For Folk’s Sake’s Caleb Farmer recently had the opportunity to sit down with Good Looks frontman Tyler Jordan. We spoke about their new album Bummer Year, how his social beliefs have come out in his music, and the rollercoaster the band has been on since lead guitarist Jake Ames was hit by a car after their album release show.
To start our conversation, Tyler described the ambiance the night of the accident.
TJ: It was a truly crazy thing. We had just played the most insane show we had ever played as a band at one of our favorite venues in Austin. This was a life highlight, just with all the positive energy, playing this sold-out show, and everybody being pumped and getting ready to leave the next day for our national tour. I went to bed just thinking about the last-minute things I needed to pack in the morning when I got some confusing texts from a friend who had been with Jake. [He’d] been taken to the emergency room.
TJ: In summary, Jake was walking to a friend’s car to get a ride home when he was struck by a car. He suffered some brain injuries, but we didn’t know how serious it was for a while. He’s still having some trouble remembering some basic things, but he’s recently taken some miraculous steps in his recovery. It’s just been scary because you don’t know with a brain injury how it could go. As hard as it was to have to cancel our tour, more than anything we are just really grateful he’s alright is getting better and gradually coming back to himself.
If you spend any time reading about this band, you know that the friendship between Tyler and Jake is the beating heart of Good Looks’ music.
TJ: Jake is my best friend and musical life partner. His sensibilities and instrument choices always bring an extra layer to the songs. He is a badass and I am constantly impressed with what he can do on the guitar. The possibility of him not being able to play was so hard because I wouldn’t be willing to do this without him.
Tyler was keen to talk about Jake’s musical contributions to Bummer Year.
TJ: Jake’s a monster and his guitar solos really stand out on this album, but you really need to see him live. It is just unreal. He improves every single guitar solo so you get a unique experience every time. I don’t know what it is, but nobody plays like him. He has this combination of tone perfection and energy on stage. We balance each other out really well. Jake is always very present in the moment all the time, and I am the planner always thinking ahead, very left brain. We are exact opposites as people, but it works really well with the band.
I write most of the songs on acoustic guitar, then we arrange the music as a band. There are some changes along the way, but the songs come mostly fully formed. As far as the lyrics go, I write about what I know. I have been writing songs for a long time, and over the past few years my songs have started to get more political.
After the accident, the band had to set up a Gofundme to help Jake with his upcoming medical bills, and Tyler couldn’t help but point out how that fact supports the socialist-leaning messages in their music.
TJ: It is absolutely ridiculous that something tragic happens to you, and you have to get your friends and family to donate money just so you can keep your head above water. Healthcare should be free. The way that exposes our broken healthcare system completely fits into some of the themes on this record. I am 100% a socialist and these songs are about how capitalism is terrible. This is one place, even if you are pro-capitalism, that it is really obvious that the market should not be affecting healthcare, and it is morally wrong for health care to be a product.
I asked him then what brought him to these beliefs and why he feels compelled to weave them into his music.
TJ: One of the things that radicalized me was sitting on the phone on hold waiting for healthcare.gov, trying to sign up for healthcare on the marketplace. The government is requiring me to buy insurance from a private company, and the government is going to subsidize it with tax dollars. If that is my team, I need a new team. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. From there I realized a lot of the social issues that I was interested in come to a head with capitalism.
That is where the journey started and from there it was just finding my own place within that movement. It is hard to find time to organize, especially as a musician that still relies on a day job. So what I came to is the fact that I’m most able to affect change and be helpful through my art. As a consequence, my songs have gotten more political. Also it is just natural that the stronger my beliefs have become, the more they’d seep into my songwriting. I’ll tell you what, once you start seeing the flaws in the system, you see them everywhere. Even a city that has a reputation as being a liberal place like Austin has plenty of local issues such as reinstituting a camping ban and making it illegal to lay down on the street in order to push homeless populations out of the city or having Tesla move in and not pay taxes for 10 years. Like I said, you see the flaws everywhere.
The song ‘Vision Board’ addresses these broken systems and the frustrations that come with them. Tyler walked me through the birth of that song, which began at the Kerrville Folk Festival, a festival he never misses and where he and Jake first met.
TJ: I go to this folk festival every year that I really love called the Kerrville Folk Festival. It is actually what the song ‘First Crossing’ is about on the album. While we’re there, I hang out with all these different people, especially these hippies. In that world there is a lot of talk about manifesting things and vision boards and thinking positive thoughts to get positive outcomes. But there is another side of that coin that says if you’re poor, it’s because you want to be and just ignoring the systemic limitations of what can and can’t be accomplished. Most people that go out to get a career go to college, and while some don’t get jobs, most of them do. It is a lot easier to do certain things. People who go out to make music a career and make a living, 99% of them who really try will still fail. The song is acknowledging the systemic limitations and how hard this task is to do. But [it’s also] me coming to terms with the fact that I have shit that’s keeping me from being successful. The song is where my personal mental health stuff and the system’s limitations come together and seeing both sides of that idea.
I wrote the song in 2018, so some of the headspace in that song…I was just super depressed. That was the same for the song ‘Bummer Year’. Thankfully, I am not as depressed now. I have been going to therapy for a long time. Over the years that inner critic’s voice has gotten less loud. It has been easier to rise above those internal voices. I think that voice is present for a lot of folks. It’s an evolutionary thing. That critical voice is there to keep you safe and put you in a situation where your life isn’t going to be threatened, but in some people that voice is overactive for whatever reason. For me, I had to work on understanding why that voice was there and unravel why it was so loud. I have had to become more mindful when it comes up and what the truth of the situation really is.
Figuring conservative Texans might be put off by Good Looks’ beliefs, I asked Tyler how their songs have been received around the state.
TJ: Most of the folks that would be bothered by it either aren’t paying attention or aren’t at the show. Or maybe the indie rock scene skews liberal. But I’ve been really surprised. We haven’t had a weird reaction anywhere. I really thought a few of our songs would start fights. I have never changed our set list because of the venue we were playing. It just hasn’t been an issue.
I will say though, one of those friends who are mentioned in the song ‘Bummer Year,’ like who joined a bike gang, came to a solo acoustic show I played in Houston a while back. He is still a friend of mine, and he showed up with his entire bike gang. And I swear to God, I cut that song. I hadn’t talked to him about it, and I said I am not going to get the shit beat out of me right now. That is the only time I have censored because of an audience, but I thought, yeah, this could be bad. I talked to him later and he was really chill about it, and it would have been fine. It was weird, we were recently about to play Galveston, and that same friend heard we were heading his way and invited us to his crawfish boil, which is so funny because it’s in the song.
‘Bummer Year’ is an important song for us because people get so stuck in this culture war mindset, and we want to rise above that language. Ultimately my friends who believe differently from me politically have the same interests as me, and so, as someone who is trying to organize, what I hope for is to show them that most of our interests overlap. So much of social media and this moment is about dunking on people or trying to be right in a way that is really performative. People use these tactics that just aren’t helpful. It just isn’t useful to attack people and have anger-fueled arguments on Facebook. We just want to meet people where they are. I am a firm believer in the fact that as individuals we are powerless. These monied interests are just so powerful, and there is so much money in our political system. So, if we are going to fight back and make any meaningful change, you just have to look back at our history that happens when there are mass movements. That is what I’m hoping to leave people with, whether I did or not.
Bummer Year is a relatable and straightforward album centered on Tyler’s lived experiences and beliefs. Whether he’s wrestling with inner voices, lamenting the power of the man, or reflecting on a past relationship, he doesn’t hide his lyrics in oblique or convoluted symbolism.
TJ: I get a lot of questions about writing and themes. “What is this record about?” or “What does it mean that this name ‘Lindsey’ keeps coming up multiple times?” I would just say, I want to emphasize that my writing is very literal. The people are real people in my life. If a name comes up multiple times, it’s because they exist and I am writing about them or to them.
With writing, I try to be really honest. One of my inner critics’ things, especially when I first started writing, was that I was afraid of sounding dumb. You are just so afraid people are going to judge you, and you’re going to sound like an idiot. So one of the ways I have avoided that–and it became part of my writing–is that, if I’m honest and literal, that is just how I deal with that. I write about what I know and follow that path. I’ve realized that where the writing is coming from can be misunderstood, but I am just writing from the perspective of what I see. Sometimes people are looking for a concept or some hidden meaning in the record, but ultimately there is not. These songs are created organically. I am just writing about my life.
As we concluded our chat, Tyler was heading off to meet with his bandmates to decide what’s next for the band. They’re already recording new songs that Tyler says will be from a better mental place.
TJ: I’m always going to write songs that are a little depressing, but our next record won’t be quite as much.
You can donate to Jake’s GoFundMe and get updates here. He is already playing guitar from bed, though to date he can’t have an amp plugged in because of his brain injuries. Keep an eye out for the band to get back out on the road as soon as Jake has recovered. In the meantime, you can listen to Good Looks’ Bummer Year now and their live Audiotree EP.
Words by: Caleb Farmer