Jacob Lusk of Gabriels reflects on the band’s extraordinary year, his gospel roots, and the key to creative collaboration
The triumphant debut of British-American soul trio Gabriels has been difficult to ignore over the past year. Milestone career accolades started humbly at Brighton’s Great Escape in 2022, graduating to Glastonbury’s beloved Park Stage just one month later before having even released part one of their now critically acclaimed debut album Angels & Queens.
The Compton frontman, Jacob Lusk – alongside classically trained Cali-born composer Ari Balouzian and Sunderland-born video director-turned-producer Ryan Hope – proceeded with several coveted gigs including touring with Harry Styles. A BRIT nomination followed, as did a spot on this year’s Coachella bill, as well as being recognised in BBC Radio 1’s Sound of 2023 and Ticketmaster’s own Breakthrough 2023 list.
A good nap might be in order, but Gabriels’ well-oiled gospel-soul machine shows no sign of slowing down as April welcomes the release of chapter two of Angels & Queens. We caught up with Lusk ahead of the record’s release to talk life on the edge of the music’s biggest new boom.
You’ve had a remarkable past two years. Have you had a standout moment from this time?
It’s funny because I have a little bit of trauma… so I don’t always enjoy the moment. I told myself towards the end of last year, ‘bruh, you need to relax’. If you would’ve told me at the start that we would have this now, I would tell you that you’re lying. If you look at it from the perspective of where I started – and it really hasn’t even been two years – our first real show was October 2021 in a basement in London. It was really small, hell, it’s probably about the size of my apartment. Shout out to the whole team – we’re here.
How was it going from The Great Escape to Glastonbury?
I was nervous because it was really a hip-hop show. It was Tems and ENNY and probably the youngest audience we’ve ever played. So I was like, ‘these hip-hop people are going to crucify me… I’m coming out in a cape, singing a Barbara Streisand cover’. But as soon as we came out the people were screaming. I think it was respect, even though the music was different, ’cause we presented it, I feel, in an excellent way. And not excellent as far as our talent, but like we gave a hundred percent.
Even Glastonbury, they were like “just so you know, you guys are going on early in the afternoon, nobody’s gonna be there”. Child! We get ready to take the stage, and there’s a sea of people waiting. Right before I went on I burst into tears!
What can we expect from part two of Angels & Queens?
Just a little more rock and roll. It’s a lot more of the stories and it’s a little more of the heart.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the album artwork? It looks like it has a lot to say.
So interestingly it was my aunt that ended up doing it. My aunt is how I met Ari and Ryan. It was initially going to be a baptism and then it just didn’t feel quite right, because I look at religion a little differently than most. Ryan is not extremely religious, and Ari grew up Christian, but we have very different kind of beliefs. We brought my aunt in and we made it kind of more mysterious. Is it a baptism? Is it a romantic scene? Is it she trying to kill me? It was more like a renewal. Like a new life that I’m living as a Gabriel, that was kind of the vibe.
I’ve read a lot about how being a member of the church kind of shaped your music knowledge, but that you only discovered different areas of music later on. How did that come about?
I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio as a kid. I shouldn’t say ‘not allowed’, we just didn’t do it. We’d put on the gospel CD, and I even watched Christian television on Saturday mornings instead of cartoons. But I liked it for a little bit because it kind of kept me pure, in a way. Gospel music is rooted in the connection to another power, so it takes the selfishness out of music. It’s meant to bless someone else. When it comes to being exposed to other music, The Preacher’s Wife was my favourite movie, and that was the first time I kind of got to sneak out. Then this movie called The Fighting Temptations came out, with Beyoncé, when I was in middle school. I ditched school to go see it in the movie theatre. That was the first CD I actually bought.
How does the creative process flow between you and Ari and Ryan?
Most times Ari and Ryan have already worked on some ideas. Then we’ll come together and have a conversation about what the music is feeling, or something we’ve experienced, and then we’ll put ourselves in whatever that room is and start writing. Here’s the thing, because we’re so different and we’re not in each other’s worlds, I would never know Ari and Ryan in real life… but when we find that common line through the songs that connects us all, that’s how we’re able to make a song.
You’ve had a collaborative rise to fame – you’ve always worked with other people, be it a choir when you were younger or backing singing for Diana Ross or Gladys Knights – what do you look for in collaborators and how do you find them?
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really looked for my collaborators, they tend to come to me. And not in a hubris way – it was because I was always willing to work and willing to learn. The music I make with Ari and Ryan is different to any other music I’ve ever done in my entire life. I’ve come into this and said, ‘I’m going to learn, I’m going be open to do something different’. I’m always a student. I’m here to serve and I’m here to learn, and that’s how I’ve been able to do so much different stuff. I’ve gone from Diana Ross to Beck. Even Beck does his shows differently than anybody I’ve ever seen.
That’s a such a good outlook to have.
Life is messed up, let’s be honest. We’ve all been through a lot. I did an interview yesterday, and he was like, “it’s interesting, you don’t look at your mom not supporting your music as a thing”. And it’s like… my mother was doing the best that she could. So, I can choose to look at this as my mother trying to stifle me, or that my mother saw that she had an extremely intelligent child. I was a student body president. I was a state champion in speech and debate. I was a geeky ass kid so, of course, she doesn’t want her geeky ass kid to go sing. She wants her geeky ass kid to go be a rocket scientist. Why would she not? The military was offering me $100,000 to take a test, she’s going to be like ‘go test that test and get that bread!’. At 17 years old?! My dumb ass should have went…
Do you have a favorite song to play live?
I think collectively we all like ‘Great Wind’. ‘Taboo’ is my favourite, personally.
You’re hitting all these massive milestones, what’s next on the cards?
It’s really about getting the music to more people, because a lot of people still don’t know about us. The music is very genre-bending so people don’t really know where to put it. Getting more people to shows, and just spreading the love, and hoping the others will come. And then No.1 records hopefully and GRAMMYs… I just want to be able to make music forever, and awards alone are not going to allow me to do that. There are people who win awards and never put out another record again in their lives – it’s really about the people. The last shows that we did in London, there were a lot of young people who brought their boyfriends or girlfriends, and parents were bringing their kids to meet me, and kids were bringing their parents to meet me. It felt like we were doing it right. I want more of that.