10Qs with Goalie Fight on "Roy Orbison"
From solo-project to a full-blown rock band comes Goalie Fight. Made up of members Mark Dempsey (guitar and vocals), Sam Van Heest (drums), Joe Visconti (bass), and Dan Taggart (guitar), they describe themselves as a “melodic indie and punk rock band that writes so-sweet-it’s sour guitar music.” This week, The MIC sat down with Goalie Fight to talk about their latest release, Roy Orbison!
SJ: Hey, Goalie Fight, welcome to The MIC!
GF: Thank you for having us; we're glad to be here.
1. SJ: Goalie Fight has a very unique beginning; in a storage unit in Pittsburgh, PA. How did Mark Dempsey's solo project turn into a full-blown rock band?
Mark Dempsey (MD): Yeah, the first inklings of the band came about when I was out that way. I graduated from CMU at the start of the pandemic, and I work remotely, so I decided to just work remotely from Pittsburgh. Rent is a fair bit cheaper there. I was able to secure a sublet from a CMU grad student, and I had been honing my songwriting skills for several months previously on a musician-focused Discord server. I rented the storage unit, and I just started practicing these songs for like 2 to 3 hours a day. I wanted to be as tight as I possibly could be, for the record. I had to take the bus, too, so I would work all day in my apartment in Bloomfield, and then take the bus down to the South Side, practice, and then take a ride-share home since the buses only come once an hour. At the end of August, my workplace started making suggestions that they were preparing to move everyone back into the office, and the tenant I was subletting from had to move back in to go to school again, so I'm back in the Jerz. That was right before the Delta variant started picking up steam, so I never actually ended up going back to the office. I don't even know what the building looks like. The record was being mixed by the time I got to NJ, so I started putting up flyers and posting on Craigslist. I met all the guys through Craigslist.
Joe Visconti (JV): It had been a few years since I played with a band, and there was just a big rock-shaped hole in my being. Moving up to north NJ from Ridgewood Queens just before the pandemic, I didn't have many connections to the area. Fast forward to early fall 2021, and I decided I needed to get active with music or I would just lose my mind. So I put a post up on Craigslist, which Mark responded to. I really liked the tracks he shared; I believe Hero Rodriguez and Evil Ramirez. So I learned those tracks and ended up coming through for the audition. I was very attracted to Mark's songwriting style, and to the skills, Dan & Sam brought in with them. The tracks on Roy Orbison have a blend of classic power-pop with a healthy dose of abrupt, almost jazzy changes. I said I only wanted to play in a band whose music I would listen to even if I wasn't in the group. And so here we are.
2. SJ: It's really cool the way you all were able to connect via Craigslist. Was the project always called 'Goalie Fight'? And what does that band name mean and resemble for you guys?
MD: I like being in bands. I wanted to be in a band again after graduating, and I settled on the name of that band being Goalie Fight in March 2021. I have a huge pile of unused band names that are mostly awful. Goalie Fight also puts us in that lineage of emo-adjacent bands with sporty names that are made up of members who look like they have never played a sport in their life. American Football. Title Fight. Modern Baseball. Free Throw. I think there's a band that's just called "sports."I don't know if you watch a lot of hockey.
SJ: I do like hockey!
MD: I don't watch a lot of hockey, but I watch more hockey than I do any other sport. The 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs were really dramatic, but they were also really rough in a way that wasn't fun to watch. The metagame around hockey has changed a lot in the past decade; there's a much stronger emphasis on speed and possession, so scores are higher, and fights are much rarer. Last season, that trend reversed. Everyone started fighting and making dangerous charges and cross-checks. I think you can point to Tom Wilson punching Pavel Buchnevich's head into the ice when he was already down and then body-slamming Artemi Panerin in the ensuing donnybrook as the inciting incident. Wilson got fined when he should have been suspended. Things got really dirty really fast because the NHL Dept. of Player Safety had essentially sent a signal that they weren't really going to punish violence. So, maybe at some level, that was in the back of my mind when making this record and assembling the crew, but that incident happened a few months after I had started telling people, "oh, yeah, it's gonna be called Goalie Fight."
3. SJ: Now, let's dig into the album. Your debut album is titled Roy Orbison, after the singer-songwriter, known for his '60s pop ballads and for being a member of the Supergroup' The Traveling Wilburys.' Allowing the death of an icon as a diving board into an album is an unusual approach. What inspired this decision, and how has Orbison influenced the band?
MD: I'm not sure. Like, Roy Orbison is ostensibly an emo revival album, y'know, rooted in indie rock. It's not like I went into Very Tight Recordings with a bunch of Monument Records 45s. We sound nothing alike. There are no ballads on the record. There is no plate reverbs, no unison strings, no female backup singers. That's part of why I picked it as a bit of an attention grabber. It's certainly not search engine optimized. I mean, he did like unconventional song structures, so maybe that's an influence. We do joke that Roy Orbison, being a singer of sad songs from North Texas, is technically a midwest emo artist. I remember watching some documentary on some channel or other about Roy Orbison's life and late-career, and it's pretty fascinating. To keep it short, he had a string of personal tragedies in the late 60s, and his earnest rock and roll sound didn't sell well in the 70s or 80s. Once he started recording with the Traveling Wilburys, his fortunes seemed to be turning around. He was selling records again; he was playing major events again. Then one day, he came home to rest in a gap in his touring schedule, flew some model airplanes with a friend, had dinner at Jean Shepard's house, went to bed, and died peacefully in his sleep. There's really something to be said for that. Not necessarily dying young, not necessarily dying on top, but on a good day. Having seen both the top and the bottom. I think I woke up at 4 am one morning, just rolled out of bed, and wrote the title track verse and chorus. In the process of trying to force more to come out a few days later, I thought to myself that it could easily be reprised and that in that reprise, I could write a medley of all the other songs on the record. That's not really a Roy Orbison thing; that's a Jim Steinman thing. Once I had that framework, I just had to name the album that.
4. SJ: So ultimately it was inspired by the way he passed. How did the creation and writing process change from working as a solo project to creating a band? Does having more members allow for more creativity and ideas?
MD: It changes a lot (laughs). Everyone else in the band comes with way different palettes they paint with. They're all also older and more technically proficient at their instruments than I am. I dunno what I contribute to the band. Spreadsheets. I contribute lots of spreadsheets.
JV: Songwriting with the group thus far has been great, in that we're just trying to hold to things that are interesting to all of us. I know they've introduced me to music that I've missed as the older guy and, in some ways, vice versa. It's given me a little more direction in writing new material, you know? "Will this fly with this group of musicians?" I also think that playing live, despite being a challenge since December, is informing what our strengths and interests are collectively.
MD: Part of the fun challenge is that we're trying to follow up a singular vision with a plural vision. I'm the bandleader, but I don't want to pull a Doug Martsch and hog all the songwriting credits and switch out every member of the band on every album. At the same time, we want to write something that feels like a natural next step from Roy Orbison. Not to leak too much, but I feel pretty confident in our next batch of songs.
5. SJ: Sounds like an exciting sophomore release! You start this album with a 'thesis' track, "Roy Orbison Thesis." By doing this, you can show the listener the concept of the album and the atmosphere they're about to enter. After the 1:22 introduction, your transition to "Hero Rodriguez," a track complete with choppy chords and hazy vocals introducing the 'punk indie' sound of Goalie Fight. Who is 'Hero Rodriguez'?
MD: Oh god, uh, Evil Ramirez is an in-joke with my Dungeons and Dragons group. Yeah. We were joking around about extremely lame, C-list supervillain names. And Hero Rodriguez is his non-evil cousin. Or something. I had so many titles for both of those songs that were significantly less stupid and had something at all to do with the contents of the song, but I thought to myself, "If we're going to release these together as a single, they should be connected somehow ."I hadn't yet listened to it at the time I decided that, but it's kind of like the Pet Symmetry debut single "Two Songs About Cars. Two Songs with Long Titles."
6. SJ: The third track, "Beer Song," starts very upbeat, with darker lyrics, "All I want is a dark brown bottle with a bright yellow label/So you can smash it over my head, over my head." And at 1:08, it locks into a driving beat with angsty vocals. What was the writing and arrangement process for this track?
MD: I have lived not quite a year of my life in total in Australia. Four months when I was two, Five months for a semester abroad at the University of Melbourne. I miss my friends, I miss the football, and I miss the food and the beer. I do not miss the beer prices. There's one particular stout beer I associate with my time there which has a very specific flavor profile that's very nostalgic to me, and I've been tearing my hair out trying to find anything similar stateside. So one night, I got drunk on the closest thing I could find and wrote this song. Sad lyrics and upbeat chords are a power-pop staple. I love Fountains of Wayne. Not that "Beer Song" sounds anything like Fountains of Wayne. The arrangement wasn't straightforward, but it was simple. The riff worked well, both slow and fast, so I did both. I'm not sure where the long post-chorus came from, maybe Titus Andronicus, maybe Jeff Rosenstock, just that old pre-loop pop songwriting style that Dan and I love so much. Then the outro is a descending jazz cliche amped up to 11, and the final unison hits I pulled out of thin air. Getting the tone was tricky. The original direction I went to Very Tight Recordings with for Roy Orbison as a whole was a record without a lot of distortion, only a little twangy overdrive. I really wanted a vintage-breakup-driven P-Bass sound to carry most of the heaviness of the record. Matt Very (engineer) showed me how the driven guitars and the driven bass could coexist; he did a really good job mixing the two together. If there's one thing I'm proud of on the record, it's the bass tones.
JV: The first time I played this with Sam, in Mark's garage, we locked in, and it was just so obviously a banger.
MD: I'm not going to name the beer unless they decide to use the song in their advertisements.
JV: Everyone wants to know what beer this is.
7. SJ: I definitely want to know what beer this is. "Forgetting" is a cool instrumental track. It sounds like reverse loops might be featured? How did you create that sound?
MD: I did that at home on my laptop by looping and chopping an earlier demo mix of Evil Ramirez. On the cassette tape, it's like a hidden track kind of thing, but it really isn't since the song name is on the J-card. I liked when Monsterland did it on "244-250" on the CD version of their "Loser Friendly" EP, so I figured I'd give it a shot myself.
8. SJ: In "Frozen Falls," the poetry of your lyrics becomes most evident, singing, "Who do you think I am/I am the ghost of a man/who grew older but never came of age." How do you write your lyrics? Is there one lyricist of the group, or is it more of a group effort?
MD: If you look at the liner notes, it's actually just me (laughs). Well, that's not quite true. I only mean that in the sense that I didn't even know Dan, Joe, and Sam when I recorded the album. I wrote all the lyrics on Roy Orbison. I try my best to write melodies and lyrics at the same time if I can. Sometimes I've been able to work backward from lyrics into melody into song. I don't have an overarching philosophy of lyric writing, but I know what I like. I like slant rhymes and rhymes in the start and middle of words and in odd places in the bar. If I can write a narrative, I will. I tend to jam a lot of words in a short timeframe. We have a few songs in the works that Joe wrote the lyrics for and that Dan wrote the lyrics for. I don't want to give too much away. So far, the process seems to be pretty independent, but it's been hard to collaborate on lyrics since we haven't been able to have a practice as a full band since early December due to a cascade of COVID scares. Dan had the flu and had to miss the album release show, then I caught COVID, then Dan was exposed to COVID but didn't catch it, and now Joe has COVID.
JV: (Update: COVID in retreat) The lyrics for "Frozen Falls" are quite literary, and the back-forth two vocal parts are something I think we're going to continue to explore. Mark and I were out for a drink before rehearsal several weeks back, and he revealed the quasi-religious background of the ghost story in FF. I've ransacked some of my own pre-Goalie Fight songwriting to see what could be worth exploring again, but I'm more interested in creating new stuff. The rehearsals where we've presented new song material to each other have been totally fine in terms of the music (chords, changes, rhythms, etc.) and allow for a degree of collaboration. We're still figuring out how writing lyrics may or may not be as collaborative. And yeah, getting together over the last few weeks has been difficult due to COVID.
9. SJ: Yeah, COVID has really been ruining everything, especially for live music. What was your recording process for this album? Are all done by the Goalie Fighters, or was there outside collaboration?
MD: I was really into this one band from Pittsburgh, 'Same', and I saw that they had recorded their first EP, "Weird as Hell," at Very Tight Recordings. Matt Very was a friend of a few acquaintances of mine in Pittsburgh, so I called him up and asked him how many days it would take to record 25 minutes of music. After that conversation, I felt like he knew the reference points that I was drawing from and could help me achieve the sounds and style I wanted. He and I set up a spreadsheet of things that needed to get done and what each part would sound like and accomplish a month before we started tracking. We got everything done in three days, thanks to the magic of digital multi-tracking. Matt engineered, mixed, and mastered the album, and I played basically every instrument except for drums. I got two friends from CMU, Sujay, and Jonathan, to record some 'hey's and 'aah's and stuff. On our cassette, Dan, Joe, and Sam are thanked because we had already formed the unit by the time we got the cassettes printed, but I didn't know any of them while I was making the record. Getting a drummer was kind of a weird thing. I was getting back into Stan Rogers, and I was somehow reminded that Prince Edward Island exists, and I was interested to see what kinds of music clubs there were there. I browsed through a few on Google maps, and then some synapses in my brain made the connection that I could probably find a studio drummer anywhere in the world, including on Prince Edward Island. So I looked up "drum sessions Charlottetown" just to narrow it down, and I was absolutely shocked to find the website of Don't Wake Baby Studio, operated by Greg Alsop. For those of you who don't know, Greg Alsop plays drums for one of my first ever favorite bands, Tokyo Police Club. I sent him a proposal and a quote request. Two weeks went by; I didn't think much of it when I never got a proposal response from Don't Wake Baby. I sent a proposal to Seth Huff for four songs. Seth and I had met on the musicians' Discord server I mentioned previously. He produces for Glitch Gum, which is nominally a hyper pop act, but he's also a session drummer and engineer, and I think he's working down in Nashville nowadays. He agreed to brush off his pop-punk drum skills for me. This was when I got a text from an unknown Canadian number asking if I had gotten his emails about the drum tracks. After a few minutes of panic, I found that Greg's emails had been stuck in my spam filter. I had already paid half upfront for Seth's four tracks, so I decided to add the track that ended up being Evil Ramirez to the album and asked Greg to record the drums on that one. They both made all their drum tracks remotely, and I overdubbed my parts on top of their drum tracks. So yeah, that's how I ended up with a hyper pop producer and a member of the Canadian indie rock establishment drumming on our record.
10. SJ: Well that is quite the story! Thank you so much for sitting down with us; I really loved being able to hear more about "Roy Orbison"! What's next for Goalie Fight?
MD: Thank you for having us. We're kicking off a grand Roy Tourbison! It should have been this past January, but we had to cancel all of our dates due to the current COVID surge. We're tentatively rescheduling for April. All of our dates will be on our Instagram page @goaliefightband.
LONG STORY SHORT: Roy Orbison was initially inspired by the death of a legend, but turns into an indie punk work of art. Turns out, Craigslist can be good for something. Creating this band.
Stream Roy Orbison below! // Buy the cassette, here!
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