Photo by: Aaron Berkshire
For over 20-plus years now, scene staples The Used have been providing fans with a balanced attack of heavy and aggressive songwriting coupled with infectious hooks and singalong melodies.
Taking influence from a plethora of different artists as they’ve perfected the skill of interweaving genres, today we explore the louder side of The Used.
As we quickly approach the one-year anniversary of their latest album Heartwork featuring some of their most aggressive songs yet (“Blow Me,” “The Lottery,” etc.), we asked beloved frontman Bert McCracken to take us back to his hardcore roots and let us in on a few albums that helped inspire that heavy, hard-hitting approach.
To find out which five hardcore records made his list of all-time favorites, be sure to look below. Afterward, if you’ve yet to grab a copy of Heartwork, head here.
CONVERGE - JANE DOE
BERT MCCRACKEN: I have to give number one spot to When Forever Comes Crashing by Converge. Actually, no, I’m gonna say Jane Doe would take the number one spot. I was at a ripe age when that record came out. Everything about it to me just feels like the quintessential punk rock hardcore record. The songs are so fast, they’re so punk and there’s such huge heavy breakdowns and the lyrics are amazing. The record in its entirety is so listenable I definitely spent a lot of time with that one.
Are there any songs that jump out as your favorite?
The title track “Jane Doe” is so insane, especially live if you’ve ever seen the band. But “Homewrecker” has always been one of my favorite songs. I’ve been in love with Converge ever since I first heard them back when I think I was 16. I was going to this high school dropout program and I met this guy in there named Blake and he was going through a strange converting-to-Krishna type of situation in his life. So he just gave me this huge giant box of CDs full of hardcore, post-hardcore and independent stuff. It was the first time I heard Sunny Day Real Estate, first time I heard Texas Is The Reason or Converge or Coalesce. So that became a huge huge moment in my life, just that one box full of CDs.
Have you gotten to meet any of the Converge guys at all?
Yeah, I’ve met all the guys. We’ve played a few shows with them, super duper nice guys. One of those situations where – starstruck probably isn’t an accurate term – but I was a bit more timid and kind of wanted to stay away from those guys just in case. I’ve had moments where you meet people and you’re like, “Oh that sucks to find out that guy’s such a dick.” [laughs]
COALESCE - FUNCTIONING ON IMPATIENCE
BERT MCCRACKEN: Let’s give the number two spot to Functioning On Impatience by Coalesce. When I was around the same age, maybe a little bit after, I went to a club in Salt Lake called Deviate to see Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids and we were hanging out before the show. James [Dewees] from The Get Up Kids was there in his RV and we were talking a little bit about Coalesce ‘cause he’s the drummer and he’s like, “You gotta hear this! I have brand new Coalesce in my RV.” So he took me in the RV and played me Functioning On Impatience. For those Coalesce fans who are familiar, the first song is one of the most epic hardcore songs of all time. It just starts with him screaming and this drum beat, it’s so sick. So yeah, I lost my mind that night being able to hang out on a touring band’s RV and [experience] touring band dude life. I was in ecstasy, it was pretty amazing.
Wow what an impactful and monumental moment that probably helped push you to pursue music.
Definitely, I think that was a kind of formidable moment in my life. James is such a cool guy for anyone out there who’s met him. He’s so friendly and approachable. It’s hilarious that like, yeah, hanging on that RV [thinking] “Man, what if this was my life? I can’t even imagine. Like, how lucky are these guys just being able to tour around.”
It’s always so interesting when hardcore dudes are just the nicest people. Because on stage they can be so intimidating, but then off stage, they’re just sweethearts.
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s definitely something you think about a lot when you’re younger. Like, “Oh these dudes seem scary!” And it’s like, they’re just dudes.
ONE KING DOWN - GOD LOVES MAN KILLS
BERT MCCRACKEN: I’m trying to think back to that moment because I don’t want to try to be too cool about hardcore. I know there’s a lot of hardcore elitists out there, and when I got into hardcore, I was just listening to whatever was in that box. So the idea of elitism didn’t exist in my mind. It didn’t matter if it was a straight edge band or a band like Bloodlet – you know, which I love. I love Bloodlet. They probably won’t make the list though.
I’m just thinking about that pivotal moment when I was 16. I think One King Down has a record called God Loves, Man Kills and it’s just such a heavy record. It was their second singer. I don’t know what really attracted me to that record. I think his scream is a huge part of it, just so brutal. So we’ll give number three to One King Down.
[Goes to their Spotify account] No way, that’s so funny! Okay, so I’m on their Spotify and that guy right there on the One King Down profile picture is my tour manager. Sheep, you’re famous! I gotta screenshot that and send it to him [laughs].
INK & DAGGER - THE FINE ART OF ORIGINAL SIN
BERT MCCRACKEN: Ink and dagger. I think I’d probably still consider them to be my favorite band just because of how impactful they were in my life. Probably their self-titled record. I mean, they were way ahead of their time. Who knows what kind of music they were trying to make. They had a DJ. Anyone who’s never heard of Ink & Dagger should go and check them out as soon as possible. Drive This Seven Inch Wooden Stake Through My Philadelphia Heart is a great one as well.
But maybe I’ll give the, yeah, I’ll give the winner’s spot to The Fine Art of Original Sin. It’s just such a crazy eclectic record and the band was pretty short-lived. I think the singer overdosed and died.
I think they were quite infamous at the time in the scene. They would come to straightedge shows and like throw milk on the bands. Little bit of early trolling before the internet was a thing. But yeah, they dressed up like vampires. They were wild. Their music is wild as well.
“Philapsychosis” for some reason was always just kind of my go-to song back then. There’s this breakdown part where he’s just like “Ha ha HA HA ha ha ha” like laughing [laughs]. It’s so so crazy. Such like an original band. You could tell that like being cool and trying to fit in was never a part of their thing.
TEXAS IS THE REASON - DO YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE?
BERT MCCRACKEN: And now a band that’s not at all considered to be a hardcore band but is at the center of my love for hardcore in those formidable years is a band called Texas Is The Reason. They are such a cool and poppy band. They’re more along the lines of a Jimmy Eat World than a hardcore band but they were in that box of hardcore CDs. So for me, that was kind of it. They were definitely the catchiest – well Sunny Day Real Estate was also in that box and they were very catchy as well – but for all the Texas Is The Reason fans out there there’s a pop sensibility to these guys that’s really unbelievable. That record Do You Know Who You Are?, I’ve unconsciously bitten lyrics and stolen bits and pieces from it my whole life without even knowing and without even noticing.
That’s a pretty great list! Before we let you go: You’ve referred to that box of hardcore CDs a few times now. Is there any tie in between that and your song “A Box Full Of Sharp Objects”?
A tiny bit. I had the box with me in the room when we were writing the song but I was just kind of inspired by the measure of music and the box of 4/4 time with four quarter notes in it – quarter notes being the sharp objects. But yeah, that’s definitely a good analogy as well. I received this box from a friend that just completely and unequivocally changed my life from that moment till now. Nothing could have impacted me more I don’t think.
In your opinion, sonically, what is the heaviest Used song in your catalog? “Blow Me” from Heartwork has to be up there.
Yeah, there’s some heavy songs on Heartwork. “The Lottery” is also a really heavy one. But my favorite heavy song from The Used to play live as of now is “Sound Effects and Overdramatics” from In Love And Death. Oh, and Sean from Coalesce sings on that song! So there you go. Perfect tie in. What else do I think is heavy? There’s a song we did that was a b-side on the first record called “The Back Of Your Mouth.” It’s like a weird, kind of trumpet-y ska heavy [laughs].
That’s a good one! Lastly, are there any newer hardcore bands you’ve become a fan of as of late? You’ve mentioned Knocked Loose in the past.
Not too familiar with the scene now that I have two kids and I’m grown. Like, I usually have a book in front of me instead of a record. But yeah, Knocked Loose is a band that just totally turned my head. I remember hearing them a couple years ago when this last record came out – A Different Shade Of Blue, I think is what it’s called. And then I got to go see them live and yeah, they’re just such shredders. Their show was so much fun.