesaver these days!

How has the worldwide pandemic altered your performing schedule? Has it made appearances more problematic? 
Absolutely. After releasing these songs, my goal was to immediately structure a band to support them – then the pandemic happened. Like many artists, it took away any chance to play live music. I took that as a great opportunity to start writing again, taking voice lessons, and even working on my composing and theory knowledge. My music teacher actually pointed it out the other day in a really unique way: At the beginning of quarantine I knew every instrument had a place in the band, and that’s the role they served. Today, I see the song as a canvas and can take my various paintbrushes and colors, and create something unique and true to me as an artist.

Your producer on Ivory Tower and Milk & Honey was the legendary Gabriel Solomon Wilson. What was that collaboration like? 

Probably one of the more exciting moments in my life. As a former CCM artist, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know who he was until another artist he works with dropped his name at a concert. I reached out to him through his website and we connected shortly after that. Gabe has a great ear for what a song needs and I still consider it to be a privilege to have worked with him. I believe we were kindred spirits in that we were constantly just chasing after good songs. Songs that move you melodically, lyrically, and thematically. We’ve been able to accomplish a lot over the years we’ve been working together and I can’t wait for the world to hear more of what we came up with!

Your music often addresses the cluelessness of opportunist and corrupt politicians who exist seemingly only to drive a wedge among people. How do we as a people resist the stereotypical used car dealers that seem to control so much of our world?

Man, what a great question. I honestly think they will always have the ear of many people. If you prey on people’s fear and position yourself as their savior, you only further the megalomania and god complex many of these characters have to offer. 

When can fans expect a new LP from you? Any plans in the offing?

I’m always writing and using it as a means to help me process life. So I’ve got a pretty decent amount of songs prepared that I’ll start releasing more of later this year! 

Final – SILLY! – Question: Knowing that you derived the name of WRYT partially from the famed Bill & Ted films, which of the three would be your choice for a desert island movie? If you absolutely had to choose just one, which one would it be? 

Bogus Journey. Without question. Getting to shred with Death would be the dream of a lifetime…or end of lifetime. 

About Ryan Vandergriff

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