Music

Singer-songwriter Wrabel on his music being used as a tool for queer activism

The singer-songwriter from Los Angeles opens up about advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights as well as his upcoming release with Wild Rivers.

Wrabel. Image: Yazz Alali

“It kind of happened…accidentally feels like the wrong word, so, naturally,” says singer-songwriter Stephen Wrabel, about the role his music plays in LGBTQ+ activism.

The musician, who is based in Los Angeles, has frequently taken a stand for queer rights during his career.  

Known mononymously as Wrabel, his most recent album these words are all for you released last year on his Big Gay Records label, was a global success.

He was named Billboard’s Pride Artist of the Month in 2019, and has already collaborated with artists including AfroJack and Kesha, and performed at Wembley Stadium with Pink.

This year is looking to be just as busy for the musician, whose latest collaboration track is set to be released on Friday, alongside a deluxe version of his album later this year. But Wrabel says his career success hasn’t always come without struggle. 

He tells The Big Issue: “I came out as my career was progressing in my first record deal and I was scared shitless, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know if there was space for that, if it was going to be accepted or if I was going to have to re-do everything.

“Thankfully, I feel so lucky to have been met with so much support, love, acceptance and even celebration. In my personal life coming out, I didn’t necessarily receive all that, so it was nice that at least on the professional front, I had so much support.”

Image: Yazzi Alali

Since landing that  first record deal in 2012, Wrabel says his artistry has become intertwined with a form of personal storytelling. With a self proclaimed tendency to overshare, he recognises lyrics and emotion as being a key feature to his work. 

This honest approach to his writing has already led Wrabel to receive multiple song-writing credits from artists including The Backstreet Boys, Kygo and Louis the Child.

“With my music, I try to remind people that whatever they’re feeling, whatever they are going through, they are not not alone,” he says.

It was this intention, and Wrabel’s focus on LGBTQ+ rights, that led to his hit song The Village, which supports the #TransRightsAreHumanRights campaign and has gained more than 13 million views on YouTube since being uploaded in 2017. 

The Village really changed a lot for me,” he explains. “I wrote that song for two trans kids that I had met on my first tour. I wrote it really, just for them. The day we wrote the song, I had no intention of releasing it or anything I just said: ‘Can we write a song for these two kids just to let them know I’m sorry for the entire world?” 

Wrabel wrote the piece shortly after Trump, who was president at the time, announced he was removing federal protections for trans students in public education. 

The accompanying music video for the song, which was directed by Dano Cerny, depicts a trans teenager struggling with gender dysphoria whilst living in a hostile family environment.

“It (The Village) really just changed a lot for me because it opened me up to such a beautiful group of people. Usually, you don’t want to go through your comment section online because it can be scary, but with The Village the comments section felt like the safest place on the internet,” he says.

“Just seeing so many people writing paragraphs and sharing their stories, it was so inspiring to me. I always find that when I try to remind people that they’re not alone, I end up being reminded that I’m not alone. I just think the queer community is so beautiful and connected, there’s just so much love.” 

Wrabel’s upcoming collaboration with Canadian folk band Wild Rivers will be released on streaming platforms on Friday.

“It’s rare that I jump into something that I wasn’t part of from the moment of conception, but the second I heard the song my jaw-dropped,” he says. “I was telling them: ‘I didn’t write this song but I wish I did’, and that to me as a songwriter is the biggest compliment that anyone could give a song.

“I was blown away by their talent and kindness, and I am truly honoured to be on the song.”

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