GABRIELS interview – Evening Standard, July 7 2023

“You hear him before you see him,” a member of the Gabriels entourage tells me, as a resonant cackle erupts from the rear of a black van. That’ll be Jacob Lusk, the soul trio’s singer, sharp dressing focal point and one man charisma machine. Even before releasing today’s debut album, he’s been a Brit Award nominee, a man anointed for greatness by Elton John, Diana Ross and Harry Styles, and a Glastonbury headliner. As a packed, ecstatic, Friday night tent at the Love Supreme jazz festival in East Sussex attests, he’s this year’s most undeniable new star.

“We give God praise!” he booms while we talk over a bowl of soup in the festival’s artist catering tent, a couple of hours before stage time. That’s this churchgoing, former choir director from Compton, LA’s catchphrase. If he doesn’t know someone’s name, he calls them “Man of God”. On his way to sit down he passes a piano, and can’t resist launching into Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman with his three backing singers. Caterers stop catering, managers stop managing, journalists stop journalling – all of us bowled over by his vaulting voice.

It’s a legal requirement at this point in a Gabriels article to mention that Elton John called their extraordinary first single, Love and Hate in a Different Time, “one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years”. That was two years ago, and the voracious music fan with the big glasses hasn’t gone off them since. Lusk was the first of four special guests during Elton’s Sunday night Glastonbury headlining set a fortnight ago, almost outdoing the legend’s gold suit by appearing in hot pink tails to sing Are You Ready for Love. The show attracted the largest ever BBC audience for a Glastonbury performance, peaking at 7.6 million viewers compared to 2.6 million for Arctic Monkeys on Friday and 2.1 million for Guns N’ Roses on Saturday.

To his credit, even after that overwhelming endorsement, it’s still his speaking voice that fills the room rather than his ego. “I’ll be honest, I’m a bit jaded,” he admits. He’s 36 now and has spent most of his career to date being outshone by others, whether it was singing backing vocals for Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, Beck and Nate Dogg, or finishing fifth as a 23-year-old in the 2011 edition of American Idol. “I have tonnes of friends in the industry, so I’ve come to understand that just being an incredible singer doesn’t really matter. I could sound like Whitney Houston 1985 and it wouldn’t matter. So I’ve shifted my mindset to: just let me be happy.”

It was Ari Balouzian and Ryan Hope who realised he deserves to be front and centre on any stage, because – oh yeah – Gabriels is a band. People often assume that Lusk’s name is Gabriel, but the name actually comes from St Gabriel’s Avenue, the Sunderland street where Hope grew up. The producer and filmmaker was making techno under the Gabriels pseudonym long before it became anything else. “I do often get sent to do interviews on my own – we give God praise – but in my conversation I’m always thinking about what they would say,” says Lusk. “When people ask about our influences, I never listened to [Detroit house producer] Moodymann or Nick Cave, but I know they’re important to Ryan and Ari so I’ll keep talking about them.”

“Same for us with [Eighties gospel couple] BeBe and CeCe Winans,” says Balouzian. Clearly they’re an unlikely trio, Armenian-American violinist Balouzian small in a neat grey suit, grizzled Brit Hope wearing a roadie’s hi-viz vest over his hoodie for warmth, and Lusk dressed in an electric blue summer suit, which counts for him as offstage casual wear. When performing he switches into a tuxedo and rich red floor-length robe, which he flourishes like a matador.

“We’re all very individual people with quite different tastes, but there is this middle ground,” says Hope.

“Each of us has this freedom to be ourselves, and that brings out the best in us,” adds Balouzian. “When it feels like a pure expression of me, him and him, it becomes something unique.”

They came together in a unique way too, three older men who were already making separate livings in the shadows of the entertainment industry, so had none of the hunger for fame of more green musicians. “We were all working and were independently okay, so we were making this music out of love,” says Balouzian, 34. He was a composer making scores for film and TV, often collaborating with Hope, 39, a former DJ who had moved to Hollywood to direct. In a significantly more luxurious origin story than most bands, they first worked with Lusk on a song for a three-part Prada advert that Hope was making, starring JK Simmons.

Despite his outsized personality, Lusk has been burned before and still has the outlook of a jobbing musician who is thrilled just to be paid to sing. When the other two found him leading a community choir, he had a day job at a sunglasses company. As a younger man he was so keen to get onto American Idol that he voluntarily spent three days in jail, to clear an outstanding warrant for his arrest after riding a train with no ticket and missing the court date. “You gotta do what you gotta do!” he shouts. But he insists that even then, fame wasn’t the motivator.

“I just wanted to sing and be able to pay my bills,” he says. “I was struggling at the time. I barely had a place to live. I was still trying to figure out who I was, but I knew I wanted to sing. Even with Gabriels, I didn’t see superstardom in this. I just thought, this is a place where I get to sing. I didn’t know that I was gonna get to be Beyoncé and they were Michelle and Kelly!”

As they release their debut album, adding six tracks to the seven that came out as Angels & Queens Part 1 last September, they have already been working together for around six years. They’re obviously enjoying the buzz of being the hottest band in town, but it’s plain they’d still be making their sophisticated blend of soul, gospel, rich strings and subtle electronic touches, even if barely anyone was listening.

“It’s really important that your focus is different,” says Lusk. “Elton John’s focus is his family, and him being happy. And that’s what my thing is too: being able to go to bed at night, wake up and look at myself in the mirror and not think I’m a terrible person. The rest of it will come and if it doesn’t, fine. But so far, it looks like it’s working.”

Angels & Queens is released today on Atlas Artists/Parlophone.

Gabriels play tonight at Somerset House, WC2 ( and on Aug 25 at Union Chapel, N1 (