Written for Australian Hysteria Magazine
Originally published in Issue 9, 2012
2004, The Used release their seminal, sophomore record, ‘In Love and Death’. They monumentally break through the Australian emo-scene: a walk-of-life we all remember, as you were either one of them, or you made fun of them.
Ensuing sold out shows; mass devotion from fans and front-man, Bert McCracken, is extolled as a sex symbol, fashion icon and role model for countless adolescent girls, and boys. For these fanatics, The Used became the epitome and the beacon of a scene made popular by an emancipated facade of apathy and pensiveness, no matter how authentic, harmonized or specious it really was.
2012, 8 years and three albums on, The Used and Bert have moved far from a record that came as the spawn of a demoralizing, personal tragedy: the well publicized death of his ex-girlfriend and unborn child.
With five records and over ten years, the changes are as expected as they are palpable. Today, their career progresses in ‘Vulnerable’, the latest and appropriately titled studio offering, and an album that encompasses the fall and the growth, pushing through as a commix of layers built from intimate experience, and yet a concept that all can find a relevance in.
“It’s about learning from our mistakes and picking up the pieces as we go along,” expressed Bert McCracken, as we began to discuss The Used’s new album, the aforementioned ‘Vulnarable’, through a fuzzy telephone line.
He continued. “It’s knowing that life is never going to be easy or perfect, and trying to become a more powerful person when you get shut down sometimes. I think everyone in life has felt picked on, or felt like they don’t belong and that is this record, allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
“This record kind of encompasses the uprising of the spirit,” he said. “It’s a really positive record, which is good. I think everyone needs a little positivity nowadays.”
Somehow, this positivity, or his personal happiness, was seldom heard through our conversation, until it became candidly real with each laugh. And as he spoke of the band’s want for complete control of their music, and finally reaching this point through the creation of their own label, an imprint of Hopeless Records, the Anger Music Group, it grew more overt: after a decade The Used has become liberated.
“We’ve been doing this for ten years; we want to have complete control, over everything.” Bert explained, before digressing toward their relationship with Warner Music Group and Reprise Records.
“… Major labels like that, it’s a dying industry,” he continued. “And you can just look at the numbers. Everyone’s gone, everyone’s fired. Everyone we used to work with at Warner has been fired since. So we just had to hire them out freelance so they still worked for us.”
Putting to rest any assumptions of bemusement on the band’s behalf, Bert explained that The Used’s public split from Respire Records could not have come at a better time, whilst humorously portraying this break-up to that of any other personal relationship with a girl that you no longer want, need nor love.
“Well we had it pretty good in the beginning,” he began. “They promised us one-hundred-percent creative integrity throughout our career, and that just kind of started slipping away towards the end.
“For some reason, they opted to pick up our fifth record and then dropped us like two months later, so it worked out best for everyone. We kind of talk about it like being in a really shit relationship, for a long time, with a girl that you don’t like, and you’ve been trying to break up with her for years, and then she dumps you!” He exclaimed through laughter.
“But it was perfect timing,” Bert continued, “because we planned on starting our own label anyway.”
Since the January release of the band’s inaugural single, ‘I Come Alive’, from the new record, McCracken noted some of the backlash already received from fans regarding the musical direction that the band has taken. Once again, the commentary has leaned toward the true niche of The Used, a trite stab, and something which the quartet has experienced throughout their career.
“People are talking about dubstep, and this and that. But, to tell you the truth, we’ve been called everything since we came out: we’ve been called emo, we’ve been called screamo, we’ve been called whatever you want to call us, but we’re just The Used and we write songs that we love to write.”
The eclectic new album does come as a departure from the basic guitar, drum and bass sound of The Used, but these are not changes of an excessive nature, as Bert illustrated, underlining that the unique tones of Quinn Allman’s guitars, and his own vocal lines, still hold to the inimitable sound of the band.
“This record was written more with electronic samples; written a lot more on the keyboard – and kind of piecing together drum loops and things like that. So it’s a departure in that way, but I think that with the sound of Quinn’s guitar and my voice, it definitely sounds like The Used, just modern and exciting.
“There are so many different types of songs on this record,” Bert continued. “You go from a super slow, beautiful love song, to a heavy, fast, brutal, disgusting song and then back-and-forth and all around. It’s really nice.”
Elaborating on his writing style, McCracken highlighted the notion of having the listener involved with his personal stories, which, like ‘Vulnerable’ in whole, allows for the audience to connect with the conceptual idea of the album. And unlike its predecessors, in particular the still pertinent ‘In Love and Death’, the fifth studio release doesn’t come as a metaphorical work, a technique which at times translated as an object of self preservation.
“I think that I get pretty direct and to the point, without having to exclude other people and their feelings, because I feel like these are the things I’m going through and writing about for me personally,” he said.
“Other people have experienced similar things, so it’s not about me hiding the truth; it’s more about me just wanting everyone to be able to feel involved.”
Whilst taking absolute control of the new album, including their work with long-time producer John Feldmann – who, as Bert laughingly explained, did not give the outfit any direction on the record, leaving them with a strong hold on their own creativity – The Used have been fortunate not to feel any pressure in releasing this album, despite some of the assumed vulnerably that may come even with the slightest changes in sound, which have been entirely under the wings of the band.
“It’s what I do for a living and it’s also where my passion is,” Bert expressed in a tone of fervor. “My life is to write and to create music, so for me it’s not a lot of pressure at all; it’s just something that I truly enjoy doing: it’s fun and therapeutic. I feel like if I love it, then I should feed it.
“I think that we have a lot of hardcore fans and a lot of people know about The Used, [as] we’ve been around for quite a while,” he continued. “And the people who are lucky enough to discover and love this band will understand that we love it because we love music, that’s why we do what we do.”
From ‘The Taste of Ink’ and ‘Bulimic’, to ‘I’m a Fake’ and ‘Cut Up Angels’, this was the tumultuous trail that led to the negativity of the 2009 released album, ‘Artwork’, and a path that now sees Bert taking himself away from chaotic beginnings and his own self destruction. The new record serves as a representation of the pain, its development, and his personal becoming of a content being, which is an authoritative step away from his private, albeit excessively publicized, history of drug addiction.
“I think life is about successes and failures and it’s what we do from the failures that really make us successful, especially as an artist and being in a band,” McCracken commented.
“So it’s about falling down and getting back up and being able to brush yourself off and becoming a more powerful person from it – just like the idea of being vulnerable.”
Following the band’s recent Australian tour as part of the annual Soundwave Festival, Bert McCracken asserted that their arrival for a headlining run is imminent, with plans to return in support of their fifth studio album, ‘Vulnerable’, now tentatively slated for a later date this year.
… ; here is something old, and blue.