INTRODUCING GABRIEL BRUCE

If you haven’t yet heard of Gabriel Bruce, you sure will before long. With debut album Love In Arms released 11th February on Mercury Records, FAULT magazine tracked our man down in the garden of Violet, a boutique bakery hidden from the sprawl, to discuss life, death and other mediums.

Interview by Era Trieman

Gabriel Bruce

FAULT: During an interview with Loud And Quiet you said, rather profoundly, “We’re never going to have another Ziggy Stardust, because Ziggy Stardust can’t have Twitter.” This struck a chord with regards to the role journalism plays in perpetuating the artists’ persona. Would you say that illusion and mystery have all but perished?

GB: I guess so. There are still individuals who try to create a cloak of mystery, and even in the digital age there are ways to disguise oneself, but it seems a bit anachronistic. Maybe mystery just isn’t something of our time: it’s not in accordance with our lifestyle, feeling compelled to share everything with one another in a way that’s never been done before, through social media sites. It’s quite fascinating really, but I don’t really understand it, I don’t know how to use those things, and that’s something that you have to learn if you’re going to become successful as a public figure. It’s an integral part of it, not necessarily a part that I subscribe to, but it is certainly a reality. You can’t be a luddite [one opposed to progress and technology], you can’t take off your clothes and throw them at the press, you gotta learn the trade.

There’s something much richer about illusion. It speaks to the imagination, it allows you to nurture fantasy or aspire towards something. When you don’t know something it’s easier to covet. The likes of David Bowie and Kate Bush reared magnificently captivating characters, and though you knew it wasn’t who they were, it was who they wanted you to see them as, and it was who you wanted them to be.

 

FAULT: what was your gut feeling upon hearing news of Bowie’s imminent album following the release of ‘Where Are We Now’?

GB: I adored the song. I’d been worried that he was dying, so people were saying anyway. He’s a great hero of mine, perhaps my biggest hero, so it was really wonderful listening to the track, with its sense of Berlin during a bygone time, and naturally I’m very excited to hear the album.

 

FAULT: would you say our conception of Berlin during the Iggy Pop and David Bowie era has become a fabricated constructed?

GB: It was there that some great records were made, that’s all that I really see it as and not much more. Artists and junkies have always gone to where it’s cheap and at that time it happened to be Berlin. It was an exciting time. It still is exciting. Within such environments these people can thrive and create, but London is just not one of those places now, not in the slightest. It’s expensive and gentrified. Just look where we are at present – in this fancy coffee shop in the east end. I live down the road, in what was formerly a school where children were educated for free. Now it’s been converted to fancy flats, where I sit around in my pants, masturbating and being mean, it’s just what happens. It’s strange trying to do what I do, in this time, in this city, because it’s so expensive and I struggle with it. The money ran out, and working at a toyshop just isn’t all that, whilst I’d rather be working on music. [pause] I also have love for the toys, I do love them…

 

FAULT: are they shiny, mechanical and electronic?

GB: Some of them. I think that’s good though, can’t be a luddite as I say. Kids don’t want to have nice wholesome wooden toys, they want a Hot-Wheels car that does a double spin and then flies off over a mechanical gorilla. I’d rather have that as a kid then a really beautifully painted wooden ark, though we sell those too.

Photograph by Caspar Newbolt at the Union Hall, Brooklyn.
Photograph by Caspar Newbolt at the Union Hall, Brooklyn.

FAULT: how much devotion do you bestow the virtuoso that is past his prime?

GB: It’s not really about the stage of life so much as the quality of work, lots of artists continue to produce great work into their old age and some only start making great work when they’re old. Though generally speaking, having devotion to an artist who previously had created something that you appreciated, that’s a good thing. People go through less successful phases, but sometimes they pick it up again. I never liked Johnny Cash much, I was quite indifferent to most of the early recordings, but I think the recordings he did with Rick Rubin at the very end are some of the best recordings that anyone has ever done, and though I didn’t have much of a devotion for his work beforehand, it was at that point I really found myself devoted.

 

FAULT: throughout your career, how conscious have you been of the musical climate of contemporaries and peers?

GB: I made my record nearly two years ago now, but due to complications with the label it’s not yet been released. Whatever is current during the process of recording will already be past by the time the album gets released. In this case I was very much in my own world at the beginning of the project, and only as it progressed did I become increasingly aware of what else was happening, and there’s lots of good stuff currently, particularly in electronic music. I really like Clams Casino. It may be super trendy but I think it’s superb.

 

FAULT: it also seems that artists overtly trying to ride the wave and engage more directly with the current have proved to be more transient.

GB: I guess that’s the problem. To draw influence from contemporaries is certainly a fine thing, nothing wrong with dating yourself within a context, because that’s the truth, and being truthful is most important. But equally you’ve got to make your own wave rather than riding someone else’s.

To be retrogressive, to write and record in a manner of a time gone by, is ludicrous and absurd. To be of your time shows that you’re acknowledging the world, so while I try to always maintain my own voice, I’m equally influenced by the surroundings I live in.

 

FAULT: If you don’t mind me asking, why was the album release pushed back from October 2012?

GB: Because I don’t have any fans.

Gabriel Bruce Poster 

FAULT: you seem to have hit upon two things that are seemingly contrary: on the one hand, we begin with Bowie creating a persona or mystique which is outside of reality, yet you say that honesty is vitally important to the artistic pursuit.

GB: But that’s not my contradiction, that’s your interview. I guess maybe I’m trying to say that there’s no right or wrong way of approaching art. It’s interesting for me to be honest, and it’s interesting for me to be deceptive. But most of all, it’s interesting to use honesty as a deception. It also works vice versa, to lie as a means of telling the truth is the glorious coup. If you can convince people that you’re deceiving them when really you’re being honest, all the more better I think.

 

FAULT: Earlier I came across an interview with Francis Bacon, conducted by art critic David Sylvester back in the sixties, and thought I’d direct one of the questions to you: would you agree that there somehow a distinct presence or threat of violence in your work?

GB: [bewildered pause] I would agree that there’s a distinct presence of violence in Francis Bacon’s work… and also in some of my work. Yes. Yes I would. Not in all of it. But love is violence and my songs are love songs. When I perform on stage it’s a confrontational situation for me, I find it kind of daunting and my response can be violent.

 

FAULT: if you could elicit the spirit of a deceased literary figure, to take heed of their advice and counsel, whom would you draw forth?

GB: [contemplative pause] I guess for advice and counsel, I don’t think there are many wiser men than Bertrand Russell [a prominent early twentieth century philosopher in the field of metaphysics and mathematics]. I think he’s pretty wise and he’d be able to help me with most of my quandaries, but I don’t know if that would be the most fun I could have, raising someone up.

 

FAULT: if you were to raise hell with a deceased literary figure…

GB: I guess I’d have to choose ?[Federico García] Lorca?. He’d be fun to hang out with.

url

FAULT: in order to become truly absorbed in a novel or any other medium for that matter, do you consider it necessary to identify to some extent with the protagonist’s inner workings, or can you equally engage with someone whom you share little in common?

GB: lets think. When a literary character strikes a chord with you, and you see yourself in them, it can be insightful. Those situations enable you to reflect on your own life, and it’s always interesting to see still how others think. I’m often curious as to what’s going on in people’s heads… I know that sounds really trite and stupid, but there’s this whole continually questioning monologue. “What’s happening there?” “Are they questioning themselves in this way?” Sometimes it’s refreshing to read a book and think, “oh no, they’re questioning themselves even more! I’m gonna be alright, because this guy is goddamn crazy.”

I’ve been reading this American writer, Gary Shteyngart, [it’s hard to spell, it’s got a T in a weird place], who recently released a new book entitled Super Sad True Love Story, which I think offers a little window into the mind of a kind of girl that I’m quite familiar with. I also like Henry Miller, but to be honest, and this is quite controversial, I prefer Anaïs Nin [renowned in the field of literary erotica]. I find the writing honest and little bit more open, a little bit more vital. I think Henry Miller is good at creating the psychology, you comprehend the characters what’s going on within, but the imagery isn’t as vibrant as that of Anaïs.

 

FAULT: would you be willing to discuss any recurring dreams, past or present?

GB: I used to have a lot of recurring dreams in my childhood. There was this particular sensation during sleep, a feeling of anxiety, of overwhelming reality. With more understanding now on the subject, I suspect it might have been a hypnagogic hallucination. I still get sleep paralysis from time to time, and dreams are too often annoyingly obvious in their meaning with regards to my life, if only my subconscious were a little more cryptic.

FAULT: looking back now, what are your feelings towards ‘Crypt Tonight’, a track released with your former band Loverman?

GB: I was younger then, not that I’m old now, and Loverman meant a lot. I’d been playing with guitarist Jon Jackson since the age of thirteen. I miss them all. I listened to some Loverman recordings a few weeks back incidentally, all of which I’m still fond of… apart from ‘Crypt Tonight’. It made me cringe, all that conviction. Back then the songwriting had more bravery, just one riff running all the way through, like a gutsy James Brown number.

 

FAULT: I found the accompanying video somehow reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby.

GB: At the time I was consuming a lot of horror films, MGMs midnight classics, B-movies and some real sixties nuggets. Really filling myself with all that horror and gore, it’s good material, it’s meaty if you really get your teeth into it, but ultimately it is a little bit draining to immerse yourself in all that.

 

FAULT: how did you initially respond to the Pina Bausch stylized choreography whilst rehearsing the ‘Perfect Weather’ video?

GB: I’d the idea to pay homage to this scene from Pina, in which some guy dances along the cliff’s edge, and so discussed this proposition with Jacob Perlmutter, a most talented filmmaker. There was only one small problem: “you’re not a professional dancer Gabriel…” [laughs] Nonetheless, he wrote a treatment and enlisted a choreographer, affiliated with the Theo Adams Company, by the name of Nando Messias. He had this very intelligent and emotional approach to how he choreographed, deriving from the source material, such that it came out exactly as I’d envisaged.

FAULT: it seemed to resemble some sort of primitive ritual trance, dislocated from body or mind…

GB: there’s this wonderful footage of voodoo rituals in Haiti, where they dance completely removed from themselves, almost liberated, but very violent. Quite fascinating.

 

FAULT: most of Pina Bausch’s choreography is immensely violent, with certain elements of the psychopath.

GB: she was immensely astute in documenting relationships and the violence of lovers. To fall in love is maybe the most violent thing you can do to yourself emotionally, and her choreography [though I’m no expert] really captures that punishment we put our bodies through. It’s very brazen and vulnerable.

 

FAULT: would you agree that the imagination is innately sinister but in most individuals the awful thoughts are nipped at the bud?

GB: No, no I wouldn’t agree with that. Some people have tendencies to veer towards the sinister, and most have the tendency to dwell on what might go wrong, rather than construing how things might go right, but I think that there are those who genuinely think good thoughts. But I don’t think the imagination is innately sinister, I think it can be joyous and wonderful.

 

FAULT: where were the serene blogotheque recordings filmed?

GB: Nearby the Rue de Montmartre. Blogotheque intended to shoot some footage, so we just strolled down various alleys until finding this beautiful mosaic arch with a great rich acoustic. Afterwards we were due to play a show at Club Silencio, a venue designed by David Lynch, though at the time we were unaware it was members-only. Our performance was greeted by a half-empty room of cocktail drinkers, who were a bit surprised by our presence there.

FAULT: thinking back to your choral background, are there any compositions in particular that struck a chord with you?

GB: choral background is quite a generous term, but I sang in choir. Certainly a lot of madrigals stuck with me, these medieval British acapella pieces. I particularly enjoyed ‘Weep, O Mine Eyes’, a beautiful piece of music. I also love some Guiseppe Verdi, in particular his ‘Requiem’.

 

FAULT: You’ve spoken fondly of your old Farfisa Bravo and the Hammond organ in the studio, but have you ever had the opportunity to play a church organ?

GB: I’ve fucked around with a few of those, but never recorded them. It’s amazing some of these big old organs found about derelict churches, and so often there’s no one there so you can have a little play. There’s actually one up the road in Stoke Newington, where I recently went to a recital, a beautiful sounding organ. I’d quite like a go on that, but I’m no organist and if you turn up and start playing just whatever the vicar will be quite unimpressed.

 

FAULT: what aspect of the organ most appeals to you?

GB: It’s an almost human sound, redolent of a choir. That’s why I like brass instruments too – it’s something about air passing through pipes. It would be great to play with a big eight-piece band, alongside the lovely backing singers [ma girls].

 

FAULT: to what extent would you say that European art history is indebted to Christianity?

GB: hmm, to a huge extent. So much of our cultural production was created in praise of God, whether or not that praise was genuine. The grand Cathedrals, the masterly paintings, the intricate Requiems – some of the most beautiful stuff was crafted within a Christian tradition and that’s what captivates me, though in a secular kind of way. As a child I pondered being Buddhist for a while. I’ve also always been intrigued by Judaism, I’m a bit of a self-loathing goy really.

 

FAULT: in including the closing track ‘Sermon On The Mount’ on your record, do you feel that you’re tapping into a richer vein of imagery?

GB: it actually references something else altogether, so maybe it’s a bit lazy, but by using words derived from the Bible you’re referencing something larger and bringing with it all the attached connotations. It’s about death [pause].

 

FAULT: do you prefer to work in a creative space that is cluttered or bare?

GB: I may prefer to work in a bare space, but I’ve never really had the opportunity because I clutter my life. The studio is ridiculous at the moment, wires coming out of everywhere, boxed in on every side with keyboards, trying to shuffle without knocking over microphones, it’s just madness. Objects tie you down to where you are, that’s why I resent my treasures, because they keep me here, where I’m compelled to guard them.

 

FAULT: For the writer, would you say that the more fertile soil lies in unrequited love or fulfilled love?

GB: I guess that depends on how horny you are. There’s nothing like the chase if you’re a virile young man. Feeling longing is undoubtedly powerful, a well-trodden path, but at present love is my source of inspiration.

Gabriel Bruce 

FAULT: What is it about the poetry of Pablo Neruda that speaks to you personally, and would you say that such an impact is universal?

GB: Pablo Neruda! I love Pablo Neruda! The essence of his poems lies in song, capturing poignantly that unrequited love. One after another the works completely resonated with me – it’s like we discussed earlier, material that I could apply directly to my own life. Though I’ve been unable to read his volumes in the original language, his use of words is just mind-blowing. It is encapsulated by the Spanish word ‘duende’, or ‘saudade’ in my native Portuguese – that is the feeling of physical longing. The English language doesn’t really have a direct translation for missing someone physically. [Lorca is known to have given a lecture in Buenos Aires in 1933, in which he imparts, “I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say “The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”]

There’s a lot of duende in Neruda, that pain, that desperate need, where the object of your desire isn’t so much something that you want but something that you need. Very fleshy. But I don’t understand why the breasts are always songbirds, you’ll notice in a lot of Neruda, there are always these two upturned songbirds.

 

FAULT: his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair was written when he was nineteen.

GB: huh. it’s always upsetting that kind of stuff, best not to dwell on it. Leonard Cohen didn’t write his debut album until he was well into his thirties so…

 

FAULT: what would you say so enthrals the public about the prospect of a Mayan apocalypse?

GB: it’s been and gone, or is it coming again? [pause] cause we all just can’t wait for this shit to end…