Let’s face it: For nearly 20 years now, The Used has solidified themselves as one of the best bands of our generation. Since the release of their 2002 self-titled album, the SLC punks have strung together an unparalleled discography of angsty, thought-provoking music fueled by anger, growth and love.
Gearing up to release their eighth studio album Heartwork on April 24th, Bert McCracken and Co. are as hungry and humble as ever as they prepare to usher in a new era of the band.
“There’s something about approaching 20 years as a band and approaching 40 as human beings [where] we’re desperate to keep this place in music,” says McCracken. “We’re humbled by the amount of years we’ve had so far and we couldn’t feel more fortunate or blessed or however you look at it. But I feel like if we were to slow down even a second or if we were to take it for granted for even one second, we would deserve to have it taken from us.”
Putting that restored energy into their upcoming 16-track album produced by longtime collaborator John Feldmann, McCracken suggests this might just be the best Used album yet.
“I think this whole new record is going to be a surprise for a lot of people. I think it’s the best of the best of The Used,” he says. “It has our heaviest stuff ever that we’ve ever released. There’s even a song that’s way heavier than ‘Blow Me’ featuring Caleb [Shomo] from Beartooth. And then there’s the poppiest stuff that The Used has ever done. There’s like some kind of disco tracks on the record and stuff. There’s a lot of slap bass. It’s crazy like it’s all over the place. So yeah, we’re really excited.”
To read more from our chat with McCracken as we helped cap off the band’s entirely sold old North American tour, be sure to see below. Afterward, make sure to pre-order Heartwork here.
We’re on the last day of your small club underplay tour. What’s the experience been like for you getting to play these small, intimate shows again?
BERT MCCRACKEN: Incredible. A lot of the shows, we come into the venue in the late afternoon when I get out of bed and I recognize the club from 18-19 years ago. Yesterday, at Sunshine Theater in New Mexico, we played a show [there] on our very very first tour ever with Goldfinger, Reel Big Fish, Sugarcult and The Used opening up the show. So it’s been incredible nostalgia. It’s been exactly what I think rock and roll and punk rock music is all about – right up close, in your face, sweaty. It’s that feeling of togetherness that comes from a small club vibe that you kind of don’t get anywhere else that’s so special, especially with a band like The Used. We’re a band about feelings and the bigger picture and we take music very seriously. It’s been incredible. I can’t believe it’s already over. Time flies when you’re having fun.
Do you miss that intimacy you get with these smaller shows?
Yeah, a lot of times you would if you’re on a big festival run and you’ve been doing outside shows with the crowd, maybe 15-20 feet away for months. It’s always different parts of it that are really cool. Playing to a gigantic crowd has its own pluses but this is definitely our favorite. This is where we started out. This is where it kind of becomes a competition with yourself. I’m not a young kid anymore, so I know what these clubs are going to be like. I know what the bathroom situations are going to be like [laughs] and I know what I expect of myself with a small crowd like this. I know what I would want to see if I came to see The Used. So it’s about throwing it down really really furiously as hard as you can.
It’s funny you say that considering you’re playing some newer songs on this tour like “Blow Me” which is one of the heavier songs you guys have released. What’s it been like playing that song and getting to see the fans react a few feet away from you?
It’s incredible, man. It’s such a cool diverse mix of kids. To see girls moshing is always fun. When we take new songs out on the road sometimes, it takes quite a while to figure out the song live but “Blow Me” and “Paradise Lost A Poem by John Milton” both feel like we’ve been playing them for 10 years. It’s magical and mysterious why it feels like that. But I think this whole new record is going to be a surprise for a lot of people. I think it’s the best of the best of The Used. Like you said, it has our heaviest stuff ever that we’ve ever released. There’s even a song that’s way heavier than “Blow Me” featuring Caleb from Beartooth. And then there’s the poppiest stuff that The Used has ever done. There’s like some kind of disco tracks on the record and stuff. There’s a lot of slap bass. It’s crazy like it’s all over the place. So yeah, we’re really excited. We all love such different types of music so seeing the difference for us is important. And that live experience, whether it’s heavy or completely melodic, is so fun. I think The Used is a live band first.
Do you find yourself still listening to much heavy music these days?
A hundred percent. I think my most listened to record last year was A Different Shade of Blue by Knocked Loose. One of the best heavy records that’s come out in forever. It was so reminiscent of stuff that I loved in the late 90s. So yeah, I listen to a little bit of a lot of everything.
Do you think that helped inspire some of the heavier songs on this record?
Yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, I was a hardcore kid growing up. My favorite bands were Coalesce, Converge, and Ink & Dagger. If it wasn’t that heavy, then I was kind of like a prick and a punk about it. I was one of those kids [laughs]. So yeah, my world and my background is soaked in heaviness but then again, some of the other guys like Jeph [Howard, bassist] are very very diverse. He loves heavy music. He loves like Mr. Bungle and stuff that’s heavy like that but he loves crazy eccentric tribal stuff and cultural stuff so it’s a really cool kind of flow. Dan [Whitesides, drummer] loves rock and roll music, like rock and roll, like butt rock almost. I think he would say, if he had to pick a band, Mötley Crüe is his favorite band. And Joey [Bradford, guitarist] is all over the place. Joey’s the youngest guy in the band and he loved The Used growing up. He loved bands like that and he loved punk rock and it’s a perfect fit. All those different elements kind of create something special.
Do you think having Joey on this record helped instill some energy in the band a little bit?
I think we were in that place maybe before Joey came around. I think The Used has been firing off insanely for the past couple years. There’s something about approaching 20 years as a band and approaching 40 as human beings [where] we’re desperate to keep this place in music. We’re humbled by the amount of years we’ve had so far and we couldn’t feel more fortunate or blessed or however you look at it. But I feel like if we were to slow down even a second or if we were to take it for granted for even one second, we would deserve to have it taken from us. So yeah, I think Joey is the perfect candidate to jump into this vibe because he’s driven, he’s passionate and you kind of get swept up in my ambition and my drive if you’re not careful. I’ve never been more healthy or happy and that creates such a beautiful kind of cohesiveness with the band.
We know you’ve been focusing more on your fitness and health lately. Has that helped with your songwriting and maybe your energy on stage at all?
100%. It helps with everything. What I found that helps and why I became obsessed with the gym is the after-effects. The endorphins I feel when I leave, it’s almost a perfect cure for depression if you take it seriously. Those dark thoughts that become even darker and the voice in your head that can slowly convince you that you’re not good enough – that guy doesn’t come around when I’m keeping to my workout routine. That guy stays buried in the mountain of positivity I’ve built. Also, I got this insane type of focus. I like to read a lot. And whenever I read after I work out, I have this insane concentration, insane focus, I can just read for hours. So there are so many benefits from it.
Does it make you wish you got into it sooner in life?
Of course. But it’s hard to look at life that way. I think a lot of the reasons why The Used is special is because people have followed the journey of the ups and downs. You know, there’s a lot of dark times but I think that I wouldn’t be me if it wasn’t for those specific moments.
Talking about some of those ups and downs, 2017′s The Canyon was a very personal record for you. Do you think getting that record off your chest so to speak helped you come closer to this positivity for the new record?
I think so, yeah. A lot of the process from a record is just a snapshot of a moment in that band’s life. And what was going on in my life [at the time] was very tragic. I just lost one of my best friends and had the opportunity to make a record that was like an art experiment in grieving and see how far I could take it and how personal I could get and how open and honest with myself and specific even. So it was painful and brutal. The other side of it was we did it all to tape, so it was like we had to really actually be in the moment playing it. So we learned a lot. We would never do it again. It’s one of these like religious moments for our band. It was very spiritual with Ross Robinson, who was very out of this world. I learned that the way humans connect to music is on a personal, individual level. It’s only as important as you make it in your own life. That’s why I think The Used fans are so special because it is live [or] die for most of us.
Going back to Heartwork, one thing we’re sure that helped bring a lot of positivity to the album was working with John Feldmann again. What was that process like?
It was the most relaxed and excited and focused I’ve ever felt in the studio. He’s come full-circle with who he used to be as well. We all changed quite a bit. The John Feldmann that’s leftover is the John Feldmann that is the hardest working individual I’ve ever met. He is the most passionate, the most dedicated, but he also has this newfound relaxed ability to just chill out and have a great time. So some of the focus going into this record was like, let’s just make songs that are fun. Let’s have fun doing it. Let’s not put any expectations on anything. Whatever happens, let’s try to say yes to everything. Even the stuff we might not have said yes to in the past, let’s say yes to all of it. So he was the perfect kind of facilitator for all of those things. He’s driven and he trusts the band just like we trust him.
One of the things you said yes to was guest features from the likes of Blink-182, Beartooth and FEVER 333. All of them have worked with John Feldmann in the past. Was he the one that brought those to the table?
Yeah, Feldmann has like a working machine in his studio that’s incredible. He has this flow to things, like a song-a-day-type situation. He’s become really close with the Blink guys since he worked on their record and we have toured with Blink in the past. So the first impressions were already beautiful, like, we’ve already developed relationships with the guys individually. So that was definitely not one of the things where I was like, “I don’t know…” It was some of the more – you’ll hear it in the record – some of the more pop moments that could be the most modern moments on the record. Something that a hardcore kid would have a hard time saying yes to. But working with Travis [Barker] was insane. He’s the most beautiful, humble guy. I think he has a reputation for being this hardass just because he’s such a quiet and chilled-out dude. And Mark [Hoppus] as well, just one of the nicest people you could meet. So humble, I mean who hasn’t heard of Blink-182 in this world? They’re massive. So yeah, to be able to kind of pick his brain in the process, we had a blast. Caleb from Beartooth recently has worked with Feldmann as well. So yeah, all those connections were kind of serendipitous. Really, really awesome that it happened that way.
Looking at the tracklist for Heartwork, there’s one song specifically we want to ask you about. It’s called “Wow, I Hate This Song.” Can you touch on that a little bit?
That is a song I have been kind of dreaming into existence for the past like 12 years. There are so many songs I hate in the world and I have a lot of fun hating things. Cynicism is such a blessed entertainment at times if you’re not being totally serious. You can see things for what it is – and not to take anything away from the importance of music because everything is special to someone for some reason. But when I turn on satellite radio or when I’m just like scrolling around on any streaming site, it’s like, “Holy shit. How the fuck did we get here?” Like, “This is the worst garbage I’ve ever heard.” So [“Wow, I Hate This Song”], it’s super heavy and there’s this riff in it that’s brutally heavy but it’s also this super catchy, almost pretty wonderful song. So yeah, it’s been a thought in the making for quite a long time. Finally nailed it down, so excited.
Being in a band for about 20 years, you can probably point out pretty well when songs aren’t very authentic and written for other purposes. Does it bum you out when some of those songs get so much notoriety?
I think in a way it speaks for itself because you can kind of get the gist of something and then if it blows up, it’s only a matter of time before it completely disappears. I think there are only a few things that can become huge and stay relevant. I think The Used has always had a really cool way to avoid that trap that gives you the one hit song where it’s almost like a career-ender. But yeah, it’s all a part of it. I’ve never been a fan of hugely popular music other than when I was a child. I loved Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, pop music in the 80s. But since then, my favorite bands are bands that don’t have a lot of listeners per month. It’s not like 9 million, it’s more like 130,000 people listening to Converge a month. So yeah, for me, I don’t really pay too much attention. I like to listen to all of it because I appreciate great production and great melody no matter who wrote it. I think we’re getting to a point in digitally recorded music where everybody has the same tools and the same plugins [where] it’s kind of come back on the artists now. It’s like you got to actually be able to do it again. Things like Dua Lipa and these pop songs… anybody could build those tracks in their room. So if the artists’ personality is there and you can tell someone can really sing right away – I think we’re coming into a cool place again.
It seems like 2020 could be a whole new decade where the cream rises to the top and people start to recognize what’s good and what’s not.
I fully agree, man. It’s an exciting time for music. There’s a huge resurgence of music that’s backed by emotions, about the bigger things in life, not so much about how much money you have and how many bitches. We had 10 years of that. I think everyone’s just like, I just want to feel something.
Interestingly enough, a lot of bands like My Chemical Romance, Rage Against The Machine, The Receiving End Of Sirens, Armor For Sleep are all coming back. It’s pretty cool.
Yeah, either they’re bored of just whatever they’ve been up to or… [laughs]. It’s tough once you’re on stage, once you’ve done it, to walk away from it for good. There’s something so special about the whole process, about the setup of the show, then you’re waiting around to play and there’s this nervous excitement. I fully understand why if you were in a band you’d want to come back and do it, especially right now. This time for music is so cool. And any little bit of hype around the type of music we play is only good for music fans, I think. It’s awesome, cooler tours and more fun experiences live. Those are the memories you keep. I think we’ve been saying it a lot during the show: If we can close our eyes and capture this moment, when we’re out there dealing with the real shit in the fucking Trump America and all that, the whole world of it, we can maybe revert back to these moments and take some positivity from it and take some value in our own lives and know “Yeah things are rough, but there’s a place for me.”