BACKSTORY: Acclaimed video director-turned-producer (Ryan Hope) meets accomplished film composer (Ari Balouzian) meets American Idol gospel singer (Jacob Lusk) to create a modern blues and soul trio
FROM: Los Angeles via the UK (Hope) and Southern California
YOU MIGHT KNOW THEM FROM: Their 2021 performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, or their recent slate of shows opening for Harry Styles
NOW: Just released their official debut album, Angels & Queens – Part I after two well-received EPs, Bloodline and Love and Hate in a Different Time, both released last year
When I first met Ryan Hope of the critically acclaimed Los Angeles–based nu-gospel trio Gabriels in the mid-2010s, it was through his then-roommate, the makeup artist Georgina Hamed. At the time, Hope—originally from Sunderland in the far north of England—was not yet 30 years old. He was an in-demand director with credits that ranged from music videos for Wiz Khalifa and George Michael to spots for internationally recognized brands like Guinness. They lived in a house on stilts that jutted out into a forest-like setting high atop Beachwood Canyon. Whenever Hope was home, the entire structure tremored with his blustery energy. He had the accomplishments of a much more seasoned director, but his confidence and ambition were palpable, which is more than half the game when you’re a creative.
This same attitude is what Hope had—and has—toward music, which he spent every spare moment on when he wasn’t working as a director. He moved to the desert and focused on his production, which fell squarely into the techno genre. Upon moving his studio back to LA, Hope connected with musician Ari Balouzian after he heard some of his score work. A violinist and composer, Balouzian, who was also part of the group Midnight Sister, found a lot of overlap with Hope in their musical tastes. Balouzian was interested in learning more about electronic production, while Hope wanted to move toward structured songs.
“We didn’t have the intention to start a band. We didn’t set out to make an album. We were just making stuff and cherry-picking what stood the test of time.”
“Some of our earlier music was long, drawn-out compositions,” remembers Hope, speaking from Austin, Texas where Gabriels are opening for Harry Styles—arguably the most coveted gig of the moment. “We were still trying to harness what we were doing into making songs.”
With the financial security of their day jobs, as it were, Hope and Balouzian could take the time to hone in on what has become Gabriels’ unique sonic space. “For the past five years, we’ve been developing the technique and the sound we like,” Hope continues. “We didn’t have the intention to start a band. We didn’t set out to make an album. We were just making stuff and cherry-picking what stood the test of time.”
When Hope and Balouzian met one-time American Idol contestant Jacob Lusk at a casting, they had the music for what would later become the songs “Mama” and “Taboo,” both on Gabriels’ recently released debut album, the sublime Angels & Queens – Part I produced by the much-lauded Sounwave (Beyoncé, Taylor Swift) with Beach Noise (Kendrick Lamar).
“It became a very intimate thing between the three of us. It takes a long time to get to a level of friendship where you share your traumas or personal stories.”
But it took some convincing on Hope’s and Balouzian’s parts to get Lusk to join them. Lusk cultivated his classic soul vocals at church in his hometown of Compton, California. He had parlayed his talents into providing backup vocals for Gladys Knight, Diana Ross, Beck, and Nate Dogg and was comfortable with that setup.
Hope’s signature resolve, the same determination that propelled him to the top of his field as a director, didn’t leave Lusk a choice. The vocalist completed Gabriels, and in the process closed the circle for their sound. Balouzian and Hope’s cinematic instrumentals moved out of the box and onto analog instruments with Lusk’s timeless voice both grounding them and propelling Gabriels.
“The three of us are not young,” says Hope. “We all had careers. We literally did this just for fun. It was something we loved to do. We were having these long sessions, and we cherished the times we could come together. It became a very intimate thing between the three of us. It takes a long time to get to a level of friendship where you share your traumas or personal stories.”
The song “Loyalty” came out of these sessions, as did Gabriels’ initial high-profile placement, courtesy of Hope. He synced the single to “Midnight Request,” the first in the 2018 three-part vignette series “The Delivery Man,” which he created and directed for Prada. “Loyalty” shines in the vignette, which showcases the brand’s beautiful Cahier bag, and stars Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Pom Klementieff.
“It’s not even a year since our first proper gig. It blew up so fast. You have to react to stuff and move quick.”
This exposure resulted in Gabriels getting their music to industry ears, and the eventual release of two outstanding EPs in 2021: Bloodline and Love and Hate in a Different Time. In March of that year, Gabriels were guests on Elton John’s “Rocket Hour” program on Apple Music, where the icon stated that the latter EP “is probably one of the most seminal records in the last 10 years.” In June they made their UK television debut on Later with Jools Holland and in August their US television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. This year they performed a much-talked-about set at Glastonbury, a good place to get ready for the Harry Styles gigs.
“Jacob absolutely shut it down,” says Hope of night one of Gabriels' performances supporting Styles. “To watch all these kids singing ‘Memories’ by Barbra Streisand, everybody engaged, crying, it was absolutely mental. All of us who were on stage felt like we were witnessing a moment in music.”
Gabriels’ astronomical trajectory is not unlike that of Hope’s in its boldness and in its seeming effortlessness. His positioning at the top of every game he enters would be annoying if he wasn’t so very good at it. Plus, Hope’s ability to collaborate and his willingness to learn cannot be discounted. Whether it’s in the visual medium or with music, he’s single-minded and goal-oriented, with an enviable self-assuredness that you wish would rub off on you by being in his proximity.
Even with all his achievements, ego doesn’t figure into Hope’s equation as much as seizing the day and grabbing opportunities when they arise. Says Hope, “It's not even a year since our first proper gig. It blew up so fast. You have to react to stuff and move quick. It's been very tiring for us at times, and testing, because it is relentless. It feels like a whirlwind, but it’s a beautiful one. It’s been the time of our life, and we’re just loving it.” FL