Before the end of his first semester of college, Wrabel left school and headed to Los Angeles. “I just wanted to go for it,” he says. He worked on his craft, writing with anyone he could, placing cuts with artists like Adam Lambert and Phillip Phillips, all the while developing his own material. The song “Ten Feet Tall” came out of the flush of his relationship with his first serious love, and helped land him a deal with Island records. He released his own recording of the song, and sang on Afrojack’s version. An EP followed, but after a long period of creative searching Wrabel hadn’t found what he was looking for, and he and the label parted ways. He found himself back in Los Angeles, wondering if it was time to pursue a career as a songwriter rather than an artist.
In the spring of 2016, 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.”
Wrabel specializes in music that telescopes small moments into songs with big impact. On tracks like “11 Blocks” and “Gimme Your Love,” the drums may get huge, but the feelings are deeply personal. This is pop music rooted in the singer-songwriter tradition, and it all starts with Wrabel sitting at a piano, fighting for self-expression and survival. “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.”