Photo by Tim Haber
Apr 28, 2023
‘Present in the moment’: Get to know Brooklyn psych outfit GIFT
Bandmates TJ Freda and Jessica Gurewitz discuss their ‘accident’ of a debut and its success, a chaotic European tour and what’s next
Brooklyn-based psych rock quintet GIFT has had quite a 2023 already, and it’s only May. They played a sold-out vinyl release party for their debut album “Momentary Presence” — which dropped in October — at Baby’s Alright; headlined a month-long tour across Europe and the United Kingdom that saw the band play 22 shows in 25 days; played two sold-out homecoming shows in New York in April; is playing at Austin Psych Fest for the first time this week; and is currently at work on a new album.
Taking influence from psych rock giants like Spiritualized, Tame Impala, and MGMT, as well as pop stars like The Weeknd, GIFT has cracked the code of making radio friendly stoner-psychedelia. Crunchy guitar riffs and reverb-heavy vocals are paired with surf rock style drum beats and upbeat synth lines resulting in an ultra-catchy catalog that has earned the outfit a dedicated following in New York and abroad.
GIFT front man TJ Freda says he and his bandmates are excited by the growth they’ve experienced during the last year. But, as his band’s name implies, they’re taking it day by day.
“The whole point of the band was to be in the present moment,” Freda says. “Like, not worry about the future, the past. It’s kind of appropriate that we really had to stand still during the pandemic, it just all fell into place. So we try to keep it all on brand to not let anything stress us out.”
Brooklyn Magazine caught up with Freda and his bandmate, multi-instrumentalist Jessica Gurewitz, before the band left for Austin to talk about their tour, getting a rave review from Pitchfork, and when we can expect new music.
This interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
How was Europe?
TJ Freda: The whole thing was kind of a high. Some standouts were definitely London, Berlin, Paris — and Utrecht, Netherlands, was really good. Rome was really good as well. It sounds like we’re just making it up but every show was extremely packed or sold out. We kind of just went in blind thinking, “Whatever at least we get to hang out in Europe,” but it just it exceeded our expectations.
Jessica Gurewitz: I didn’t really have any expectations. I knew that Berlin — because our label [Dedstrange] is half based there and we had friends that were playing with us and we kind of knew about the venue we were gonna play — was going to be sick. And we had a feeling that London and Paris were going to be very sick as well and they were. But I had no real idea how anywhere else was gonna go.
Any nightmares on the road that were frustrating in the moment but are actually kind of funny now that you’re a month removed?
Freda: Yeah, getting there was a train wreck. We were meant to fly out on [February] 27 from JFK. It was like the one night it snowed and we ended up sitting on the tarmac for six-and-a-half hours. Kallan [Campbell, our bass player], was able to finagle a flight for the next day because everyone was trying to get a flight. The tragic part is as we’re taking off, we had all of our gear air tagged so, all of our gear was left in New York. We were supposed to give ourselves a buffer day, we were supposed to stay in Milan and then get picked up by our tour manager and then head to Bern, Switzerland, for our first show. By the time we got in, and that flight was already delayed like an hour too, we had to leave straight from the airport to make the show. We played our first show in Switzerland without any gear, Jessica didn’t have any clothes.
Wait, how did you play a show with no gear?
Gurewitz: We had I think three guitars, I had my pedals. And I think that was it.
Freda: We borrowed everything.
Gurewitz: So, we played a very stripped-down show, which still went well. And then, a friend of our manager’s, we paid him to go the next morning to pick up our gear that finally arrived in Milan like a day after our flight … It was a rough start.
How did the Europe tour materialize in the first place? Was this move on your label’s part or was this something you guys just really wanted to make happen?
Freda: We played two shows before the pandemic then we recorded the record during the pandemic. When we came back, it was July 2021. That following spring we went to South by Southwest and we met an agent from Europe and he was like, “You guys are gonna go to Europe next year!”
South by Southwest is a pretty good first gig to have.
Gurewitz: Oh yeah, definitely. We had a ball. My bandmates are my best friends and that was our first proper we-are-together-nonstop bonding experience. We were gone for a little over two weeks. We had the best time every day and then the shows were great. For me at least that was my first ever tour, this is my first band that I’ve been in. So, I was like, “Oh, touring is cool. I like this.”
Wait, Jessica, this is your first band ever? This is a pretty good track record for your first band.
Gurewitz: I played in band in middle school and high school, like in symphonic band, so I could read music but I had never really played guitar before joining the band. And I knew piano so I was able to transition to that but synth is a very complex instrument once you get into all the cool stuff that you can do with it. So yeah, I’ve just been learning.
How do you all know each other? What’s the story of how the band came together?
Freda: I decided to move to New York on the tail end of tour [with an old band in 2018] … I started recording a little bit and then Kallan, our bass player, and Justin, who plays guitar and synth, were some friends I met through touring. I quickly reconnected with Kallan and started jamming. And then one day, I was at a bar outside talking to Jessica, because we had been hanging out at that time too, and I was mentioning that I was starting a band, and she came up screaming like, “You promised if you were ever gonna start a band I was gonna be in it!” And then we really just played like two shows and then the pandemic happened.
So, we didn’t really get started at all. And then we went away in isolation. I just kept recording and then before we knew it, the record was done, kind of on accident. And then July 2021, we got Justin and then we got Cooper to drum. So that was the incarnation of it, there was kind of a false start at first and then we hit the ground running.
You’re the primary songwriter for GIFT?
Freda: Yeah, I wrote all the songs for this one and played most of the instruments on the album. I did a lot of writing with Jessica lyrically, which was really cool. Kallan wrote some stuff too. But for the most part it was just me in isolation in my bedroom. The Pitchfork review really summed it up. It started as my inspiration but now I have a trusted, close group of friends. But it’s always been an outlet for me to write and record songs in solitude, as a meditative practice.
Pitchfork gave “Momentary Presence” a 7.2. That’s really good by Pitchfork standards. How did that make you all feel?
Freda: It was a very cool moment. I grew up reading Pitchfork, so to be recognized like that and have the kind words — I just remember tearing up when I finally read it and it sunk in. The album is really personal and a big benchmark in my life. [The review] really delicately talked about and understood on an extremely deep level what I was going through.
You guys played a couple new songs at Le Poisson Rouge last week. Are you working on a new album? If so, when can we expect it?
Freda: Yeah, so we’re working on a new album right now. The plan is to have a pretty reclusive next couple of months, we’re not going to be playing a lot besides some festivals here and there. We’re going to be recording the album basically starting after this weekend until it’s done. We have something coming up in November that we can’t talk about that’s gonna be cool.
Lastly, what Brooklyn musicians are you guys vibing with right now?
Freda: I love Nation of Language, they’re absolutely brilliant and paving a new way in New York of local bands — they’re playing Brooklyn Steel in May, which is super inspiring to see a local band who I’m pretty sure we played with at Trans-Pecos a long time ago, it’s super inspiring to see them explode. Love them.
A band that doesn’t live in New York, but for all matters is a New York band in my eyes, is Thus Love. They’re from Vermont but have a big presence here. I like the band Been Stellar a lot, I think they’re cool. Two of our other band members have some really great projects too. Kallan has a band called Tilden that’s great. Cooper has a project called Van Vreeland, which is country rock. And then another one is Psymon Spine, we love them. And then my last one, I would say, is Stuy.
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