Catching Up With Goose, (Still) America’s Next Great Jam Band

In the spring of 2022, I wrote a column in which I called the Connecticut-based quintet Goose “America’s Next Great Jam Band.” It was recognition right as the concert business was reopening of their quiet climb during the Covid era from obscurity to rapidly rising live music attraction. At a time when countless acts have struggled to find footing in a severely overbooked concert industry, Goose has transitioned in the past few years with relative smoothness from clubs to theaters to — in some parts of the country — arenas and amphitheaters.

It’s an achievement worth noting, hence the headline. In the 13 months since, however, the band members have had to deal with the ramifications of such hype. “The idea of being the next great singular American jam band,” guitarist Rick Mitarotonda says with wry grin while lounging backstage hours before a show in St. Paul last Sunday, “is not something I’d want to embrace.”

Nevertheless, Goose’s ascent has only accelerated in the past year. Upon the release of their very good third album Dripfield in June, which pared back their live improvisations in favor of a focused indie-pop sheen, they performed on stage with luminaries from the worlds of jam (Trey Anastasio, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh), indie (Father John Misty, Lucius), and even hip-hop (Big Boi, who played OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” with Goose in Austin). After headlining sold-out shows at Radio City Music Hall and Red Rocks Amphitheater in 2022, they commenced a successful five-night stand at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY this spring, which included a guest appearance by Jimmy Fallon, who hosted the band on The Tonight Show last December.

Anastasio’s appearance with Goose at one of the Radio City gigs — followed by a joint tour with Trey’s solo band in the fall — was especially crucial in establishing Mitarotonda and company as the top young band (along with the jam-grass star Billy Strings) in a scene dominated by decades-old legacy acts like Phish and the soon-to-be-retired (maybe?) Dead & Company. The moment when Anastasio sat in was half-seriously dubbed a “passing the torch” milestone, which naturally delighted their growing army of fans and enflamed online critics who dismiss Goose as Phish wannabes.

“The better you do, the more that seems to be amplified,” Mitarotonda reasoned. “People get triggered by certain things.”

No matter. Goose is in the midst of a sold-out spring tour that is only the beginning of possibly their busiest year of touring yet, with 64 dates already locked in and counting. And the “flock” of followers is hot on their trail. When I met up with Mitarotonda and guitarist/keyboardist Peter Anspach seven hours before showtime, I noticed that fans were already lined up outside the venue, no matter the unseasonably frigid Minnesota weather. They were eventually treated that night to more than three hours of music spread out over two sets, a typical show for this hardworking band.

The last time we spoke, I was joking with Peter about starting a feud with Stephen Colbert because he had invited the NYC-based indie band Geese on his show and not Goose. Since then, you have been on Kimmel and Fallon.

Peter Anspach: Haven’t been on Colbert, though.

The feud is real! But you also had Jimmy Fallon perform a song at one of your concerts. How did that happen?

Rick Mitarotonda: It’s actually really funny because there’s this whole thing — speaking of the internet — where people have this impression that [concert promoter] Peter Shapiro funds all of our shit and everything that we’ve done and happens for us is Shapiro orchestrating all this stuff and funding it all, which is obviously not true. “It’s the jam band Illuminati! We’re an industry plant of the jam band Illuminati!” [Laughs.]

But the funny thing was that [the Fallon appearance] actually was Shapiro. Because they’re buddies. I think they were hanging out one night and we had just sold out the five nights at the Cap. And he’s like, “Oh, you’ve got to check this band out.” And then we went and did his show. I forget how he wound up at the Cap that night, but I think they were just hanging out and he was there and checking out the show and we convinced them to come and do a thing, and it was great. He’s a great guy.

So it was pretty spontaneous?

RM: Yeah. He kept being like, “No, you guys are doing your thing. I don’t want to mess it up.” I was like, “Dude, come on, it’s going to be fun.”

Was it his choice to do “Mustang Sally”?

PA: We gave him a list of all the covers we know, and he got back with five songs, and “Mustang Sally” was one of them. I think it was the clear choice.

It’s a real “Bar Band 101” type song.

RM: We call it “Old Faithful.”

Another big thing that happened since we last spoke was your run at Radio City Music Hall last summer, which included your first sit-in with Trey Anastasio. That was a big moment on Jam Band Twitter. Was that also spontaneous?

RM: As far as these things go, it was spontaneous. I think it was the day before or something, maybe a couple of days before. His people reached out to our people.

PA: It was like, “Trey wants to come play.”

RM: We were like, “Yeah, of course.”

PA: And then we sent him a list of songs. We agreed upon two, and I think we played five or six with him, which was great.

RM: Every song we’d finish he’d be like, [whispers] “Should I stay?” Yeah!

Father John Misty also guested at that show. He seemed like he was having a ball on stage. He even played drums on “Tomorrow Never Knows.”

PA: He was so easy going about the whole thing because the Trey thing was huge and he knew that was huge for us, and he was just chilling, having a good time, just happy to be there playing. So it was awesome to see, he’s definitely the man.

You ended up touring with the Trey Anastasio Band in the fall. Has he given you any advice?

RM: That seemed like a solid part of his intention, to take us under his wing to some extent. It was incredible. I think it was an extremely formative experience. Speaking for myself, I learned a lot, and we gained a lot of perspective and just a different energy since then.

PA: When we shot the little promo video, every second that we were not shooting a take, he was trying to impart some wisdom, and trying to figure out what’s going on with the band. He was super excited and eager to talk about how we’re doing, and what we’re doing. He was really cool.

RM: He’s a really passionate guy. He just has a ton of energy and he’s just so excited by all this stuff. And getting to know him a little more, I really was more inspired by him than ever, actually. I’ve obviously always loved that band and what they do, but it all kind of makes sense in a different way now. He really is a special guy.

Was there anything in particular that he told you that you would want to share?

RM: It’s a bunch of personal stuff about just how life changes when you start doing well, things like that, which I feel in a lot of ways is a universal thing. But being a rock band and playing shows, it’s different.

PA: I remember really admiring the fact that he was fully about the show, just building and ending on a huge bang. And he just kept iterating that throughout the whole run he wanted to break the internet.

RM: He kept saying, “I love the drama.”

PA: Yeah, he loves the drama! It was cool to hear that because it’s definitely something I admire about Phish shows and TAB shows over the years. It does feel like there’s a great arc to the show.

RM: The first night I remember we went out and played, and afterwards he was like, “Well, how was the set?” I was like, “It was cool. We’re easing into it.” And he’s like, “Yeah … I don’t really do that.” And I was like, “Wait, you’re right.”

From then, the mentality was just like, “Let’s go.” If it was a different type of band, there’s other approaches that are appropriate. But for what this thing is, that is an appropriate energy, and that just stuck with me. I’m finding it to be really the right energy for what this thing is.

I hear that you hope to put out a new studio album next year. Have you started recording?

RM: Not yet. We start working on it next month. We’re playing a ton of music that hasn’t been recorded and we want to record most of it.

Are you working again with producer D. James Goodwin?

RM: Yeah. We’re pretty locked in with Dan.

As you mentioned, there are a lot of songs that you regularly play live that haven’t been recorded yet, including some of your best and most popular tracks, like “Silver Rising,” “Red Bird,” and “The Empress Of Organos.” How many songs do you have stockpiled at this point?

RM: It’s definitely 30 or more.

So how’s that going to work? Are you going to put out a triple album?

RM: There’s probably two records.

Are you going to put out two records on the same day like Guns N’ Roses?

PA: We can’t say.

RM: We’ve got a bunch of material and we’re just going to go in and see what happens, and then take it from there. There’s not a master plan yet.

Are there songs that you haven’t played live that are in that pile?

PA: A couple.

A lot of those songs have been staples of your live sets for a year now. How concerned are you that fans will compare the studio versions to whatever their favorite live performance is?

RM: That was a thing going into Dripfield. There were three new songs on there, but other than that, the rest we’d been playing for a long time. At that point we very actively wanted to break our paradigm. And Dan was really helpful, he was a great guy to help us do that. And it was exciting for us and opened a lot of doors creatively. Now it’s more like, “Let’s do that where it feels good, where it makes sense.” There’s less of a call to open a completely new door and abandon a lot of things that we already do.

Do you mean the new album (or albums) will sound more like you do on stage?

RM: I think that’s the intention. There’s less of a call to subvert what we do and more of an intention to embrace what we do. But I think there’s just less dogma in general. If what we do live feels exciting, then we’ll go with that.

PA: Since working with Dan, we just have a better idea of how to craft the arrangement. So a lot of these newer songs that were debuted in 2022, I feel like there must have been somewhat of an influence there from what he had taught us.

RM: I started writing songs with Matt Campbell again. We started Vasudo together. And a lot of the songs that we play now, we wrote during Vasudo time. Like “Silver Rising,” he had the musical concept and the lyrical concept, and then I helped finish the lyrics and tie together the music, and that’s how that one came together.

I remember we were in… I don’t know, we were somewhere, when I wrote the last verse of “Silver Rising.”

PA: It was Bend.

RM: We were playing Bend, Oregon that night, and I woke up and just wrote the second verse to “Silver Rising.” And then we played it that night and it was done, and then it was in rotation.

PA: We had been debuting a new song as the first song of the second set for five shows in a row, and “Silver Rising” was the sixth one. It was just like, “Oh, what’s tonight? What do we got?”

It’s so funny how after Dripfield came out, you started playing all of these new songs that weren’t on the album you were ostensibly promoting.

RM: Last year I think we debuted, not even including the record, around 14 or 15 new songs.

PA: Which was great, because we played a lot of shows and it was nice to have a deeper catalog. It goes a long way.

RM: There was just this energy of, “We’re cranking out tunes right now, and we need to play them.” Because we were playing all these shows, and we didn’t want to be playing the same shit over and over. We were just hungry to play new music.

I feel like that’s more of a jam band world thing to be debuting songs live before you record them. And it obviously makes it, on one level, less exciting when the record comes out. But there are advantages to it, too. And one of them is exploring it and honing it on the road and tweaking it.

If you wanted to make a “live in the studio” album, I assume you could knock that out pretty quickly, given how many times you have played these songs.

PA: We put out a live album every show. [Laughs.]

And as we discussed last time, that’s been a driver of your success, posting recordings of every show on Bandcamp and Peter, I know you used to be the one who mixed every show, so you have heard as many Goose bootlegs as anyone. Are you aware of the online polls about best Goose live performances?

PA: Well, there was a Jam Of The Year bracket, which was like 64 songs. And I went on a podcast when they were down to the last 16 and they were talking about the songs, and I talked about the songs with them. It was fun because I listened back to almost everything — or at least I had last year because I was still mixing everything — and it’s cool to reflect back on the improvisation that we had done and the really amazing moments because there’s so many of them. And it’s great that people are really paying attention to those things and talking about the music.

What was your jam of the year?

PA: The “Wysteria Lane” from San Francisco night two. Which is so funny because that night before the show we were all pretty wiped, and it ended up being a pretty special show overall.

Rick, I get the impression you don’t like to listen to concert tapes.

RM: It’s usually pretty valuable when I do listen. But yeah, I don’t know why I don’t listen more. It is weird. It is challenging listening to yourself, I find.

PA: My theory is that since I wasn’t in the band when it started, I was able to listen to Goose as a third-party person and loved it. Even after I joined the band, I still feel like I’m listening to Goose.

Any recent shows stand out?

PA: I love the last two in Chicago, I thought they were great. Band seemed to be flowing well, and in terms of the setlist, I thought we were really great, and I thought the improv was fresh.

How do you feel in general about how the band has evolved on stage in the past year?

RM: Well, I think we’re at an interesting point now. Last year was this huge growth year. There were a lot of new things happening and it was a lot of stimulation really, and a lot of subconscious pressure and things that come with all of that. So I think we’re just doing our best to show up to all of it and do our thing and be as authentic as we can. Now, not that much time has lapsed but it feels like we’re just in our lane, which is a really good feeling. The energy feels a lot more like it’s time to just cruise and build within. We laid out a lot of infrastructure laterally, you could say, and now it’s time to fill it in and add life to it.

PA: Just the other night we had a conversation about the music and just being intentional with what we’re playing. And those kinds of conversations go a long way because there was a lot of external craziness last year.

What do you mean by that, being “intentional”?

PA: It’s like, don’t just go out there and play a bunch of bullshit.

RM: Which we do anyway. [Both laugh.]

PA: With the sold-out shows on this tour, it feels like everyone who wants to be here really wants to be here. And they really want to be here to see us do our thing. And it’s a good environment for trying to focus on the music and what you’re playing as opposed to a big festival.

When you talk about external craziness, do you feel like a lot of people last year were coming out to the shows like, “OK, who are these guys? Who do they think they are?”

RM: For sure. I still feel that. I still feel the archetype of the Phish fan with their arms crossed out there. “Oh, they didn’t do Type II jamming,” or whatever.

PA: Those guys are in the front row!

RM: Now we’re like, “Maybe we don’t need to win those guys over.”

How critical are you of your own playing as a band? Do you talk about the show afterward and dissect what went well and what didn’t? I know the Grateful Dead and Phish did that for a time, and then eventually stopped because it can cause tension.

RM: There’s a lot to gain from doing that. It requires active energy to push ourselves and talk about that stuff, because the little time that we have to ourselves we just want to have a breather. But we’ve been doing it a little bit more the past couple of weeks and it’s very apparent that it’s like meditation. It’s like every time you do it, you’re like, “Why don’t we do this all the time?”

Do people ever get sensitive about potential criticism?

PA: You have to check that at the door because there’s nowhere to hide here. You’re on stage with everybody else. Everyone can hear what you’re doing. If you didn’t play so well, it’s no secret most of the time.

RM: I’m finding I overestimate sensitivity. Everyone’s really receptive and open to talking about things. Sometimes you get in your head and it feels like you can’t broach subjects. But when you do, it is so constructive almost all the time.

When we spoke last year, Rick talked about how much he loves songwriting and working in the studio, and that he might want to tour less to accommodate that. As far as I can tell, 2023 is about as busy tour-wise as 2022. How are you seeking that balance of touring and writing?

RM: This year it really did get out of hand. This year is entirely out of hand, but it’s been a conversation over the last couple of months. And I think moving forward it is a really tough thing to do because with this type of band, if you don’t play for a long time, you lose a lot of momentum in terms of the band’s communication and improvisation and things like that. It’s kind of athletic in that way. But the bigger arching creative aspect of it is very much not served by overdoing it — over-traveling, overplaying, all this stuff. We still need time to be truly creative. So that’s something I’m continuing to push for. And this year is what it is, it’s already booked. But the next couple of years, I think, we’ll hopefully be experimenting with a better balance with that.

PA: Yeah, getting the balance is very important, because it’s very easy to burn out from playing way too many shows, more so than we could probably even realize at the moment. This year is nuts. It is nuts especially with trying to record in the only area of the calendar where we’re off. It’s aggressive.

RM: Some people just live on the road, I guess. But we’re not built for 250 shows a year and never want to ever do that.