IN CONVERSATION WITH WRABEL
Interview by Dean Sanders @dean__sanders
Wrabel is “one of Hollywood’s finest songwriters for a decade”. Wrabel did collaborations and songwriting credits with Kesha, P!nk, Ellie Goulding, Louis the Child and much more. He is back with new solo music that tells an intimate story that touches you deeply.
I want to start quickly at the beginning of your career. You learned to play piano at the age of six. What attracted you at such a young age to start playing piano?
I started playing piano when I was like six or seven. And to be honest, I hated it. I think my parents were just looking for something to do with my brain and my hands, I would always do the absolute bare minimum. And I was always underachieving and then it took me about 10 years to come back to it. When I was around 15 or 16, I picked it up. And that’s when I felt the desire to play again.
The thing that excited me was when I heard an album by an artist called Aqualung. The album is called “Strange and Beautiful”. I remember buying the CD because I liked the cover of it. Which is something that’s lost now in the Spotify age. And, as cliche as it sounds, it changed my life. When I heard the first few chords, I was just mesmerized. And that’s really when I got back into piano. I think it’s important that you come to things in your way and in your own time. That’s when I wanted to write songs.
So, Aqualung was also one of the artists who started your career?
Oh, It’s insane. I’ve gotten to meet him and work with him extensively. And I remember the first time I went to his house, as soon as he opened the door, I just started sobbing. He is this very self-deprecating, funny British guy. I always try to remind him that I’m completely obsessed with him and that his music changed my life. We are all creative people; we make stuff, and we have no idea what’s going to happen. I always try to let people know that I feel so lucky and blessed to work with them.
After you started playing and writing your first songs, you went to music school. Did this shape you as a songwriter/musician?
I went to Berklee College of Music. But I left after a semester, and it’s nothing against the school. I’ve been back more than a handful of times to do the summer programs with them. If I think back to the six-year-old me taking piano lessons, I don’t do well with a structure that is forced upon me. I need to come to things on my own time. And when I do, I’m fully in. Also being surrounded by so much talent was kind of intimidating, but it was also really inspiring. It pushed me to just go out and do it. That’s one of the best and worst decisions of my life. And that pushes me to think ‘Screw it’ Let’s move to LA and move in with my brother.
Do you remember what your first song was about?
I remember the first song I ever wrote was probably when I was in fourth grade. I wrote it on one of those automatic songs that play on your keyboard when you hit the button. The song was named ‘’Climbing’’. It was about climbing a mountain or something. But the first song I wrote as a teenager was called ‘’Believe’’ it was a theme that I’m also writing about today. It was about looking at your life and craving more out of it. I even put the copyright symbol on the sheet, I was so official back then.
Your music always feels so authentic, you’re a true storyteller. When do you feel you go through something, and the story is worth telling?
I always say I don’t know how to write something that’s not a true story, which sometimes is frustrating, because why can’t I just write a simple little pop song that just repeats the same word over and over? Why am I writing the darkest, truest story? I think it’s always different with what story is worth telling. And in some ways, I think any story can be worth telling, so long as it has an impact, and if there’s a lesson that was learned from it. I write a lot about relationship stuff. Because I think that’s always filled with emotions. And I rely a lot on freestyling and seeing what comes out. And I find that often the stories that you want to tell might not even know you want to tell come out if you give them some blank space to come to the surface. Sometimes I’m surprised by the story that comes out.
And if we go back to the now, Your new EP “Chapter of Me”, is now live! What can we expect from this EP? Can we see it as a new chapter in your life or maybe in your career?
It took me about 10 years to make my first record. And then I wasn’t going to make the next one, but I just started writing, whatever was there. And I tried to leave room to explore. And I think we ended up with a batch of songs. I was going back listening to them and they just fit together as sort of conversations with myself.
The song “Happier” was your first release of the EP. What is this song about?
I’ve spent years writing about the same person in the same relationship. And I felt like the well is dry on this one. There’s not much more I can say here. And then I realized I haven’t talked about what happens after the tears dry. This ended and now it’s been years. I’ve found love again. What is bigger, better, and more stable. I wanted to celebrate that and save it in a little time capsule. In 20 years, I can listen to ‘’Happier’’ and remember when I thought I’d never make it out. I feel that it’s a common thing for people when you leave a relationship to think I’ll never fall in love again. I’ll never laugh that hard again. I’ll never smile that big again. And I think you end up finding something nothing like it. Don’t be hopefully don’t repeat the same relationship over and over. I wanted to explore what that feels like and it’s a nice reminder for myself, you made it.
The visual of the song had the same feeling. What was your inspiration for this video?
You know I’m not an artist that gets too involved in videos and photographs. I worked with an incredible director called Elaine. I tried to defer to people that are sitting in their expertise. But I always like to style my videos because I do love clothes so much. I purchased the green suit a long time ago, but I knew that there was going to be a special moment for it. What I liked about the video was it felt kind of fun and I’m not used to doing fun things. I try to make video shoots as comfortable as possible. I’m usually behind the piano, I don’t always know what to do with my body. The single art for ‘’Happier’’ is a photo that was taken on a disposable camera that someone very close send to me. And I was thinking ‘’You are happier right here’’.
- “One drink away“
- “On the way down“
- “You got yours“
- “Feel it now (alive)“
It almost feels like all the songs are connected to the song “Happier”. Is it a reflection of your latest experience in love?
I’m very much in love. I feel very lucky and happy about that. I think it is just a timestamp of where I’m at and how I got here. And sort of bridging the last album, picking up where I left off. The last song and the last album ‘’These words are all for you’’. bridges the gap between that and where I’m at now.
The second song you released was “On the way down”. And the song sounds like a dark period in your life, how was it to write about such a heavy topic?
As heavy and dark as it sounds, I approached it from the other side. I needed help to reach through the darkness and pull myself to the light. I wrote it with an incredible writer Davis Nash. I try to work with people that create a safe space so I can write about those topics with no judgment. All songs came from a conversation. ‘’One drink away’’ is a perfect example, I wrote that song with three good friends. Those three people are the only people in the world I would want to write that song with because it was so safe. I had a complete meltdown that day, that song is probably the most emotional day of writing since the last song on my first record.
Going back to an earlier released song “The Village”. This song became an LGBTQ+ anthem over the past few years. How was it for you to grow up gay?
I spent a lot of my years in my high school in Texas, it was a very conservative place. And even when I moved out to LA, I was part of an almost cult-like church. I wouldn’t call it the capital C cult, but it was kind of like that. It changed who I am, that was my kind of brainwashed desire, which now sounds insane. It was hard to come out when you believe that something inside of you is wrong and unnatural. But coming out of that and realizing that love is maybe the greatest gift that we have in the world, whether it’s even just the love of a friend, or a love of a family member, that pure feeling of acceptance is rare. And I think it’s just the most beautiful thing. It’s a miracle to come out of that situation. And now I’m proud to be who I am. And realizing that so many queer people across the board have had that experience of that internalized hatred, embarrassment, and shame. It does connect us all in this twisted but beautiful way because you realize you’re not alone in something.
I thought I was the only person who was gay in the world. But then you’re going out into the world and you’re going to be welcomed with open arms. You’re going to find your places, people, and family, and you’re going to find your life. I’m thankful for all my experiences both good and bad. I feel like it forms who you are. Anywhere I go I’ll try to help and support the queer community. I feel like I’ve become an accidental activist. There’s a kid in a small town right now that’s going through the same thing we went through 10 years ago. And they’re feeling like they’re the only person in the world. And I think it’s important to even just simply share your experience and reach out a hand and let people know they’re not alone. I wrote ‘’The Village’’ for two trans kids that I met on tour, I had no intention when I wrote it that I was going to put it out. I just wanted to write them a song so that they could listen to it. I see them and I respect them. I could cry at any moment thinking about that song.
Next to your own released music, you wrote a lot of songs for modern music legends including P!nk, Kesha, Cam, Tenille Townes, Louis the Child, Marshmello, Ellie Goulding, Louis Tomlinson, Backstreet Boys, Wafia, the list goes on! With a personal discography that racks up over 700m streams. Can we accept more collaborations soon or is this new chapter truly about you?
I feel so incredibly lucky to have been able to work with so many incredible people. Anytime anyone reads a list like that I am so grateful. And I try to always keep that and never take anything for granted and remind myself that this is literally like a dream come true. I will continue collaborating with other artists, I think it’s hard to name someone because I feel like I’ve been so mind-blown by people that I’ve been able to work with. If you asked me ‘’who would you want to work with 10 years ago?’’ I would say James Bay or Backstreet Boys. But back then that sounded not even possible.
Your “knife-to-the-heart” songwriting earned you a performance spot on the national NBC TODAY stage and had Billboard saying that you are “ready for your breakthrough”. How does it make you feel?
It makes me feel insane. The last thing that blew me away was at P!nk’s release party. She said something like “Wrabel is one of the best songwriters alive today”. This coming from P!nk, who is one of the best artists of all time is insane. I don’t know how to accept stuff like that but I’m very proud of myself.