Every band has a backstory. Some tell the tale of overcoming challenges while others seem to fall into place seamlessly. Many times people and factors outside of the band’s formation play a part in the growth and joining of talents. And it seems the majority of times where you live and who you grow up with are big factors in forming a band.
While The Goons, a rock trio made up of Angelo Tornetta (vocals and bass guitar), Hayden Leidy (guitar and vocals) and drummer Dominic Pecora, may have formed based on location and friendship, they were most definitely influenced by a few other factors.
A conversation with the band connects Leidy and Tornetta through an interest in guitar in middle school growing up in Northfield and jamming together. They had similar interests in music. Bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers were top on the list of musical influences, and the two wrote some lyrics to sing along with some of the music they were creating and playing.
Through their high school years at Mainland Regional they continued to play and enjoy jamming with other classmates as opportunities presented themselves. As seniors, Leidy and Tornetta decided to sign up for a song writing class taught by Chuck Penza, who has been teaching at Mainland since 1992. Drummer Dominic Pecora, from Somers Point, a fellow senior at the school, also signed up for Penza’s class.
Penza’s class met three times a week with the students were given an assignment and had three days in a row to work individually or with other students to prepare. The written musical work or jam was then presented or performed in class on the fourth day.
With a class size of 12 to 15 students, connecting with the right mix of talents seems like a good idea to Leidy. It did not take long for him to approach Pecora and ask him to join he and Tornetta to work together in the class. The jamming and weekly work in and out of school brought the students closer and they realized the idea of forming a band could be a reality.
While they enjoyed jamming and covering some of their favorite artists they knew that songwriting was something they needed to learn, however they did not know at the time the choice to take Penza’s class would help lead them to where they wanted to be. The class brought new styles, sounds and influences into the students' lives and music.
One of the first lessons of Penza’s course emphasized that a listening audience has expectations. According to Penza, the students learned “The audience expects songs to have form and structure. They expect songs to have good imagery, interesting rhyme patterns and lots of hooks including memorable lyrical or musical moments.” Penza also tried to show students that songwriting is craft as much as it is art.
Chuck Penza’s motivation to offer the course was he wished he could have taken a class like this when he was a high school student and a young musician. Penza notes, “Athletes have coaches to guide them. Hopefully, I can be the experienced adult who guides these beginning songwriters and helps to improve their writing and performing skills.”
The class struck a chord with Leidy, Tornetta and Pecora and the students started writing more structured original songs and playing them together. This time spent together, tightening their sound and skills, lead to an invitation to volunteer to play at a pep rally at Mainland. The band was set to play an original song called “Faculty Goons.” The song was a composition that included some of their favorite sayings repeated frequently by some of their favorite teachers at Mainland. Just before the band was to go on the announcer asked “What is the name of your band?” The bandmates looked at each other and said, “Call us The Goons.”
The gig and positive audience response set The Goons up for the MRHS Talent Show and creating a number of new original songs and learning a few more Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as Sublime and Beatles covers. Then the band played an open mic and another gig at the Ventnor Coffee House.
Some of their favorite originals to play include “Life’s a Dream,” “Kick It Back,” “I’m So Tired,” “The Cat King,” and a fan favorite called “The Seagull Song.” Written months before the hawk and owl introduction on the Ocean City Boardwalk, the band offered some prolific prophesying by including lyrics referring to “seagulls being illegal” in “The Seagull Song.”
Recently, The Goons played the Exchange in Linwood to a very positive response from the crowd and just released an EP of some of their favorite songs. They are also undertaking a social media campaign declaring in an amusing way that rock is dead and The Goons are on a mission and ready to bring it back to life.
When asked about the band as students and their skills, Penza said “The Goons are three of the most unique and memorable students I have ever taught. Angelo has been gifted with an amazing sense of humor. Hayden has a deep, deep appreciation for learning new things. Dom is a drummer who actually listens to what his band members are doing, which is rare at his age."
Penza’s support of the band continues even though Leidy, Tornetta and Pecora have all graduated. He went to Ventnor Coffee twice this past summer to experience The Goons live. Reflecting on the performance, Penza said, “It was a privilege to see and hear these young adults doing what they love. The joy they bring to their performances is infectious.”
According to Leidy, Tornetta and Pecora, Chuck Penza’s songwriting course was “the best class ever.” The instruction made an impact on the band and more than likely on the majority of students that have taken the class. Every band has a backstory and as The Goons continue to develop, grow and mature they will continue to connect back to the education foundation that Penza helped to create.
Listen Up! to The Goons. You can catch up with them on social media and follow their mission, recorded, live music and more across multiple online platforms.