Good Looks’ ‘Lived Here For A While’ Is One Of 2024’s Best Rock Albums

When Tyler Jordan was young, he was told that playing an instrument went against God’s word. The son of a preacher growing up in Lake Jackson, Texas — a town located about an hour south of Houston known for being the corporate hub of Dow Chemical — he was raised in a “cult-like” Christian sect that subscribed to Biblical literalism. In church, only a cappella singing was allowed. The Devil couldn’t abide a piano or guitar, but the unaccompanied voice, apparently, was copacetic. “Their whole thing is that the commandment is to sing and it doesn’t say anything about playing instruments,” Jordan tells me during a Zoom call last month. “The idea is just that to do only what he asks and no extra.” He smiles and then adds, “They’re weird in a lot of ways.”

As Jordan entered his teen years, he naturally rebelled. He turned 13 in 2000, the year when Napster was at its cultural zenith. He spent his days downloading indie-rock albums and scouring reviews on All Music. This coincided with his parents pulling him out of school and educating him at home. The weirdness surrounded him like a wall. Music was his only escape.

A few years later, “my life really changed” when Jordan saw Spoon play live twice in the same week on television, on The Late Show With David Letterman and Austin City Limits. “I was like, ‘Man, if these guys are from Austin, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. That’s where I need to go,’” he recalled. Several years later, at age 19, Austin is where he went.

This is how Jordan, 37, recounted the origin story for his tangled path in music, which culminates this week with the release of Lived Here For A While, the excellent new album by his four-piece band, Good Looks. Over 10 songs, Jordan writes candidly (and often bruisingly) about his strict religious upbringing, the traumatic abuse doled out by his father, and the indifference in the face of that abuse exhibited by his mother. Sometimes, he does this with devastating directness, like the album-closing “Why Don’t You Believe Me.” But more often, Jordan leavens the lyrics with surging, fist-pumping music that make his autobiographical lyrics feel more universal. On the single “If It’s Gone,” for instance, Jordan references his ongoing familial estrangement (“I already lost my mother / Left my family far behind / And I don’t believe in Jesus / God, or Buddha, or beyond”) in a manner that somehow manages to register like a feel-good Tom Petty road-trip anthem.

The key musical partnership in Good Looks is between Jordan and guitarist Jake Ames, his best friend who suffered near-devastating injuries after being hit by a car at the hometown album release for 2022’s winning Bummer Year. (Ames, thankfully, recovered.) Jordan — who lists Steve Earle as his favorite all-time songwriter — admits that Good Looks would likely hew closer to a more conventional Americana sound if not for Ames, an inventive and largely improvisational player whose soaring leads pull the band toward a more widescreen, War On Drugs-type sound. This is the case even when Jordan, an avowed socialist, takes Lived Here For A While in an explicitly political direction on songs like “Whiteout” (which addresses gentrification in Austin) and “Vultures” (which deals with income inequality). No matter the subject matter, Lived Here For A While strikes an effective balance between lyrical weightiness and musical breeziness, resulting in one of 2024’s most satisfying and well-rounded rock records.

Good Looks has been commonly described as a heartland rock band. Was Springsteen or Petty an actual influence on your songwriting?

I didn’t listen to any Springsteen or any kind of heartland rock growing up. This last year was the first time I ever listened to a Tom Petty record. I think the most heartland rock I am is in the last five years, I’ve become a huge Steve Earle fan. Just fucking love Steve Earle. He’s probably my favorite songwriter now of all time.

When did you start writing songs? You definitely have that melancholy quality to your songs that a lot of the great singer-songwriters from Texas have.

I played piano for a long time and I never really wrote with that, but within two weeks of picking up a guitar I was writing songs. It just came really naturally. In my hometown, I had a band and I was playing at coffee shops from 16 to 19.

One of the things about my writing is that I was always really afraid of sounding dumb. The way that I would protect against that is just by singing about exactly what I know. All of my writing is very literal. It’s all stuff that happened. I had a pretty hard childhood, and there’s a lot of sadness there, and I’m kind of working through that. Even on this newest record, there’s a lot of Mom songs on there. I was so depressed for so much of my life. I feel like I’m in a pretty good place right now, but sad songs came the easiest for sure.

“Day Of Judgement” is an obvious “Mom” song from the new album.

Yep, it is. It’s weird because there weren’t any on the last one, but there were some on the record before that when it was a different project. I thought maybe I had written all of those songs and then they came back up.

What do you think accounts for that?

It just takes a long time to unravel trauma. I think it takes a long time to unravel your childhood. I mean, I’ve been in therapy for 12 years, every week going to therapy, and it’s a long process. The way that that song came up was literally the way a lot of my writing happens — I come up with one line and then it kind of flows and then I edit it afterwards or maybe change things around. But this is just an example of, yes, I had a dream about my mom where she was talking shit to me, so I just started writing that song.

It’s a dark song, but there’s humor there. You talk about your Mom watching Wheel Of Fortune.

That was my Mom’s favorite show when I was growing up. She would always have it on television.

And you have a conversation with her about Vanna White.

There was so much judgment in my childhood and that sect of Christianity, they think that 99.9 percent of people are going to hell. It’s a really weird thing.

Are your parents aware of what you’re doing now?

I haven’t talked to my parents in 12 years, so I don’t have a relationship with them. I have a couple of relatives, like a cousin or something, that I talk to every now and then, so I would imagine that they know on some level, but I don’t know if they listen to the records.

The core partnership in the band is between you and Jake the guitarist. You’re writing these intense, personal songs, and then he lays these big, soaring guitar parts over them. Without Jake, it seems like Good Looks would fall more into the straightforward Steve Earle-style, singer-songwriter lane.

I agree with that. I’m not going to tell him you said that [laughs]. But no, I think that’s fair. He uses a lot of chorus, but in a really interesting way. Most of the chorus effects you hear in indie rock, it’s all post-Mac DeMarco, without any sort of distortion to it. But he uses chorus in a way that is more post-punk, and so it’s more aggressive but distinctive. It’s what makes it chimey.

How long have you known each other?

Just under 10 years. We met each other in 2015, at the Kerrville Folk Festival. I don’t know if you’re familiar with it, but it’s an 18-day-long folk fest that happens just outside of Austin. It’s been going on since 1972. We got to know each other through that, and then just started hanging out a little bit in Austin. I didn’t want a lead guitar player because they take up a lot of space. I’m a control freak, and giving up that sonic territory was always really scary to me. But then he just kept geting better and better, and I was like, “Okay, this guy should probably be in the band.”

Jake’s such a feel player. He improvises everything, and I’m so buttoned down. That is definitely the balance of the band, and it’s a struggle, because he’s my best friend, and then we’re complete opposites. Like, we could not be more different. But I really do think that is the good stuff of what we’re doing. When Jake had the accident a couple of years back, I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to continue playing music. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I was immediately like, “There’s no Good Looks without him. There’s no way.” There’s no way to replace him. It wouldn’t be the same thing.

Jake was hit by a car, and then in 2023 the band had an accident where your tour van got rear-ended and you lost all your equipment. Have you ever had a moment where you thought, “Maybe we’re cursed?”

That’s the thing: It feels like they’re unlucky situations that we were incredibly lucky in. The fact that Jake is still playing guitar and within six months his brain was pretty much back to normal, that’s crazy. As for the crash, it was the first day of a three-week tour, and we were an hour away on an eight-hour drive day from the venue. The fact that nobody died or had a broken bone in that situation is insane. It could have been so much worse, man.

So you’re not at all discouraged about touring?

My life is a long story of taking really bad things that happened to me and turning them into good. So both of those incidents probably helped us more than they hurt us. Obviously I didn’t want Jake to get hit by a car, but that happening right as the album was released, that got us a lot of press. There was a story to tell. It weirdly helped promote the record.

And then we lost all of our shit. The van burned and we watched all of our gear burn up in front of us. But it made room for all this new stuff to come in, just better gear. It felt cleansing in a way.

The story I like to tell is that we were at the hospital, because everybody was having crazy muscle spasms. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a crazy car wreck, but that’s what happens. As soon as the adrenaline wears off, you start seizing up a little. So we decided to go to the emergency room just to get checked out. And I was already like, “Okay, so we’ve got to rent a van, and we’ve got to…” I’m running through the checklist of things we need to do to get back on the road. And our drummer, Phil, is like, “I don’t have fucking shoes right now,” because he had lost his shoes in the crash. He was just barefoot. And he’s like, “I don’t want to fucking think about going back out there right now.” It’s like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, you’re right. You’re right. This is too soon.”

You identify as a socialist. What was your path to that?

I voted for Obama and I was just a liberal for most of my twenties. I was actually on the phone for Obamacare, and I think it was a radicalizing moment. They put me on hold for two hours trying to sign up that first time. And it just gave me all this time to think. I was like, “OK, so the government is requiring me to get health insurance through a private corporation, which they’re subsidizing with tax dollars. And this is my team? I need a new fucking team.” And then also with the Black Lives Matter movement, I started looking for places to put effort to work on oppressions and socialism just tied all of the oppressions that I care about.

The last record was mostly written between 2015 and 2018. We recorded it in 2018, and it was done by 2019, and then as we were ramping up to put it out with Keeled Scales, the pandemic happened. And so we sat on it for a few years. But basically in that time period, I was in this smaller Trotskyist kind of socialist group. So Bummer Year is directly related to that work in socialism. “21” is about the labor theory of value. And I mention Marx in “First Crossing,” in that section about water rights. It informs a lot of how I think about the world.

In the song “Bummer Year” I was writing about friends from back home and people that I used to know that went the other way. They went libertarian and radical in the other direction, and I was so depressed and just trying to make sense of that. A lot of people mistook that song as a “we should all get along” song, but in my brain, it’s actually like, “No, as a socialist, we need to win these people over.” I always think our job is to organize as many people as possible because there’s so many people in this country that vote against their interests and support Trump when he does nothing but make their lives worse. You don’t win by dunking on those people. You don’t win by shaming those people. You win by meeting them where they’re at. You win by trying to bring them onto your side and show them how the world’s really organized.

To me “Bummer Year” stood out, not as a “we should get along” song, but as a “Trump supporters aren’t necessarily monsters” song. Which seems very unique, and I suspect that perspective comes from living in Texas rather than one of the coasts.

Well, and I just think about my life, too. I went from a really, really conservative background and believing all these really crazy things, and my brain just totally changed. So it’s possible for folks to move and shift. I haven’t always been a socialist. I was much more of a centrist and maybe even on the right. I hate to use the term “cancel culture” because it makes you sound like Joe Rogan. But I do think that there was a lot of really black and white thinking on the internet about a lot of issues when the reality is it’s always gray. There’s so much stuff in the middle, and people are so complex that I think there is comfort and control in being able to put people in their boxes. But the reality is not there.

A strength of the album is that the personal and political content is layered into this feel-good rock sound. How do you strike that balance, between making your point and delivering a really good rock record?

When I write politically, I always try to avoid most buzzwords. I think a lot of what happens is there’s the signaling that goes on where when you say a certain thing that signals to the other side, like, “Oh, he’s on their team. I know what box to put them in.” I try to be sneaky about it because I think that’s how you get to people. You get past the defense. You just tell the human story of it more than you say the buzzword, and then you have an actual chance.