Wrabel – pronounced \rā-bəl\ – made me cry the first time I heard his music. He made me pause and re-evaluate my past. His music shined a light on things that were painful and yet were things that our society needs to understand and talk about. My first experience in hearing Wrabel was “The Village”. It evokes emotion in me to this day. Why? Because so many of my family and friends are from the LGBTQ community and I know what they’ve gone through. I know what I’ve gone through as a pansexual/bisexual woman who was once a bi-teen navigating life in the Bible Belt. This song hit hard. And Wrabel wound up on my list of untapped artists that I absolutely needed to research.
PERSONAL/ PROFESSIONAL HISTORY
He goes by his last name, but his full name is Stephen Samuel Wrabel. After graduating from The Kinkaid School in Houston, Texas, Stephen went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, but before his first semester was done, he was moving to Los Angeles to focus on his songwriting. And for a while, things were pretty terrible. He lived on the floor in his brother’s apartment using a blow-up mattress.
Once he got sober and came out of the closet, things in his life got better. He seemed to have no lack of work. He joined Pulse Records, placing songs with other artists, including Phillip Phillips and Adam Lambert, Elli Goulding, Pentatonix, and American Idol. He was also working on his own projects whenever he could.
By 2012 he was signed to Island Def Jam Music Group. He wound up with an international hit when DJ Afrojack released a version of his song, “Ten Feet Tall” in 2014. That song wound up on a SuperBowl commercial and we all know how popular those are! It was viewed by at least 100 million viewers during that event. If you want to hear the original version – “Ten Feet Tall” Buzzfeed actually called this song one of the “35 Best Pop Songs You May Have Missed This Summer.”
Feeling the need for something more, Wrabel left the label and went back to Los Angeles. And that’s when his past came back to help him begin the next steps on his career journey.
Per his biography page at Pulse Recordings:
Wrabel got a direct message on Twitter from Alex Hope, a songwriter/producer he admired. When they met, he had an idea for a song: He’d realized his ex lived only a few blocks away, and he often found himself walking by his house. “ Alex and I were messing around in the studio,” he says. “She was playing some chords. And I told her the whole story of my ex. I’d met someone new, but I’m probably going to walk home so I can maybe run into my ex on the street, and then I’m going home to cook my boyfriend dinner. She’s like, ‘We need to write about this.
“It came very naturally,” he says. “I sent it to my manager, and he freaked out. The next morning my manager calls me at 8:00 Am.” Coffee in hand, he called back and was told L.A. Reid, the chairman and CEO of Epic Records, wanted to sign him. “And I didn’t know it, but my manager had sent it in the middle of the night to L.A. Reid. And L.A. called him seven times in the middle of night, and was texting him: ‘Where are you? Who is this? I need this.’” He met with Reid two days later. “The first time I met L.A., he called me a singer songwriter,” Wrabel says. “And I almost cried. Because I sit down and play piano for a reason. And I spent so long trying to push away from that”
It was while he was working with Epic that he met Kesha and worked with her on “Rainbow” and then several other projects. They became friends. After its release in 2016, Kesha helped to promote “11 Blocks”. The song is something that came about expressing the feelings of a long-past break-up when he knew his ex lived close, still. It’s a perfect example of a song that so many of us can relate to.
The next year, he released “Bloodstain” and then released an entire EP called We Could Be Beautiful. Bloodstain has the use of much more pop/synth sounds to it.
In July of 2017, Wrabel released “The Village” in support of transgender people. He actually wrote the song in February after the removal of federal protections for trans students in public schools. The release followed Donald Trump’s tweet concerning a ban for transgender individuals from the military. Wrabel was named to the OUT100 in 2017 and is a GLAAD Media Award Nominee (Outstanding Music Artist). In an interview about the song and video with Billboard, he described it as “the most important thing to me that I have ever done and probably will ever do. It’s the closest thing to my heart.”
Wrabel found that he had to leave Epic Records in 2018 when management was becoming more and more difficult to deal with and he felt he lost significant power over his own projects. He founded his own label, named appropriately “Big Gay Records”. He likes working with the artists he chooses and having the time and power to put into projects he prefers. It also means he can write from a gay perspective and not have to water anything down. At this point, he’s been open in his writing and songs about both the positive and the negative life experiences from a queer point of view. That’s not going to change.
Billboard named Wrabel their Pride Artist of the Month in August 2019. He released his EP One of Those Happy People that year, in which he not only explores new sounds including synths, guitars, and head-hitting beats – but also the idea of joy and happiness. Because he’s had so many struggles and heartache, he tells Billboard that these songs explore “… that idea of me being like, ‘I don’t know if I trust this.’” One of the releases on this album is “Magic”.
In September, The Huffington Post called him “One of pop’s unsung talents”. One month later, People magazine even touted Wrabel as “One to Watch”. Since then, he has gone from being behind the scenes, songwriting, to releasing another album, an album he’s calling his debut album for his solo career.
STYLE AND INFLUENCE
“I write a song because it’s probably something I won’t say out loud,” says Wrabel. “All the songs are true. It’s all my little details. That’s the only way I can survive: to be as open and transparent as I can be.”
He’s part of the greater singer-songwriter tradition that begins with him, sitting at a piano, making art from self-expression. But more importantly, I suppose is, Stephen is an out, gay artist and has always promoted the rights of the LGBTQ community. None of his songs hide that fact. This is very important because Wrabel specializes in music that “…telescopes small moments into songs with big impact” per a previous label’s biography of the artist. He hasn’t changed when it comes to that style in particular. Sure, a lot of his songs can touch people no matter their sexuality or gender, but representation is so very important to the LGBTQ+ community.
His writing and his lyrics are either deeply personal or they’re a reflection of what he sees happening around him. Take “Hurts Like Hell” for instance. Have to move on after a break-up? Most people can relate.
I love the vulnerability and relatability in his music, even in the upbeat sounds of more recent releases. The first single he released this year was “good” and is full of emotion, showcasing the difficulties faced in any relationship. It’s yearningly beautiful.
His second single “Nothing But The Love” is nearly euphoric and passionate. It comes from a place of happiness which is where he is right now in his personal life but was actually influenced by listening to his sister sing in church. Michael Mosk of Atwood Magazine asked Wrabel about his spirituality and this was a portion of what he said:
“I grew up Christian – born again. When I came out, I was kicked out of the church in a pretty traumatic and dramatic way. A lot of times I don’t know where I stand. Even through the creation of a song, I’ll often be like where did that lyric come from. Not in some ego way, but something will come out of my face, and I’m like whoa, because I wasn’t thinking about that…whether it’s god or the universe. Spirituality for me is ruined by humans. There were times in my life I was really into mediation and tapping into that thing. I think music has shown me maybe more than anything, how connected we all are. That for me is the biggest or loudest part of any spirituality.
And trying to see that on a daily basis – having an interaction with a stranger on the street where you connect, and you can feel that. Even if you just smiled at each other. That to me is spiritual. I try to allow space to be surprised by the world, by myself, by strangers, by music…whatever it is. That is my sense of spiritually. I do fundamentally believe we’re all connected by something; what it is I don’t know. Specifically in my experience with the church, how that was handled, there was no higher power doing that it was humans saying I’m scared of that, I don’t like that, I disapprove of that. One of my biggest messages in how I try to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community is just to say that there’s nothing wrong with you, because I know what it’s like to have someone stand at a pulpit and say you’re going to hell, you’re wrong you’re evil. That’s really hard to come back from. But I’ve tried to fold that into maybe being my biggest message, going to live shows or doing anything for Pride Month or working with LGBTQ+ foundations or charities – I know what that feels like and it’s that’s it, that’s not spirituality. ”
Wrabel says since going independent he’s felt such freedom and has been able to grow so much. He’s no longer so worried about everything around a label, so many people in charge of your music and telling you what to do must be exasperating at times. The new trend of independent or nearly independent artists reaching forward to come out on top is something Wrabel is a part of. May it continue.
COLLABORATIONS & CONNECTIONS
His song Sideways appeared on an episode of Quantico.
Wrabel has written or been featured in songs for Afrojack, Kesha, Phillip Phillips, Adam Lambert, Rozzie Crane, Prince Royce, Bishop Briggs, The Backstreet Boys, Marshmello, Idina Menzel, and many more…
He has a great friendship with Kesha and has worked with her on several projects.
In 2019 he toured with P!NK after she commended him while appearing on The Ellen Degeneres show for his song The Village. He loved it!
ORIGINAL SONGS or DISCOGRAPHY
- Sideways 2014
- We Could Be Beautiful 2017
- One of Those Happy People 2019
- One Nite Only 2019
- These Words Are All For You 2021
- It’s You 2017
- The Village
- First Winter 2018
- Oh Love (w/ Parson James) 2019
- I Want You
- Too Close (w/Louis the Child)
- Somebody New 2020
- Hurts Like Hell
- Since I Was Young (w/ Kesha)
- Big Love (w/ Klingande)
Wrabel is also a songwriter and has written songs for many other people…
As of this article, Wrabel just released a new single, Nothing but the Love which is from his debut album These Words Are All For You. It will be out on September 24th of 2021. Per his interview with Atwood Magazine, “This album is filled with love. Hope. True stories and true feelings. I hope me sharing in this way helps even one person feel understood, feel better, feel like they’re not alone…”
Check the links below to follow Wrabel and find out more!
Similar Sound – To be honest, when I heard his music for the first time, I thought of Adam Levine from Maroon 5. I also kind of felt like I was listening to Dashboard Confessional. However, Wrabel is the one at the piano when he’s singing, and these performers I mention are bands (or the lead singer of a band).
FIND OUT MORE:
As always, if you want to share more, or feel I’ve missed something, let me know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.