Meet Gustaf, Beck’s New Favorite Band
If you haven’t heard of Gustaf by now, then brace yourself. The Brooklyn-based band—a self-described “glob” of “action figures”—have earned the coveted endorsement of Beck, who feels that the post-punk fivesome is making the best new music in America today. The band—made up of Lydia Gammill (vocals), Tina Hill (bass), Melissa Lucciola (drums), Vram Kherlopian (guitar) and Tarra Thiessen (vocals and percussion)—has earned its alt-rock credentials with a sound that’s reminiscent of Blondie, Joy Division, and Beck (of course). Gustaf’s debut album, Audio Drag For Ego Slobs, perfectly showcases the band’s knack for making dance-worthy music fit for our mid-apocalyptic moment, but it was the band’s electrifying on-stage presence that caught Beck’s eye in a pre-pandemic Brooklyn loft. The interaction sparked a relationship that led, all these months later, to the rock icon remixing “Design,” his favorite track off of Audio Drag For Ego Slobs. To mark the remix’s release today, we united Gustaf and Beck over Zoom for a conversation about drop kicking guitars, sprained ankles, and other occupational hazards. The band’s five members joined the call from a crowded tour van, and spoke as a single, well, “glob.” –ERNESTO MACIAS
BECK: I can’t believe Tina drop kicked somebody else’s beloved guitar into the mosh pit. She shattered it with just the touch of her hand. She’s the most likely band member to become a Marvel character.
GUSTAF: When we get to the last song in our set, it’s like Tina: unchained. By the way, Beck, we have an idea: come to one of our shows in L.A. We’ll give you a blonde wig and you’ll to pretend to be Tina. [All laugh]
BECK: Do I have to play bass?
GUSTAF: You can play whatever you want. If you ask, we’ll give you a guitar.
BECK: And then will she come out and kick me off stage? I’m going to keep growing my hair and get it there. It’s getting long back there.
GUSTAF: It looks good, classic. How was your show?
BECK: My show was good, it was my first show with the band in almost two years. I think you guys saw my last performance when I did that benefit where we did all the Prince covers.
GUSTAF: We did. That was amazing.
BECK: I think I saw your last performance as well. You know it’s a good show when you leave your own show while it’s still happening.
GUSTAF: And nobody else leaves.
BECK: They’re captivated by your absence.
GUSTAF: What’s the best exit you’ve ever made from a show, Beck? We’re picturing a hot air balloon.
BECK: You know it’s funny you say that. My friend Doug Akin, the artist, did a bunch of shows with a hot air balloon. So that could have been a possibility, but I was doing a Cage the Elephant tour at the time. I’m going to work on it, though.
GUSTAF: That’s how we met, on that magical tour.
BECK: Yeah, then a few years ago we played together in Brooklyn in a loft with a bunch of friends and many other bands. You were one of my favorite bands, I’d say, in a long time. My favorite new band in America. How many times have I seen you guys play live?
GUSTAF: More than more than any of our friends. Definitely.
BECK: When quarantine happened you all got stuck in L.A. in a house together.
GUSTAF: Mo [Melissa] drove herself to North Carolina, and the other four of us went to Tina’s apocalypse retreat.
BECK: In upstate New York. I snuck over to Hawaii for a minute. I think you guys living together in a house should be a TV show. I think it would be the best band movie since A Hard Day’s Night. I just want to put that out there, that I think you guys should get some cameras on you.
GUSTAF: Hear that, universe? Beck says we should have some cameras on us! Did you do a Behind the Music?
BECK: I did a Behind the Music.
GUSTAF: What was it like?
BECK: I think it was pretty poorly watched or poorly viewed and received. There was not a lot of titillation happening in my Behind the Music.
GUSTAF: The stuff that people like to hear about is the worst stuff to actually live through. When you’re lucky enough to be having a nice time, everyone’s like, “No, we want more trauma.”
BECK: I don’t love watching interviews.
GUSTAF: Agreed. I sprained my ankle a week ago and I texted you, “Did you ever sprain your ankle on stage?” You liked it and you were like, “Yes.” It made me feel better, because if Beck can go on world tours with a sprained ankle, so can I.
BECK: I remember the day that I broke my ankle. I had played one show in the afternoon and had to get on a plane and fly to another gig. When I got to the second gig, we were playing with Iggy Pop. I just had to sit on the guitar amp. I couldn’t stand anymore.
GUSTAF: Did you have to get surgery?
BECK: No, no, not at all. I just had a cane. But you know what? I had that cane for a couple of weeks, and then I remember P. Diddy came to watch a few shows, and he was really fascinated by the cane. he thought it was the new shit.
GUSTAF: It’s a cool accessory. When we played L.A. before we knew you, I fell and I broke off a piece of my knee and I had to get knee surgery after the tour. My uncle actually had a prop cane, and I ended up touring with that. People think you look very cool.
BECK: Speaking of which, you guys are one of my favorite live bands.
GUSTAF: That means a lot coming from you, because you’re the best.
BECK: I tell my friends that they have to see you guys live, but until recently, there was no record. How does it feel to finally have the record out?
GUSTAF: Pretty great. We’re super happy to have the songs out there, and have people coming to our shows knowing the hooks.
BECK: You guys had so much momentum before quarantine.
GUSTAF: It’s nice at least to have one thing out so you can keep a level head. We learned a lot, making the first record, and we’re excited to make more.
BECK: I really think you guys need to do a live record sooner than later, too. Because every time I see you it’s a little different. It’s always evolving and changing. There’s something sort of improvisational about it. You’re obviously playing the songs, but there’s an element of the unknown every time I go to see you. I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I think it’d be good to capture that.
GUSTAF: You’re a very generous creative. You’re so prolific, but you’re also a watering can to other people, and you’re nice and supportive.
BECK: You know, all of us who make music, it’s an extended family. For purposes of marketing and commerce we divided up into different bands, but at the end of the day we’re all just people making music. Every once in a while you meet other artists or producers who become part of your extended family.
GUSTAF: When you were starting out, was it easy to find the right people?
BECK: I found there were a lot of closed doors. There was a lot of trying to be diplomatic.
GUSTAF: You have to prove your worth to them.
BECK: Yes, yes.
BECK: I thought the scene that you guys came out of seemed very supportive and kind. I did have some people who were supportive of me but, but I would say, for the most part the scene was pretty elitist in a lot of ways, especially if you had any commercial success. I was lucky that the bandmates that I came up with have all turned out to be major music producer people. We all kind of grew together and then they’ve all gone off and done amazing things.
GUSTAF: So everybody’s still playing with each other?
BECK: Everyone’s still playing with each other in different iterations. Tell me how your songs come together. It seems like the songs maybe sort of half emerged out of jams?
GUSTAF: On the first record there were specific characters that we wanted to embody. The band came together so quickly, so we just had some rough bass and drum demos, and we just kind of worked everything out on stage. We finished things through repetition. The live environment really helps to figure out what actually is interesting.
BECK: It feels like when you’re on stage you’re improving a bit too and you’re bantering with the audience. Does some of that stuff go into the songs?
GUSTAF: Sometimes it does. It’ll be interesting to see how the second record goes, because we’re still figuring out how to capture that magic while being thoughtful about the recorded world versus the live world—finding a way to let both sizzle. For us, man, it’s the choice/fallacy thing— we enjoy playing the same thing over and over again, but doing it a little bit differently every time. When it comes to producing a record, you end up with 12 versions to choose from, and they’re all fine, but there’s not a winner. It can make you a little crazy.
BECK: I like that the songs are a way of exploring and improvising and trying different ideas.
GUSTAF: We’re excited to see you when we play in L.A.
BECK: You guys are playing three minutes from my house, so I’ll be there for sure.
GUSTAF: You have no excuse. You’re on the list, VIP.
BECK: You’re playing the exact same night as Tame Impala, both nights.
GUSTAF: After party!
BECK: Yeah, they’re all in my neighborhood. We hang out at the bar down the street so we’ll have fun when you come to town.
GUSTAF: We miss you!
BECK: I miss you guys. There’s a humor to your music that’s so natural. As somebody who incorporates humor in my music sometimes, I find that when it filters the popular culture, it can get reduced down to quirkiness, or made into something cute. Are you dealing with that kind of reductionist take? I think what you’re doing is sort of beyond humor, there’s something in it that’s just human.
GUSTAF: Best compliment ever. That is exactly what we want to do. It’s a weird line between, self-satire and not taking yourself too seriously, but also being very serious about not taking yourself too seriously.
GUSTAF: Pretty much the whole point is that the pedestal doesn’t exist. People love to pose as if they’re on it or they’re off it. We’re all just human sacks of idiot garbage in a great way, and we’re always right and always wrong. It has been weird putting things out into the world and having people say whatever they want about—
BECK: —What they think it is.
GUSTAF: Right. It’s always a little different than you thought it would be, but that’s how the world works. If we tried to put up a framework for how our work should be received, we’d be taking ourselves too seriously. We got tagged in so many reviews that were like, “When I listened to the album I didn’t like it, but then I went to the show and I loved it.” What a creative way of telling us you didn’t like the recordings.
BECK: Well, I think you’re a true band because everybody is equally adding something really special.
GUSTAF: It’s always been an important part of who we are, too. We’re a group of five action figures. That’s always played into our dynamic definitely. As my therapist once said, “Hey Lydia, it’s The Beatles, it’s not Ringo Star and Paul McCartney— it’s the group.” When you’re in a band, you have to remember you’re a glob, you’re not individuals. We talk to each other and listen to each other. Before we go on stage we do these counting exercises, where we count to 10 and if we talk at the same time, we have to start over. We’re all one hundred percent ourselves.
BECK: Well that’s a kind of magic, so definitely hold on to that. So, when Gustaf becomes president, what are some of the first orders of business?
GUSTAF: Umbrellas have to be communal, and phone chargers. But also, you know, healthcare and food and shelter. But really, no more wasted umbrellas. Lots of spinach—nature’s potato chip—and fresh towels daily. Everybody gets their hospitality rider, no matter what. Even if you’re just starting out as a band—you want it, you get it.