As their name suggests, Gabriels are blessed with the voice of an angel. It belongs to Jacob Lusk, a 35-year-old gospel singer with the power to break your heart with a mere vocal quiver. On Angels & Queens, the LA-based trio’s forthcoming debut album, he channels Nina Simone and Billie Holiday as he wrings every drop of emotion from the group’s songs of love and loss. Numbered among their ever-growing army of fans is Elton John, who called last year’s EP Love and Hate in a Different Time “one of the most seminal records I’ve heard in the last 10 years”.
Lusk’s soaring vocals provide the perfect complement for the rich blend 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 which 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 logo picked out in sequins. It’s a wardrobe choice Elton would surely approve of. “I’m this chubby Black guy from Compton, Ryan’s from Sunderland and Ari’s a classically trained musician who grew up in Glendale,” he says. “We’re three very different people with very different personalities, but there are more things that make us alike than make us different. When we write, we find that common thread. Then the songs just come.”
Lusk had already been honing his voice for decades when he first met Hope and Balouzian. He was singing in a choir while still at nursery school, although attending Bishop Carl Stewart’s Emmanuel Temple church proved intimidating for a child with dreams of singing gospel. “Our pastor’s sons were famous musicians so the best musicians and the best singers in the world came through,” he remembers. Rapture Stewart was Grammy-nominated for his work on Aaliyah’s “Rock The Boat”, while his brother Nisan is one of hip-hop’s most sought-after drummers after working with the likes of Missy Elliott, Sean “P Diddy” Combs and Timbaland. In comparison, the young Lusk was still a beginner. “When I was a kid it was kind of like, ‘He’s OK, he’s not all that!’ I didn’t really know how to use my instrument.”