INTERVIEW

Antiquarian book dealer, illustrator, singer, taxidermist. All of these virtues are extolled by Gabriel Bruce, but the modest gent in front of us would prefer to be known as ‘an entertainer’.

gabriel-bruce

Photography by Cochi Esse

DEATH BECOMES HIM

Antiquarian book dealer, illustrator, singer, taxidermist. All of these virtues are extolled by Gabriel Bruce, but the modest gent in front of us would prefer to be known as ‘an entertainer’. “I’m more of a song and dance man really,” he laughs. “I’d love to tap dance.”

Arresting in a charming fashion, Gabriel’s laidback personality grips with one hand as his intellect probes with the other, over a Guinness on a break from recording his debut album. Heavily influenced by South American poet Pablo Neruda, whose prose projected a powerfully political intent, Gabriel isn’t your normal 22 year old. “I often worry I’ve missed out,” he tells me. “I remember seeing an old photo of me smoking, black and white, with a suit on and reading Dostoyevsky…” his voice trails off with a chuckle. OK maybe he is.

Something of a crammer, many an achievement has already been made. Front-man for the now deceased band Loverman, Gabriel found it tough to move on. “It’s hard to make as much noise,” he ponders. “I try to from time to time but I end up looking silly.”

Striking out solo was a bold move; warping his own, very personal experiences was a real rush of blood to the head. “I was basically left to learn how to play so I ended up getting this lovely Farfisa organ and these songs are an extension of that process. I’ve still got it and it’s featuring on the record – she’s a humble creature.”

The not too assuming Farfisa accompanies Gabriel throughout the record, but before the album comes the single. ‘Sleep Paralysis’ is his signature song, for now, coming on with an insolent strut and a breathtaking vocal. Lyrically it’s bruising and real, the truth coming from Gabriel’s crushing attempts at a good night’s kip. “I actually suffer quite a lot in my sleep,” he says. “The song is my exploration and I did a lot of research into old books. It’s that kind of nowhere between full cognitive sleep and waking, it’s hypnotic and it’s very scary. You feel conscious but you can’t move; you’re constricted in your own body and it’s often coupled with hypnotic hallucination.” Gabriel smiles and morphs into his best terrified face.

Released by arts collective Off Modern, who took their background in publishing and Gabriel’s passion for the page and ran with it, in a delightful twist the debut single will actually be a book. “Originally we were just going to do a set of poems about sleep paralysis,” he explains, “but then I wrote the music and the rest fell into place. There’s a book by Anne Carson called Nox (a fold-out book in a box full of haunting images and poetry), which was originally created as a requiem for her dead brother. It’s heartbreaking and I think in my own very respectful way I’m nodding to Anne.”

As if researching 18th century text books and releasing a 7-inch by 7-inch book wasn’t innovative enough, a rather macabre interest in the dead has also played a unique part in Gabriel’s artistic development.

“You mean the human spine, don’t you? I was trying to figure out how to make this thing dance, you know, get a murderous groove, so you hit something and think hmmm that might sound good. I build these kind of drum kits, so a human spine on a metal tray acts as the snare. It rattles around and sounds fantastic. It’s a shaker as well of course.”

Bright eyed and upbeat in person, there’s a dark underbelly piercing through in the music. Finder and keeper of all things grisly, Gabriel finds beauty where other’s fear to tread. “There’s a lot of dead things in my bedroom. I’ve got a collection of dried out animals that I framed myself. A frog I particularly like that I found in France that must have been run over by a lorry or something as it’s completely flat”.

With formaldehyde in the fridge and a skeleton based percussion ensemble Gabriel Bruce’s persona is undoubtedly original, but add his voice into the equation and it elevates his work that much more. Baritone and breathy, he doesn’t so much sing as talk to the melody as it talks back.

“I’m not a singer, I don’t think. I don’t have the voice for it like Harry Belafonte or William Bell; I do the best I can with the instrument I have. I used to like singing low in a choir so that’s how it started and I never wanted to sing high but now I do and it frustrates me. There is more variation though in the full record.” No tap dancing though – get yourself a hobby Gabriel.

By Ian Roebuck

Originally published in issue 33 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. November 2011.

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