2016 is the year of Gabriel Bruce's comeback, his redemption. After a quiet spell, brought on by an accident, many thought that the gothic crooner and self-styled 'disco Leonard Cohen' might never play music again. However, two years on from said accident, he's returned with a new album, Come All Sufferers. A modern day gospel album for those that have been dealt a rough hand, Bruce's sophomore album is a true masterpiece. Because we're so adoring of Gabriel Bruce, we caught up with him to find out what a song called Jesus Drag Queen might be about, what his favourite lyrics are, and whether Come All Sufferers really is a gospel record.
Hiya Gabriel - I think this record has a kinda 'redemption' feel to it, with songs like Freedom and Come All Sufferers especially feeling that way. Would you say that redemption is a theme with the album?
Ultimately I hope there's some feeling of redemption. Or at least the possibility of it. It's a strange word, redemption. It reminds me of promotional vouchers and insurance claims.
The song Freedom is especially a highlight for me, what's the story behind it?
When I set out to make this record I knew I wanted it to chronicle a vision or possibly my vision of the apocalypse. Freedom looks at the road that brought us there, I'm reluctant to explain the song explicitly. I would like to leave room for personal interpretation. Having said that, it explores various ways we seek to attain freedom and that the pursuit of freedom or the 'Freedom' sold to us by the lizard people is ultimately what destroys us. We're given the freedom to encumber ourselves with material goods, free to consume and little more.
The record's such a mixture of different genres (I think even more so than Love In Arms), what have you been listening to while making it and writing it?
I listened to a lot of Cat Power, her record Sun was very inspiring for me, in her approach to the work and her courage. Tuneyards for her irreverence. Joanna Newsom is someone I listen to at all times of my life, she's my St. Bernadette, my Mother Teresa. Also William Bell and Otis Redding. Kendrick Lamar and Kanye (mainly Graduation and MBDTF). A lot of Bowie when I was in Berlin working on the record, obvs. And Sign o' the Times.
Is Kurt & Kanye a homage to the title characters, or something more cynical?
They're two of my favourite artists ever. So uncompromising and honest. It's a song about adulation and voyeurism.
At risk of sounding a li'l too pretentious, when Kanye released ...Pablo, he said "this is not a rap album, this is a gospel album", and to me this is a statement that kinda describes Come All Sufferers, with its lyrics that tackle things like religion, as well as life and more broadly - so, is Come All Sufferers a gospel album?
Yes it is. Exactly. A secular gospel record for a dying world.
A lot of songs on Come All Sufferers have odd bits of noise, do you think this makes the record more like one cohesive entity than a collection of songs?
The sounds were collected chronologically through the process of recording. They mark changes in my life, moments of sadness and joy, but real moments, artefacts. The surprise party 'George's Suprise' (sic) before Gift's from God was my great friend George Cassavetes' birthday - I was there with many of my closest friends, giggling silently in the dark as George got home, you hear Fred MacPherson gulping comically as George comes through the front door. I'm not entirely sure why we recorded it. I think we were gonna play it loud through the speakers? Either way. There is so much love in that recording for me personally, I feel close to the people I love when I hear it and I feel that that alone imbues it with some sort of value. George is a great friend of mine and a good man.
There's a lot of lyrics that I think are absolutely fantastic, what's the lyric on the record you're most proud of?
I really like the naughty bits in Jesus Drag Queen and I like 'it's pretty scary far as omens go / less like a warning than an oath' because I'm fond of neat little couplets like that. Bill Callahan does that kinda lyric really well. Like 'is life a ride to ride / or a story to shape and confide' on Ride My Arrow. I like lyrics like that. Neat and tied up... He goes further though and extends the couplet into a triplet 'and chaos neatly denied' it's that kind of unexpected moment which makes Bill Callahan a better lyricist than me.
The chanting at the start of Jesus Drag Queen sounds really familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on where it's come from - is it a reference to something?
It is. It's what the witch's guard chant in The Wizard Of Oz. Prince also uses it as a chant on The live version of It's gonna be a beautiful night on Sign O' the Times
More widely, what's that song about?
It's about America and me and our strange collapsing western culture. There's not much variation on theme lyrically on the record. It's very musically diverse but thematically quite constricted.
Songs like Freedom and Come All Sufferers have pretty out there arrangements, when in the songwriting process do you decide the song needs brass/backing vocals?
The very first day of recording in an actual studio for the record was the horns and backing vocals for two songs, Freedom and Fuck Big Money. That was in 2014, I guess, maybe 2013 even. Then I took the stems home and continued to work on the recordings. The session files themselves are very fluid for me, almost like an oil painting - you can easily take a pallet knife and remove a section of the recording, or just as easily throw a bucket of brass splashing over the canvas. And it's so portable, I would take my laptop to Fred's and we'd delete all the drums and start them again, keep the horns. Whatever. I often decide to delete whole sections of instrumentation during the mix.
Finally, what musical plans do you have for the future?
I am really enjoying playing live with my band at the moment. They're great guys, Jovis, Alex, Dan Bram, Dan Chern and really talent players. It's been a while off stage for me so at present I'm just enjoying that challenge again. I did some writing with Rebecca Lucy Taylor for her new project Self Esteem recently and really enjoyed that. She's a great writer and singer, that's something I think we're gonna work on some more.
Words: Calum Cashin