Post-hardcore rockers The Used have been put through the wringer more than a couple times during the 12 years they've spent together as a band. It's hard to imagine that even before the time spent addicted to drugs, label shifts, and the on-stage injuries, the members had already experienced homelessness, poverty, and bullying.
But, like any great set of musicians, vocalist Bert McCracken, guitarist Quinn Allman, bassist Jeph Howard, and drummer Dan Whitesides have a way of turning malaise into great songs. The music isn't intended to just to only heal the guys playing it; they want listeners to translate the lyrics in whatever way they see fit to help their own mending. After the release of 2012's Vulnerable and 2013's expanded Vulnerable II , the band is as primed as it's ever been for success. The Used is currently headlining the Take Action Tour, which has brought together bands (this year, it's We Came As Romans and Crown The Empire) for more than a decade to raise money and social awareness for charity.
Up On The Sun talked with vocalist Bert McCracken about not having to worry about a label, the band's surprising influences, and how addiction continues to fuel his songwriting.
Up On The Sun: Congrats on the release of Vulnerable II. How did that come about?
Bert McCracken: There were a lot of songs that were not put on the Vulnerable record that we thought deserved a chance. There's four unreleased tracks, there's acoustic tracks, and then we got some friends to do three remixes for us. So it's stuff that people haven't heard. Every night on stage I encourage people to go steal it from Walmart.
While listening to 2012's Vulnerable, I felt like there were some hip-hop qualities and the tempos all over the board, but it also like you guys were reaching back to your original roots. What was the concept behind that album?
Yes, I kind of wanted to reflect the energy and emotion of The Used's first record. We were in the studio while Dan and Quinn had a lot of stuff going on, so the majority of the record was written on a keyboard and bass guitar, and, you know, us throwing beats around. Any element of music that came into the top of our heads influenced it. You know, we're all very eclectic music fans. We all love old hip-hop, R&B, funk and jazz...so we took influence from everyone's tastes.
Yeah, I heard you guys are inspired by the music of James Brown and Outkast. What are some other influences that fans might find out-of-the-ordinary for The Used?
Well, for me, growing up I always loved Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, and Mariah Carey. I grew up listening to pop music and classic rock music. My dad was into Heart and The Beatles and The Stones. But everyone's into different stuff: Jeph listens to like, Mr. Bongo and his weird projects, Dizzee Rascal, and British hip-hop.
You've said that you had a burst of creativity while recording Vulnerable. Did that have to do with you getting off pain meds from your 2011 injury?
Right. I reached a point where I was not happy with myself and the way I looked. My creativity was non-existent. I snapped and kind of became the Bert that everyone knows from childhood, and started working all day -- every day -- on something I could love and listen to. I think artists [are] especially [prone] go through lulls of progressive creativity, and being an artist for my whole life I've always had a strange way of approaching creativity. I procrastinate a lot like most artists do, but it couldn't have been more perfect timing. I had a lot of support. You've battled a couple times before with addiction. What are songs you've written over the years that have really helped you deal with that struggle?
I think that being a drug addict and alcoholic [is] very close to my heart, and what's close to my heart always comes out in my lyrics. So, all these songs you think are about love and relationships are probably just my relationships with drugs and alcohol.
Probably a lot of your older songs to, right? When it comes to that, I've always been a big fan of the older stuff, particularly the song "Buried Myself Alive." Is that one that you're referencing to?
On the first record I was actually experiencing a lot of fall-out from a real relationship with a girl, but also with drugs and alcohol. I like to write my lyrics general enough so that people listening to them can for what they mean to them, not just for me specifically.I was watching the video for "I Come Alive" the other day, and it's super graphic. Can you tell me about that?
Well, of course bullying is a huge issue and it's very tragic. But, on a completely different page, we wanted to make a music video that had loads of gratuitous violence. We all love horror movies and I love explicit awful things your mom would get mad at. At this point we don't have a label looking over our shoulders, and we can really do what we want to do. So we wanted to make something that was an homage to our love for horror films. We wanted to put a message out there as well, and we don't condone bullying or violence -- we just wanted to make a cool art piece.
Well it's pretty bad ass. So, when you had vocal cord surgery--was that five years ago?
Uhh, 2006 maybe?
Ok. So do you still have challenges with that? Is there any preparation you do prior to shows or is your voice back to where it was before?
I'm where I need to be in order to survive on tour. The way I approach a live show is I go into it 110%. That doesn't sustain...my voice doesn't hold out when I approach it that way. The screaming...I just try to get to where I'll be able to talk and sing tomorrow. That's the bigger picture now. Honestly, I don't care if I have another surgery. I'm down for that. [Laughs]
All in the name of the music.
Its not just music; it's my life. It's my life.
Yeah, you have been doing it for the majority of your life. When it comes to that, how do you think you and The Used have evolved as a whole since the self-titled debut album?
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I really think everyone's come into their own, as far as being comfortable with the artists we are. Time changes everything, and we realize that now. We are an older generation now. The bands we take [on tour] are like ten years younger than us. So, it feels good to have been around as long as we have. It means a lot more to us nowadays than we ever thought it could. We understand why we are doing it more, and what we kind of expect from it. The passion is there more, and we understand each other better.
The Used is scheduled to perform Sunday, February 24, at the Marquee Theatre.