Wrabel is a prolific artist and songwriter, but he took nearly a decade to release his first album, “these words are all for you,” in 2021. He had no intention to release more music anytime soon — but inspiration had other plans. Now, he’s back with “happier,” a driving pop track about moving on and moving up. It’s the first single from his upcoming EP, “chapter of me,” which is only the first part of a yet-to-be-announced project set to roll out throughout 2023.
INTO sat down with Wrabel to learn how to be spoiled and a brat (but never at the same time), how his tattoos definitely aren’t a love letter to Kacey Musgraves, and the most important element of a music video: looking hot.
Hi, Wrabel! Congrats on releasing your latest single, “happier”! What’s the story behind the song?
It was an idea I had started kind of a while ago. I put out my first record — now I can’t say last year anymore, huh? Was it last year? I have no sense of time. I put it out in 2021. And that took me like 10 years to make, so I was very much not looking at, like, “What’s next?” I was like, “There’s nothing next.” And not in a finite way, but I just felt very tapped. Like, “I have no idea what to write about, I have no idea what I’m doing or what I want to do.”
“happier” was kind of an idea that started from that place of just messing around. I had taught myself-ish how to record-ish, produce-ish, sketch-ish — meaning I just bought a new laptop. It’s an idea that I started just sitting on this couch with my dog and my guitar, and then I kind of put a pin in it. And it was just a mumble track. It was just a chorus melody with the word “happier” happening a lot. I sent it to my manager, and then I tucked it away.
And then we kind of accidentally started making a project. I’m still trying to figure out what all it is. And “happier” was this thing that kept coming back into my head, but I didn’t want to rewrite a song that I had heard before. And “happier,” I love a cliché, but it’s pretty cliché to be like, ”I hope you’re happier!” Or, “I hope you’re not happier!” No shade to everyone that’s ever released a song about that; here I am releasing a song called “happier.” But I tried to not write a song not only that I’d heard before but that I’d written before, because I often fall into the semi-trap of writing the same song of unrequited love. That’s my favorite subject. And I don’t have that right now, and I’m thankful for that. But I’m also like, well, what do you write about if you’re not writing about unrequited love?
The song was kind of a nice thing, even for myself, of realizing like, when you go to therapy a ton, and you read all your books, and you meditate, and you do all your things on your little checklist, you do wake up one day, at least in my experience, and you’re like, “Oh, um, I kind of feel happier, and I’ve been happier.” And maybe my brain didn’t catch up.
The song, as all my songs are, selfishly, they’re for myself first. It was a cool exercise in that for me of realizing like, oh, you’re allowed to be happier. And you’re also allowed to pat yourself on the back and be like, “Wow, never thought we’d be here! This is kind of fun.”
Totally. The magical thing about music is when it’s cathartic and relatable, and you’re like, “Oh my god, they must have written this song for me!” But before that, the artist has to write it for themself.
Yeah, I tend to feel that way, again, in a half-selfish way. My favorite songs, or the songs that have literally changed or saved my life, are songs that, at least listening to them, come from an honest place. Then something that I wrote for me becomes yours, and it’s just yours and it’s not mine. And everyone that’s listening, it’s your own thing.
Do you have an example of one of those songs that saved your life?
Probably the biggest song that really changed and saved my life — I’ve gotten to express it to the artist, which was really cool — was a song called “Easier to Lie” by an artist called Aqualung.
His name is Matt Hales, and he is my favorite artist ever. He accidentally started me on my weird little path of making music, because I bought his album at Borders Books — RIP. And I liked the cover. It was this pensive-looking sweet British man on an overcast beach with an upright piano, and I was like, “Yeah, I like that.” And I put it in the car — I was with one of my really good friends and her mom, because I was 15, and I had my permit. And I had a car, because I was a little bitch brat, and so I had this red sports car.
I like to say I’m spoiled, and I’m a brat. But I’m not a spoiled brat.
The spoiled and the brat elements are separate.
Totally separate. Anyhow, I heard this album and I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And one of the songs, “Easier to Lie,” just hit me years and years and years and years before I came out, even to myself or to anyone. It’s not a song about sexuality whatsoever, but to that point of when you hear something and it feels like it comes from a true place and you interpret it in your own way, that song was really like a flashlight in the tunnel for me. It almost gave me comfort in lying, or in just being like, “You know what, I’m gonna sit right here in the closet for kind of a long time, because that’s what’s safest for me at this moment.”
I actually just saw him not long ago, and I finally got him to write out “easier to lie” 15 times so that I can tattoo it.
Where do you want to get it tattooed?
I don’t know! I’m covered, so I don’t quite know where there’s space. I would want it somewhere where I can see it.
I mean, it would be cute wherever.
Maybe on my face!
That might be a lot, but to each their own! Also, I have to ask because I’ve been admiring the dog in your lap for this whole interview — is that the same dog from the “happier” music video?
Yes, my little baby dog! [to dog] Super, you’re a star!
Well, you were co-stars in the video! Can you tell me what inspired the “happier” music video?
I have spent so long trying to make up things to answer that question. And the truth is, whenever I make a music video, I say I want to look stunning, and I want to wear incredible clothing. And so now I style all my own stuff.
I love clothes. I am a collector of clothes: old, new, past, future, every type of clothing. I have boxes and boxes on my kitchen table right now to be returned. I have boxes to open. So I’m not an artist who has that vision — I’m very song-focused. And like, I know what the mood of a video maybe should be.
With this video in particular, we wanted people to smile — and I never smile. And they tried so hard to make me smile, and so we got some good smiles. Like in the green suit, I know I had a really good genuine laugh (because I was kind of laughing at how ridiculous it was). But I’m really, really happy with how it turned out. Because it feels happy!
I was onto the phrase “happy sad” for a while. Everyone thinks I’m a Kacey Musgraves superfan, which I am, but it’s unrelated. I got a tattoo of “happy sad.” And then I have “yeehaw,” too, which is also not Kacey Musgraves-related.
That combination is pretty incriminating!
It’s pretty bad! I think Kacey Musgraves is incredible. But I don’t have any fan tattoos — and again, no shame to have fan tattoos. I saw a girl at the grocery store with a tattoo that I drew on her arm! But it is kind of funny. That sort of emotion of “happy sad,” I just love that. And I feel like it’s become kind of cliché for good reason, because life is “happy sad.”
Absolutely. I also wanted to talk a little bit about queer representation in your music. You’re openly gay —
Are you!? And some of your biggest hits, like 2017’s “The Village,” have been about explicitly queer stories. Do you ever feel pressure to represent queer people and experiences in your music?
I try not to put any pressure on myself, because I don’t think anything good necessarily comes from self-induced pressure.I mean, I came out during my first record deal. I was terrified. I remember, I was flying back from New York with one of my managers, and just being like, “Oh my god, is everything gonna fall apart? What’s going to happen?” And I came out, and I feel so lucky, but I got nothing but support. I remember having conversations around a song called “Bloodstain,” where I put in a line, “I don’t know how to make a man stay,” and how that felt really important to me.
I still try to just follow my gut and follow my heart and write things that are definitely true. And when in interviews, or when discussing a song, I will happily contextualize. I’m always like, if you’re listening to my song, and it’s a love song, that’s a gay love song! I’m not here to hide from that in any way, shape or form. But I think a gay love song is also just a love song.
“The Village” came out of the opposite of that pressure, where I wrote that song specifically for two people that I had met. And I had no intention of even releasing that song. I didn’t know you could write about that, and I didn’t know you could go that deep. I didn’t know you could tell a story that literal and that true. And I sent it to them, and one of them wrote back like, “Dude, you have to put this out.” And that really has opened my mind and my heart to the stories that you can tell. The whole first verse is really about the trans experience, and that’s an experience that I don’t have. I don’t want to tell a story that’s not my story, but I want to try to relate. That song really surprised me.
I just try to continue to write things that are true and that come from a true place, and then also just be myself in a simple way and not turn my own volume up too loud for the sake of, “Look at me, this is who I am!” Like the songs that have changed and saved my life, the people that have changed and saved my life, much like those two people I wrote “The Village” for, are just simply themselves, and there’s so much quiet power in that, I think.
Did you see that “The Village” was recently featured in an episode of We’re Here?
I did see that, and that made me sob! I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and was just like, “Oh, now I am sobbing.”
“happier” is now streaming on all platforms, and “chapter of me” is out April 21.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Read More in The INTO Interview
The Latest on INTO
Subscribe to get a twice-weekly dose of queer news, updates, and insights from the INTO team.
in Your Inbox