There’s a scene in Barbet Schroeder’s 1987 film Barfly where Faye Dunaway and Mickey Rourke’s alcoholic characters drunkenly stumble through a cornfield, snatching green ears to cook for dinner. When the cops inevitably show up, the two race through the basement of Dunaway’s dilapidated apartment building and ride the elevator up to her shabby unit. Feeling victorious, Dunaway boils a pot of water to cook the corn—but her triumph turns to devastation when she realizes the corn is inedible. “Nothing in this life ever works out,” she says through tears as she hurls the ear against a wall and collapses in a fit of anguish and self-loathing.
Eric Tessmer watched Barfly less than a month before he quit drinking. He recognized Dunaway’s outburst all too well. “It dredged up all these feelings in me—just constantly feeling like you’re in that cycle, but all you know to do is keep drinking,” the Austin-based guitarist says. “It’s the only thing you know that can make you feel good, and you want to feel good so bad.”
Tessmer put down the bottle for good in September of 2015. His struggle with addiction inspired “Good So Bad,” the first single off his forthcoming EP II. Languid guitar chords give way to Tessmer’s gloomy assessment of his past life: “Seems like every day’s the same/ I want everything but me to change/ I don’t want to be the way I am.”
“Once I had that first line done I was like, ‘Okay, just don’t f– up the rest of this song,’” Tessmer jokes. He started workshopping “Good So Bad” while writing songs for EP I, which he released in 2016. “I would mess around with it and put it on the shelf,” he says. “It was the one song I didn’t want to do unless it sounded exactly right.”
Tessmer finally finished the song and achieved his sonic vision with the help of multiplatinum producer Sean Beavan (Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson). “Good So Bad” is a radical departure from the guitarist’s earliest recordings—bone-dry live performances showcasing the six-string wizardry that first earned him attention when he crash-landed in Austin 15 years ago. Tessmer still flexes his furious fretwork on “Good So Bad,” but the song’s slinky hooks come primarily from a different instrument: his voice.
“Sean got the best vocal performances out of me that I have on record, because he was like, ‘Don’t do anything to your voice; just relax and sing the song,’” Tessmer says. The starkly confessional tone of “Good So Bad” also shows how far he’s come as a lyricist. “It got me thinking about being the elephant in the room,” Tessmer says. “Oh gosh, why am I always drunk all the time? I’m just a musician. That’s just what we do. But no, it’s not, really.”
The mournful, stuck-in-a-rut Tessmer of “Good So Bad” is far removed from the real-life Tessmer, whose sobriety lent him a newfound clarity while writing. “It just opened my eyes to s–” he says. “I wasn’t hiding behind anything.”
Faye Dunaway’s character in Barfly got it wrong during her corn-inspired breakdown. Life hurts, sure, but sometimes it does work out—as long as you’re willing to show up and put in the work to get the results. Eric Tessmer wanted to be good so bad. This is his journey.
— Bryan Rolli