AAs their name suggests, the Gabriels are 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 Angels & Queens, the Los Angeles-based trio’s upcoming debut album, it channels Nina Simone and Billie Holiday as it squeezes every drop of emotion from the band’s songs of love and loss. Among their ever-growing army of fans is Elton John, who called last year’s EP Love and Hate in Another Time “one of the most memorable records I’ve heard in the last 10 years”.
Lusk’s soaring voice perfectly complements the rich mix of electronics and orchestration created by his bandmates, British producer Ryan Hope and Armenian-American instrumentalist Ari Balouzian. The three have been close since meeting in 2015 – a fact they still find surprising. “We’re very different,” says Lusk, when we meet at a restaurant near his home in downtown Los Angeles. He wears YSL glasses and a Dodgers baseball jersey with the chosen logo in sequins. It’s a wardrobe choice that Elton would surely approve of. “I’m this chubby black guy from Compton, Ryan from Sunderland and Ari is a classically trained musician who grew up in Glendale,” he says. “We are three very different people with very different personalities, but there are more things that make us similar than different. When we write, we find this common thread. Then the songs just come.
Lusk had already been refining his voice for decades when he first met Hope and Balouzian. He sang in a choir while still in kindergarten, although attending Bishop Carl Stewart’s Emmanuel Temple Church proved daunting for a child who dreamed of singing gospel. “Our pastor’s sons were famous musicians, so the best musicians and singers in the world came,” he recalls. Rapture Stewart was Grammy-nominated for her work on Aaliyah’s ‘Rock The Boat’, while her brother Nisan is one of hip-hop’s most sought-after drummers after working with Missy Elliott, Sean ‘P Diddy “Combs and Timbaland. In comparison, young Lusk was still a rookie. “When I was a kid, it was kind of like, ‘He’s fine, he’s not all that!’ I didn’t really know how to use my instrument.
Lusk sought opportunities to sing outside of church. In 2007, he discovered a Craigslist ad looking for backing vocalists for an unnamed hip-hop artist. It turned out to be Nate Dogg, the G-Funk icon whose soulful contributions to classic hits like Warren G’s “Regulate” earned him the nickname “King of Hooks.” Lusk quickly earned a spot in Nate Dogg’s gospel choir, InNate Praise, and the pair bonded one night after Lusk missed the last train home. “He invited me to stay and shared some of his life stories,” says Lusk. “He told me about Tupac and Biggie and how he wrote songs, and our relationship grew stronger after that.” Luck then began writing with him for other artists, calling the experience “a formal introduction to the music industry”. It came to a sad end after Nate Dogg suffered a massive stroke in December 2007. He died of heart failure in 2011, aged 41.
That same year, Lusk was thrust into the limelight when he appeared on a talent show american idol. While his performances of classics like Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” earned him thousands of fans, he also ended up getting all kinds of unwanted attention. On social media, he was often accused of sounding rude or pompous, and a reviewer from TVLine.com called his attitude “stinky”. “There were a lot of things about Idol I’m just unpacking my things,” Lusk said, taking a sip of water. “It was a really nice experience, but there were also a lot of traumatic things that happened too. I’m working on some of those things now. The industry was cruel, and the world was cruel back then. things people would say about me on the internet they could never say now.
Hope and Balouzian were unaware of Lusk’s reality TV history when they first met him. Next, Luck was conducting his aunt’s church choir for a commercial the couple were producing. When additional parts were needed, Hope and Balouzian tracked down Lusk at a church service. “They hadn’t heard me sing then, they just knew I was leading the choir,” Lusk recalled. “I sang the soprano part, the mezzo soprano part, the baritone part, the tenor part and the alto part. I was just telling all the parts and they were like, what the…? »
Caught off guard by Lusk’s incredible vocal ability, Hope invited him and Balouzian to a house in Palm Desert, California so the three could work on music together. Their breakthrough came when Hope directed a series of videos in 2018 for Prada, which soundtracked their own track “Loyalty.” After that, they spent several focused weeks writing together during the pandemic, before heading to Hollywood’s historic Conway Recording Studios to complete the album with Kendrick Lamar and producer Beyoncé Sounwave. “We had a similar process with him where we locked ourselves in for 12 days straight or something,” says Lusk. “It was a good atmosphere.”
They put the final touch to an album of real emotional depth. The title track “Angels and Queens,” says Lusk, was inspired by a sympathetic look into the life of the world’s first black model, Donyale Luna. Muse of Salvador Dalí, Andy Warhol and Federico Fellini, she was only 33 when she died of a heroin overdose. “She kind of had a reputation for not being the most wonderful person,” he explains, “But then you realize everybody’s trying to figure it out, just like us, they’re just under a different microscope. Imagine if someone had a camera in front of you at the worst time.They want love, they want a relationship, they want companionship, they want all those things that we want too.
There is a thread of loss running through the album. The heartbreaking ballad “If You Only Knew” was written immediately after Lusk received a phone call during a session to tell him that his godmother, who had struggled with addiction, had been found dead in their apartment. “Ari and Ryan said we should go, and I was like, ‘There’s nothing I can do. Me, going over there isn’t going to do anything,'” Lusk recalled. “So we wrote the song, which is about of a person singing on the other side. We have all suffered losses during this process. I lost a friend. I also lost someone I was dating. My uncle jumped off a building. Ryan’s mother died, she had cancer. Ari lost his grandmother. If I was successful, I hope my people can think of me and smile, and that’s really where the song came from.
The seven-track disc coming out this week is billed as the first part of Angels & Queens, with a second installment scheduled for March next year. Lusk says the next chapter, which they’ve already recorded, “may be a little more fun. That’s the other part of the story. Ahead of that, they are due 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 doesn’t yet know if Styles is a fan or not – though it’s surely only a matter of time. “I don’t want to lie to you,” Lusk said with a smile. “I don’t know how it happened, I’m just glad it happened. Let’s hope me and Harry become friends, you know?
Gabriels’ ‘Angels & Queens’ will be released on September 30