The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick Talk Their Namesake, Snowing, Soccer, and Their Debut Album Ways of Hearing

Ways of Hearing is out now on vinyl!

In 1970 an inspired young German author named Peter Handke wrote a short novel that would quickly draw him international acclaim, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter. The book drew comparisons to Camus‘ The Stranger, shocking audiences with its strange non-sequiturs and bizarrely stoic portrayal of a murder after the act. It even caught the eye of a young German film maker by the name of Wim Wenders, who worked with Handke to adapt the novel for the script for his first feature length film. The book clearly struck a nerve, pointing at something about humanity we may not want to ruminate on often. It in fact it’s English translation, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, became a staple of American graduate level literature courses, including Temple’s MFA program where Ben Curttwright found himself in 2017. He walked around campus with a copy of the book in hand one day, wondering what he should name the band he had recently started with a group of friends. He decided to use the book he was reading as a placeholder name, in his wildest dreams never imagining that he’d have to explain the name or even say it to anyone out loud. This new group was not intended to be anything more than an excuse for a group of friends to hang out and play some music together. Truthfully, had he realized things would take off to the point where they’d eventually have to explain the name, they might have changed it, likely to just The Goalie, though bassist Mike says that the whole team agrees the full name does look great on their new t shirts.

I say whole team in reference to the band because Ben recruited nearly a full soccer squad of friends to be in The Goalie, six band members in total. The band layers violin over keys over bass over two guitar riffs over drums to create epic, ambitious soundscapes that still sound calm and relaxing. The members of The Goalie I chatted with talked at length about the band’s collaborative process with songcraft, where Becky would know when to come in with the keyboard and Ana would know when to come back strong with the violin, as every member is clearly aware that their absence in a song can be as powerful as their presence. The band’s genre has been described as softcore, meant as an antonym to hardcore, but a nod to the sound’s emo and DIY roots, putting The Goalie on plenty of line ups with such artists.

I had the chance to chat with Ben, The Goalie’s singer, songwriter, and guitar player, and Mike who plays bass and runs the group’s social media, a particularly important role in a band given our online digital DIY landscape. More than anything the strongest feeling I got leaving this interview was that The Goalie works so well because the group had no illusions of grandeur when they formed whatsoever. The band is truly a collection six friends who would likely be playing music together anyway even if they hadn’t got enough traction to get a vinyl and cassette release with Count Your Lucky Stars Records. Hell, Mike the bassist is a lawyer by trade and is even a guitar player before he’s a bassist, but he is clearly a friend to Ben and the rest of the band before he is any of those things. Ben mentioned that kicking a soccer ball around was a particularly centering thing for him during the pandemic. He also casually mentioned throughout the interview that around half the band had also played on a Philly adult rec league soccer team that Ben plays on called The Spoons, and it was funny how similar Mike’s description of the processes of joining The Spoons and The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick were, basically a quick text from Ben sealed the deal for both. I’d imagine if Ben had asked Mike and Becky and Ana and Sean and Alyssa if they wanted to open a restaurant instead of start a band they probably would have entertained the offer too, or at least tried to help out in whatever capacity they could, just happy to have the opportunity to work with a friend on something they’re both excited about. Part of the fun of this interview for me was hearing the portraits that Ben and Mike painted of their four absent friends, and imagining the absent band members’ reactions to reading Ben and Mike’s various answers (I for one definitely would like to hear Sean’s perspective on Mike’s first practice.) Over the course of our hour long Google Meet conversation Ben, Mike, and I also chatted about their athletic trials and tribulations, the band’s namesake book and movie, how The Goalie’s Anxiety at The Penalty Kick is really just a long con to try and resurrect Snowing, and the process of putting together their excellent debut record, Ways of Hearing.

GSC: What are your names, how do you identify and what are your roles within the band?

BEN: I’m Ben. I play guitar, and I sing in the band, and He/him

MICHAEL: I’m Michael, he/him. I play bass in the band, but I also have a secondary role as Ben’s heckler.

BEN: Mike is also responsible for our wonderfully curated social media presence. At the goalie band on Twitter, you can see such hot takes as is Slayer emo? And is Kingdom Hearts (the video game) emo? You can engage in those discussions on our twitter, I personally logged in to vote that Slayer was not emo for example.

GSC:  These are important discussions the community needs to be having. So the group started off initially as a four-piece, Ben, it was you Sean, Becky and Alyssa, when in 2018 you demoed out some songs. What were your ambitions for the band at that time? Did you imagine it as a six piece with the violin and two vocalists then?

BEN: In terms of sound, we were definitely looking to fill it out from the beginning. We’ve had two different violin players over the course of the band’s I guess, tenure, though all the songs with violin parts played on the record are from our current violin player Ana. We played a few shows with a with a wonderful violinist named Gabe, he’s someone Alyssa our drummer knows from music school. Gabe just finished his master’s in violin and has to go do orchestra gigs, so we were lucky to meet Ana, who is an amazing instrumentalist in her own right. All the violin on the record is Ana and she’s wonderful at what she does so we couldn’t be happier.

GSC: And how did you know when you had the right assemblage of people? Was there a band practice where something really clicked or something?

BEN: I would say, like-

MICHAEL: When I joined the band, I’d say it’s when.

BEN:  Mike, do you remember your first practice?

MICHAEL: It was probably my second year of school. I met you through Rianna, my fiancé, and I wasn’t dating her till 2018. So it had to have been some time around then. I think it might have been the fall of 2018, because I remember we practiced a little bit. And then we did that video in the basement of Drexel. I just remember it being pretty cold.

BEN:  At that moment you are describing Michael, I was very, very frustrated with Sean because we were supposed to meet you to let you into that building, And Sean, as we were on our way there, was like I have to stop by our Amazon locker to pick up some stuff. Meanwhile I’m like, it’s cold out, Mike is standing outside, you told him to wait there, we should go do that, first. He’s like, well, I gotta see if my mails there. While we’re at it, I got to fill up my car with gas and such. So that’s why you were so cold. That as good as an answer as any for when it fully clicked because that was one of the first times we were able turn the amps up to two or three and get a proper bass set up. It sounded really full, really good. I think that’s on YouTube somewhere.

GSC:  Sometimes you don’t even realize it, it just starts to feel normal. Ben you have connections to Temple University, Michael where did you go?

MICHAEL: I just finished out law school at Rutgers University.

GSC:  Hell yeah. I am I’m a Jersey boy, I love Rutgers but looks like you might not be a big fan.

MICHAEL:  I’m not a big being a lawyer fan.

GSC: A guy who writes for our blog, shout out Dante, is at Rutgers law school funnily enough. Well, congratulations nonetheless.

BEN:  Officially for the record I’d like to state that Mike has never offered us legal advice, nor does he represent the band in any capacity

GSC:  Except online on Twitter.

MICHAEL:  As of right now I do not represent The Goalie in any capacity except for on Twitter.

BEN:  I’m told that we have to be really clear about when Mike is and isn’t our lawyer.

MICHAEL:  With my job right now I can’t represent anybody but down the line I would be happy to do so for this band. When we have our collab with Ariana Grande and have $4 billion at stake or something.

GSC:  Well, the joke I had planned doesn’t really land as hard. I was gonna say being in the Philly university system, does your band name legally have to be a sports reference?

BEN: I am a Temple MFA alum. I got my master’s in creative writing there in 2017 and adjunct teach writing. I may or may not still work there when this when this comes out, I have no idea what’s going on for the for the fall with respect to part time faculty staffing, so you can you can make a joke it’ll land.

GSC:  Were you conscious of all the emo bands with sports names from Philadelphia when you named the band? You seem to be conscious of your lineage or of the greater scene.

BEN: I mean, to be honest, not at all. The honest answer is that I didn’t expect the band to be more than, like, a passion project type thing with some friends. We weren’t, I at least I wasn’t trying to start a band in order to release it on a label or something. We just wanted to have a good time and play music together. So the name, it wasn’t thought out, it wasn’t discussed. I picked the title of the book I happened to be reading at the time and we just didn’t replace it with anything.

GSC:  That is funny because it feels so quintessential now.

MICHAEL: We got made fun of a lot. I think when the album came out, there were I would say more than five posts that were like, “Oh, there’s an emo band called The Goalies Anxiety at The Penalty Kick from Philadelphia. Who could expect that! The writers are getting lazy.” Just like dumb takes like that. I see your dumb takes!

BEN:  It is not the most elegant band name.

GSC:  But there is something unforgettable about it.

BEN: Should we have gone with like just The Goalie? Maybe.

GSC: You get better SEO though with the full sentence, though.

MICHAEL:  That’s true, we do. I used to do legal marketing. I think the name looks really good on that one shirt with the full name and the soccer players at the very least.

GSC:  On the sports tip, were you guys ever athletes, and what is your most anxious sports related memory?

MICHAEL:  I used to play tennis when I was growing up. I was doing a singles tournament the summer after my freshman year of high school, and because it was in the summer, I like wanted to look cool. I got a black like Nike dri-fit shirt, black shorts, black shoes. The whole tennis racket was also black. So I’m this like goth’d out tennis player. I wanted to be cool on the court, but it was July so I was actually really hot on the court. I remember in the fourth maybe fifth game of the set I threw up the ball to serve and my knees just gave out, I was just completely dehydrated. And I didn’t know what was happening because I you know, I had never been dehydrated before, my life was fully hydrated up to that point. I should have known better but I guess that is, uh, The Tennis Players Anxiety At The Serve.

BEN:  Mike, I didn’t I did not know you’re a tennis player. Do you want to play sometime?

MICHAEL:  Yeah of course, though I don’t have a racket anymore.

BEN:  I’m down! I was playing tennis like two days ago, my sister played in high school, she wanted to go out to the court while I was home. I guess my most appropriate moment would be… so I was not much an athlete growing up, but I’ve become better over the past five years or so. I am now an avid soccer player. I’m on like an adult rec league team called The Spoons.

GSC: Oh, hell yeah.

BEN:  We play either the Tuesday or Thursday night game in a  co-ed Philly sports league, like, you know, the lowest possible tier that you can play as a 20-30 something. The Spoons have been a team in some form for about 12 years but I’ve only played on it for I think 3 or 4 at this point. Two years ago, in the last outdoor seasons before the Coronavirus understandably canceled adult rec league sports for a year, we actually went on a really good winning run in our in our Thursday night rec league. The Spoons advanced to the playoffs and we had a real chance of winning some silverware: A little metal with the league logo on it, and a ticket for a free pitcher of beer at the bar that sponsors the league. And as fortune would have it going into the first round of the playoffs, it was my turn to play goalie which I do not like to do. No one on our team likes to do it, we don’t have a full-time goalie. But I among the tallest guys on the team and as a result I did reasonably well in that in that game. Then I was asked by the captain, hey can you just like keep doing it for a little bit?

MICHAEL:  So did you take a penalty kick?

BEN:  No, no, we never had a match go to penalties. I wouldn’t have known what to do had we gone to penalties, but we did win the league that that season. And I have, I don’t know where it is. But I have the league championship little medal. It was the first time I’ve ever won a sports competition and I was like I was like 26 just playing in South Philly with like some people I knew from work. It was fun, and victory was so sweet, but man being goalie is so stressful.

GSC:  That’s so sick, winning a league title. That is so funny though, when you do something like that too well and then you’re like stuck being a baseball catcher for 20 years.

MICHAEL:  It’s like one time I played bass for a band and they just kept me in there.

BEN: Mike is the band version of that because he’s a guitar player natively but had a bass or was willing to play one.

MICHAEL: I borrowed Becky’s at first.

GSC:  How are your songs written and arranged? is it a group effort where everybody contributes their piece, or is one person taking charge? And how do you decide what’s a Becky part versus a Ben part versus a both of you together part?

BEN:  I know that Becky has some stuff that she’s working on for future releases. But so far, I’ve recorded some kind of demo, and then will bring it to the group. People in the band listen to it a couple of times, and then at practice, we work out different people’s different parts. So far, that’s been how it’s gone. I don’t know if it will always necessarily be that way though.

GSC:  Have you guys started writing LP two?

BEN: I would consider it that. I know that some of the new stuff that we’ve been playing around with is good enough to definitely make it onto a second record. It’s just been a matter of actually being able to get everyone together and turn the first scratch track demo into a proper rendition of the song. We’ve had two practices since Coronavirus restrictions eased up in Philadelphia and since the whole band was able to get vaccinated. So hopefully this summer we’ll make some progress on that. We don’t have a studio time booked or anything but a second record is in progress. I think that people who like the first are going to be hopefully happy with it.

GSC: Your music has been described as “softcore”. I feel you’re both very epic in your scope, the second song “We Love You So Much” is this long, sweeping seven-minute song. But at the same time, it’s sonically still very calm and subdued and not overpowering. How do you achieve that balance? Was that something that you were seeking out?

BEN: Yeah, it is. That song is a great example because it was supposed to be a seven-minute song that didn’t feel too long, if that makes sense. If you’re going to let a song go on for that long, it needs to feel like it earns its length. Or I guess in the best-case scenario for that track, someone might listen to it and not really realize it’s like a seven-minute song, which is a different kind of earning its length. I kind of wish there were more [band members] on the call at this point, because with respect to the layered quality of the song, Sean on guitar and Becky on keyboard are responsible for a lot of that knowing when to when to come in, when to do something a little bit more intense. When to press the you know, whatever button Sean uses, I’m not a pedals guy. Sean is a pedals guy. Mike, I don’t know if you have anything like specifically on writing the songs.

MICHAEL:  I guess I got the songs after The Goalie had been a band for a little while. From my perspective, at least, most of the writing is done between Ben, Becky, Sean, Alyssa and then I come in and layer in the bass. Part of that is just because I’m really busy, and with bass as an instrument in this band, I feel like I should just not be too loud. Like this isn’t a ska band, you know, I don’t need to lead the song. So in the layering aspect I go for whatever feels right with the mood.

BEN:  On that note, the song on the first record that was most recently written, and the only one that was fully written and conceived after you joined the band Mike, was “God’s Country” which is pretty bass driven.

MICHAEL: I did do a lot on the bass there. But truly recording was working in the studio, we’d hear it a bunch of times, and would be like, “Wait, hang on. Don’t do that at first, come back and do it later and see how that sounds.” With the couple practices we’ve had with the new songs that’s the approach we’ve taken too.

GSC:  I like that, trusting and communicating with one another.

**Kraus runs across Ben’s desk**

BEN:  Here he is!

GSC:  The cat from the album cover! His name is not Winston though? From the song “Winston’s Theme”?

BEN:  Winston is Sean’s dog. This is Kraus.

GSC:  Kraus! Nice to meet you.

BEN:  He’s in a bit of a mood right now because I just got back, I was gone for like two weeks. My girlfriend took excellent care of the cats of course, but Kraus is being a little needy (Ben’s girlfriend from the hallway shouts “very needy!!”) We have two other cats here. Which we joke about like it means that the Goalie can write two more albums before I have to get another cat.

MICHAEL: Ben’s doing the Snowing album art right now.

GSC: Krauss could do whatever he wanted if he wanted.

BEN:  He can do whatever he wants.

MICHAEL:  Another band I absolutely love is Snowing.

GSC:  Dude, I love Snowing. PA too!

BEN:  Yeah, we’re gonna bring them back.

MICHAEL:  Oh, yeah. You know, my pipe dream is we play a show with Snowing.  

BEN:  Mike made a joke to our label saying we wanted to resurrect Snowing to play our album release show, or at least I think it was a joke.

MICHAEL:  It was half a joke. If it happens, you are welcome. I really do love Snowing though, I mean I even have a Snowing tattoo.

GSC:  Its funny, between loving Snowing and simultaneously having a funny band name while not realizing things were going to take off like they did is really reminding me of my interview with Ogbert the Nerd, a great Jersey emo band.

BEN:  If they want to play a show, hit us up! Them and Snowing.

GSC: You, Ogbert, and Snowing would be a hell of a line up. What are each of your favorite songs in the record?

MICHAEL: I really like “God’s Country” BUT as far as fun stuff playing live “Joseph Stalin” is one where, well this is kinda a spoiler.

BEN:  We were originally going to do a full band version of “Joseph Stalin” on the record. That song actually went through the most revisions. You asked earlier how we decide when I’m singing, when Becky’s singing, etc. And in that case, it required a little bit of trial and error. I wrote that song and sang on a couple recordings of it, sang that at practice as we worked it up from an acoustic demo into a full band song. And as we were doing so, I was half conscious the whole time that it like, it sucked. It wasn’t good. And that nothing we were doing was making it better. So eventually, I said can we go back to an acoustic song and Becky can you sing this? We did a quick demo at Becky’s house. When she used to live in West Philly we’d practice at her place, and I brought my laptop over there with a mic and we recorded a quick version of that track. Listening back to it we were immediately like, oh this is a great song again. We do play full band live just as like a fun kind of thing. The joke live is that version of the song just sounds like a like a weird Tom Petty cover. Because, you know, Sean’s doing all these like weird guitar bends. I don’t know. Come to a show sometime and you’ll get the gist.

GSC: I definitely plan on it. I love when bands have multiple versions of the same song, another thing I talked about with Ogbert. Ben, do you have another favorite?

BEN:  I mean my favorite one to play right now is an LP two demo that only has a working title at this point. We actually have not played it with everyone there yet even. But it’s gonna be good. I think that your favorite song to play is always the last one you got done writing.

GSC:  You named the band after a book you happened to be reading, and it was the story of our goalie/murderer protagonist Mr. Bloch. Do you feel any connection to that story, or is it just a happy accident at this point?

BEN:  I mean it’s interesting, because ever since the band started getting a tiny bit of press, I’ve almost dreaded the point where someone would read the book and be like, “This goalie guy sucks! Are they saying that they identify with this guy?” Or even worse, “Are they Bosnian genocide deniers?” Or something like that.

MICHAEL:  We did get a reply was that was like, these guys probably didn’t even read the book, which is only true of me, I have not read it yet.

GSC:  You can borrow my copy.

BEN:  I would loan Mike my copy but he still has my copy of Room of The System.

MICHAEL: That’s true. I’ve got to keep reading that.

BEN: Actually, I don’t know if I said this at the time, but Keeley bought me a replacement. So that’s just your copy at this point, Mike.

MICHAEL:  The first of many David Foster Wallace books that I’m going to take from you.

BEN:  But does the band collectively ID with the book The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. I mean, I think your answer there is the one that that Mike gave, I think I’m the only one in the band who read it. I haven’t seen the film, actually.

GSC:  It’s good!

BEN:  I mean if I were stretching it, I guess I could say that by the end of the book It feels like the goalie’s whole life has happened. He’s done everything that he ever could, and ** spoilers I guess** but it’s revealed that not only has his whole life already happened, but he feels like his whole life happened, 10-20 years ago. And definitely when this band kicked off, at least for me, like, I kind of felt like I was done doing music. Like, I felt like I had tried the music thing when I was younger, and it didn’t work out, and this was just gonna be doing it for fun with friends. The first band you start you’re like, oh, what if someone really likes this? What if someone gets really into this and we can play shows and be on the label or whatever. The Goalie as a band was started without any of those pretensions. We just wanted to have fun and play music with my friends again. And I would say that I felt old when I started writing these songs, probably in a similar way that the character in the book feels old at the end of it. But I do not identify with the character past that, we have had very different paths.

GSC: Throughout this conversation you guys mentioned being excited to be playing live again. Have you booked the first show back?

BEN: It’s something that I should have been working on about a week ago maybe?

MICHAEL: I would like us to play the Oso Oso rooftop show at Elsewhere that I just bought tickets for, so Jade, if you’re reading, please hit us up.

GSC: I’ll grab your brew when we’re there, I got a ticket too. What are what are some things that really helped you in this past year? What are either habits you formed, movies you watched, books you read, whatever helped you get through this past year.

MICHAEL:  I was in my last year of law school, and I had to take my finals online. They were all pass fail, and then I sort of immediately had to go study for the bar, but then they delayed it a couple months. So it was really hard to find time for resting my brain. I did find new hobbies, like I built Gundam’s and paint them. I tried writing some of my own music and none of it was very good. So I’m just going to keep going with this band until I probably literally can’t due to work obligations taking all my time.

BEN:  My experience of the pandemic is slightly different than Mike’s because I was unemployed for several months last summer when restrictions were the most intense and doing things out in the world was the most difficult. Keeley, my girlfriend, would go into the park to kick a soccer ball back and forth with me when it was unreasonable for anyone else to do so because of distancing requirements and all that stuff. It was a very weird year, a very weird summer. And I know a lot of people had a more difficult experience than mine, just being unemployed for a little bit and doing a couple semesters of zoom teaching, but I definitely would have had a much worse time had I not been able to at least get out and kick the ball back and forth. I’d recommend that to anyone out there reading, go out and kick a soccer ball with a friend or loved one.

MICHAEL:  Yeah but every time I go play soccer with Ben though he will watch me play, and like I’ll fuck up and he’ll just be like, “Hmm, interesting technique” or something quick, Ben-like, and quippy. And I’m like, thanks dude, you invited me here!

BEN:  I just think that it’s better if you don’t stand on the ball or like-

MICHAEL: All right, all right. The other day he was like, “have you thought about buying cleats ever? Just curious.”

BEN:  Because you slipped and fell!  You won’t slip and fall with cleats, and you like shoes, you love getting new shoes.

MICHAEL:  That is true, I do love sneakers.

GSC:  I love that it ultimately comes back to soccer at the end of the day. You guys should get together a team, I guess The Spoons basically is that team.BEN:  Yeah, our violin player has even played with my team a couple of times. She played I think in high school and then her brother currently plays, he actually is a goalie too.

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