Formed in Los Angeles in 1996, Gift Horse was first conceived when Sven "Svendrix" Spieker (a German guitarist, and passionate Jimi Hendrix fan as the nickname would suggest) and Bret Levick met. Having been raised in Paris, Levick perhaps had a particular European sensibility in common with Spieker that manifested itself in a love of certain shared musical influences. For whatever reason, the two quickly became songwriting partners. Classic rockers like David Bowie, the Beatles, and Iggy Pop were the musical foundation on which Spieker and Levick built their tuneful, yet subversive pop songs around. The duo would occasionally try out their creations on friends and coffeehouse patrons around L.A., all the while honing what would become fairly serious pop/rock songwriting chops. Soon a full lineup that included bassist Barry Oakley (son of Allman Brother bassist Berry Oakley and former member of Bloodline) and drummer/percussionist Chris Razze was completed, and after the name Gift Horse was chosen, the four-piece began to write and perform at an accelerated pace.
In 1997, Gift Horse released a self-titled CD on their own that the group managed to do a decent job selling themselves. When indie upstart Pinch Hit Records approached the band, they were reticent at first, only allowing the label to help with radio promotion of their music. Eventually, Gift Horse signed to Pinch Hit, and in September of 1998 their label debut Excess, Lies and Heather's Arrest was released. The record was surprisingly strong, drawing comparisons to Bowie and T. Rex. While the group's free-wheeling guitar sound did have a certain '70s swagger, for the most part, this release was pure alternative guitar rock (or, more appropriately, what was being called alternative at the time.) Nothing on Excess, Lies and Heather's Arrest could have been considered groundbreaking at the time, but the release deserved (and received) very high songwriting and performance marks. The band started making a tiny dent in the college radio charts when their record and the single "Heather's Arrest" both began getting positive notices. The devilish story of a girlfriend's incarceration, the track was mixed by grunge veteran Barrett Jones (Nirvana, Bush). A fair amount of touring followed in support of their Pinch Hit debut, and the band stayed relatively busy well into 2000, after which a long period of silence followed.
A bit of a mismatch with their label, Gift Horse had the songwriting instincts to be a player in the competitive world of commercial rock radio, but without the much needed backing of a major label. The band dissolved (or at least their name did) as the Gift Horse moniker was out and the rather unfortunate name Alien Gonzalez was in.