[Hummingbird Exclusive Interview]
Due to the past year of lockdowns, quarantines, and an audible absence of live music, the spring of 2021 has become a great hope, a life-preserver that bands and fans have been doggy-paddling towards throughout the uncharted waters of pandemia.
Connecticut-based jam band, Goose, recently announced their May run of drive-in shows that will be the group’s first performances of the new year.
While most bands were treading water, Goose took the opportunity to be a soaring example of how to reconfigure the boundaries of “live music,” while still honing their craft to a sharp point.
They didn’t just survive COVID, they thrived — and fans know it. That’s why their May shows sold out in just thirty seconds.
“We were all expecting  to be our biggest year ever… and I think it was. Which is ironic — because I can only see that in hindsight, because in April I was like… ‘Fuck,’” said Peter Anspach of Goose over a Zoom call this February.
Like a passionate smooch from a lipsticked pig, Goose ended the “cursed” year playing on top of the Rockefeller Center in New York. That performance, a livestream of their annual “Goosemas” show, pulled 50,000 virtual attendants and raised $45,000 for the Save Our Stages campaign.
When I asked Anspach to describe the music Goose plays, the multi-instrumentalist with the Magnum-P.I. stache responded, “Goose is like a warm hug before jumping out of a plane.”
An answer as unorthodox as the band, it’s an apt simile for the episodic journeys Goose creates in their live performances, weaving in seamless synergy between tender ballads like “Rosewood Heart,” upbeat grooves like “Tumble” before plunging into shredding jams like “Hot Tea.”
Unpredictable, engaging, and always well practiced, within the past year, Goose has seen their flock of loyal fans expand, pulling in 3.4 million Spotify streams — double what they had in 2019.
Those numbers continue to jump with the release of their recent collaboration 4042 with perennial indie rockers, Vampire Weekend.
When asked what that prospect means for the band, Anspach gave a Lebowskian response, “You know, that’s just somebody’s opinion.” Man.
Predicting that Phish isn’t going anywhere for a long time, Anspach says “for Goose to be successful, we’re not going to be the next Phish. We’re just going to be next to Phish.”
Yes, Phish will continue to pack Madison Square Garden, but Anspach guarantees Goose will be playing those size venues eventually. For now, they have the power of youth on their side — and today, a big part of that power is digital literacy.
“I think we’ve opened up the door for livestreams, and a certain quality of livestreams, so the production value is only going to go up,” says Anspach.
Goose is a group of bright eyed twenty-somethings including a COVID-tested production crew that continues to churn out online content and livestreams with a refinement, which should be the industry standard going forward. Goosemas was a testament to the quality of live experience the Goose team puts together over the internet.
In the livestream, if you look in the blurred backgrounds, you can catch black-clothed production ninjas weaving between illuminated stage platforms supporting the band. In the hands of each ninja is an artillery gun-looking camera stabilizer called a gimbal.
Anspach says it’s one of the team’s favorite tools, delivering a smooth intimate perspective usually reserved for chase scenes in action movies.
The production budget that began with handheld cameras and Go Pros has bloomed into multiple crystal clear DSLRs floating through shrouds of neon light — capturing a band that seems at home nested in the company of Fifth Avenue’s looming giants.
And their sound production is second to none for their streams, even coming out of laptop speakers, the mix quality has each instrument as clear as the picture.
In both small ways like the gimbal or big ways like discovering their band photographer, Brian Murphy, was a master videographer in disguise. Goose is pushing the envelope when it comes to their product, which is something Anspach deeply cares about.
“I never want to go back, I think the production value only needs to increase.” asserts Anspach.
“2020 was a rough year for everyone … and it would be a waste if we didn’t take advantage of it, because why did this happen? … I just feel so grateful we were able to play at all, and to play on the top of the Rock was something really special.”
Before shit hit the fan, Goose was coming in hot to 2020.
Beginning the year opening for Dead & Company in Mexico, by February they were packing their gear for their first theater tour opening for Baltimore based Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
Even though they were the opener in February, Goose was looking toward their first headlining leg of theater shows in the Spring 2020. Those tickets nearly sold out in seconds, all before they left for their west coast shows with Pigeons.
“It was interesting when we were out there, at first it was a little like ‘why are we opening up?’” Anspach recalls. “But the question of why are we opening up, quickly disappeared because we learned so much from [Pigeons], and it was really valuable to have that experience.”
According to Anspach, the band got schooled by Pigeons on how one runs a band on the road, but right before they could put that knowledge to use, the pandemic “shattered” their expectations, in the words of Anspach.
On March 15, almost immediately following their tour’s postponement, the band began to livestream from their houses, a trend that would carry on as routine throughout the spring.
Goose filled their lockdown by streaming acoustic sets, outdoor jams, and intermittent releases of curated rehearsal jams known as the Ted Tapes. But by far, the band’s biggest quarantine attraction was June’s Bingo Tour.
Advertising with goofy homemade commercials, Goose sold tickets to a week-long festival of streamed shows where setlists were decided by a bingo roller filled with song names instead of numbers. A large part of the festivities were geared towards virtually engaging their fans.
Each night viewers made Bingo cards to win prizes, and during the days, the band hosted yoga classes, jazzercise, Goose fan fiction readings, and even a gardening session with Farmer Pete (Campbell).
“I loved that whole project so much, I thought it was really innovative, fun, and spread a good message about health and wellness… because that’s something we all practice,” says Anspach. “It’s not just about music and getting fucked up, it’s like, let’s be beneficial to each other and ourselves.”
If you peruse the comments on the band’s reddit AMA or their YouTube videos, the extra mile taken to engage the fanbase during the pandemic had a real impact. What you’ll find are different phrasings of “thank you for giving me something to look forward to,” or “thanks for bringing joy to my lockdown.”, but Bingo Tour meant just as much to the band as it did the fans.
Aside from much needed revenue for the crew, Bingo Tour allowed Goose get their sound right and solidify their livestream infrastructure that would carry over to their fall tour of distanced and drive-in shows.
Goose made the leap out of the virtual and back onto the stage in early September, but their return was not without its own obstacles. Anspach said the first show back was “great, but different,” mostly because the Yarmouth drive-in venue didn’t have a PA.
The band made due by using open doors and car radios as their sound system. Once venues started having closer crowds and actual PA systems, the music began to take off.
In an October 20 string of tweets reviewing the Fredrick, Maryland show from the previous night, popular fan account @JiveGoose said “This show highlights all of the band’s strengths (tightness, improv, songwriting, cover choices, Richk’s eyes) … can’t help wondering how 2020 might’ve unfolded for them w/o covid; but also excited to see them continue this trajectory.”
A typical Goose setlist can sound like anything from indie rock to rock steady, Billy Joel to Beethoven — all within the span of thirty minutes.
“I just love the diversity of where we can go,” says Anspach, who juggles the triple duty of vocals, keys, and guitar.“I feel lucky to be in a band that can rage a jam but then also pull your heart strings inside the same set.”
Goose rose from the ashes of guitar player Rick Mitarotonda’s band, Vasudo, and picked up a committed regional following playing Connecticut cafes and bars.
“A big part of Goose’s aesthetic is that ‘80s vibe,” explains Anspach. “Even when I joined the band, a lot of the covers were like Loggins —all this ‘80s weird music.”
Although the band’s obligatory Hawaiian shirts, “Goose”-Bradshaw mustaches, and throwback covers like “Shama-Lama Ding Dong” are objectively lighthearted, these aesthetic choices pay homage to Rick’s late-uncle, Franko.
“Franko had a band called the Rockets, and they were the best dance band in Connecticut,” Anspach continued. “So they were playing those hits of the ‘80s as they were current, and we’re continuing that legacy.”
Goose also gives a nod to the Grateful Dead’s jam legacy with covers like “Peggy-O” or “Turn On Your Lovelight,” but Anspach says “recently we’ve been playing more contemporary indie rock,” like a jam version of Bon Iver’s “Ate Up All the Cake.”
Since Anspach joined, the group has synthesized their hits-of-the-’80s funk festiva into an electro-fog of indie rock, which will be on display in their upcoming sophomore album, The Shenanigans Nightclub, which is named after the local Norwalk club the Rockets frequented.
Goose’s eclectic catalogue draws from the strengths of the member’s divergent musical backgrounds to offer a contemporary take on a jam scene filled with aging acts.
Dubbed “Handini” for his flurrying keywork, Anspach grew up in a musical household listening to broadway and Bob Dylan CDs. Since the sixth grade, guitar was his weapon of choice when he started writing Red Hot Chili Peppers-inspired tunes with his friend Seth.
The scary part about Anspach is he’s only been playing piano seriously since he joined Goose, and he feels he still has a ways to go before his piano is as expressive as his guitar work.
Behind Anspach’s scatting key breaks and groovy riffs lies the backbone of Goose, an almost mechanical rhythm section.
“Unofficial Dad” and resident jungle rave fanatic, bassist Trevor Weeks, not only drives the van but also steers the music with popping punctuations like the intro to “Yeti”, or trance conjuring counterpoint deep in the jams of “Madhuvan”.
Inseparably in time with Trevor’s sunglasses-at-night-cool basslines is the jazz fusion drumming of Ben Atkind, the rhythmic gear shifter for Goose.
“Ben’s like a freight train,” explains Anspach — if a freight train could turn on a dime. With each smacking snare hit, Atkind dictates the tempo with shocking ease, throwing in offbeat fills which push or pull the tempo to musical peaks and valleys.
The yin to Atkind’s yang, crushing the percussion, upright bass and back-up vocals is newcomer Jeff Arevelo, who Anspach describes as a jack of all trades. He likens the drumming pair to the personalities of Goose: one half, Atkind, is tight and syncopated, and the other, Arevelo, expressive and dynamic.
Put those two halves together, coat it with the virtuosic guitar, tender vocals, and tasteful auto-tune of Rick Mitarotonda, and you have a band that’s primed to turn the jam scene on its head.
At the root of all good improvisation is a dash of serendipity. What separates the pedestrian improvisers from the prodigious is the innate ability to acknowledge the moment, then make it their own in one fell swoop.
Over the past year, Goose’s improvisation — musical and otherwise — shows they have the talent and vision to pull ephemeral moments of joy out of thin air. The future is bright for this cabal of mustached goons, and from what Anspach says, Goose fans have a lot to look forward to this spring and summer.
“We’re really excited for what’s next. There’s just a lot that we’ve worked on over the last year that nobody’s seen and nobody’s heard,” says Goose’s keyboard magician with a cheeky grin, “Which is really exciting because we get to showcase a lot more different things than people are going to be expecting.”
Leave it to Handini and Goose to always keep a few tricks up their sleeve.