Confessions of a showman
Gabriel Bruce makes a bad suit look good. And a nylon blouse. The son to a Scottish Brazilian father (“the most handsome man in the world”) and an antique dealing mother, Gabriel is 23 and a one-time model. “I did that for a bit when I needed some money,” he notes, emptying his pockets to avoid any unsightly bulges and stepping in front of the camera. There will be no awkward hunching in the glare of the lens today. Gabriel Bruce has done this before. “I’ve been around forever,” he’ll exclaim later as we discuss his music making, not how well he can clench his jaw.
Bruce is a raconteur and a showman in an age where we have none. He has a morbid fascination that manifests itself in part-time taxidermy. He’s enviably well read (citing Nabokov and Salinger as his favourite authors, and basing his new video on a dance piece by cult German choreographer Pina Bausch); possesses a wonderfully dry sense of humour; is admittedly self-conscious; and is nothing if not forthcoming with his insecurities. By the nature of his being he is a show off, and proudly so. He also does a pretty good impersonation of a fidgeting Tom Waits, a hero of his. On top of these many colourful virtues, Gabriel Bruce is also the one-preacher-owner of ‘Love In Arms’, his debut solo album: part vaudeville show-stopper/part graveyard hymnbook. “The record is made up of love, loss, some death, the coming and going, the gore and the grime. All the good stuff,” he says. It’s delivered, with no small amount of theatrical grandeur, by Gabriel’s distinctive, not-so-secret weapon: his voice.
Gabriel has been singing ever since his voice broke and opened up a part for him in the school choir. Armed with a baritone burr, he joined his classmates as they travelled to France one summer, singing for their supper in Burgundy. Choirboys don’t make for great frontmen, but that was fine by Gabriel – he didn’t like the sound of his voice anyway. When he returned home he formed a school band, evidently with the wrong singer.
“The first time I had to sing was at a school concert,” he says. “God, this is so indie, but I was playing guitar in a school band and we were doing a Futureheads song and we started playing the opening riff.” Gabriel begins to sing the intro to ‘Decent Days And Decent Nights’. “The singer just got complete stage fright and walked off stage, and so I just had to sing the song. For some reason I had the compulsion. I knew I wasn’t going to play the riff one more time and leave, so that was the first time I ever sang in front of anyone. It was terrifying.”
I ask him if his first performance was a successful one.
“Oh, well, you know what these things are like,” he says, “the sound is never good at those things.”
Seven years on, Gabriel is still not bowled over by the sound of his own singing. “I would listen to a lot of other singers who sang in my register and then try on their idiosyncrasies and see how they looked on me,” he explains. “I find that’s still what I do today – there’s a shame that I have and I’m afraid to show what the raw thing is. You become, I guess, like an actor, imitating people.”