VMAN 50 Cover Star: Jacob Lusk
The singer and performer takes a break from recording his new album in Malibu to talk with his idol and friend, Elton John
Long before the spotlight, Jacob Lusk had a larger-than-life voice and presence. Now, the 35-year-old performer is taking center stage and his trajectory is finally catching up to his innate star power. As lead singer of the Gabriels, the Compton-born artist has gone from the colloquial “day job” to performing in front of tens of thousands of people, a major record deal, and earning a stamp of approval from the “Rocket Man” himself, Sir Elton John.
It’s hard to imagine life getting any bigger than that, but Lusk can. While their music’s inclusion in a 2018 three-part series for Prada titled “The Delivery Man” helped put the Gabriels on the map, it was the release of their two 2021 EPs, Bloodline and Love and Hate in a Different Time, that earned the band a stable place in arenas of R&B, soul, and rock—the three of which coalesce to form a musical hybrid. Not unlike Lusk’s voice, it seems that when it comes to success, only the sky’s the limit.
ELTON JOHN: Do you have a lot of memories of music in your childhood? I know you went to church a lot, so gospel music must have played a huge part in your childhood. And you can’t get a better foundation than gospel music, right?
JACOB LUSK: I mean, gospel music is all emotion, it’s all feeling. That’s what makes the difference in it. And luckily, I came at a time when there was a lot of different gospel music. Bebe & Cece Winans were my favorite, and the Clark Sisters, and Aretha [Franklin]. Whitney Houston did the Preacher’s Wife, and that’s my favorite movie, it came out when I was like, 11. So I got into gospel music in a whole different way, I think than most people probably see it as.
EJ: Well, when you go to a gospel church, if it doesn’t move you, then there’s something wrong with you, because it’s just something about the beauty of those voices and the feel of the music and the spirit that’s in the room. It’s probably the most wonderful music to hear live in the world to be honest with you, because you just can’t walk out of there and feel bad. You’ve gotta feel good. I hear that in your voice all the time. Apart from gospel, what were you listening to on the radio at home when you were growing up? I’m curious to hear about some of these early inﬂuences and how they have [shaped you].
JL: I was listening to jazz. I found comfort in the voices of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Seal, and believe it or not, Michael McDonald. A little Patti [LaBelle] here and there, a little Gladys [Knight], but mostly a lot of jazz.
EJ: All those singers you’ve mentioned were great interpreters of a lyric, which is an incredible talent to have. To interpret someone’s lyrics and make it your own is one of the hardest things to do. That is the hallmark of a fantastic singer and a great vocalist.
JL: I strive to be a better and better and better interpreter of the songs. Even when we write our songs, we really dig into like, “Wait, what are we saying? What does that really mean?” The thing is, and people say this all the time, they may forget what you say or what you did, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. Even if the words don’t make sense, it’s about if you can connect with that lyric.
EJ: That’s so true. Within this journey, was there ever any point in your life when you thought, “I’m gonna do something else besides music?”
JL: Well, it’s interesting. My elementary school teacher whom my mom still talks to said that when I was little, I would say I wanted to be a singer and they would tell me I wasn’t gonna be a singer. So then I would lay out on the ﬂoor and kick and scream. But as a high school student, I wanted to be a doctor or an educator, but my mom had a very strong arm in that. I had good grades, she put me in tutoring, and I did speech and debate competitively and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for music. So I was like, “Well, I’ll just do this.” And as soon as I got an inch in the music, I was like, “Fuck it, I’m singing!” She was like, “Well, why don’t you go to the military?”
EJ: Why do you think parents think that being a singer or an entertainer is such a bad thing? They think you should have a normal job and you have to have security. It’s like, the adventure of being able to sing and be involved with music as a career is the most incredible thing you could possibly have, I think.
JL: Maybe this is just because I’m Mr. Practicality, but I understand. So, for instance, I’m not gonna tell you how old I am, man of God, but I’m older than I appear. Praise God. It’s been hard. It hasn’t been an easy road. You know, it’s been some years I’ve been in and out of trying different things and sometimes I feel like, and maybe I shouldn’t feel this way, I feel like I was one of the people who got really lucky. I’ve worked hard, but, I mean, there are people out here who sing better than I sing and look better and all that. I feel like I was really blessed and maybe just because I stuck with it for so long, I feel like that’s probably why I really stuck with it. I didn’t ever really get too distracted with stuff, even dating. I don’t really date that much, but that’s gonna change, praise God, in 2023. But, I think I was one of the people who got lucky and I think she was trying to protect me. I’ve had a lot of heartache, I’ve had a lot of letdowns. I think they’re just trying to protect us from that.
EJ: That’s the best way to do it. I started out playing in a band at 17, playing in a band backing Patti LaBelle, Major Lance, Lee Dorsey, Billy Stewart and all those kinds of people, and I didn’t have any success for six years. And it was hard, there were so many disappointments, but what it gives you is a back-bone. What it gives you is determination. When you look back later in your life, Jacob, you’ll think, “God, although it seemed horrible at the time, that was a lot of fun. I’m glad I did that.” Because when you make it quickly, I didn’t know that you were on American Idol. That would’ve been the worst thing for you, to win American Idol.
JL: It was funny because I was told that, and at the time it didn’t feel that way. The guy who won, even his mom was like, “You should be so happy you didn’t win.” And I’m looking at y’all as I go home to go collect these food stamps and y’all got these good jobs and y’all traveling and I’m sitting at home struggling and I’m just like, “Really?” But now I’m so glad that I didn’t. I’m so glad, and I feel like everything happened the way it was supposed to.
EJ: You’re a very spiritual person, I feel that when I’m with you. I’ve always believed in serendipity and that everything happens for a reason. I think we’re both alike in that way. When you go out and perform, you are an amazing performer, I can’t take my eyes off you. When you perform, you dress unbelievably, that evening suit with the tie and the cloaks and the rose, it’s very ‘50s. It’s very Nat King Cole. You look amazing. Nobody looks like you. And that’s what Mick Jagger said when I said, “God, this guy’s amazing.” And I said, “Yes. There’s no one like Jacob.” Dressing up and putting on the clothes, is that important to you before you go on stage?
JL: Absolutely! This is no shade to anybody else, but I feel like people have spent their money and they’ve dressed up, so it’s like, why don’t I go out here and give these people the absolute best I can give them? I don’t come out on stage just for people to hoop and praise me. I’m really there to hopefully make their day better, hopefully to make their day brighter. Hopefully, when they leave they feel better than when they came. So the way I dress, the way that I present myself, the way that I talk, all of that is in the hopes that it’ll reach the heart, and they will be able to forget about whatever they came from or what-ever they had going on, and they can step into this world.
EJ: And that’s something you’re so subtle about, and that’s why I love it. You’re not Prince, because Prince was Prince, but you are Jacob, and Jacob just stands there and sings like Nat King Cole. You move and you sashay and the way you sway and move your arms are incredible, and then you drop the cape. It’s just fabulous, fabulous! And it’s just wonderful to watch it. I’m so inspired when I see you because I can see the soul that you have and it’s just, ooh baby!
JL: Thank you man of God. I’m trying to get there!
EJ: You are already doing so well. What do you have coming up? I know you’re in the studio now. What are you doing for the rest of the year?
JL: We’re doing our ﬁrst year at Coachella and Glastonbury!
EJ: I’m doing Glastonbury, as well!
JL: No way! Are you doing Sunday or Saturday?
JL: I’m gonna do my best and definitely try to be there. I have to be.
EJ: I’d love you to do something. I’ll call you later and see what we can work out! [Does that] sound okay?
JL: Let’s go!
EJ: Let’s do it, baby! I’d love that. Being with you is such a great time and seeing the boys today was great because I’ve never really spoken to them. But you are, ever since I first heard you and since we met, you are a big part of my life, because I just really respect you. I love what you do. You’re a breath of complete fresh air and you will always continue to be. And if you don’t, you can always call on me to say, “Elton, I’m down in the dumps. What can I do?” I love you that much.
JL: I love you and I appreciate you so much. You have no idea.