Gustaf began without a name or, for that matter, many official members. In 2018, after someone’s tour bound for South by Southwest collapsed, Brooklyn musician Tarra Thiessen suddenly had a van headed to South by Southwest with no band in it. When she told friend Lydia Gammill about the conundrum, Gammill jumped at the chance to get in a now-empty van and head south with some songs she’d demoed. Friends were quickly recruited. Caution was instantly abandoned. And Gustaf—a devil-may-care quintet with the improvisational elan of their city’s No Wave forebears—was born.
During the next three years, four of the five folks who had climbed in that van without much notice, Gammill and Thiessen included, continued to climb atop any stage or into any living room space that would have them. Their charisma was clear in their slashing riffs, their call-and-response vocals, and their tricky drum-and-percussion tandem. When they released their thrilling debut, 2021’s Audio Drag for Ego Slobs, NME dubbed them one of New York’s most exciting new names—not bad for a band that, three years earlier, didn’t have one. Beck soon touted them as his new favorite group and remixed a track; they soon toured with the likes of Idles, Sleaford Mods, and Yard Act.
That first album, like Gustaf’s shows, was kinetic, fun, and loose, an invitation to shake off the absurdity of existence. Of course, a record with a handle like Audio Drag for Ego Slobs couldn’t be that straightforward or simple. Rather, Gammill was building a world inside of Gustaf, where a character—that being the previously mentioned Ego Slob—struggled to deal with their surroundings, to behave in a way where their emotions and actions didn’t alienate most everyone. But now, on Gustaf’s second album, the endlessly fascinating Package Pt. 2, that Ego Slob turns inward, wondering what they might change to make life, relationships, and love a little more manageable. If that sounds heavy or heady, well, it is; existence is like that, you know? But, importantly, Gustaf never sound heavy, choosing instead to spring forward like some dizzying post-punk dream, moving with the same irrepressible energy that made them.
Gustaf has long had a credo, reflecting their impromptu origins: There are no mistakes, just new arrangements. In conversation, it is something that everyone in the band—the aforementioned Gammill and percussionist Thiessen, plus drummer Melissa Lucciola, bassist Tine Hill, and guitarist Vram Kherlopian—readily acknowledges. That is an easy edict for a debut, of course, when no one has expectations. But it’s more challenging when people are paying attention, when a band has a sense of self and an album to build upon. So in February 2022, before a spate of tours, Gustaf headed into Brooklyn’s Studio G, putting down first takes that they could warp or try again when they returned from the road. They eventually did just that alongside Erin Tonkon, a friend who had worked on David Bowie’s Blackstar and with Richard Hell. Gustaf could now choose what sounded best, a process meant to ensure that the final version wasn’t too stiff, that it moved with the same elasticity that Gustaf has always treasured.
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