Feature: The Used [February 2016]

By Lais

It’s hard to believe, but The Used have been a band for 15 years. Their self-titled album came out in 2002 and was a huge influence on music fans everywhere. Six albums on (with a seventh on the way), they’re about to embark on a world tour where they’ll play their self-titled album and their second record ‘In Love And Death’ in full. We spoke to frontman Bert McCracken about what the albums mean to him, how things have changed for The Used, and what he thinks about social media.

McCracken is now based in Sydney, Australia, so we Skype called him ahead of their UK shows next week, which will be the first dates of their world tour. “I think it’s appropriate to start in London where we have so many hardcore fans,” says Bert. “It’s hard to say anything without sounding clichéd, but we feel really lucky. We feel overwhelmed and humbled by the amount of love that we still have as a band.”

The self-titled album and ‘In Love And Death’ in particular seem to mean a lot to people, and when the album shows got announced people were super excited. What did the band think of the reaction to the news? “Yeah, I’m sure people are really excited. I don’t have any way to check up on that because I try to keep my head out of the whole world of social media and social distraction,” replies Bert. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. For me it’s better to not see anything, good or bad.”

Social media is a topic that Bert feels strongly about, and although he began by thinking it was a positive thing for the world, he’s changed his mind drastically since. “I had a theory it was good for the world, because we watched the uprisings happen in the Arab Springs and there was this whole revolution and all these dictators were overthrown and it all started on Twitter, but if you really look at all these places like Tunisia and Libya, they’ve all become radicalised militant states since then, so my theory failed and there’s no good that can possibly come of social media,” states Bert. “There’s also a huge problem with an unhealthy type of ego and vanity that’s massively infected the white Western world.”

Back on the topic of the two albums they’ll be playing live: what do they mean to the band? “They mean so many things. That’s a really great question and hard to answer in a couple of words,” replies Bert. “The first record was about me finding myself and finding my place in the world and starting to understand what freedom was.”

“The second record was one of the heaviest moments of my life up to that point and the first time I’d really experienced any severe loss, so a lot of huge moments and memories and feelings surround those records. There was a lot of opportunity for me to therapeutically release the demons. It’s a really bad term to use, but it kind of helped me get some clarity and reflect on things and go through the cycles that someone has to go through as a human being I guess.”

Not only did those albums mean a lot to Bert and the rest of the band, but they also meant a lot to their fans, which will guarantee that those shows will be emotional for everyone involved. “As a 19 year old, with nothing to lose or fear, I wasn’t afraid to say really big things that everyone could feel and relate to in the moment. I mean, those were the saving moments for me too,” says Bert. “That music saved my life over and over, so yeah, to celebrate that now, we’re lucky. We’re beyond lucky. How many bands are around still? Not a lot.”

Not many bands from that time are still around, and to have those nostalgic moments from the past as well as still being relevant now, that’s rare. “Very rare. I’ve had the opportunity to work on the other side here in Australia and interview a lot of bands, and there’s a lot of guys who stay on the road because they have to, which is unfortunate,” says Bert. “Music is such a powerful weapon and it’s such a gift.”

How do they find touring after 15 years of being together? How is it now compared to early on? “We know all the rough parts, so we prepare for those well in advance, and then we know what we love about it and enjoy those moments the most,” replies Bert. “It’s a process now whereas before it was an explosion. Now it’s really about the show and the songs and creating that memory for the one night, because as a fan of music myself, the band I loved the most coming to town, that’s the moment I remember the most, even after the years gone by. I can only hope to let people feel free and not afraid or intimidated or judged or any of the shitty things that come with being a human being and living on this fucked up planet. Let’s be free for a night.”

Music is an incredibly powerful thing. There aren’t many feelings like the one you get when you can lose yourself completely at a show. Bert agrees: “There’s not a lot of healthy escapes, that’s for sure. Grinding through your Twitter feed or scrolling down through your Instagram, I wouldn’t call that healthy. I think that’s their plan to distract us and it’s worked. I think this generation won’t realise it. My daughter won’t feel the same about all the distractions. Maybe that’s a big reason why I quit Twitter and Instagram: you love scrolling through, and what a waste of time. Who cares what you ate for breakfast? Everybody has a way to distract and everybody has a way out, I just think there are healthier ways.”

Social media is definitely responsible for making people judge themselves based on what everyone else is doing, and it’s not always the most healthy thing. “Oh, it’s just awful. There are so many reasons why it’s bad. It breeds insecurity, plus also there’s selling stuff. You’re scrolling through advertisements as well. We’re being bought and sold, plus they sell all your personal information to third parties. They track your lifestyle habits, they watch what you look up on the internet and buy, and they send you more ads and give you more opportunities to feel insecure. It’s a sick cycle.”

Back to The Used: they’re set to release a live DVD, ‘Live And Acoustic At The Palace’, on April 1st. Why did they choose that particular show to record? “We’re working on new music at the moment. We’re trying to record something at the middle or end of this year, so in the middle of this writing session we had everybody together and had the opportunity to do the show at this venue The Palace, which is a pretty magical place because Michael Jackson filmed ‘Thriller’ there and all this other stuff,” explains Bert.

“It’s a really legendary place in downtown LA and we’ve always wanted to do a really open and vulnerable acoustic night, and to be able to hire string players and percussion and gospel singers and harp and piano is just a dream come true for everybody. We wanted to capture it to make sure everyone felt like they were there.”

“It was the most special night of The Used’s career by far, and I’ve never been more nervous to play a show in my entire life, and never felt more fulfilled by a show afterwards. It was amazing, I’m so glad we recorded it, because hearing it back, you can hear exactly what it means to everyone. It’s bigger than The Used. It’s more about celebrating music and the voice that music gives people and the smiles and the freedom.”

Sometimes a show can be absolutely incredible in person, but do the band think it comes across on DVD as amazing as it was in real life? “Yeah, 100%. We were really focused on keeping it very real and very raw and nothing was touched or fixed or anything like that, so what you hear is the night in all of its humanity,” replies Bert.

“I felt like all the hard times and all the moments in my career – if that’s what you wanna call creating music – it made all those really rough moments well worth it, and I can’t wait to do something like that again. Hopefully we’ll be able to do a full acoustic tour. That would be incredible. But we love playing heavy too, obviously.”

After this world tour, The Used plan to go back into the studio to start work on their seventh album. “We wanna have a new record out as soon as possible. We wanna keep the ball rolling. We really wanna make songs that take some digesting. You kind of get infected with them and then you have to hear it and you’re walking around all day and it’s in your head and you have to hear it, and then once you think you’re gonna be sick of it, you have to keep playing it over and over and over. That’s the type of song I wanna make for me so I can listen to it.”

After 15 years of being a band and almost seven albums later, what’s changed since The Used first became a band? “I think we’re all way more comfortable with our place in the band than we were 10 or 15 years ago. That sounds like a small statement but it’s a really big thing. We no longer – how do I put it nicely? – we never really had the ambition to be the biggest band in the world or the most important band in the world. We wanna be everyone’s reminder that music is for everyone and if you don’t like The Used then there’s definitely some other type of music for you, but we want you to feel free to enjoy your life. We’re just a special place in a lot of people’s lives and that’s worth it. My favourite thing to do is to create songs and share them, so that’s what we’ll continue to do,” says Bert.

Bert’s last words of the interview come in the form of: “We have a lot of hardcore fans in the UK and all over the world, but the UK especially. To all the hardcore fans, thanks for being part of the amazing ride and experiences. For always having our back, we love you and there’s no real true words to say thank you for the undying love and support, but thank you.”

It’s great to see a band who have been together for 15 years and influenced so many people’s lives with their music retain that passion for the music they make, as well as staying completely humble. As well as celebrating the past by touring their first two albums now, they are also moving forward by making new music that will hopefully go on to mean just as much to their fans. Long live The Used.


Try these three interviews

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Interview: Arcane Roots [Reading 2016]

Interview: Trash Boat [Reading 2016]