During the past few years, Wrabel (aka Stephen Wrabel) has emerged as a talented, distinctive songwriter and artist. Originally from New York and now based in Los Angeles, Wrabel has become a top collaborator for Kesha and Pink, and he also co-wrote the chart hit “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” for the Backstreet Boys. In addition, he has released three EPs as an artist, including his latest EP, called one of those happy people.
Although he has collaborated with a wide range of artists, Wrabel is perhaps best known for his excellent work with female stars Kesha and Pink. In 2017, he co-wrote with Kesha her feisty, uptempo single “Woman,” from her Rainbow album. With Pink, he co-wrote and was a featured vocalist on her song “90 Days,” which is included on her album, Hurts 2B Human. Notably, Pink invited Wrabel to be the opening act on her 2019 European tour, and he sang “90 Days” onstage with her.
This January (2020), Wrabel could be making his biggest mark yet as a songwriter. He is the main co-writer with Kesha for her new album High Road, which will be released on January 10. Impressively, Wrabel co-wrote nine songs for the album, including the first single “Raising Hell,” which Kesha recently performed on the American Music Awards. This album marks Kesha’s welcome return to her fun, exuberant style, and the album could be a big hit.
Besides writing with Kesha and Pink, Wrabel has co-written songs for the Backstreet Boys, Adam Lambert, Phillip Phillips, Katharine McPhee, Pentatonix, Ellie Goulding, Idina Menzel, Lea Michele, Bishop Briggs, Kygo, Louis the Child, DNCE, Fitz and the Tantrums, Conrad Sewell and Ben Platt.
Along with his steady output of writing songs for other artists, Wrabel has attracted a solid following with his EP releases and his other collaborations. In 2014, he teamed up with DJ Afrojack for the international hit, “Ten Feet Tall.” Then in 2017, he released his single “11 Blocks,” that has led to several videos being created that have received millions of views on YouTube.
Wrabel’s most unique and heartfelt song is probably “The Village,” which he released in 2017. This song was dedicated to show support for transgender people, and its powerful video has nine million views on YouTube.
Here’s the video of Kesha’s new single “Raising Hell,” which was
co-written by Wrabel.
In September (2019), Wrabel released his latest EP, called one of those happy people. This EP contains six songs including the emotional ballad “flickers,” the uptempo cut “love to love u” and “the real thing.”
Wrabel is now signed with Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and he’s managed by Vector Management.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Wrabel. He tells how he got started in the music business, and he discusses his collaborations with Kesha and Pink. He also talks about his own EPs and his upcoming album project.
DK: I read that you were born in New York and that you went to school in Texas. How did you get started with music and writing songs?
Wrabel: I started learning piano when I was 15, because I wanted to write songs. I started playing in church and I sang in school choirs, and did music theatre. I also took jazz piano lessons and jazz vocal lessons. And then once I started writing songs, that’s something that I never got tired of doing. I felt like I could spend hours and hours writing, and it didn’t feel like it was work.
DK: After high school, what was your next step in starting a music career?
Wrabel: It took quite a while. I went to Berklee College of Music (in Boston) for a semester, and then I moved out to Los Angeles. My brother lived out in L.A., so I crashed on his floor for about two years. And it probably took me a good three or four years of just running around town like a little nutcase, and writing songs with anybody who would write with me. I played weekly shows at this Chinese restaurant (laughs), and I lugged my keyboard to anywhere that would let me play.
DK: Early on, was there a big break that helped you get started in the music business?
Wrabel: I got with a publishing company in L.A. called Pulse (Pulse Music Group). They had heard some demos I was singing on. And within a few months of them being introduced to me, I ended up signing there.
Here is Wrabel’s powerful video of his song, “The Village.”
DK: What was your first cut as a songwriter?
Wrabel: My first cut was a song called “Loud,” with an Australian artist named Stan Walker, who was a winner on Australian Idol. I also had a cut with Phillip Phillips (American Idol winner). But my first big cut as an artist was a song called “Ten Feet Tall” that I did with DJ Afrojack.
DK: I like your song, “The Village”—the lyric message (about transgender people) and the video are very powerful. What inspired you to write this song?
Wrabel: I had met these two trans kids outside a stage door on my first major tour. It was after my song “11 Blocks” had come out. I played a show and I went out through the stage door, and there were these two kids waiting. They said they wanted to meet me. So I got to hang out with them, and some of their family and friends were there. [The kids] were just so themselves in this really simple way.
Then I wrote “The Village”…it was the day that federal protections for trans students was taken out of the public schools. And I was talking to one of them, and just hearing what it was like to be a trans kid in a public school that day, and it just broke my heart.
I was on my way to a session with two of my good friends, and I just sat down and said, “I really want to write these two kids a song.” And so we wrote it and I sent it to them…I had no intention of really releasing it. I just wanted to write them something that they could [listen to] and get some comfort from. And they were like, “You have to put this out.” So I did, shortly thereafter.
DK: A few months ago you released your latest EP, one of those happy people. Can you talk about this making of this EP? I read that you collaborated with (hit writer/producers) John Hill and Jesse Shatkin on some of the songs.
Wrabel: Yes, I worked with John and Jesse, and Kid Harpoon and Stint (aka Ajay Bhattacharya), who I love. It was kind of a fun accident making the EP. It started with the songs “the real thing” and “love to love u”—I wrote them on the same day with John. We had an artist that canceled on us the morning of, and I was already on my way to the studio. So I said, “Let’s just mess around and see what happens.” And then we wrote both of those songs that day. This started a very natural process of my manager and my publisher [liking the songs] and pushing me to [make an EP and] put it out. It’s the first project that we released independently, and it happened so naturally with people I respect so much.
Here’s the video of Pink’s song “90 Days,” which features Wrabel
and was co-written by him.
DK: Besides releasing music as an artist, you’re known for co-writing with two big female artists: Pink and Kesha. First, can you talk about working with Pink on “90 Days” and being featured on this cut? And you also toured with her.
Wrabel: Yes, I was out all summer on tour with Pink, through Europe. I still can’t believe it. “90 Days” is something that I started about three years ago with a British songwriter named Steve Robson, who’s brilliant songwriter. The song was a very literal story of what I was going through at the moment.
So we wrote that song, but I was in a place with my label situation where we weren’t really releasing a ton. So I had that song in my back pocket. Then I sat down with (A&R exec) Keith Naftaly at RCA Records, and played it for him. I played him a bunch of songs, and he kept wanting to hear “90 Days” again.
Then the next day, Keith called me and said, “I did something. I played it for Alecia (Pink).” And I thought…Holy Shit. A month after that, a car picked me up and drove me up to her place, and we sat down and worked on the song. We kind of finished it up, and made it ours. Then we recorded it that day, and two months later it was out. Then two months after that I was on tour with her in Europe (laughs). It was an amazing roller coaster ride.
DK: You’ve also worked with Kesha and you co-wrote her single, “Woman.” I also like your new single with her, “Raising Hell,” and you’ve written nine songs with Kesha for her new album, High Road. Can you talk your collaboration with her?
Wrabel: I met Kesha about six years ago, and we did “Woman” with our friend Drew Pearson, who’s an incredible writer & producer. [Kesha and I] met in a backyard, and writing a song…there was something going on. It was one of those things where both us were convinced that we were married in another life, or were brother and sister in another life. It was like an instant friendship, and now I consider her family. She’s one of my best friends, and it’s been so cool to work with her through the process of Rainbow, and then through this process of High Road, and how she’s in such good spirits. It was so much fun making this record.
Here’s the video of Wrabel’s single, “11 Blocks.”
Rainbow was like a big statement that she really wanted to make (in 2017). And this year (2019), one of the moments that stood out to me, was we have a song called “Best Day” in the Angry Birds 2 movie. I remember we went in that day and started writing, and we wrote these somber guitar chords, and I’m singing these sad, melancholy melodies. And then Kesha goes, “Can we stop? Can we just write something fun?’ And we were all like, “Yeah!” (laughs). Then I was half-joking when I sang, “This is gonna be the best day of my life,” and we ended up rolling with it. It was just so fun—she’s such a free creator, she’s down to try literally anything, to see if something special is there. And with [her High Road album], I’ve never been brought into a record in such a big way. I feel so honored and lucky to be a part of it.
DK: Currently, how do you balance being an artist, and writing songs for other artists?
Wrabel: Right now, I’m in a car headed to write with somebody for their project. But I also just had my first record meeting (as an artist). I’m going to make a record and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And my friend (writer/producer) Stint who we did “Raising Hell” together, is going to executive produce it for me. So we got the white board going and wrote down all the songs…it’s super fun making this record. We probably listened to 30 songs and picked the special ones. So I feel pretty good about the balance of being an artist and songwriter, now that I have my album in the works.