Interview: The Used
While they were busy playing Super NES and reading Charles Dickens novels, I chatted with The Used‘s Bert McCracken and Quinn Allman. We discussed the Take Action Tour, the reissue of 2012’s Vulnerable, experimental music, and the theme song to Donkey Kong Country.
Let’s just start off by you saying your names and position in the band.
Quinn Allman (Guitarist): My name’s Quinn and I play the guitar.
Bert McCracken (Vocalist): My name’s Bert, and (reading from a book) notwithstanding Miss Pross’s denial of her own imagination, there was a perception of the pain of being monotonously haunted by one sad idea, in her repetition of the phrase, walking up and down, which testified to her possessing such a thing.
What book is that?
BM: It’s a bunch of books. But this is A Tale of Two Cities.
I never did read that. I’ve read Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, but not this one.
BM: Cool. You’re a reader.
Yeah I am. I read a lot of books actually.
BM: Good for you, man. People should.
Anyway, to kick things off, can you tell us a little bit about Take Action and how you got involved with them?
BM: Well, Hopeless has a charity group, and they do the Take Action Tour annually. And this year they asked us to headline. With headlining, you get to pick the charity that’s involved in the tour. And we picked It Gets Better, which is a charity for kids who are different and feel bullied, and who are looking for a safe place to go if you feel alone in this world because of things that make you different, or you feel picked on. And it’s We Came As Romans and Crown the Empire, and a band from Brazil named Mindflow.
Mindflow? I didn’t know they’re from Brazil.
BM: Yeah, they are.
QA: Toad’s Horse Shampoo is coming as a sponsor soon.
BM: Yeah, Toad’s Horse Shampoo (laughs).
I’ve never heard of that.
BM: It’s really rough shampoo for really brittle hair. You know people with hair where they bend it and it just snaps off? It’s like ice – cold, frozen hair. Brittle. Nestling.
QA: Nistled. I don’t know why I just said that.
BM: I don’t know why you didn’t say it again (laughs).
By teaming up with Take Action on this tour, what have you been able to accomplish? What kind of difference are you hoping to make?
BM: We’re just hoping to get a message out there that the things that make you different when you’re a teenager are the things that make you amazing. And being a teenager is rough, but time moves by and I promise you, it does get better for everyone. Being in high school and that kind of age in life is rough, but we all made it through. And that music is a magical thing as well as far as helping people through rough times. It’s always been there for me almost as my savior since I was a very young child. Just a message of positivity, really, is what we’re trying to spread. Also, a message of sympathy and empathy towards humanity.
QA: Yeah, there’s other people out there.
BM: Yeah, and if you’re involved in social networks, I would advise you to keep your fucking mouth shut and your opinions to yourself. It doesn’t feel good to read on a picture of yourself how fucking fat or ugly you are. You know what I mean? It doesn’t do anyone any good.
Yeah, and even in the music industry. Did you hear about the whole For Today thing, and how the guitarist posted a bunch of negative things on Twitter about homosexuality?
BM: Yeah, I did hear about that.
But the lead singer just gave out his phone number. I thought that was really cool.
QA: So what is he, like a creationist or something?
The guitarist? I think he comes from a really conservative Christian background. And now he’s left the band and is going overseas to do mission work.
QA: Oh, okay.
BM: We would encourage people to understand that other people’s opinions are valid and just as important as your own. To be a respectful human being and to understand is to be more at peace with the world and more happy in general. Leave people the fuck alone. Especially gay people. Why should they suffer so terribly?
Yeah, they shouldn’t. These aren’t bands you would normally tour with. What’s the experience been like touring with such a diverse group?
BM: Yeah, us being a bit older than we were when we started the band, with 11 years of touring, we notice all different types of things about genres of music. It seems like We Came As Romans has a very positive attitude, and that’s what kind of makes this tour great. It’s very genre-specific, that I think that We Came As Romans and Crown the Empire both have a singer and a screamer. Kids are really into that kind of music now, but as venerable individuals, we understand that little genres are fleeting and things tend to repeat themselves over time. History is bigger than music, so we’re anticipating the next cool thing. Not saying we don’t appreciate singing and screaming. We’re just a bit over it to tell you the truth. No offense to the other bands, they’re great, they’re talented, they’re awesome guys too.
QA: It has to do with people we work very well with, and Hopeless Records put a lot of money into this tour. So it’s also having a band that brings a lot of people to get them to know about the charity. It’s not really a personal choice.
BM: We’re really appreciative of the help and support we’ve gotten along the way, and at this point in our career, we’re just trying to give back a little bit.
Yeah definitely, kind of a message over music kind of thing. But the music’s still important too.
BM: Definitely, and that’s the thing that makes the whole thing a lot more possible.
It brings in a lot more fans I feel like. There’s like a really interesting group.
QA: It’s a self-sustainable board.
BM: Yeah, there’s some versatility and some different dynamics. We can always bring the soft, poppy, melodic part of anything. So no matter how much these bands sang or screamed before, it’s still The Used.
You played on Warped Tour last summer, and obviously there’s a lot of diversity to be found there too. If anything, what did you take away from last year’s tour?
BM: A little bit of pride in what we accomplished over the last 10 years. We still have major hardcore The Used fans out there who show up and go crazy. And it’s because of them that we’re still out here doing what we do and loving it. From the very beginning to the end, we’ve just loved every moment. Getting to do what you love to do is a blessing.
How do you go about choosing your setlists these days, considering you’ve been a band for over a decade and have so much material to pick from?
BM: I think it’s about what’s comfortable for everybody. We definitely take into account what the fans want to hear, because it’s important that everyone has a good time and hears their favorite song. I would want to hear my favorite song. We love all of our songs from beginning to end, so it’s not a sacrifice for us to play old stuff or new stuff. And it’s kind of just about what flows, and these setlists in particular that we’re kind of working from on this tour, we try to keep it as versatile as the tour itself – heavy song, then soft song, then heavy song, and stuff like that.
Your latest album, Vulnerable, will be reissued next week. What prompted this release?
BM: Well there’s a few really amazing songs that didn’t make the record that we’re really proud of. Also, I think people love acoustic versions of songs. I love it. And our friends are really talented people who do really cool remixes and take songs and make them completely different. I thought some of that would be cool. All of the remixes done on the record are from our friends in particular. It’s not just random DJs.
So it means a lot to you guys too.
BM: Yeah, it’s more important than just having an electronic remix. We’ve always been fans of electronic music but our friends are really passionate about it. So being able to help them out and also enjoying and loving it has been cool. And we encourage people to just steal it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. Just so long as you can check it out and hear it.
Yeah, just so you can be exposed to it.
BM: We’re just putting it out there because we think it should be heard. I think that it’s worth hearing.
I think that’s important as a band – just having people know your music and know who you are.
BM: True fans will pay for it because they know there’s no money left in rock and roll. We’re not out there making millions. It’s not a lucrative fucking thing.
It’s all for the passion of it.
BM: It’s not Poison, Def Leppard, even Nirvana or Soundgarden. It’s more The Used. I guess if you sound like Grandpa’s band you make a lot of money.
QA: George Washington…
QA: The Carver Pub Association.
BM: You’ve got to have a band joke, is what we’re trying to say.
QA: Yeah, one of those gramophones with those things playing back tracks.
BM: (Points to TV screen of Donkey Kong Country where Cranky Kong is playing a gramophone) This is like the music video for…I can’t even remember the name now of that Grandpa band.
And then Donkey Kong dances on a…he’s not even standing on anything.
QA: Yeah, he’s just on a tree (laughs).
BM: Imagine that was a band.
They’d make millions (laughs).
BM: That should be our intro (laughs). It’s just really weird and quiet.
QA: It’s like a TV show starting (laughs).
BM: Turn it up loud.
QA: (Turns up the sound to 8-bit Donkey Kong Country theme song playing).
BM: We should have a little intermission (laughs).
QA: (Turns sound back down) Break’s over.
BM: Thanks for waiting around guys, this next song is… (laughs).
It’s like a bathroom break, like what they used to do during movies (laughs). Alright, well, back to the questions. What prompted the band to start your own label, Anger Music Group?
BM: We just didn’t want to pay people we fucking don’t like anymore. We don’t like any of those people we were paying. We do all the work, we create the songs, we take it out on the road. We play it live, we do all the interviews and photoshoots and whatever. They were a big help to the band in the beginning, but they’re not good, nice people. We don’t give a shit about them. We want to pay people we love.
QA: Yeah, it’s to protect ourselves.
BM: Yeah, to protect ourselves, and we want to have complete 100% creative freedom to do whatever the fuck we want to do. It’s been a long time coming.
How was the recording process, promotion, and release of Vulnerable different considering the departure from your old label?
BM: It was a little bit more work, seeing as we kind of took care of all of it. Hopeless was a big help in the distribution. But it was something that I was so passionate about at the time that it didn’t feel like work. I was so excited about the songs that we made and the general hopeful message of the record that it was a pleasure to work.
I think that’s ironic considering that you worked with Hopeless Records (laughs).
BM: Yeah (laughs).
There seems to be a bit more pop sensibility and electronic elements in this record than your records in the past. What influenced this aspect of the album’s overall vibe?
BM: We’re all just very diverse in what we like.
QA: Yeah I love all kinds of electronic experimental music. We all love experimental music.
BM: Jeph [Howard, bassist] listens to some really tripped out shit. Quinn listens to…
QA: …I’m beyond like what you can even call music.
BM: And I came from straight-up pop music. A good melody is what I care about the most.
QA: Me too.
Yeah, it’s got to be catchy.
BM: I started writing and singing in a band because of my love for music, but I definitely came for my love for lyrics and words, and how poignant and little a poem, so to speak, is for a song. Anyway, we just wanted to reach out and bring all of these different influences of every different type of music. We wanted some hip-hop influences, some R&B influences. We kind of approached the writing a different way. We wrote a lot of the bass lines and drum beats on the keyboard with a computer in mind. So it was just altogether a different type of experience.
I hear that the band is preparing to release an 11-year anniversary edition of the self-titled record. How will this be different than the original album?
BM: Our first record was a very groundbreaking moment for a lot of human beings. Anyone who’s a true hardcore Used fan will understand how special it still is and how relevant it still is in mainstream music nowadays. Maybe not mainstream, but alternative music nowadays. So it’s just exciting that it’s been such an amazing amount of time and that we’ve had such a good ride so far. Yeah, something more for the true hardcore fans really.
Should we expect an anniversary tour also, or will we just have to wait and see?
BM: Yeah, we’ll wait and see. We’re planning some cool stuff, though.
Sweet. Anything else you want to say your fans?
BM: You guys are it. Tag, you’re fucking it. Kiss my fucking lick my fucking eat my fucking stick (laughs).
Ha, that rhymed.
BM: You guys, man; holy shit.