Gabriels on Their Debut Album “Angels & Queens” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, July 14th, 2024  

Gabriels on Their Debut Album “Angels & Queens”

Singer Jacob Lusk and producer-violinist Ari Balouzian discuss creating a universe within their music

Sep 25, 2023 Web Exclusive Photography by Renee Parkhurst Bookmark and Share

Hearing Gabriels’ debut album, Angels & Queens, for the first time is somewhat astonishing—from the first surreptitious moments of pizzicato strings to the enchanting flutter of Jacob Lusk’s voice, it’s clear that Gabriels has tapped into some previously hidden, preternatural vein of music-making. If you didn’t know the truth, it would be easy to assume that the group had been honing their unique sound for years, rather than being born out of the relatively recent and coincidental meeting of singer (and former American Idol contestant) Jacob Lusk, keyboardist-composer Ryan Hope, and violinist-composer Ari Balouzian on a commercial shoot for Prada.

Gabriels’ sound is a colorful and theatrical mix of soul, classic jazz, and R&B. But beyond the shades of Motown and Nina Simone, there is an otherworldly quality to the songs that gives Angels & Queens (which was released in two parts) a profoundly unique sense of place. Given Lusk’s history as a worship leader and choir singer, song titles such as “Glory,” and the cover’s Christian-leaning imagery, one might expect that the album is heavily influenced by gospel.

“I didn’t really look at any part of it as gospel. After being on Idol, I was always like, ‘I am not a gospel singer!’” Lusk laughs. “We just called [the album] soul. It was Aretha and Nina. But we also weren’t even trying to be a thing; we were just making music.”

Balouzian adds, “Jacob does have that [church] background, and I also grew up going to church. So maybe that’s where we connect on talking about certain stuff. [A lot of] the album is about death and losing people and how we wrestle with that; I will say we all have pretty spiritual outlooks.”

That sense of spirituality informed the tone of the project: during the making of the record, all of the group members experienced various kinds of loss, including the death of Lusk’s godsister. The song “If You Only Knew” is sung from her perspective, written together just after Lusk received the call with the news.

“She had been struggling with addiction for a while,” Lusk says. “I think [writing it from her perspective] was maybe another way to look at it, as opposed to it being just this sad, depressing feeling. Maybe release is okay, maybe there is a little bit of relief for her on the other side.”

“Gabriels was completely different than anything I’ve done before,” Lusk adds. “What I was doing before was—I don’t want to say contrived—but it was very different. I think all the conversations Ryan, Ari, and I had forced all of us out of our normal patterns of doing things. It was almost like therapy for all of us, because we forced each other to talk about things—but it was also a safe space. That’s why when you hear the songs, they feel so heartfelt and so real.”

If you’ve ever seen Gabriels play live, even through a screen, it’s clear that Lusk embodies everything he’s singing about. Despite the meticulous composition of the songs, Gabriels’ music possesses a strange serendipity simply by virtue of Lusk’s casual brilliance and magnetism as a performer.

“[Gabriels] was born as a recording project,” Balouzian says. “Jacob would come over and we’d experiment with music. It took a bit of time to really get familiar with each other, and to come to this songwriting style—and then building songs into structures as composers, while also incorporating all of those wilder elements like the cinematics that we all like.”

Keyboardist Ryan Hope is also a film director, and it’s clear that both his and the others’ experience with film has influenced Gabriels. “I always liked music for film because it felt like this place where you can be really free as a composer, as long as it serves the emotion of what’s happening on screen,” Balouzian says. “What happens on screen then gives [the music] context and emotion like song lyrics often do. I think that can create these really transcendent moments. That’s a big part of what we’re looking for, that transcendence, and whether that comes through as something that feels cinematic, or like gospel, it’s that feeling of reaching.”

In their reaching, Gabriels has taken hold of something ineffable. “Our music has challenged the way that all of us think and even the way we believe, and we’ve created a world, really,” Lusk says. “If it’s influenced by anything, it’s influenced by the world that I want to see. Our band is a place where we are all able to thrive. Everybody’s loved and everybody’s embraced. Our music not only comes from that place, but we present that place when we play it. I believe the world is becoming [better]. I know that sounds crazy—the world’s fucked up. However, there are more people in the world who are good and hoping for good. The good is slow, but slowly, it’s overtaking all the other stuff.”

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