Putting a full length debut album out there for the entire world to listen to and getting goosebumps when hearing those carefully chosen lyrics with perfectly matching melodies is something the 32-year old singer-songwriter Wrabel has been dreaming of since he was a 15-year-old boy. After almost ten years of piecing together the perfect puzzle that represents him best – as an artist and as a person -, full of hope, love and life, ‘these words are all for u’ is ready to be set off in the world on 24 September.
When asked to describe his album in just three words, the outcome almost feels like a cheesy motivational quote you’d hang up on your wall: “hope, love and life.” “I know it sounds cliché but it’s the truth.” Hope is one of the main key words for this album. “When I first started making this record, nine years ago, I thought it would be a break-up album because that’s what it was back then.” In the beginning Wrabel was mainly singing about loss, discrimination and heartbreak. Now he has found himself in a completely different place. He’s very much in love, he’s sober and independent as an artist, which made him grow into the person he is today, creating an uplifting and optimistic album in times of need. “This record even surprised me, sitting back and piecing it together almost like an autobiography. It’s nine years of my life put into eleven songs.”
The one song that survived the bumpy road and got carried through everything the Los Angeles-based pop singer-songwriter has done over the years is the heavy-hearted but transcendent closer: ‘love is not a simple thing to lose’. “It’s something we’ve never pitched to any other artist. We actually never really showed it to anyone because I just knew that that was going to be the closer for my first album, whenever that would happen. Having that still stand is such a special thing to me.”
Looking back in time and pinpointing the exact moment how Wrabel got here in the first place, as a creative artist, takes us to a scenic bookstore, his first ever CD and a parking lot. “I was fifteen. I remember I was driving a car but I needed a chaperone. I was with my friend and my mom and we went to this small bookstore where they also had some CD’s. I saw this album ‘Strange and Beautiful’ by Aqualung. The cover looked really moody and it just happens to be that I too felt moody that day, so I bought that album just based on the cover. I was curious and I put it on in the car in the parking lot. And when hearing those first few notes, the first few melodies, everything just clicked for me.” That life changing moment resulted in a little Wrabel with big dreams, taking piano lessons and starting to write songs, even if they were really bad in the beginning. All thanks to Matthew Hales from Aqualung. He and Wrabel worked together quite a bit over the years. “I’ve told him straight-up: I would not be doing what I’m doing without you doing what you’re doing.”
Not only did Wrabel work with his biggest musical influence Matthew Hales, but he also toured alongside and collaborated with P!nk. “The day I met her and went over to her studio to work on our ballad ‘90 days’ was a very surreal and dreamy moment for me. I walked out of my apartment and there was a cadillac outside to pick me up and drive me to the studio. I remember calling my grandma and asking her: “What the heck is happening in my life? How is this real?” I was so emotional the whole ride there.
As we were working on our song, I had this idea for P!nk and me to harmonize on an ad lib. I thought it’d be really cool but I was kind of scared to ask her. I mean: she’s freaking P!nk! When I finally had the guts to ask her, she loved the idea and we went for it. After the studio session, I just sat there with my knees up and my head in my knees, like a turtle in his shell, and I started to sob. She gave me the kindest hug and said: “You can cry, babe. It’s all good.” You grow up wanting to do something and you hope that it becomes true one day, but you don’t know if it ever will. Having had that experience is definitely one of the biggest and precious moments.”
Being a singer-songwriter, I want to make stuff for people to feel less alone, whether it has anything to do with queerness, being in love, being sad or being insecure. Whatever it may be, I try to be honest and write things that are true in hopes that even one person hears it and feels better.
Another special moment in his career was the first time he met Ke$ha. “We wrote this song called ‘Emotional’, which ended up being a deluxe track for her record. We both have matching tattoos – a little smiley face – because of that song. It’s rare that when you work with an artist, the first thing you do is be so honest, raw and real. She just wanted to tell a true and authentic story. We were pretty much immediately joined at the hip. I feel so lucky to have her in my life as a friend, collaborator and a creative person.” The two friends also worked on another track together called ‘since I was young’, which started as a simple melody on a toy piano and ended up as a pop song about the ups and downs of life. They even filmed the joyful video clip in their own homes during the pandemic.
Ke$ha wasn’t the only person he collaborated with throughout the tumultuous past year and a half, his latest single ‘back to back’ featuring the 2019 Eurovision winner Duncan Laurance came together in a very wild and modern world way. “When we were piecing together the album I knew I wanted to use ‘back to back’. It’s one of my favourite songs ever but I wanted it to be a duet, a queer duet. That was very important to me because when I put myself and my experiences in it, the other person is a man. I noticed one day as we’re going through this process that he had followed me on Instagram. I immediately called my manager, freaking out and said: I should send him ‘back to back’. So I sent Duncan a message on Instagram telling him about the idea for the song and he absolutely loved it: the idea, the song itself, the meaning behind the song, all of it.”
Wrabel wrote ‘back to back’ several years ago with an artist called Leon. It was an idea that he’d been working on for a while. It actually came from the saying: ‘Never go to bed mad.’ “It’s always crazy to me how you can be sharing a bed with someone, yet feel so far away from them. I think it’s so easy to hold onto something, bottle it up and let it grow. This song for me says: turn around and say I’m sorry, turn around and say I love you, just turn around.” Even though they released ‘back to back’ together, Wrabel and Duncan still to this day haven’t met but have been in touch and got to work on some more writing together.
For the American singer-songwriter, writing is a feeling. “I definitely know when a song is written, when the lyrics are perfect and the structure is solid. When it comes to production, that’s tricky for me because it’s a language I’m not fluent in. My comments often include: “I don’t know, it doesn’t feel purple to me. When I think of this song, I always imagined it purple, but now it’s feeling orange.” I’m very hands on: I speak up when I hear something or feel something’s off. But it’s more based on feelings: closing my eyes and hearing if the song feels right and is finished in every way possible.”
I saw this album ‘Strange and Beautiful’ by Aqualung. The cover looked really moody and it just happens to be that I too felt moody that day, so I bought that album just based on the cover. I was curious and I put it on in the car in the parking lot. And when hearing those first few notes, the first few melodies, everything just clicked for me.
“I’ve also learnt a lot about trusting other people: trusting everyone in their respective zones of expertise and passion. Trusting a producer to carry the production. I’m thankful that I get to work with one of my best friends and one of the best producers in the world: Stint, he executive produced this whole record with me.”
And that record is being published by his own record label, ‘Big Gay Records’. The name came from the streets of Music Row in Nashville, where all the publishing houses are situated. “I thought: how funny would it be to have a publishing house called ‘Big Gay Records’, in a big rainbow house?!”
After being through a few major label deals, Wrabel felt the need to get out of that system. The fact that he had never released a full length record was the biggest resentment of his career, as that has been on the forefront of his mind since the first day when he embarked on this journey. He transitioned out of his deal with Epic Records in august 2018 and partnered with Sony ATV. “At that point, nothing was stopping me from taking control of myself and actually making ‘Big Gay Records’ happen.” Every time he sees the name of his company, he can’t help but smile. His coming out story wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. It was rather traumatic. There’s a lot of weight to it. “For me ‘Big Gay Records’ says: “I’m here. I’m doing what I’ve always dreamt of. And I’m doing that as a queer person, a queer artist.” I think that’s so important.”
That independence is also a vital factor in expressing himself openly and writing honestly. “Being a singer-songwriter, I want to make stuff for people to feel less alone, whether it has anything to do with queerness, being in love, being sad or being insecure. Whatever it may be, I try to be honest and write things that are true in hopes that even one person hears it and feels better,”, Wrabel says.
A perfect example of that is the emotional ‘The Village’ that was released in 2017. Wrabel wrote that song on the day that federal protections for trans students were taken out of public schools in The States. He dedicated ‘The Village’ to two trans kids he met on his first tour. It broke his heart that they had been put in situations like that. “I can’t tell their story but I can try to shine a light on something important and make them hopefully feel less alone and make them feel that someone cares about them.” It went from a song that was written for these two incredible people to being a song for a lot of us. For the kid who played the song to his parents and now they understand him more, for the friend who came out to the world because of ‘The Village’, for everyone in that particular situation to feel less alone. “To see what it has done, it solidified my intention in how I wanna create stuff.”
In a month everyone will hear the perfectly fitting puzzle pieces in the form of a full length debut album: a deeply personal body of work, complimented by his warm vocal presence and introspective and optimistic songwriting. “I’m so proud of this record and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”
His new single ‘london’ will be released on 27 August and his debut album ‘these words are all for u’ will be out on 24 September.
Written by: Lien Joos