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The Pure Pop Magic of Good Looking Son

Following 2021's debut EP Fantasy Weekend, Keith Harman of the Cowboys returned last month with his Cincinnati-based project Good Looking Son and its anticipated debut LP Confirmed Bachelor on Feel It Records. Throughout the 11-track album, Harman and crew navigate through a kaleidoscopic boozy mess of '60s-tinged sunshine pop that's embellished with clever songcraft, sardonic humor, and a longing heart. To dive deeper into the project, we caught up with Harman to discuss how the album came together, its roaring production, and also get the scoop on the Cowboys' grand return.

Photo by John Hays

Distraught by the inactivity of the Cowboys throughout the pandemic, frontman Keith Harman was approached by Vacation guitarist-vocalist Jerome Westerkamp (aka Jerri Queen) about recording a stack of songs he had been sitting on for years. Queen had acquired his own analog recording studio called Checkered Flag Studios in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Harman saw it as a perfect opportunity to dive into a new recording project he now leads called Good Looking Son. Along with the bubblegum pop of ABC GUM and the Eddie Flowers-led Heavy Mother, Good Looking Son is one of the latest Cowboys-related projects that continues Harman's poetic stream of uncompromising humor and heartfelt melodies. Back in 2021, Harman unveiled the project's debut EP Fantasy Weekend, a kaleidoscope jumble of starry-eyed power pop and glittering psych with earworm after earworm. While that continues across the project's debut LP, Confirmed Bachelor, Harman along with Queen, John Clooney (Vacation, Tweens), and Andrew Jody (Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, Long Gones) shine through complex baroque pop and delicate sunshine pop stylings in roaring fashion with ten original tracks and a blazing cover of the Bee Gees classic "I Don't Think It's Funny." Boozy crystalline pop numbers like "*Glasses Clink, Men Laugh*" and "The Soft Open for the Cabaret" are tales of mending heartbreak that recall past pop confections (Harry Nilsson, the Walker Brothers) with its ripples of sombrous piano chords. Rollicking garage nuggets like "Longform Girlfriend" and "Lord Demon's Delight" make rainbows with their delightfully ramshackle guitar hooks and stunning sonic qualities. To dive deeper into the project, we caught up with Harman to discuss how the album came together at Checkered Flag and also get the scoop on the Cowboys' grand return.

Paperface Zine: Hey Keith! What have you been listening to and watching/reading lately?

Keith Harman: I've been listening to classical music primarily again. Used to be pretty into Beethoven and Schubert back when Cowboys first started up, but I just did a deep dive into Mozart after watching the film Amadeus. I'm not really reading much these days — the nature of the day job has me doing the audiobook thing. Just finished a definitive Mozart biography and started a biography of media tycoon Sumner Redstone. PZ: When we premiered the Good Looking Son EP back in 2021, you told me the recording project basically started due to being distraught by the Cowboys' inactivity during the pandemic. What made you want to continue this project especially now with a full-length album.

KH: Well after putting Fantasy Weekend out, the Cowboys were still largely inactive. So I figured I'd record more songs from the vault. Decided on a full-length and selected songs based on lyrical themes and such. The Cowboys started grumbling for a return as the album came to a close. PZ: You've approached this project in a similar way you'd construct Cowboys songs; blueprint power pop and '60s-inspired sunshine pop-adjacent songs that are in the same realm as the Kinks, The Move, Monkees, and early Bee Gees. What were the main inspirations behind the songwriting on these eleven new tracks? What's your songwriting process? Do you have a preferred way to write? KH: Inspirations were the usual. I was thinking of Curt Boettcher's There's an Innocent Face and the Michael Nesmith solo albums. Boyce and Hart and the Monkees which I never really listened to before were also in rotation. A song can be written any which way, but the average way it happens is I sit down at the piano or with a guitar and I just play. I'll come up with a chord structure and a melody, flesh it out, and then put it away. Lyrics can happen immediately ("The Neighbor Girl" took 15 minutes) or take as long as 13 or so years ("Lovely Land of Massacre"). I used to think lyrics are the least important part of this process but now I'm wondering if they must be the most important. Who knows.

Photo by John Hays

PZ: How did you get connected with Jerri Queen, Andrew Jody, and John Clooney to back you on the album's sessions?

KH: I always knew Jerome peripherally just due to being in a band. I caught Vacation in Chicago a month before the pandemic started and we all shared some laughs and had a really good time. Moved back to Cincinnati during the virus and reached out to him at the end of summer 2020 just to kick it. We immediately started writing and collaborating on songs, putting together a pandemic only band called Anderson Ferry, as of yet unreleased. Andrew Jody played bass in that. So when it came time for GLS to happen, I had Andrew play bass and Jerri on drums. He plays guitar in Vacation, but I think he's really a drummer. Clooney is a homie and he really rounded out the album by giving it these lead guitar flourishes. He provided some long sought after over-the-top playing that I felt my songs are asking for sometimes.

PZ: What was it like putting this whole album together at Jerri's Checkered Flag Studios?

KH: It's great. Jerri's built a wonderful space in a basement right now and the goal is to move it to a dedicated building on its own soon. But it's just easy to do it there and it sounds great. He's enthusiastic, supportive, and very accommodating. Jerri’s a good captain in the chair. A true cohort and colleague. PZ: What was the most fun you guys had while recording? KH: Hard to say. I tend to have a ball recording. Maybe it was a Tuesday evening, Jerri's birthday. We just wanted to work on one little thing before stepping out on the town. One by one then more and more friends and homies started showing up and populating the basement. So I decided to get everyone to do the "la la la" coda at the end of "Glitter Everywhere" just real quick. That was fun. It was actually pretty sloppy upon reflection so it's mixed low and I redid it myself but it's still there and adds to the whole production.

PZ: What's the meaning behind the album's title? How does it tie into the themes explored?

KH: I discovered that phrase maybe a year ago. It's actually a coded phrase because apparently it's something old time obituaries would use to write about someone who was gay, which I thought was pretty cool. It fit because I think the album's songs were kind of linked by themes of boozy delinquency, libertine lifestyles, and their discontents.

Photo by John Hays

PZ: Let's dive into some of the songs here. Talk to me about how "*Glasses Clink, Men Laugh*" came together. Its pure, boozy crystalline pop that reminds me of what Harry Nilsson would've released.

KH: I'd had that Bacharachian chord and melody for a while. I remember having Jordan [Tarantino] play it with me back when the Cowboys lived in the same house, so that would have been 2016-17. The title comes from subtitles, a great way to find little bits of humor. I watched some English crime movie and had the subtitles on. When the gaggle of conspirators raised their drinks and cheered their plan, the subtitle read, "*glasses clink, men laugh.*" It's a highlight for me, musically.

PZ: The lead cut "Longform Girlfriend" sounds like it would've fit perfectly onto a Cowboys record. A bit of a tongue-in-cheek pop song with a swinging '60s-inspired production style. How did this one come about?

KH: It's fairly unremarkable in its conception. Kind of crapped it out one afternoon. Looks like it was first sketched out in September 2018. I made a demo for the Cowboys' would-be sixth album around that time before the band kind of halted. I thought the title lent itself to a whimsical tune. A song about nostalgia ultimately. Then Clooney and Andrew kind of threw in that Orbison riffage throughout which helps develop the song. Jerri and I couldn't resist ourselves, we had to match that with a low voice spoken bit. We go back and forth as to whether or not that works.

PZ: You know I thought I heard Jerri on that! I also love how Sparks-sounding the title track is. What was the vision behind this one? KH: Just to be big. Big, brash, layers and layers all maximizing until the balloon pops and then it ends on the quiet, swinging piano ditty. Lyrically, it's a personal riddle, but kind of the kernel of the record maybe hence why it received that title late in the making of the album. I want to go on a little tangent here — I've had that end piano melody since I was 18-years-old or something, holding onto it for something special. Back around that time when I was 18 or 19, I met and befriended this guy a few years older than me named Doug Foster. I would go to his family's house and we'd listen and play music late into the evening while his parents were away on vacation. I would play that piano line every now and then and we would jam on it. He always thought it was delightful, pleasant, whatever, he liked it. In the music room there was a poster for this local '80s Cincinnati country band called Cheyenne that Doug's father was in. It also happens that John Clooney's father was in that same band at the same time. I don't know if that's interesting or not, but I thought it was some kind of grand cosmic occurrence.

PZ: I love this rollicking and totally rockin' cover of the Bee Gees' "I Don’t Think It's Funny." What made you want to cover this for the album? KH: I always loved that song since I discovered it — it's a real gem. At some point I conceived this Ramones-esque interpretation of it. I demoed it and I think the Cowboys played it once a while back in Bloomington. It just felt right to include it — the last song, "that’s all, folks!"

Photo by John Hays

PZ: What track off the new album do you like the most and why?

KH: Maybe the title track because it's so grand. "The Soft Open for the Cabaret" is also pretty special. I like the lyrics and Clooney's guitar solo. I'm pretty proud of that one.

PZ: I remember you referring to Good Looking Son as just a recording project, but can fans expect any live shows down the road? Maybe Cowboys playing Good Looking Sons like "The Neighbor Girl" or "Long Form Girlfriend"? KH: No, I would not think so. It's far too complicated to do it justice for some of the songs and I barely like playing live as is [laughs]. Your best bet is the Cowboys playing some select cuts. PZ: Is this the last we hear from Good Looking Son? I see the Cowboys are reemerging with shows this weekend and a new album.

KH: Not sure — I'm hard at work on a bevy of songs. I'm constantly adjusting what song belongs in which project column, there's never much reasoning to that decision anyhow. I want to follow up the upcoming Cowboys album with another one not too far behind it. I'll probably reassess GLS when I reach that point. PZ: What’s the rest of the year looking like for you? What can you tell readers about the forthcoming Cowboys LP coming out later in the summer on Feel It Records?

KH: Rest of the year is pretty busy. Trying to continue working on songs. Moving back to Chicago. We're doing a little tour in the late summer and early fall. The upcoming Cowboys record — I like it a lot. I led the band from the piano in the room on a lot of the songs so it's got that kind of feel. It was a struggle to finish writing it, but I'm happy how it turned out and that we got the original four Cowboys all back together. Everyone is happy with it and Mark [McWhirter] even said he likes it more than Rotten Flower so there you go.

Confirmed Bachelor is out now on Feel It Records.


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