Tyler Jordan grew up in a South Texas town, a place split between two religions, petrochemicals and Christianity. From the latter, he learnt to sing, from the former he learnt about injustice, the wealth gap and human’s uneasy relationship with nature. In a story commonplace amongst many music-obsessed teenagers from small towns, Tyler quickly felt the big city calling and moved to Austin aged just nineteen. There he hit the city’s crowded streets busking and learned what it was to be a musician. He also met Jake Ames and started both the collaboration that would become the band Good Looks, and began the journey towards the band’s brilliant debut album, Bummer Year, out at the start of April on Keeled Scales.
Listening to Bummer Year, I struggle not to see parts of myself in the songs Tyler writes, even if they tell the tale of a life happening nearly 5000 miles away. Whether Tyler is singing from the heart on the opening track Almost Automatic or picturing a post-capitalist world after the major corporations’ greed brings about their own downfall on the majestic 21, he seems to have a way of taking the thoughts in your head and putting them into a song, and often a damn good song.
Take the recent single Bummer Year, from a cursory listen, it’s just a beautiful slice of stripped back distinctly American indie, a natural successor to a lineage from Wilco, through to Two Gallants and modern contemporaries like Horse Thief or My Morning Jacket. Dig into the words though and the trademark thoughtfulness of Tyler’s lyricism emerge. The song begins with differences, Tyler recalling school friends who, “joined up with a bike gang and voted Donald Trump”, yet ultimately it becomes a celebration instead of the things that bring us together in a world where the few get rich and the many struggle onward, “if we’re gonna make a comeback, we’re gonna need those people. Like my friends on the bottom that don’t know who to fight“. Tyler might be down, a little bruised and a bit broken, yet there’s fight in him yet, “no matter who you vote for, conservative or liberal, through piles of god damn money, your voice don’t make a sound. Our strength is in our numbers, in the streets is where we show them, you force someone to listen to you when they’re fucking scared”.
Recorded with the ever-excellent Dan Duszynski, Bummer Year is ultimately a record about humanity, battling through the sludge when it seems distant, and nourishing it in the relationships that make it all worth doing. A folk record that knows when to be loud, a rock record that knows when to be tender, a collection of love songs, protest songs, songs from the gut and songs from the heart.
Ahead of the record’s release and a hectic SXSW schedule, I recently spoke to Tyler about his influences, bridging the gap between the personal and the political, and why he’s, “confident that if we want a future, we’re going to have to organize and fight for it.”
FTR: For those who don’t know, who are Good Looks?
We are a four piece, blue-collar, political indie rock band based out of Austin, TX. Musically we occupy a similar space to Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs but with more guitar heroics.
FTR: Your debut album, Bummer Year, is out in April what can you tell me about the recording process?
We made this record with our friend Dan Duszynski in the Texas hill country at his recording studio, Dandy Sounds.
FTR: I love Dan’s music, how did that collaboration come about? What did he bring to the process?
Dan kinda came into my orbit through his yearly unofficial showcase, Chill Phases, that he hosts on the final Sunday of SXSW out at his recording studio. I would go out there and hear all these incredible bands in this idyllic setting. I became familiar with some of the records he’d played on, recorded, and produced, and I thought,” I’ve gotta work with this guy!”
Dan is a true pleasure to work with. First and foremost, he’s got incredible ears. He knows exactly what a song needs or is missing. He added little layers of auxiliary percussion, keys parts, and even a guitar line or two, to help glue the record together. There’s no one better in the Austin area.
FTR: What were the influences on Bummer Year? What were you listening to when you made the record?
I was listening to a lot of Parquet Courts and Kurt Vile. Also, I’m always listening to Neil Young, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, and Patti Smith. I’m not sure if those influcences really shine through or not.
FTR: I read you and Jake bonded over a shared love of country music. Do you think that’s audible in Good Looks’ music?
We both really love country music, although I don’t think it’s particularly apparent in our music. The country artists that I love like Townes and Willie have a certain plain-spoken, earnestness to their songs. I’d like to hope that some of that is present in my writing as well. We’re from Texas but this ain’t a country record.
FTR: The record seems to ask a lot of questions about where modern America is. How is your relationship with your country right now? Are you confident about the future?
Oh you know, it’s a mixed bag man. I don’t feel confident in the future. It sure seems like we’re headed in the wrong direction in this country. Climate change is being ignored. Access to abortion is being eroded. Inequality between the wealthy and the poor is growing. Immigrants are still being turned away or detained at our border. Black people and other people of color are being murdered by police.
But at the same time, there are glimmers of hope. There’s new life in the union movement and the working class seems to be waking up. I’m confident that if we want a future, we’re going to have to organize and fight for it. When it comes to voting in this country we really only have 2 options. Really bad and mostly bad. Things will not get better on their own or by “voting blue” once every 4 years.
FTR: Listening to the album, there seems to be a lot of frustrations within it, was it important to you that the record questioned the world around you, rather than just being a reflection of your own experience?
I’m generally writing to make sense of my own feelings about something. Sometimes I’m writing songs to or for specific people. All of it is very literal. The names included in the songs are real ha. I don’t really think about things like whether my writing questions the world around me. I just write and hope that it resonates. I just try to be honest.
FTR: Would you say your songs are protest songs? Do you think music can make a difference to the world it exists in?
I think some of these songs have protest elements to them. I think music can be a powerful tool to connect people to their own emotions. In that way, it can help inform how you view yourself and your place in the world, and I think that extends to political topics. It helps bridge the gap from political to personal. I sure hope that it makes a difference.
FTR: Why do you make music? Do you have any creative outlets beyond music?
Music is the way that I articulate emotions and thoughts that I can’t find the words for or maybe didn’t even know that I had. I’m actually incredibly left-brained as a human being. I tend to occupy that side of my brain most of the time. Writing songs and making music are really the only creative outlets I have. And songs are so structured, short, and with relatively few words. They’re an extremely comfortable way for me, and I would imagine other left-brained people, to be creative.
FTR: How’s the music scene in Austin coping post-pandemic? It’s obviously been a difficult time for bands/venues etc, does the city still have a strong scene?
I think the scene here is still good, but I definitely fear for the future of that scene in Austin. I moved here when I was nineteen to pursue music. I try to put myself in the shoes of some other kid deciding whether or not to come here, and I don’t think I would. It’s gotten so expensive to live here. It would be really hard to make it work. Going back to the 70s, our music scene was built on Austin being affordable and cheap housing, and I think lack of affordability is going to crush it.
FTR: The album’s coming out on Keeled Scales, how did you come to work with them?
I actually met Tony from Keeled Scales out at Chill Phases, Dan’s thing I mentioned earlier. I noticed that several of the Dan produced/recorded albums that I liked were coming out on Keeled Scales. Tony and I also worked together on a moving truck doing house moves. Tony and I have a lot of horror stories about that haha. However it happened, I’m so happy and grateful to have found a home at Keeled Scales. They’re truly great people to work with and have done incredible things for us so far. The number of hours Tony puts in every week is staggering.
FTR: This record sounds like it would really work in a live setting, what can people expect from the Good Looks live show?
A Good Looks live show is rowdy as hell. We’re a little more rocking live than on the record. Seeing Jake rip guitar solos in-person everynight, always improvised, is really something to behold. I feel lucky to get to see it. I hope we get the chance to come over and tour the UK soon.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? Do you see music as a viable career?
I just wanna quit my day job man. I’m a lifer and I’ll be doing it whether it pays the bills or it doesn’t. But I do feel really hopeful and excited about the opportunities and possibilities this record has afforded us so far. I wanna go platinum ha.
FTR: What’s next for Good Looks?
Well, as I write this out, we’re about to play 7 shows during SXSW, including our official performance at Cheer Up Charlies at the Keeled Scales/Polyvinyl Showcase Thursday, March 17th. We just released our 3rd single and title track ‘Bummer Year’ and the whole album comes out on April 8th. We’ve got a tour to New York and back coming in April, and a west coast tour planned for late June and early July. We’re recording a new album in May. Things are really rolling over here! Thanks so much for interviewing us and all the stellar press we’ve received from you guys thus far!