The Cover Story

Better Lovers: “This is so much more than a side-gig. This is a fire that burns inside of us”

From their explosive shared energy to an endearingly “childlike” love for making music, supergroup Better Lovers have all the drive and hunger of a brand-new band. Before they embark on their first UK headline tour, Jordan Buckley and Greg Puciato reflect on the circumstances that brought them to this point – and their unstoppable future…

Better Lovers: “This is so much more than a side-gig. This is a fire that burns inside of us”
Nick Ruskell
Gabe Becerra

For Jordan Buckley, moving forward is key. Through grief, through darkness, through anger and depression, bitterness and loss – you escape the frustrating, toxic static of their emotional concrete shoes by moving away from them, out of reach of their clutches. Then you can flourish again.

Right this second, Jordan is literally moving forward. In a van with two of his four Better Lovers bandmates Clayton ‘Goose’ Holyoak and Steve Micciche, he’s talking to Kerrang! as they eat up seven hours’ worth of road, travelling from home in Buffalo, way up in the top left of New York state, closer to Niagara Falls and Canada than to New York City, to New Jersey, and band practice in guitarist and in-demand producer Will Putney’s recording facility.

Better Lovers is all part of moving forward. In December 2021, Jordan, Goose and Steve’s previous band Every Time I Die, one of the most important and influential acts of their time, played what would be their final shows, in Buffalo. Coming not long after the release of the excellent and explosive Radical – named Kerrang!’s Album Of The Year, a winner by a laughably wide margin – the split, confirmed the following January, was sudden, and provably not a result of lack of creative spark or energy. Statements were issued by singer (and Jordan’s brother) Keith Buckley, and the rest of the band about the parting of ways. The internet somewhat unfairly speculated on the reasons, which were, since the band didn’t want to get too much into it, nobody’s business.

Still, the full-stop was definite. Or, for Every Time I Die it was. Not for the men who'd just come out of it, though.

“When Every Time I Die broke up, it was a dark time,” Jordan says today. “I had to use whatever I could to get me back on my feet. I just had a ridiculous belief in myself and the music I was writing. I put absolutely every single thing in me into starting a new band and looking at it that way. But I also knew full well that this is what I meant to do. This is what I’m supposed to do.

“It would be very easy to say, ‘Alright, well, maybe that was enough of that,’” the 41-year-old continues. “But I got bit by the bug, and I will probably be doing this for the rest of my life. You could you could take this band away from me, and I would just have to start another one.”

When Jordan speaks about his new band, everything he says is at speed and with a likeable, almost innocent excitement. While he is, by his own admission, a quiet and private man with most things, he also says when it comes to art and music, he can’t help but show it off, be jazzed about it. He’s jazzed about Better Lovers’ amazing recent EP, God Made Me An Animal.

He’s jazzed about their imminent UK tour (about which he’s even more jazzed when K! informs him that London’s New Cross Inn has the amusing quirk of pedestrians outside often staring through the giant windows in confusion as hardcore bands go buck wild inside). He’s particularly jazzed to be talking to Kerrang!, and that we’ve just commented how excited about all this he sounds. Because he is.

“When we go onstage we’re saying, ‘Here’s what we are, here’s what we have, fucking buckle up ’cause it’s gonna knock you out,’” he gushes. “It’s gonna fucking knock you down. There is a blinding, energetic creative force inside of all of us that only amplifies when we’re together, and makes us go, ‘We’re gonna try to beat the shit out of you with our music every day, for as many days as possible.’”

“There is a blinding, energetic creative force inside of all of us”

Listen to Jordan Buckley explain how Better Lovers are “gonna knock you out” when they go onstage

Eighteen months or so ago, Jordan was a long way away from this. Suddenly depressurised into the vacuum of the real world after two decades in a band-bubble where you know what you’re doing every day, he quickly found himself in a black hole. When it comes up today, it’s a pointer of how different things are now that the topic isn’t too readily embraced.

“I’m at the point where obviously people want to know about it, but it’s not my favourite thing to talk about. I mean, how many different ways can I say it was the worst time of my life?” he sighs. “How many different ways can I say that it was completely unexpected and made me closer to suicidal than ever before? I’m not at a point where I refuse to talk about it, but it was just so bad compared to how right now is so good, that it’s just not even fun to talk about. It was literally the worst-case scenario. And all I can do now is just be glad that it’s in my rear view.”

Even in this, and admitting that “you just got to completely accept that that’s it, and that’s what took me the longest”, Jordan has a positive. Every Time I Die did tie things up with a pair of farewell shows. And the way he felt afterwards told him something: where some people might look at this happening and take it as a sign, at 40, to make a clean break from music, he still had it in him.

“I’m happy that I knew it was the last show because I got closure onstage,” he reflects. “[After that] it really was, ‘Let’s just turn the page as fast as possible, because dwelling on it isn’t going to fix anything. Let’s use that creative energy and make something new.’”

By good fortune, the timing coincided with what Jordan calls “a two-year creative thing” where he suddenly found himself full of riffs again, charged up for writing. “If you ignore quarantine, and if you ignore the band break-up, this creative energy inside of me was just like, ‘Okay, we don’t care about any of that, it’s time to write again. It’s time to get going.’”

Goose and Stephen were in. ETID’s moustachio-d guitar beefcake Andy Williams looked at it, and realised (and we’re absolutely not making this up) that he couldn’t work it around his career as a pro wrestler. Will Putney, a longtime associate, having recorded ETID on more than one occasion, was in as well. And thus, Better Lovers was born.

“It might have seemed like [it’s come together fast], but it was non-stop work every day,” Jordan says, when we remark how quickly Better Lovers have fallen into place. “It was writing every day, it was putting the band together every day, it was step by step by step by step – it was 1,000 steps that we managed to take in a year and a half. But I guess all that does is show how hungry we were and how this is what we’re meant to be doing. This is so much more than a hobby. This is so much more than a side-gig. This is a fire that burns inside of us.”

What Better Lovers didn’t have as they wrote and wrote and wrote and got their shit together was a vocalist. “I don’t exactly have a huge supply of singers I could just call up and see if they’re free,” Jordan laughs. Anyway, that’d come in time.

When it did, and Jordan heard what could be done when he listened to a tape with singing on for the first time, “I was so excited, I almost ran through the fucking wall!”

Jordan and Greg Puciato first met one another in 2001, at the Gainesville Fest hardcore bash in Florida. It was one of Every Time I Die’s first big gig scores, while Greg was fronting headliners The Dillinger Escape Plan for only the second time. Jordan recalls that ETID were “desperately trying to be a real band”, although they were still living on a lot of borrowed gear and “we didn’t even have a trailer”. He also remembers seeing Dillinger’s new lad, a blur of muscles and attitude, and thinking: “That guy is a fucking monster.”

Soon-ish, the two bands would team up for a tour of Canada, a venture Greg says “was absolutely insanely cold. We were in these venues that obviously didn’t have heat, and we were both there every day wearing our winter coats inside.” A while after, ETID would open for Dillinger on the tour for 2004’s breakthrough Miss Machine album, after which paths would cross from time to time.

A man with fingers in many musical pies post-Dillinger – solo work, The Black Queen, Killer Be Killed with Soulfly’s Max Cavalera, Mastodon’s Troy Sanders and Converge drummer Ben Koller – most recently Greg had been touring as singer with Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell’s solo band. During a stop in Vegas, he saw Jordan (there “doing Vegas-y things”) for the first time in what he reckons must have been 10 years, who gave him some music by his new band, looking for some vocal work on it.

And Greg sat on it, waiting for "that fire in me" to make him want to engage with heavy music again. Eventually, he felt like he was in the zone, ready to have a go. Wondering if, after so long not screaming on the reg since Dillinger split in 2017, he could do it, or that it would screw up his singing voice and, thus, screw up his gig with Jerry Cantrell, he blasted through the track 30 Under 13. Not only could he do it, he found, it made him feel something he hadn’t felt in a long time. He sent the recordings back to Jordan with the note: “Alright, let’s give these motherfuckers what they want.”

“This feels like the reunion of a band that never actually existed,” Greg says of Better Lovers getting up and running. “I feel like I do when I was 15, not even 21 or 31, I feel like I did when I was 15 – completely fresh. That’s probably from not doing this for six years, I don’t know, but I feel fucking great.”

Reconnecting with that energy where there’s a certainty of ending up in the crowd during the gig was one thing (“You can’t really do that at a Jerry Cantrell show”). Reconnecting with it when it had previously come from somewhere much darker than where you currently are, and where it sometimes felt like you had to become That Guy, was quite another.

“With Dillinger, it was a real negative energy where we did not want to be friends with other bands, we just felt like we were Mike Tyson or somebody, we wanted to obliterate everyone that we played with,” he says. “And that’s not the healthiest.

“I was very aggressive in a negative way,” Greg continues. “I was in a pretty aggressive mindset in that band, and all my energy was coming from a fairly negative place of catharsis and pushing against something internal, trying to get something out. [I was always] exorcising a demon. Most of that time I was a very anxious person, I had depression, I had a lot of chaos in my life. But I’ve been on the other side of it for a bit now, I’m a happy person, I'm fucking way into life. I fucking love it. I went from wondering if I want to kill myself anytime soon to wanting to never, ever, ever die because I like being here so fucking much.”

Part of the balance Greg has found over the years is in doing different stuff. Having ADD, he says he gets bored pretty quick. Having several things, all of their own individual stripe, to flow between means those old feelings of static from being a one-band man are more easily defused.

“It’s like a really happy, fun bar fight…”

Greg Puciato unpacks the Guns N’ Roses-esque energy of Better Lovers

It follows when he says that Better Lovers make him feel young. Where he wondered if he had “the fire inside me” for a band like this still. But Better Lovers’ energy isn’t just angry. It’s explosive. It’s excitement. It’s primal. It’s as Jordan says, music that makes you want to run through a wall. When we idly say “Guns N’ Roses” to Greg as a comparison, something lively and dangerous, but also not dark, he enthusiastically agrees.

“I’m fucking glad you said that, man, because when I was a kid, before I became a moody teenager, that was the energy that I really related to,” he agrees. “Appetite For Destruction was the first record I ever fell in love with. I loved that energy. It was this ‘fuck you’ energetic thing, but it didn't feel negative or dark like Slayer would. That energy I've never really gotten to explore too much - it's still violent, it's still aggressive, but it's more like if there was a really happy, fun bar fight.”

Seeing the wild footage of Better Lovers’ shows so far – particularly the near-riot of their set at Alabama’s Furnace Fest this past weekend – it’s clear, should it need saying, that for some people, the spark for this kind of music is a light that never goes out. Starting a new thing after being in bands as definitive and influential and important and beloved as Jordan and Greg have is a big thing. But it’s also true to say that, for both men, they can’t not.

“There’s a part of me that has to do this,” smiles Jordan. “I could not walk around all day with these riffs in my head and this desire to play music and then just go, ‘Well, I’m in my 40s now, time to be proud of my past and open up a whole new life.' But I wouldn’t be able to sit still if I wasn’t writing music and at least looking at a calendar full of shows.

“The best stuff is made, when you’ve got adversity staring you in the face, and you can dig deep and create something out of nothing,” he continues. “This took a lot of looking in the mirror and absolutely believing that you’re capable of doing this.”

“One of the worst parts about being younger is you just do not fucking know how to communicate well with people,” adds Greg. “You end up having fights and bad things happen that kind of never really go away, you just have all this shit building up. You start new bands when you’re an adult and you just don’t have any of that. It’s like fucking dating. It’s like if you’re divorced, say, and you date another divorcee, and you’ve been through the same shit. It’s not your first go round where you’re at each other’s throats because you’re not the same as you were when you were in high school together or something like that. You’re a little gentler with one another, you don’t let shit get to you.”

“I wouldn’t be able to sit still if I wasn’t looking at a calendar full of shows”

Hear Jordan Buckley on his need to write music and play live

A point both men make separately is that Better Lovers is a new band. They’re not a continuation, they’re their own thing. This in itself signals the positivity and passion that flows through them. Not every ending has to be The End. You just have to work out the next step to getting back to what makes you happy. For both, it’s music.

“Around 29 or 30, I remember specifically being at this moment in my life where I was really, really struggling,” says Greg. “It was like, ‘Okay man, this is it. If you don’t fucking get off this train soon and figure out something else, you’re gonna work at 7-Eleven for the rest of your life after this.’ But I was like, ‘No, man, this is what I fucking like.’ I fucking love it. I love writing music with people. I love being challenged to dig into different aspects, or being thrown a fucking song that I don’t know what to do with, or sitting down and playing guitar or coming up with a fucking song.

“Dude, he laughs, “I would write a song right now with a bongo and a xylophone and be just as happy.”

Smooth seas, as the saying goes, don’t make great sailors. Rough as the circumstances around the start of Better Lovers may have been, the story Jordan tells - and the infectious, restless energy with which he tells it - is about so much more than picking yourself up hoping that your pride and ego are still intact. The pursuit of happiness is often misinterpreted as being something that can be measured in pounds or medals. Actually, it’s as simple as doing what you truly love, what you’re naturally good at, what you’re always drawn to, what you can’t put down.

“[People can say] ‘You're not supposed to be doing this at 40,’ ‘You’re not supposed to be stage-diving at your age,’ ‘You’re not supposed to be acting like a 20 year old, 20 years after you started doing it,’” he laughs. “But guess what? I’m fucking different. I’m fucking doing this. And if that’s gonna be my legacy, then great. I live a life where I think it’s important to be childlike, not childish, but childlike.”

And still Jordan Buckley continues to move forward. And you can’t help but feel delighted for him.

“I feel like I’m on the right path, doing the right things with the right people,” he smiles. “So whatever it took to get me here, I’m grateful for it.”

Now, give these motherfuckers what they want.

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