After putting out his decade-in-the-making debut album these words are all for you back in 2021, Wrabel hasn’t slowed down for a minute. He dropped a Christmas EP just months afterwards, spent 2022 putting out single after single, and has now released the chapter of me EP, the first part of his upcoming sophomore record.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Wrabel… well, you’re probably not, actually. The acclaimed singer-songwriter has helped pen tracks for queer-adored acts like Years and Years, Adam Lambert, Pentatonix and more for years, as well as writing on much of his bestie Kesha’s most successful post-Warrior work. Additionally, his hit track “The Village” was a full-on LGBTQ+ anthem from the moment it landed back in 2017.
While his writing for others has his home adorned with platinum record plaques, his own work still has a specifically stripped-down feel to it, somehow making one feel like they’re onto an undiscovered gem while listening to this artist currently sitting 3 million monthly listeners on Spotify.
We caught up with Wrabel a few months back after the release of his lead single “happier”, but with his EP now out and the record coming together quicker than ever, it feels like a perfect time to check back in. Read on for talks of sobriety, “crush energy”, label disputes, an undisclosed finsta—and the music behind it all, of course.
INTO: chapter of me seem a little more peaceful and optimistic than some of your previous work. Were you always thinking that this project would go in that direction?
WRABEL: It kind of surprised me; I wasn’t really writing for anything in particular. I finished the last album, which took me ten years, and then I was like, ‘Okay, I’m done. Call that my greatest hits. I don’t know what else I have in me.” It took so long, and it was that long, cliche arc: I signed to a major label, left that major label, signed to another major label, left that major label, went independent, partnered with an indie label (this amazing label called Nettwerk who have been nothing but incredible to me), and then put out the record.
In many ways, I felt like that was the culmination of my life. It was actually a really nice place to write from afterwards, because there was no intention other than to tell a story and share a message that’s meaningful to me. I think I’m in a really nice spot in life – although I always go crazy regarding work life, sending out 3am emails to everyone, and then in the morning being like, ‘Disregard everything that I said.’
I saw for myself the desire to make something that does feel hopeful, and that does almost tell the other side of the same stories. Where I feel like a lot of my writing in the past has been the climb up, trudging through it, you know, ‘Pity me,’ I feel like I’ve made it to the other side of things.
Now approaching things, even something like “you got yours” which is closing the chapter of this relationship that I have written every song about, the perspective is very different. And that song even explores that. I mean, even in the chorus, it literally says, “I did not think I would feel this way”.
And I’m legitimately so stoked. I wanted to explore happiness, both lowercase and capital-“H” Happiness™, and to make something that felt grown up and mature. Not that my first record was not that, but even just coming halfway. I mean, we’re still in a pandemic. I’m still a masked mama everywhere I go. I’m still here—pretty scared honestly, and rightfully so, I think—but coming out of that, I’m wanting to feel alive. I want to get out there and feel the rain on my skin. All of that.
It does seem like completing your first album kind of freed up your writing from its previous focus on unrequited love. I know you have a larger project in the works that this EP is a part of; is it going to be in keeping with your new direction? Or are you going to dip back into the unrequited love of it all?
I think there’s no unrequited love on the whole album. I feel for the first time that I don’t have unrequited love in my life, which is pretty weird for someone like me. Like, in third grade, we needed to describe ourselves using one word and I said “unlovable”, and they called my parents into the principal’s office.
It’s definitely exploring more hope than pain, while still diving into pain – I mean, “one drink away” is diving headfirst into what is maybe the number two biggest source of pain in my life – and trying to frame it in a way that feels realistic. Even with that song, I at first wanted to make something really hopeful, like this ‘we can do it!’ sober anthem, but in writing it, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s not the song. That’s not really the truth.’ The truth is not that you get sober and then everything is amazing and like ‘Look how far I’ve come.’ There’s a truth to that, but that’s not the capital-“T”, underlined, bold, italicized truth. The truth is that for the rest of my life, this is going to be a struggle, sometimes really little and sometimes like ‘Red Alert, sound the alarms, phone-a-friend.’ But I think the overall theme of the record would be hope in all of its ways.
Actually, there is some unrequited love coming. [Laughs] There’s a song called “another song about love”, because my managers always laugh at me because all my songs have love in the title. Even on the first album we had to cut like four songs because it was like, “Who’s Gonna Love Me?”, “Are You Gonna Love Me?”, “Where Does Love Go?”, “Everything’s About Love”, “Big Love”, “Love Is Not A Simple Thing To Lose”.
I love love. I think that it is the strangest thing that exists, because you can’t see it, and yet it can run your whole life. It can overtake your entire existence and perspective of the world. If you have it, it’s this hypnotic, incredible thing, but then if you get just a little fracture, it can feel like the whole ground is just opening up like some movie where Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would be grabbing your hand.
But this record is just more… mature, I guess. It’s me trying to sit with myself and see where I am in my life. Even though sometimes I feel like I’m the same nutjob 19-year-old running around with Tito’s in my backpack and a bag of cocaine in my pocket, I’m not that. So I’ve almost made this little time capsule of like, ‘I feel pretty good! I’m balanced, I think! I have a dog that I keep alive and I’m in a really nice relationship!’ and I’m just kind of exploring those things.
I’ve even seen with fans – I think “fan” is such a weird word that I don’t really identify with – but some of the people that listen to music, I get to know them and they’re healing in these beautiful ways. That’s given me a lot of help for this record.
There’s a song called ‘find it’ that touches on a lot of those things. I actually played it for one of my best friends and she was like, “Is this about me?” And it’s like the parts that she thought were about her were 100% about her, in this kind of beautiful way. We’re all looking for something, and at some point we start finding it.
I feel like that’s maybe what your 30s are, at least in my experience so far. It’s being like, ‘Oh my God, wait, that thing that I’ve been looking for my whole life? I think I just found it. So why don’t I stop looking for it now.’ Not to just put it in a checkbox, but to now be able to start nurturing it. Rather than ‘The grass is always greener, what else is out there, I need more,’ it’s like, ‘Okay, nurture this. Don’t look for the seam that might be unraveling, just nurture this good thing.’
It seems like getting out from under the constant unrequited love cycle should be an inherently good thing and should feel immediately good, but as somebody who very much ran on crush energy for a long time myself, it’s a weird push-and-pull to not have that world-rending ‘Do they like me or don’t they’ energy. It’s something that you have to give up, in a way.
No, I completely agree. I think when you can let go of that “crush energy”, that’s a whole vibe. It’s that constant thing where one day you’re like ‘Woohoo!!’ and one day you’re like, ‘whoa.’
I was actually out to dinner the other night and I saw this guy that I had invited over at like midnight on a Tuesday once. He had come over and I was blackout drunk, drinking out of a bottle of wine. He stayed for maybe five minutes. He called me crazy, but in a very real way, and then he left.
When I saw him at dinner the other night, I was like, ‘Remember when I was devastated like the world had stopped revolving?’ And then now it’s like, ‘That was weird. Why did I do that?’
He’s just some guy now.
Are there any more details that you can tease about the upcoming record? I know it’s probably still in its early stages.
Thankfully I’m so bad at all of this that I don’t know what’s a secret. [Laughs] But yes, there’s much more coming. There’ll be more chapters that, again, accidentally fit together in this really nice way.
This whole record really surprised me, not only with the content, but also with how quickly it came together. I sort of opened up the pool of inspiration to even friends of mine and their stories as well, telling everything in a very honest and true way. The overall vibe is just hope.
And you know what, there is one breakup song in there too. It’s one of my favorites. It’s this song called “beautiful day”, which we were actually pitching to other people and got a few little bites, but then I was like, ‘This song is too good to be stuck on Dropbox.’ We got this incredible twenty-something-piece orchestra by this incredible string arranger and player named Stevie. I’m really excited about that. Even that song somehow sounds hopeful; the strings are so pretty that it doesn’t sound as sad as it is.
The happysad, yes! I have that tattooed right here on my arm, “happysad”.
Oh, yeah, not to come off as a total stan, but I’m well aware!
Can we expect any new features? One of my favorite songs you’ve ever done is your song “BFF” [with Kesha].
That’s one of my favorite songs that I’ve ever been a part of. I’ll never forget the day we wrote that and where it came from. I feel like that’s such a rare thing to have two best friends that are both singers and get to just write a song about their friendship. Where it started, how it’s going, you know. That was just such a special day.
As of this moment, I don’t believe there are any features. There’s a few songs where I’ve been like, ‘what if this… or maybe this…’ Like, I’ve sent some shameless DMs. As I do. And I have been left on read. My finsta bio is “All your favorite singers have left me on read.” [Laughs] No shade, my finsta is just a hot mess.
I do have a song that I wrote with a little side group that I’m in called the three of us with Madi Diaz and Jamie Floyd as the closer of the record. I believe their voices are on it from the original demo of the song in this sort of choir thing that we do where we’re in harmony and then it breaks down to unison. It’s just this gut-wrenching song. But other than that, it’s just little ol’ me.
Do you have some specific favorite songs that you’ve written for other people?
I actually got really insecure the other day and ordered all these different music plaques that I was owed. And it worked! I was like ‘Whoa, all these are mine?’
One that’s here is for “Better Not” with Louis the Child and Wafia. It just went platinum, which I’m so excited and proud of. It was a song that, again, came from a conversation about love and the beginning of a relationship and talking to a friend and being like, ‘No offense, but I think this is amazing and you need to lean into it.’ And Wafia and I have become like besties. I just think the world of her. Celeste’s “Strange” is also one of my faves. I think that she is so stellar.
“Resentment” on Kesha’s record is another one of my faves, and “Raising Hell” was just the most fun day – and “Woman”, which has a little plaque right over there. She is just incredible in every single way, shape, and form. I am so in awe of her, even just as a friend. She has the biggest heart and cares so deeply and feels so deeply. I’m really excited for her new music, even just as a stan. I can’t wait.
“90 Days” with P!nk is also one of my faves. That song was pretty much torn from a diary entry written on a day that kind of changed my life. Even outside of the actual song, the story of it was way too true. Alecia is incredible as well. So kind. It’s so rare that someone is not only willing, but excited to take their spotlight and put it on someone else.
I feel like the cliche thing for a pop star is to just soak it all up and neither Kesha nor P!nk do that. Even with the music video for “90 Days”, one of her dancers directed it and she was so supportive of that. I’ve gotten to see her support and shine the brightest light on so many people around her and I feel like that’s rare.
One last, overarching question: How do you hope that this EP and the upcoming record meet the current moment?
I hope that it offers hope. I hope that it can feel the same way that I feel about everything I’ve ever released. I hope that it feels like a shoulder to lean on, or cry on. With this one in particular, I hope it kind of feels like a little pat on the back of like, ‘Hey, y’all, we’re doing okay. Life is still here and we’re still doing it.’
There’s a song, “don’t be so hard on yourself”, that I wrote with two of my best friends in Nashville from a really sweet conversation. It’s just about that inner voice that’s our own harshest critic. It’s only a cliche because it’s so unfortunately, incredibly true. That song really guts me. I wrote it in particular for someone really close to me. And it’s just like, ’I wish you could see you from me. If you could see you from me, you’d know you’re amazing. Like, literally miraculous.’
And I can relate to that. I think a lot of us can relate to that. I remember in rehab I had to do an exercise where I stared at myself in the mirror and had to compliment myself. I couldn’t even get two words out of my mouth before I was sobbing. And they’re like, ‘Well, there you go! Why don’t you sit there for a couple of hours and work that out.’
Sobriety was something I really have wanted to talk about for a long time in a song but I never knew how, and I’m so happy and proud of that room and those people that helped me do that and did that with me. I hope that that hits anyone sober anywhere, even if just to say, “I swear you’re not alone in this.” It can be a very lonely place. It often ends in a dark room by yourself, whacked out of your mind. I just hope people can feel celebrated, understood, and not alone.♦