Gabriel Bruce created something of an enigma around himself early on in his career, with his first 7 inch accompanied by a lengthy Dada-influenced illustrated book discussing sleep paralysis, tales of gothic and/or Christian influences and the fact that he used to be an antiquarian bookseller. With his second album, Come All Sufferers, released May 27th via Luv Luv Luv Records, the baritone singer is creating music that is as infectious as it is surprising. He spoke to us about religious references, how important a musician’s image and his life outside of the industry.
You’ve said that the inspiration behind Come All Sufferers involves your anger with the world and the breakdown of a relationship. Could you explain that further?
I am angry about the world, I think we all should be angry. There’s been a deliberate destruction, a threat to culture and humanity, and I have compared that to the end of a relationship. I did go through a breakup and that, in turn, colours a lot of the album, and there is a particular song that really reflects that experience, but mainly the album is more an approach on how we deal with this kind of ‘end of the world’ moment in our lives. You’re always angry at someone for something but you also love them and love what’s true and honest. I feel the same way about the world, I love people; when I see someone smile on a train or see an act of kindness it gives me joy but, at the same time, I also hate people for their racist, misogynistic attitudes, the people that only care about themselves.
You have been compared to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and David Bowie. Are these artists that have influenced your sound or was it just a consequence of your vision?
They certainly have influenced me. I love all the music made by all three of these musicians. David Bowie is the ultimate deity and his art is extremely influential. Leonard Cohen is my avenue of music, every time I have the chance to see him live, I do. I think he is amazing. Nick Cave’s pretty good, too, he’s definitely getting better and better.
Did you grow up in a musical family and was the music your parents listened still a pervading influence?
Yeah, my mum loved The Supremes, The Eurythmics and Madonna. I grew up with my sister and my mum so there was a lot of pop music in the house, including The Spice Girls. My mum is really supportive of my music. I started to write songs when I was about 4 years old, you know, really silly, but cool songs like Jumper For My Trousers and I Want To Put You In The Sink. My mum also had all the Bob Dylan records, which she gave to me when I was really young, and she encouraged all music, even when I was eleven and was listening to Nirvana, Linkin Park or Limp Bizkit. My sister is also a beautiful singer and sings on the album. Funnily enough, in regards to my family, I met some of my American relatives recently. My great uncle, Don Bruce, I found out, has this awesome bass voice and sang in choirs. He also has the same size feet as me and after meeting him, I thought, “OMG, Don Bruce! You are the answer to all my questions!” So maybe there is something in your genes.
You have previously spoken a lot about your image; do you feel there’s a strong pressure when you’re in the creative industries to match your image with your visions and ideas?
No, I think I have spoken a lot of about image in the past because I have done a lot of fashion press. I really don’t know the right answer. Sometimes, the first thing people ask me is why I changed my hair, or why I am not wearing a suit or something, and I think, I don’t know, I have just made a record, spent years and countless hours writing and working on this album, I really don’t care about my hair! I suppose you look at artists like David Bowie and lots of other artists I admire who take into account that theatrical image when on stage, and making that effort is really valuable. I guess I am more concerned with other things, but I also think you sometimes have to be conscious of it because you are presenting yourself to people and saying, “This is who I am.” Some people do that very effectively and it takes less for someone to remember them. If you are always wearing the same thing or always wearing something outrageous then it means that people can instantly identify you. It is a sense of advertising and very much part of our culture. It’s just weird because it’s mainly only the fashion press that writes about me and image is the focus. I need more music magazines to give me interviews!
The lack of continuity of sound was criticised when you released your debut album, Love in Arms. With Come All Sufferers, there is still a wide range of genres that your songs seems to capture. How would you describe your sound?
Mixing genres is what I do, I have always done that. I’m very interested in all types of music and what interests me the most, despite ten years doing this, is the exciting moment when you push two genres together, such as putting a metal bridge on a soul track. Strange accidents can always happen. It’s like a Venn diagram, one yellow and one blue, but the green space in the middle is the most interesting, the moment I am always chasing. People should start to get used to that or stop listening to my records. The music that really inspires me is not what people expect either; I like the big pop acts like Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and Kanye West who are all experimenting with music. I am trying to make pop music.
Could you explain the references to Christianity in your song titles? Are you religious or is it a reflection of your recent experiences?
I think it is more of a reflection of my environment. My Grandfather dealt with ecclesiastical antiques and stained glass so I grew up surrounded my all of this imagery and visited a lot of churches. I think the imagery is so ingrained into our culture that it often becomes hard to avoid and the way words can evoke so much historical and religious feeling is extremely powerful. Even if you’re not religious, you can’t take away the power of imagery; the buildings and the art associated with it. It is beautiful and I have a lot of respect for that aspect of religion.
Could you explain your notorious hand injury and your work with fossils?
I have had many jobs throughout my music career. My mum has her own shop on Portobello road and I sometimes work for her, sometimes for a friend of hers, called Del Rogers, who deals in amazing pre-existing objects, such as dinosaur and mammoth bones and fossils. One day, I was moving a bit of petrified wood, which is a tree fossil, and it fell over on my hand. It was a really serious injury, I nearly lost three fingers but, luckily, I had this amazing surgeon who performed ten hours of surgery and put my hand back together. Just over a year on, it’s pretty much back to normal, but it’s funny how this incident has become synonymous with me. I have told this story so many times as if it was such a big part of my life!
Do you think it is sometimes difficult for people to understand that the majority of musicians have to take other jobs?
Yes, I do! I remember when I was working in this toy shop, another place I had worked for a while, with my friend Tom, and this guy came up to me and said, “You’re Gabriel Bruce! I love your album! But, why are you working in a toy shop?” So I asked him if he had bought the album and he said, “No, I listened to it on Spotify.”