Back in October 2020, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick released Ways of Hearing, an intrepid and haunting debut LP. A half a year that feels like half a lifetime later, Michigan’s Count Your Lucky Stars Records has issued the album on vinyl, making humid June the perfect time to explore this record that too many Philadelphians missed.

With six band members from divergent backgrounds in fiction writing, classical music, emo and DIY songwriting, The Goalie make music dense with new collisions, tough to describe and tough to forget. On the record, their sound is dark, and heavy like a quilt. They swap punk, slowcore and cinematic post-rock, sewing uneasy but accessible grooves fraught with voices, fleshy violins and more.

According to the band, they don’t treat the songs like simple stories, but experiments in architecture, built methodically through months of rehearsal, recording and post-production. Singers Ben Curttright and Becky Hanno sound open-hearted, but the orchestrations overwhelm them bittersweetly, keeping their voices hidden, maybe protected. I keep thinking about the feeling of hiding as I listen now, and the record offers me somewhere to hide inside.

I spoke with five members of The Goalie over Zoom last week, under a mounting thunderstorm in Philadelphia. Our conversation, edited for length and clarity, appears below.

TK: Can you all introduce yourselves, and describe how you each came to the group?

Sean Michael Kelley: My name’s Sean, I played guitar on the record. I did a lot of weird beeps and boops with guitar pedals, that’s kinda my area. How I became part of the band, Ben and I were friends and at one point he was showing me some songs he was recording, like demos, like very rough acoustic guitar tracks, and I said I liked the stuff and I’d try and dub a guitar on top of it! And then slowly other people started to come around, Becky and Alyssa, and then we started practicing as a full band.

Ben Curttright: I play guitar on the record, I sing on the record as well. Like Sean said, I kind of wrote the first pass at these songs, about half of them in 2018. And then we built them out into full band songs over the course of that year and added some more, then the following summer we had enough for a full length, then got into the studio and put it all together.

Ana Hughes-Perez: I’m Ana, I play the strings on the record. I joined because Sean and I have a mutual friend who mentioned to me that he knew someone in a band that was looking for violin and it sounded like it was up my alley. So I went to a practice, and then we played a show like the next week. [laughs]

Alyssa Resh: I’m Alyssa! I play percussion in the band – I guess that’s the best way to put it, so like drumset and bells. And yeah, I joined the band because Ben and I were friends, he knew me from the coffee shop I worked at, and I had never played drumset before and he was trying to convince me to be the drummer for the band and I was like, Nahhhh I can’t do that, and he was like, Oh, well Becky’s gonna be in the band! And I had the biggest friend-crush on Becky because they also used to come into the coffee shop where I worked, and I just thought they were the coolest person and I wanted to be friends. And so I said, Cool, I guess I’ll join!

Becky Hanno: I’m Becky, I play keyboard and I sing in The Goalie! Ben and I worked together at the bookstore! And Alyssa worked at the coffee shop one block away, so we would go there like every single day [laughs].

BC: Sometimes like twice, sometimes two or three times on an alternating cycle.

BH: [Laughs] Yeah and I remember Ben wanted to get a band together, I was like, Hell yeah. And then it grew from there. I think we had a few people that played with us a little bit in and out, but this ended up being the core group.

SMK: And then we also had Mike [Foster] join the band, who’s not here right now. But there’s an old video online of us playing with a different violinist and no bass.

BH: Also can I add as an aside that Alyssa is a master drummer? She has a master’s degree in percussion, she really sold herself short! Because she’s a master marimba player as her core instrument, but she does all percussion.

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick | photo by Ben Curttwright | courtesy of the artist

TK: What inspired the songs on Ways of Hearing?

BC: I was responsible for most of the lyrics, and a lot of them are – I don’t wanna say “free-associative,” because that makes me sound like I think I’m smart. Becky, what do you think?

SMK: Ben, you’re the writing professor!

BC: [Laughs] True.

BH: I feel like a lot of the lyrics are very visual, like there’s a very big visual narrative to the songs. But my understanding is that, when they were being written, it’s one of those things that you don’t really know what it’s about until way later and then you kind of interpret it in pieces. I think it was all really inspired, like you wrote it all really fast, a bunch of the songs were written together and then we expounded on them as a group.

BC: As Sean mentioned, I write fiction as well, that’s what I studied and what I do with most of my time. And both in terms of writing fiction and writing music, I really can only work in two-week-long bursts, and then for like a year after that, trying to get anything done is worse than pulling teeth. Since the academic year ended I’ve been off work for a little bit and I’ve been working on a novella draft that I first put together last summer, and I was just telling my girlfriend the other day, the first draft of it was just the most fun thing in the world. To sit down at my desk and feel like, I’m gonna get 1500 words done today, and I’m gonna drink 3 cups of coffee, and it’s gonna be brilliant, it’s gonna be the best little novella you’ve ever read. And then you put it aside for a while because work gets busy, and then coming back and trying to revise it right now is like – [laughs] it sucks, it’s not fun at all.

SMK: I don’t know about all that comes up in the lyrical writing, but it sounds like some of it is just what works? In terms of music, we spend a lot of time discussing how our songs are going to build. There was a lot of stuff in the studio that we did; I tracked about 20 guitars on each song and then probably 85% of it was cut, and it was just to try to figure out where different builds were happening. A lot of trial and error to see how we can make a song start from this very raw track Ben gave us, and you can see our ideas build over the course of that 4 to 5 minutes.

TK: Can you describe the process of recording the project with such a large group?

BC: That’s where we were lucky – well, lucky and unlucky. Because the whole thing was fully tracked by September 2019, and then it was in mixing and mastering and we finally got done with it in January or February 2020. And we started to reach out to labels, people we knew, figuring out whether we were just gonna self-release it or work with someone on a physical release, and that’s when the pandemic hit and things shut down for a long time. It feels like we wrote some of these songs forever ago. It was easy to get the record done because we wrote it before COVID, but then we didn’t see each other for like a year, which was very sad and not good.

BH: We did all of the recording at Headroom Studios in Philly, it’s such a cool studio and everyone who works there is really nice and smart, and they have all this really cool gear. And we were all there on different days, we kind of did it in scattered bits over that summer of 2019.

AHP: Yeah, I was there when everyone else was there, but it was just me in the booth. And I just played through and they added all this different layering, but it was just me playing while listening to the rest of the music after most of it was done.

BH: It was very individual, we didn’t play anything full-band for the recording. So it was really fun to see how it all turned out sounding at the end, because we’re so used to playing live, and you can’t really hear it when you’re playing, how everything interplays. And we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that people really liked how things dropped in and out of the recording, and I really want to credit Mark [Watter] from Headroom, and everybody that did mixing on our record was just a genius, and they made it sound so amazing. They had a lot of ideas and it was a very collaborative recording process with the studio.

BC: Mark Watter and Joe Reinhart from Headroom – Mark was the studio engineer and then Joe mixed the record afterward. I can speak more about Mark because I spent more time physically with him. I had never done a studio record before and never really understood the kinds of contributions that engineers make besides just pressing the ‘record’ button: Mark was a sounding board, Mark was ideas, Mark was suggestions, he’s a brilliant musician and his hands are on this record just as much as any of ours.

AR: One funny story about recording was that we had it scheduled for months and months, and then the week of, my grandma died and the memorial was scheduled on day two of recording. [Laughs] Like I seriously debated not going to this memorial, because I’m a musician and I know how hard it is to block out that time. But the first day I remember working with Mark, I was like, We gotta track ALL these songs! IN ONE DAY! And THEN I gotta go to the FUNERAL!

BH: You did it!

AHP: She nailed it, every song.

TK: How do you think the songs have aged since you first recorded them? Do they mean something different to you now?

BH: For me personally, when we were writing them and coming up with the structure of the songs, I wasn’t really thinking about the lyrics in terms of what meaning they had. And it’s interesting now, whenever I listen to our music, I try to hear it as if I’ve never heard it before, as if it’s a song that I have nothing to do with, and I feel like I notice a lot more. I’m really into the imagery that it conjures, I think there’s a lot of really cool vignettes in the songs that I’ve really noticed through feedback that we’ve gotten. I guess I wasn’t trying to judge them initially, we just wanted to create it. And it’s really nice to reflect. Whenever I write a song, personally too, years later I’ll listen to it and feel like, Oh, that was EXACTLY this stressful thing I was going through at the moment. You always notice little stuff like that.

BC: I’m particularly glad to hear you say that, Becky, because – and I’ve mentioned this to the band before – the first recorded version of the song “joseph stalin” on the record, I wrote the lyrics and song and sang it on the demo. We brought it as a band and tried to workshop it and build it, and put the parts in like we do for all the songs, and it just wasn’t working, it just sounded like a weird Tom Petty cover. Eventually I was like, Becky can you just sing this one? And we’ll just do it as a solo song. I knew you weren’t just gonna tell me, Hey I actually don’t wanna sing that because I think the song is dumb [aughs].

BH: [Laughs] That song has the best lyrics, in my opinion! The best lyric is about the tiny man underneath the dog bed, I think about that all the time. Especially because I had just adopted a very small chihuahua – who I actually have right here – and I would look at her and think of these lyrics, they bring me peace.

AR: Kind of like what Becky said about how we’re so used to playing live and we can’t hear things – this was my first band, and I’m so used to playing other people’s music that I just kind of thought being in a band was playing ‘Ben’s music.’ Like it wasn’t mine, I liked it but I didn’t write it. But then it was interesting hearing the record, it really dawned on me that it is still Ben’s music in a sense but it’s also all of ours; Becky’s vocals, Ana’s string parts, my decisions on the drum parts really make the album what it is. For me, it’s cool that I was able to take some sort of ownership.

AHP: Yeah, I can also speak to that. I wrote the violin parts, Sean helped me with some. But hearing the music that was already done, I felt like, Okay, I just need to write something that fits, not thinking much about what the songs are about, and how I would want to match that violin-wise. But the lyrics are super beautiful, and they’re not really storytelling. With my violin, the way that I wrote the passages is to complement but also to add melodic patterns that I repeat and vary. And after recording and then hearing how Mark and Joe mixed all of it, it’s as haunting as I wanted – not like I went into it saying, I want this to be haunting and mysterious, but it came out that way! And I’m really glad, I think it complements everything even more, and there’s more to think about. Yeah, it was a totally different experience coming up with the parts and playing it live than it was hearing it on the record. I’m really happy with how it all turned out.

BH: I agree, the violin does sound haunting and mysterious! [Laughs]

BC: It helps when you can overdub and there’s like five violins going at once.

AR: A dang orchestra!

TK: Had you guys already played all these songs in concert before you started recording them?

BC: Yes, most of them. There’s one or two songs on the record we’ve never played, I don’t think that we’ll ever play the closing song on the record live – I wrote the keys on “everyone around us” and then I forgot how to play them. Someone else had to learn them off the demo so we could record them in the studio, I tried for hours to re-create it and I couldn’t do it cause I don’t play the keyboard [laughs]. And we’ve never played “winston’s theme” live, though I would like to, if there’s a way to do it; I think Alyssa would need a little more equipment. But the rest of them had all been played in a couple Philadelphia basements, and on a short weekender tour in 2019 before we went into the studio.

TK: How do the recordings compare to your live shows? Do you think that the way you play the songs live in the future will be influenced by the way you recorded them?

BH: I think we learned a lot about how we want the songs to sound by recording them, because you have to be deliberate in recording. I don’t think ever before we’d had somebody to give us really constructive feedback on our songs before we went into the studio and Mark said, Hey, what if you dropped out at this part? That might be cool! Like, nobody is coaching you to make the songs sound good otherwise. I think we focused on having fun as a band together and just playing the songs start to finish, and then once we recorded it and really had to zoom in on sections of the song, we learned how we wanted to play them. And I think at every show or practice we’ve done after that, it sounds way better.

BC: Yup.

BH: And also we’ve been playing them for years at this point, so I think we’re all really familiar with how it’s supposed to sound now, whereas initially there was no ‘supposed-to-sound’ anything.

BC: The big thing was – as Becky mentioned – dropping parts out or removing parts. I don’t know how everyone else approached it mentally, but my thought when we were writing was just like, I gotta come up with something to do all the time, you know? [laughs] If a moment in the song exists, I gotta be playing something. And while that’s probably the best way to handle it when you’re writing, the first takes of some of this stuff was just cluttered; everyone doesn’t need to be playing their instrument all the time. There’s a part in “the cat stands on my arm” where my guitar drops out and it’s just Sean’s guitar, I think it’s the only moment on the record that’s like that – at first I was like, NO, my part is holding it together! You gotta put it in! And then Mark cut it out and it sounded better, [laughs] so.

It’s funny, because we’ve played The Goalie songs at shows for our friends, for the other bands, for people who came because we asked them or we wanted to hang out. But because we were playing shows when we didn’t have any recordings out, there hasn’t yet been someone who came to a Goalie show because they liked our music and wanted to hear a live version.

BH: It’s gonna be so crazy when people in the show, like, know the song. [Laughs]

TK: Do you guys have any plans to share these songs live later in 2021, in person or virtually?

BH: We wanna do more shows!

BC: You can book us, anyone can book us! [laughs] As you can imagine it’s challenging with a six-piece band – everyone’s working, Alyssa’s touring with [Lizdelise].

AHP: That Lizdelise set was incredible at Porchfest.

BC: Ugh, yeah I’m really sorry I missed it.

AR: Yeah whatever, BEN.

BC: I knew you weren’t going to accept it, but I had to go feed my friend’s cat.

AR: I forgive you, I truly do; it’s okay.

BC: We don’t currently have anything booked, but we’re open to pretty much anything. We will hopefully. And it’s been kind of touch-and-go with respect to when it feels right to start reaching out to people and saying, Can we go on tour with you? Can I play at your venue? Is your venue open, are you allowing people inside? But we hope to get out within the next six months, eight months, something like that, and play the songs.

TK: The last thing I wanted to ask is about the cover – who is the cat?

BC: [Reaches underneath desk for cat]

BH: Aw he’s being coy, look at him! It’s Ben’s cat, Krauss. There he is.

BC: Yeah, I took that photo. I didn’t take it thinking I would make it the album art, I took it because I thought it was cute how he was sitting on the ground with the little soccer ball toy that I got him – I don’t know what happened to that. But yeah, I took the picture and then just scanned it on my home scanner. I used a Polaroid, one of the i-Type ones. And it is blue. [Holds up large leather book] and the background is my attendance book, my gradebook. Attendance for first-year writing students at local Philadelphia universities.

AR: Little do they know.

Ways of Hearing by The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick is available now on vinyl and cassette from Count Your Lucky Stars Records; order yours here and stream the full album here.