Former Loverman member turned solo artist Gabriel Bruce has been absent from the dingy pub backrooms that make up the lower rungs of London’s music scene for nearly three years. The disappearance was strange. His 2013 debut album Love in Arms had received generally positive reviews from NME, DIY, The Guardian and comparisons with David Bowie to Nick Cave, Billy Idol to Leonard Cohen. He’d supported Sky Ferrier on tour and performed on Later With Jools Holland. He’d been photographed looking in equal parts glowering and smug in a monochrome campaign for The Kooples. A reviewer from The Beat described him as ‘possibly the most handsome man alive’. Things were Going Well.
Well, that is, until 2014. The depression that came with the breakdown of a relationship in the early part of the year was amplified by a freak accident which came close to ending Bruce’s music career altogether. Whilst working in a warehouse for a dinosaur fossil dealer, a slab of marble crushed his hand. Despite an initial medical concerns that he’d need multiple amputations, the NHS were able to save all five fingers. But the accident left Gabriel with a sling, unable to use his hand for months, ‘so that put me out of action for a while’, he tells me with a wry smile.
Gabriel Bruce’s second album Come all Sufferers is due for release on Easter Sunday. The resurrection. ‘I’m a pretty theatrical guy’, he admits, that same dry smile dancing across his lips. Resurrection is a fitting metaphor for someone who has effectively lain dormant for the past three years. As in Bruce’s debut album, religious themes and references to Christianity saturate Come All Sufferers, with track names including ‘Gates of Babylon’, ‘Gifts from God’, ‘Jesus Drag Queen’ and ‘Hold Me Close Holy Ghost’. ‘The album is about the apocalypse.’ Bruce tells me. ‘It’s not hard to come to that as a subject these days: we’re living in the end days and things are so fucked up.’ He’s clearly angry. Angry about George Osborne, angry about the dismantling of the NHS, angry, it seems, about the entire fabric of Western society. ‘But the thing is,’ he continues, ‘you can either laugh or cry right? So at the end of the album I start laughing and then it turns into sort of like a wail. But it’s a laugh, it’s laughing and crying at the absurdity and the horror.’
Whilst Bruce tells me explicitly that this is a political record, the absurdity and horror found in the howl that closes the album also speak of the personal experiences which have lately eclipsed his musical career. ‘I’ve lost lots of friends recently too young’, he admits. ‘I spend my whole time in churches at funerals and read a lot of things at funerals and it just surrounds me. So the drama of Christianity is very tied up in my romantic view of the apocalypse’.
And what does the apocalypse sound like? According to Bruce, it veers all the way from grunge to disco. One of the major criticisms Gabriel received on the launch of Love in Arms came from his use of multiple personas on the record, Bruce’s refusal to commit to one genre or singular style of delivery. There was, some critics argued, no continuity of sound. Listening to Come All Sufferers, I’m left with the impression that Bruce is trying to provoke that same reaction. ‘I just decided to go further in that direction because that’s what I do,’ Bruce explains. ‘And once there’s 3 or 4 records out there, people will realise that.’ Gabriel Bruce’s sonorous voice manages to thread together disco and R&B in ‘So Many of You’ and ‘Come All Sufferers’, metal and grunge in ‘Jesus Drag Queen’ and ‘Freedom’. There is also the surprising inclusion (or at least to those who are unaware of Bruce’s recent work with Stay Bless) of a new style of vocal delivery altogether: rap. ‘I’m a really good rapper’, Bruce says without a hint of irony this time. ‘I’ve got this other song that they didn’t let me put on the record, that’s called ‘Fuck Big Money’. He gives a quick rendition before telling me frankly ‘and that’s up there with some of the best rappers. Obviously I’m no Kendrick but I’d say I’m better than Pitbull.’
From Pitbull comparisons our conversation turns to Bruce’s recently muted look. Gone are the slick suits, flamboyant Hawaiian shirts, Hasidic frock coat and chainmail; in their place an unremarkable grey woolen jumper and jeans. Apart from his features (that Beat journalist will be thrilled to hear he looks as handsome as ever), there is actually very little that is exceptional about Bruce’s appearance, unless of course, you include Smoke, the enormous dog he has brought along to keep him company during our interview. Wearing a suit once held a novel theatricality. Now, it is a somber reminder of what he has lost: ‘I used to wear suits. I’d still wear a suit to a fancy event or I’d wear a suit to a wedding, a funeral. I’ve been wearing lots of suits to funerals recently.’ Gabriel Bruce is keen to distance himself from his frock-coat-wearing past self. ‘I used to be constricted by my idea of myself. I had a projection of who I was, or who I wanted to be, or how I wanted people to perceive me and I was so constricted by that that I was never actually able to be myself. I used to think, categorically, I don’t wear T-shirts, I wear suits. What bullshit is that? Ridiculous, pretentious, bullshit.’
Gabriel Bruce may have symbolically shaved off his shoulder length hair and put that chainmail top into storage in favour of plain white t-shirts, but his characteristically theatrical flourishes – from his refusal to commit to any one genre to his constantly shifting vocal delivery – are still there. This time round however, it all makes a lot more sense.