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The Used: “We’re trying to celebrate exactly what The Used is”

Frontman Bert McCracken reflects ahead of the band’s UK anniversary tour.

The Used: “We’re trying to celebrate exactly what The Used is”

2016 marks the 15th anniversary since Utah post hardcore band The Used formed. Battling with poverty, homelessness, addiction and death didn’t stop the band from achieving global success with six studio albums and gold and platinum certifications.

Frontman Bert McCracken has come a long way since The Used’s bitter start, now residing in Australia with his wife and daughter, this month sees his band embark on a four month long anniversary tour where the quartet will play their first two albums in full over two nights, reliving the bittersweet memories that made the band who they are today.

Congratulations on 15 years of The Used! Does it feel like it’s been 15 years or has it flown by?
Yeah time is very relative, so a long time and a short time, but so many good memories that we’re in a good place, we’re really happy to be where we’re at right now.

Awesome! You’re off on the anniversary tour soon – when you look back on the self titled album, and ‘In Love and Death’, how do you feel looking back on those records now compared to when you first put them out?
When you are a teenager life is pretty self-centred, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You’re young and growing up and discovering who you, being a teenager is all about self-discovery and experimentation and finding out what kinds of things you really love… I guess what I wrote about the songs then, I find so much more deeper meaning in them now, like ‘The Taste of Ink’ was about getting out of Orem, Utah and wanting to be a band that tours on the road, and that was my dream at that moment. Having that dream realised, the song to me is [now] more about freedom and learning to live with what life hands you and feeling grateful for those things.

A lot of bands don’t like nostalgia, but you seem to really enjoy it what with playing the albums in full and the anniversary shows, why?
I think there’s a big part of an artist that wants to celebrate new material, and that deters and reflects attention more on the current situation. People are so enthusiastic about old material like “I love your first record!” it kind of comes as a back handed compliment, like “I just put a record out three months ago!” I think a lot of bands get caught up in the moment and a little bit of pride and ego, we’re trying to throw all of that away, and celebrate what exactly The Used is. Beyond that whole world we have an obligation to ourselves to kind of recognise why this music was so special and important at the time it was, not just The Used in general, but this little spark of emotional music that was a reach deeper than writing a song about money…

So celebrating where you’ve come from?
Of course yes, to put it bluntly.

Are you more excited or more nervous about playing these albums in full in 23 cities?
There’s always a nervous excitement to performing, and entertainment is the more difficult part of being a musician. Some of these songs we’ve never played live I think, and that’s going to be a test, but so exciting. We’re getting together this next week and rediscover and kind of find our place in the old music.

You always play a handful of songs from the self-titled and ‘In Love and Death’ at your regular shows, but do you think it’s going to be a weird experience reliving those songs you haven’t played live or haven’t played much live?
Yeah it’d be great. It’d be therapeutic, and it’d be amazing to celebrate these old feelings, but at the same time we know how important keeping the songs the same and kind of pure and true to the original form, but I think that with the four of us [Dan Whitesides, Justin Shekoski, Bert and Jeph Howard] it’s going to feel like how The Used feels today, which is all the more exciting, and we’ve come from such a high moment, like we just recorded a live acoustic performance where we got to bring in strings and gospel singers, and it was just really magic so we’re really recognising the power of the emotion behind the music and it is to be celebrated.

So while you’re on the 15th anniversary tour, your Live & Acoustic at The Palace CD/DVD will be released. Did you plan on having both out at the same time?
I’m sure somebody is making plans behind the scenes, but we’re really grateful in the way that we had a cool idea to do an acoustic thing, and we had a little bit of time off and we’re working on new material, so in the meantime we thought we’d do something special, and create a night that’s unforgettable and record it live and make a live DVD of it. Everybody did a really great job of capturing it so we can’t wait for everyone to see it.

Was the decision to have a string quartet and gospel choir something you’ve always wanted to do?
I think any fan of music loves orchestration, and loves how deep you can go with numerous instruments and voicings. Just the percussionists alone added so many textures and colours and flavours. But it’s definitely something we’ve always, or I personally have wanted to be more involved in, and experiencing it [means] we’ll have to do it over and over again. It’s like a taste of that amazing drug, and performing with such professional musicians, like this guy transposed a whole song on the spot because we gave him the wrong key. Just being around that kind of musicianship and that kind of professionalism is inspiring.

You say it’s inspiring, how did the whole experience feel when you were doing it, and then when you listened back on it?
It’s really nice that we had in mind to keep it personally raw. Some of my favourite live recordings have obvious mistakes recorded in them which is just a part of the experience, so approaching that with the human aspects intact, we’re able to really lose ourselves in the magic of what it means to be a part of something so special. Not just The Used, but this time in music in the early 2000s for me saved my life so many times, a lot of fans of music say it, but it’s so special that its worth remembering and it’s worth putting down…

Live & Acoustic seems vastly different from your other live albums ‘Berth’ and ‘Maybe Memories’, do you think that reflects on how you’ve changed and developed as a band during that time? Or does the rawness connect the three?
Raw is maybe an obscure word, raw definitely captures what we normally go for, and definitely has a place in description for the other live records. [With] this, I guess I mean a more vulnerable, the acoustic is kind of so empty, it’s just you even though we’ve got strings and singers. Everything is so wide open and I can hear if I make a mistake or you can hear if Jeph plays the wrong note. So it’s that kind of vulnerability that I believe can mix life with living.

Well last time you were in London you did ‘On My Own’ at KOKO and that was incredibly moving…

Was how you felt then similar to how you felt when you were doing the Live and Acoustic?
I’ll never forget that night, it was just the best show we’ve had in London, maybe the most special night in the UK. There were just so many amazing moments on that tour. It’s just a brand new world for The Used for some reason… the beginning of 2015. But yeah, if you can imagine that for a full hour and a half  it was just such a moving night, I think everyone really let go and let themselves feel like children again, and the crowd if they wanted to .

Would you describe it as quite cathartic then?
Yes I mean, what’s more personal? I would say that music, if there’s anything that’s close to religious in my life it would be my connection to art and the effects it has, and how it drags and inspires my life in certain directions is very, very religious and very cathartic, and maybe more powerful than kneeling down and forcing yourself to feel. Not forcing, but as a young boy I felt the power of God, but it was me allowing myself to feel the power of just the world we live in, and the planet we live on. The capabilities of human beings is quite astounding.

So the album cements that feeling?
Yeah it’s kind of like you’re experiencing the feeling of the Holy Ghost, in a non-offensive way. It’s a really uplifting and touching trueness, because I think the happiest and the saddest moments are the most touching moments and the most memorable.

What has the response been like from fans since the announcement of the record? And how do you think fans will receive it?
I kind of keep my head out of that whole world, and I live in Australia and I don’t ever come in contact with fans, so I haven’t heard from anybody… but I know I’m excited, and my family’s excited and my friends who are fans of the band are very excited. I feel like I’m one of the biggest The Used fans, and this feels like the kind of excitement that came from the first record. We did a cover song of [John Lennon’s] ‘Imagine’, I played it for my wife and my daughter which was one of the most touching and magical little moments that I’ve had with my band and my family, so, so far so good!

Recently you said in an interview that you’re working on new music, how is that sounding and what can you tell us about it?
We love making songs that are listenable in a way that I guess people kind of have an infection that grows on you, and you kind of have to listen to it more, and then it gets stuck in your head, and then you have to hear it more, and then once you think you’re about to get sick of it, it just comes on constant repeat. We’re trying to make that kind of music for ourselves because I’m desperate for a record that I need to keep on repeat. I don’t have one, theres’ songs from records that come out lately that I love, it’s mostly kind of pop music, but I love a good melody, and I’m trying to create some kind of touching melodies, the ones that kind of break your heart instantly and give you goosebumps.

So is it sounding softer in comparison to your other records?
It’s a great combination of musicians, because everyone’s into so many different types of music that it’s impossible for us to write anything soft. We all do love heavy music, so we all still love writing heavy music. I guess soft is a really kind of non-approachable word, but we do kind of write soft, tender, colourful, slower feelings… The Used has always been a horse of many colours, and it’s got a lot of really upbeat and downbeat times. It doesn’t sound like the new Refused record or it doesn’t really sound like the last The Used record. The one thing people can expect is for it to sound on a totally different level of real. ‘Imaginary Enemy’ was recorded on computer, but what we really want to do is record with the instruments plugged into amps and put it onto pieces of tape afterwards and splice it together. This is every musicians dream as of now, which works out great cause everyone’s kind of recording on tape again, and everyone wants to be part of that special quote on quote 70s vibe of recording a record, which is awesome, to play the fucking songs live you have to be good enough to play them to record them, that type of thing.

You mention these different influences you listen to while making it, who have you been listening to while making it?
The last couple of weeks have been tribute because David Bowie was one of my favourites and I’ve kind of just been stuck in a Bowie routine. I like the ‘Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’ album by Outkast, it’s really creative and amazing. I love the new Desaparecidos record [‘Payola’], it’s Conor Oberst’s rock’n’roll band, it’s very political and has really strong statements.

After the tour and the album do you have any other plans?
We have a good start on a good group of songs, so hopefully we have enough to have another writing session and then jump in the studio. Hopefully we’ll get something out at the beginning of next year.

The Used are touring the UK from tomorrow, Saturday 20th February. Catch them at:

20 Leeds O2 Academy (self-tiled)
21 Leeds O2 Academy (‘In Love And Death’)
22 London O2 Forum (self-tiled)
23 London O2 Forum (‘In Love And Death’)

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