Having written songs for big name acts like Adam Lambert, Ellie Goulding, Katharine McPhee, and Pentatonix, Wrabel got his first big break in 2014 when Afrojack released a version of his song Ten Feet Tall. The song premiered in the United States during Super Bowl XLVIII in a Bud Light commercial and was seen by over 100 million people around the world.
I had a chance to catch up with Wrabel before his show yesterday in Seattle and we discussed everything from the release of his new song, Bloodstain, on Friday, to his budding career and more! The show was totally sold out with over 260 people in attendance and not a seat to spare. From the roars of the crowd, you could tell this guy has a following!
During several of his recent shows, he’s performed with the likes of Andy Grammer and Gavin DeGraw, and I’m almost positive that he too will be selling out stadiums before long. I’ll tell you, this guy is a rising star who deserves your attention. He’s quite personable too!
Can you tell me about the funniest thing that’s happened on tour?
“Aside from buses breaking down, which was really funny at first, and then like the 7th time you’re just crying. Maybe the funniest thing – definitely funnier in hindsight – was the last show of the Andy Grammer/Gavin DeGraw tour. I thought I’d made it through un-pranked – he pranks people I guess? He put me in a full head to toe baby costume to play my last song which is this dramatic song about being in love with your best friend. It’s like 6 minutes long. I would walk off the stage sometimes and Andy would be crying – the song’s like really sad – and so he had me do it with a little bonnet hat and a bib.”
You just dropped your new song, Bloodstain, on Friday. Can you tell me more about your inspiration for that song and how it came about?
“Yeah, that one was actually a start that was sent to me while I was on tour. It took me like a full day to even open the email because I was really insecure about that. I was like “I write songs, that’s what I do. I’ve been doing it for a little while.” I’m very particular about my own stuff.
But that song was sent to be by this guy named Ben Abraham who’s a really brilliant singer/songwriter. He and this girl Helen Groom started it and sent it to me, and once I finally built up the courage to open the email I was in the back of the bus just crying with goosebumps. It felt like I was listening to a song that I wrote. So I got to talk to Ben that day, the day that I heard it. I know what it’s like for an artist to take a song and change things around and… you really want to… it has to be mine. But I love the perspective of it and I called my manager after I listened to it and I was like ‘ok, I get it, I get why you sent this to me’.
Production wise, and sonically, it felt like, not really a departure, but something different. But especially lyrically, it reads like me. When I read that lyric. The first line was the same from their demo start to final. As soon as I heard that first lyric, I was like ‘I know where this is going.’ So I got to do my little number tricks that I like to do… I just really got to put little moments from my dysfunctional love life into the song, which felt good.”
I know that you worked with Adam Lambert on his song Nirvana. Did you get a chance to work with him one on one and what was that like for you?
“He was like the first artist I got to work with. I was so scared, I remember that day, going to the studio. I remember pulling into the studio – it’s a little call box to get into the gate – and I realized that he was in the car in front of me. I was like …spritzing little water, chain smoking cigarettes, and texting my mom.
But it was really cool. It was a cool experience to… really get into his head. He had a really specific thing that he wanted to do, which was really inspiring for me. It felt really special… it came from a very honest place and it came from something that was going on in his life then – like very of the moment.
He’s the sweetest guy and very talented. It was inspiring to see an artist who knew what he wanted to do.”
Can you tell me what your parents said when you said “I’m dropping out of college and I’m moving to LA.”?
“I was reminded that that’s not really what I said because I was like ‘wow, you guys were so supportive’ and they were like ‘ok…’ because I phrased it as like ‘I’m going to transfer to…’ I looked up Musician’s Institute in LA… It’s a great program, and I live really close to it, but didn’t go there. But they were really supportive. My mom… I went from Boston, Berklee, I flew home to Houston… I got a car, packed it up, and she drove out with me and helped me get situated. I was like ‘I’m going to get a job, I’m going to go to school…’ I lived on my brother’s floor for two years and did not do anything.”
How does it feel now that you’re up and coming and it’s happening?
“It’s really bizarre, and It’s funny to me to see different perspectives. I feel like achievement or success is such a weird kind of thing. I can feel so much like ‘I haven’t really done anything, but I’m trying…’ and then I look at some of my friends who really look up to me and they’re like ‘what are you talking about? You’re doing it. You’re doing the whole thing and you’ve done a lot of stuff.’
It’s just weird because it’s easy to be like ‘ok, on to the next thing, on to the next thing, on to the next thing’ …and you’re on tour so it’s like ‘on to the next show, on to the next show’ …or with a song, you release a song and it’s like ‘we have to get the next one out, we have to get the next one out’ …or you’re like ‘does this go to radio, today we have to go to this station, we have to go to this station.’ So it can feel very jarring.
But there are moments like last week I was in Amsterdam for two nights and I got to play RTL Late Night, which is like their big late night show. I was there three or four years ago with Afrojack doing Ten Feet Tall – and I had a moment there, where I was like ‘woah, it’s cool to be back here, by myself. There’s moments of like ‘woah, this is kind of happening, things are happening. But it’s nothing like I thought it would be like. It’s amazing, but it’s just a bizarre kind of thing where you can kind of fall into every day kinda looks different and a lot of days are a total sh!tshow and you don’t know whats going on – but in a great way. But it’s nice to have those kind of moments that smack you in the face and it’s like ‘Hello! You’re kind of doing something cool here.'”
How do you keep yourself grounded while you’re on this fast moving tour?
“My grandma will keep me grounded… [Laughter]
Umm… I think I really have the best managers ever. That maybe sounds cliche, but they’re literally one of the top five things that’s ever happened to me in my entire life – in every realm of live. So that’s really helpful, to have people that I’m constantly surrounded by, that know me really well and we can vibe. And I think friends and my family I stay in touch with. I don’t have a ton of friends but I have a really small group of like ‘if I call them at 3 in the morning, they’ll pick up, they call me and I’ll pick up’. When it’s do not disturb – that sh*t rings.
I also love… my favorite part about shows is going and meeting people, because it’s so cool to see the connection.
I’ve been in LA for ten years and I haven’t done this before, but I’ve been signed before, I’ve left a label before, I’ve tried to do it on my own, I’ve written thousands of songs, I’ve play so many shows, and I feel like the biggest different between now and any other kind of thing that I’ve done is that I can’t put on anything.
Sometimes I’ll sit in bed and watch interviews that I’ve done. Like, did you see the Kidd Kraddick? Oh my gosh, what was I saying? I was like ‘you can’t talk about that, you can’t say that.’ But then I’m like ‘well… yeah you can.’
It’s been really fun to see what I say, not in some ‘I’m so special way’, but I feel like I have to be honest, and sometimes maybe a little too honest – not too too honest – but that’s how I feel like I can stay somewhat sane. I’m already crazy – take all this stuff out of it and I’m batshit crazy.”
It’s not a secret that you’re gay and you seem pretty open about that.
“Not a secret! I’m wearing a turtleneck after all.”
Did you ever fear that would hold back your career, and has it?
“I’m sure I have feared that, and there’s moments where I’m still fearing that – that sounds icky to say, but it’s true. I don’t think it has – I don’t know what goes on in closed boardrooms, but I’ve had through my management, through my booking agents, through my business managers, to everyone at Epic Records has been so supportive and it’s been a non-issue.
I came out maybe right before my last deal with Island Records and they were the same – so supportive, but I was so insecure and kind of like ‘I don’t know… I don’t know what’s going to happen.’
It’s almost like coming out again and again and again and again. Where you kind of poke you’re head out and you’re like ‘I guess it’s cool…’ and then you walk out a little more.
It’s been really cool to see how, whatever platform I have, if I’m honest, even when I’m specifically talking about LGBTQ+ issues, it’s really really really cool, and inspiring and humbling… to see that if I’m honest, someone can be positively affected by that.
I’ve been doing a lot of work with HRC, not recently, I’ve been running around like a madman… but in the past I have, and that’s been really rewarding. It’s just cool to see… even with Bloodstain, we released it and there’s the pronoun – I say man in the song. I was ready to put up a fight for that word and nobody challenged me. Quite the opposite – I got comments internally that were like ‘You need to do that. That’s what you need to do.’ We have a video coming that’s gaaaaay… there’s nothing crazy going on, but it’s a gay song and it’s a gay video… I’m gay.
I think even five years ago, I probably couldn’t even say that out loud – even with a no camera and no stranger in the room. I came out really late – like 23… and then you come out again and again and again and again. Now I’m just like ‘we’re gay, we’re here.’
I think because I try to be as much myself as I can, it all kind of goes together. So I’ve become much more comfortable with myself through my music, and through touring, and through meeting people, and through sharing, and through interviews, and through all that stuff, and it all circles back.”
Did you ever get to the point where you started to question what you were doing and feel like giving up, and how did you press on?
“Yeah, when I left my first deal, I was like ‘this is awful, and why would anyone be an artist. What is the point and how are you supposed to do it?’
I mean, it’s hard, sometimes it’s so hard, and don’t pitty me, please, it’s everything I want to do. But I think it takes a very specific kind of brain maybe. Sometimes I just kept going in spite of myself. I was like ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this.’ Then it’s like ‘you better get your a$$ up and go do it.’ You can’t not do it – that’s kind of how I feel – I can’t not do it.
I quite like all the stuff. The whole radio team at Epic makes fun of me, because they’re like ‘you’re the only artist that we’ve ever met in the entire history of the world that does liners and was like ‘that was fun…” I’m like, ‘it was…’ I went into a little station, and I got a little mic, and I do the little ‘this is Wrable and you’re listening to…’ I’m like ‘this is dope.’ The fact that this radio station wants me to be here and read this, it is so cool – so how is that not fun, how is that not kind of amazing sometimes.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to up and coming artists who haven’t quite made it to where you’re at?
“Don’t stop doing it. I would tell a college kid ‘quit’. If you can quit, then quit, because it’s not what you think it is – and if you can’t quit, then don’t ever quit – which is really hard. I feel like if I was sitting in an auditorium and someone was telling me ‘if you can quit, quit’, I feel like I’d get really pissed off and be like ‘I can’t quit, what are you talking about? I can’t quit.’ Then that person would keep doing it. I think it can take a day, a week, or it could take ten years, and even in ten years you might be doing all of this cool stuff and even still feel like you’re not doing it.
I think I would just keep doing it, no matter what, and find what what you want to do and why you want to do it, and if you don’t know why, then keep doing it until you know why. That doesn’t mean you have to quit, but figure out what you want to say, what you want to do, and why you want to do it, and then do it. Be honest, and try not to listen to that many people’s input and don’t let it get to you.
Create your own little world and keep doing what you’re doing.”