Gabriel Bruce is a handsome guy with a deep voice. Don’t hold that against him. He was in a great doomy metal band called Loverman and now he makes great music on his own. It’s Leonard Cohen if Leonard Cohen was really into late 70s disco. He’s got an EP out right now, an album produced by Craig Silvey (The Horrors, Arcade Fire) on the way, and is playing gigs all over the place - including a summer residency at the Electricity Showrooms in Shoreditch. Feeling classy, we caught up over a glass of wine before the first of his five residency shows. We chatted about the slow loris and sitting on Owen Wilson's lap while a local dog did its best to capture a massive bee that was flying around Gabriel’s head.
Noisey: Hey Gabriel. When people talk about your music, they often talk about Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave. Are you worried these people are gonna sue you?
Gabriel: Haha. Well, those guys sing in a low voice and my voice isn’t this way because I like those singers, I like those singers because my voice is this way. Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Nick Cave - they can’t do the acrobatics like Mariah Carey but they find other ways to intrigue the listener and often that’s with the lyrics they sing.
There was a rumour about MC Neat, of DJ Luck and MC Neat fame, that he had an operation to make his voice deeper. Would you have considered that?
The emperor Nero was obsessed with his singing voice. He wanted to have a low, smooth voice, so he ate leek soup every day. I also ate leek soup every day for a year and started smoking because: a) I admired the kind of emperor who would put on endless concerts that people faked their own deaths to get out of and b) I wanted to make the most of the voice I was stuck with.
So when people talk about your influences they should talk about Nero, a man who had a boy castrated and then fucked him like a woman…
He was a real character.
Haha. Do you get fed up with people fixating on the voice?
No, I think my influences go far beyond all those men with low voices; though I love their music. It’s pop music though and I’m just as inspired by Bowie or Dave Sitek.
[The dog comes over]
Hello there, Scout. Leave the bee alone. It’s an Iberian hound. They hunt by hearing not smell, which is why they’ve got such huge ears.
Wow, you're full of some pretty obscure information.
I have some obscure facts. Do you want me to tell you some things about the slow loris? It’s the chubby cousin to the Slender loris. They pee on their hands and feet so that they can smell all their footprints back to their home. At drama school, Ewan McGregor studied the loris as his animal. He pretended to be a loris for a whole day.
Do you identify with the loris and by extension, Ewan McGregor?
Swinging back gracefully to the music: tell us about the EP.
Yep, it’s a five-track EP in two parts. The first part is called Dark Lights Shine Loud and the second is called A Brief and Selfish Lover. Lots of people think I’m a very miserable person and that I am burdened by my own torment. I don’t think that is the case at all. There’s more of a variation on the EP and then on the album.
Why do people think you are miserable?
I think it’s the voice again. People think a low voice is a miserable voice but that’s just not true. I’ve met many people who have low voices who’ve seemed perfectly happy. I consider myself one of those.
Do people think you’re pretentious?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t think anyone ever called Barry White pretentious. He’s one of my favourites. “Standing In The Shadows Of Your Love” is incredible. It’s like orchestral trance. That sounds horrible but it’s amazing. He has a sense of unrestrained joy in his music. When I’m writing that’s the place I’m coming from.
A sexy place…
Sex is a wonderful thing. Have you ever had sex?
Mate, have I ever...
It’s fantastic. My next song, “Zoe”, is love-making music, very much in the vein of Sebastien Tellier or Serge Gainsbourg. It’s a song about sexual fantasies; it’s about desiring someone without knowing why or who they are. The video is going to be based on Eddie Murphy’s Party all the Time, which is great and features a lot of people faking having a good time.
Tell us about your album.
The album is finished. Craig Silvey, who worked with The Horrors, Portishead and the Arcade Fire, produced it. He’s an amazing mix engineer. I mean, it’s not like this is an interview for Gearslutz so I won’t get into the outboard and how we recorded it… I learnt a lot about synthesisers though. There’s a lot of Moog on it, a lot of Juno, and a lot of horns.
Your old band, Loverman, was a lot heavier. What happened to your balls, man?
It’s hard to make that much noise on your own but there’s still heavy stuff in my solo gigs. I think my favourite music is still stuff like Sabbath and The Butthole Surfers and The Jesus Lizard. But I went to a lot of metal shows and they weren’t half as scary as the freaky disco people. There’s something more terrifying about Giorgio Moroder than there is about James Hetfield. The thing about metal is that grunge kind of killed it, and that was before I was even conscious. There are so many good post-hardcore bands from America between ’81 and ’91 but they’re a lot less subversive and scary than the disco stuff that happened in New York just before.
What got you into disco?
I got into it through Arthur Russell, who’s the trendy one. There’s so much music made today that isn’t adding anything to what he did thirty years ago. There’s something interesting about punk but you know, it’s all well and good to see bands in London wearing beige shirts and ripped jeans, looking like they stepped out of The Face in 1991 but all you’re doing is a pastiche of something that’s happened.
So, how do you avoid being a pastiche of something?
I think it’s easier for me because I’m a solo artist and I can move around and change what I’m doing. I can be a sound-shifter.
If you could have any fan in the world, who would it be?
Owen Wilson. He’s not a normal human being. No-one is more charismatic than him. He’s the kind of guy you want to get stuck in a lift with. Or be in a train wreck with. You and him end up orchestrating the safeguarding of wounded children.
That’s not a very funny situation…
No, but he’d make sure everything was OK.
You’ve just been on tour with Spector. Did they teach you an awful lot about working a crowd?
Fred would make a wonderful MC at a bingo hall. He’s hilarious. The tour was strange because I quickly realised that, of Spector’s fans, there’s only a very small percentage that would even be applicable to approach my music. I don’t think 35-year old men from Sunderland wearing football shirts are going to react very well to a boy from London wearing a see-through blouse, gyrating on stage and blowing them kisses.
What would be the ideal listening scenario for your music? At home with some Scotch and a lady friend? In the disco?
In the disco. It moves and varies though. I don’t spend all my time in one place.
Though, God knows, if it was Owen Wilson’s living room…
If it was Owen Wilson’s lap!
Which is not, sadly, where your gigs will be played.
No, which is upsetting. But for our live set, we’ve got two sexy dancers, which is good. We’ve got a residency at the Electricity Showrooms this summer and I’m not going to promise anything but Grace Jones will bring her hula-hoop down.
If you could duet with anyone, who would it be?
Dido. No. I think Kanye.
He’s already got Mr Hudson though. I mean, you’re gonna have to kill that bastard and his library.
He’s not a young man. He might die soon. You know, I’ve often thought the white man isn’t represented enough in hip-hop music.
Would you consider replacing Chris Martin in Coldplay?
For untold riches?
Yes. I really want to sell out!
OK, let’s try and set something up. Thanks Gabriel!