Interview: Wrabel On New Single “love to love you” & Going Indie

Wrabel's 'Bloodstain' Video
Love goes horribly wrong in Wrabel's grim, yet relatable 'Bloodstain' video.

A lot has changed since the last time we heard from Wrabel. For starters, the singer/songwriter has parted ways with Epic Records and formed his own label, the amazingly-titled Big Gay Records. He has also tinkered with his sound. The sparse, stripped-back approach of We Could Be Beautiful has been replaced with fuller, richer production. That shift is on full display on “love to love u.” Produced by John Hill, this ranks as Stephen’s (his real name) most upbeat single since the original version of “I Want You.”

But don’t worry, the lyrical content is still very much concerned with matters of the heart. “I wrote this song about being in a relationship that feels real,” Wrabel explains. “Outside of the honeymoon phase I feel like there’s a big shift that happens into like real life… not to sound cliché, but that’s where love comes in. This song is [about] trying to lean in instead of running out.” I recently caught up with the “11 Blocks” hitmaker to talk about his excellent new single, life as an independent artist and songwriting for other artists. Find out more in our Q&A below.

Having listened to your music for a long time, I feel like this is an unusually happy song for you. Is that a fair assessment?

I think so. It is, at the very least, hopeful.

What sparked the change?

I am definitely in a much happier place than I have been in the past. Also, I don’t know how else to say this, I kind of thought much less about this song, and the next one coming out. They kind of came more from the joy of making something. Following whatever felt right. Maybe that is why it feels happier, because maybe I feel happier. It wasn’t like before when I would walk into the studio and say, “I have this really sad story that I want to tell. Help me tell it!”

I think it’s really fun. It’s also a bit more funky and up-tempo sound than some of your previous material. Was that a conscious decision?

The whole song was kind of an accident. We were supposed to work with another artist that day, and the artist couldn’t make it, so we just started messing around. A lot of the lyrics just came from free association, kind of free-styling. Not so long before the day we wrote “love to love u,” I went back and listened to my first EP, and I kind of just was like, “Wow, you’re far away from this now.” There were a lot more electronic elements, and there was a lot more rhythm, and there was a lot more atmosphere.

It was also a bit weirder than anything that I’ve been making recently. So I think I started opening my mind to the thought that, “Ok, maybe you don’t have to sit at the piano and write a sad song.”

Who produced the song? It sounds great.

Thank you! I made it with John Hill. It was just the two of us. He’s a legend. He’s so incredible.

He’s amazing. What was it like working with him?

So amazing. I feel like such a lucky, little freak to get to work with him. We’ve been doing a bit of stuff together for some other artists, and it was really cool to be able to flip it and end up with a couple songs for me. He’s just so talented. He really is. I feel like he’s on a whole other level, and it’s inspiring to kind of work in that zone. It was the happiest accident ever.

You mentioned that there is another song coming out. Is this part of an EP?

We’re just putting stuff out. I left Epic Records… I don’t know how long ago. I’ve been saying six months ago, but I feel like I’ve been saying that for a while. Maybe it’s like nine months. I formed this thing called Big Gay Records and I’m just putting shit out. It’s as simple as, “I love this song, I’m going to put it out.” This is the first time in my life of being in a position where I can just do that. We could put together an EP, but I’m just trying to put stuff out. I’m trying to just take the pressure out of it.

Did you feel a little bit constrained at Epic towards the end?

You know, I feel like the company was so different when I got there. I have no hard feelings and no shade to them. I think it’s just that thing of ending up on different pages. And, as an artist, I definitely started to get confused as to what am I trying to make? And why am I doing any of this? And what day is it? I’m just taking really deep breaths, and doing whatever I want. I’ve always been in the label system, which can be a really wonderful system, and has done wonderful things for me, but it’s kind of cool to be outside of it now for the first time.

The last time I spoke to you was around the release of We Could Be Beautiful. At the time, you told me that you already had an album finished. Is that just going to wither on someone’s laptop, or are we going to hear those songs eventually?

God bless. I think the answer is somewhere in between. Some of that stuff, I feel like I’ve grown away from, but some of it is still very much in the works. “love to love you” is the first thing that I really put out independently. So, I’m kind of feeling it out, and finding my footing. We’re just going to start rolling stuff out. A lot of that stuff is stuff that will end up out there.

I need to ask you about writing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” for the Backstreet Boys. It was one of my favorite songs from last year.

That was kind of a happy accident as well. I went in [the studio] with two friends, Stuart Crichton and Jamie Hartman, and we just sat down to write a song. We were writing for me in mind at the time, and we just stumbled upon that song. I always laugh because I remember I sent it to my manager, Amanda, and she was like, “This is a smash.” I was like, “Yeah, it’s too poppy for me.” She was like, “What are you talking about?” I was like, “I don’t know. We accidentally wrote a pop song.” She was like, “Why? What are you talking about?”

Then I heard that Stuart was driving to Las Vegas to see the Backstreet Boys and he had been working with them. He played the song for them and it was one of those things where all the stars miraculously aligned. The whole thing really took me by surprise. I think they recorded it that weekend. It was just so cool. They’re the Backstreet Boys. Like, what?

Then we did another song with them called “Chateau” for the record. On that one, I got to go in with them and meet them and work on the vocal production with them. I was really blown away by how kind and appreciative and nice they were. I don’t know why I was surprised, I guess just thinking, surface level, “You’re the Backstreet Boys. You guys could be jerks, and it would be fine, because you’re the Backstreet Boys.” But they were so, so nice and they love what they do so much. It was really inspiring to get to see that.

Do you still have time to write for other artists now that you’re launching Big Gay Records?

It goes in waves. I’m not doing a ton. I’m just focused on things that I really love, and artists that I really love. I’ve been back in the studio with Kesha. I feel really lucky to be able to put some stuff on hold, and dive into stuff that inspires me. I feel really lucky to be able to do that, to feel like I have the freedom to be like, “I don’t want to do this, but I do want to jump head first into this.”

I can’t wait for new Kesha. I loved Rainbow so much.

It was so good. It’s one of my favorite records. It’s just so good.

Now that you mentioned Kesha, I have to ask you about that cruise.

Oh my gosh.

I thought about going, but then I chickened out.

Okay, close your eyes and imagine you’re on a boat, and it’s called the Norwegian Pearl, and the event is called the Kesha Magical Unicorn Rainbow Ride. It’s exactly what comes to mind. It was so exactly what I thought it would be in the best way possible. It was so fun and filled with so much joy, and so much freedom. It was a lot more emotional for me than I thought. To see so many people coming from so many places, and knowing that they belonged, it felt like Pride. It felt like Pride, except you’re in the middle of the ocean.

It sounds amazing.

If they do it again, I think you should go.

I’m just scared of being on the open water.

Oh, I’ve never been on a cruise before, and it’s terrifying. So I completely understand. It is so weird. You can’t see anything except water, and glitter, and it is a little crazy.

Great to talk to you again. Good luck with the song!

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time.

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