Gabriels: “The things people might say about me on the internet can’t say right now”

aTheir name suggests, Gabriel is blessed with the voice of an angel. It belongs to Jacob Lusk, a 35-year-old gospel singer who has the power to break your heart with just a vocal quiver. on me angels and queens, The upcoming debut album of the Los Angeles-based trio channels Nina Simone and Billie Holiday channels as they write every drop of emotion from the group’s songs about love and loss. Elton John is among the ever-growing army of fans, who called his EP last year Love and hate in different times “One of the most touching records I’ve heard in the last 10 years.”

Lusk’s soaring vocals provide the perfect complement to the rich mix of electronics and harmony created by his bandmates, British producer Ryan Hope and Armenian-American instrumentalist Ari Baluzian. The three have been close since meeting in 2015 – a fact they still find surprising. “We are completely different,” Lusk says, when we meet at a restaurant near his home in downtown Los Angeles. He wears YSL goggles and a Dodgers baseball jersey with a choice of sequin logo. It’s a wardrobe choice that Elton would definitely approve of. “I’m this fat black guy from Compton, Ryan from Sunderland, and Ari is a classically trained musician who grew up in Glendale,” he says. “We are three completely different people with very different personalities, but there are things that make us more alike than they make us different. When we write, we find that common thread. And then the songs just come along.”

Lusk had already honed his voice for decades when Hope and Balouzian first met. He sang in choir while still in nursery school, although his attendance at the church of Bishop Carl Stewart Emmanuel Temple proved frightening for a child who dreamed of singing the Gospel. “The sons of our priest were famous musicians, so the best musicians and the best singers in the world came,” he recalls. Rapture Stewart was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Aaliyah’s Rock The Boat, while his brother Nisan is considered one of the most popular drummers in hip-hop after working with the likes of Missy Elliott, Sean “P Diddy” Combs and Timbaland. By comparison, young Lusk was still a novice. “When I was a kid, it was kind of like, ‘It’s okay, it’s not all that! “I didn’t really know how to use my machines.”

Lusk sought opportunities to sing outside the church. In 2007 he spotted an ad for Craigslist looking for singers supporting an unnamed hip-hop artist. It turns out he’s Nate Dogg, the G-Funk icon whose spirited contributions to classic songs like Warren G’s “Regulate” have earned him the nickname “King of Hooks.” Lusk soon secured a spot in the Nate Dogg gospel choir, InNate Praise, and the pair bonded one night after Lusk missed the last train home. “He invited me to stay and share some of his life stories,” Lusk says. “He told me about Tupac and Biggie and how he wrote the songs, and our relationship solidified after that.” Then Luck began writing with him for other artists, describing the experience as “an official introduction to the music industry.” That came to a sad end after Nate Dogg suffered a massive stroke in December 2007. He died of heart failure in 2011 at the age of 41.

In the same year, Lusk was highlighted when he competed in a talent show American Idol. While his performance of classic songs like Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” earned him thousands of fans, he also ended up on the receiving end of all kinds of unwanted attention. He has often been accused on social media of appearing rude or pompous, with one critic from calling his stance “smelly”. “There were a lot of things Idol says Lusk, as he takes a sip of water. “It was a very interesting experience, but there were a lot of painful things that happened as well. I’m working on some of these things now. The industry was tough, and the world was tough then. The things people would say about me online they can’t say now.”

Hope and Balouzian were unaware of Lusk’s real-life history when they first met him. Next, Lack would direct his aunt’s church choir for an advertisement they were producing. When additional parts were needed, Hope and Bluesian tracked down Lask at church masses. “They didn’t hear me sing at this point, they just knew I directed the chorus,” Lusk recalls. “I sang part soprano, part mezzo-soprano, part baritone, part tenor, part alto. I was just taking out all the parts and they were like, what…?”

Surprised by Lusk’s amazing vocal ability, Hope and Balusian invite him to a home in Palm Desert, California so the three can work on music together. Their breakthrough came when Hope directed Prada’s 2018 video series, recorded with her own song “Loyalty”. They then spent several weeks focused on writing together during the pandemic, before moving to the Conway Historical Recording Studios in Hollywood to finish the album with Kendrick Lamar and producer Beyoncé Sonoff. “We had a similar process with him where we locked the place up for 12 straight days or something,” Lusk says. “It was a good atmosphere.”

There they finalized an album of true emotional depth. Lusk says the title track “Angels and Queens” is inspired by a sympathetic look at the life of the world’s first black supermodel, Donyale Luna. A muse to Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Federico Fellini, she was only 33 years old when she died of a heroin overdose. “She’s had a kind of rapping because she’s not the greatest person,” he explains, “but then you realize everyone is just trying to figure it out the way we are, they’re just under a different microscope. Imagine if someone was in front of you a camera at the worst point. They want love. They want a relationship, they want companionship, they want all those things that we want, too.”

Gabriel Jacob Lusk: “We are three completely different people with very different personalities, but there are things that make us more alike than different.”

(Atlas Artists / Parlophone Records)

There is a thread of loss running through the album. The heart-wrenching song “If You Only Knew” was written immediately after Lusk received a phone call during a session telling him that his sister, who had been struggling with addiction, had been found dead in their apartment. “Ari and Ryan said we should just leave, and I was like, ‘I can’t do anything. I’m going in there doing nothing,” Lusk recalls. So we wrote the song about someone singing from the other side. We’ve all experienced loss in the process. I lost a friend. I lost someone I was dating too. My uncle jumped off a building. She died Ryan’s mother, she had cancer. I lost my grandmother. If I passed by, I wish my people could think of me and smile, and that’s where the song really comes from.”

The seven record bill released this week is being billed as the first part of angels and queens, With the second installment due to arrive in March next year. The next chapter, which they’ve already scored, says Lusk, “may be more fun. It’s the other part of the story.” Before that, they are set to return to the UK for shows in Glasgow, Manchester and London next month, shortly after completing a week-long residency in support of Harry Styles in Austin, Texas. Unlike Elton, Lusk isn’t sure if Styles is a fan or not – although that’s definitely a matter of time. “I don’t want to lie to you,” Laske says with a smile. “I don’t know how it happened, I’m glad it happened. I hope Harry and I can become friends, you know?”

“Angels & Queens” directed by Gabriels will be released on September 30

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