Despite his biblical name, he’s no angel, but he does play the role of messenger on A Tragedy in the Making, writing about relatable themes — disarmingly honest observations of what one human being can do to another: delivering a slap in the face, groveling for a second chance or having the courage to call it quits.
While other pop rock writers might shy away from dark subjects, the album explores taboo topics with a delicate balance. “Ghost of a Child” delves into the dichotomy of abortion. “I wrote the song not to play politics, but because I wanted to write about consequence, and the grief and guilt that goes along with it,” Gabriel said. .
But this isn’t 55 minutes of plodding minor chords. Gabriel takes Duncan Sheik’s hooky pop sensibility and runs it through a Queen filter, sometimes adding an Incubus layer on everything from power ballads to comfy singer-songwriter grooves to hard rock — whichever the emotion warrants. Gabriel’s voice is calibrated to four octaves, à la Chris Cornell, seamlessly shifting from grit and growl to falsetto.
As in all tragedies, there are hints of happiness and hope. Bright guitars herald in the unfettered exuberance of “This Camera,” a wedding song that uniquely straddles both living in the moment and preserving the moment. “So much of this record is dark, and here I am writing about everlasting love,” Gabriel said. “I didn’t know I had it in me.”
The album tackles themes of madness on the more narrative stories, through epic characters like that of a king lurking in the shadows on the Alice in Wonderland-inspired “Mercy of the Queen.” Halfway through, the song indulges in a Lennon-like dreamscape before it barrels to a finish.
The song “Hallelujah,” also the title of a popular Leonard Cohen song, is reminiscent of the latter’s poetic exploration of complex themes. In fact, the powerful ballad with the sweeping melody is the album’s centerpiece. Inspired by the characters in Paulo Coelho’s novel Veronika Decides to Die, the song examines the stages of suicide — from the planning to the brush with death to surviving, and all the emotions in between. “I wrote ‘Hallelujah’ to give hope to those entertaining the idea,” Gabriel said.
The album’s religious undertones come naturally to this son of a preacher who spent a good deal of his childhood sitting in pews, writing lyrics and thumbing through hymnal harmonies. Lyrics like “every little ounce of grace / only comes through a pound of faith” are his father’s own words, and Gabriel hopes that when set to music, these words will wield even more healing power.
The album’s biggest tragedy, however, is that songwriting this good often goes unnoticed for many creatives struggling with the ever-present day job. It’s no surprise then that “Money” was the toughest song for Gabriel to tackle.
“Disparity in daily living caused me to view my neighborhood with a great deal of bitterness,” he said. “It’s the same with the music industry.” Producer Adam Harley pressed Gabriel to dig a little deeper on the topic, and the hope is that other musicians will feel understood, especially upon hearing the track’s last verse.
Harley also made an executive decision to set the album’s tone by opening with “The Waiter,” a tune addressing dreams deferred, which opens with the couplet:
You graduate with your degree To work at a restaurant down the street.
“If there ever was a song you could alternatively title ‘The Ballad of Gabriel Wendell,’ it’s that,” Harley said. Gabriel agrees. “Your job doesn’t define what you are, and you can’t control chance,” he said. “You can be super-talented and work your ass off, but not find yourself in the right place at the right time. But you know what? No one is really where they want to be in life.”
It’s true — we’ve all felt these frustrations. So many of us have been on the cusp of something greater. “These stories are still going on; they haven’t ended,” Gabriel said. “And in some tragedies, what you might believe to be the tragic part actually isn’t. The story might actually start with you.”
Which is exactly what he wants you to experience when listening.
We are all waiters.
Contact: Adam Harley, firstname.lastname@example.org – 914.261.7540