The Used is in it for the music, not the money
By Leah Wellbaum
In my early youth I spent a lot of time drooling over hardly-listened-to but seriously discounted albums in used record stores. It was some years ago that I was doing just this when I picked up a used copy of an album by, well, The Used. What attracted me to the self-titled debut release was the album art–a morbid picture of a woman’s face. Her skin was pale and looked like cracked and rotting porcelain. Blood red lips hung mawkishly off her mannequin face and, as far as I could tell, she was totally miserable. I was fourteen, angry and thought to myself, “These guys must be dark.”
Later that day I sat on the floor of my room with headphones on and arms crossed, listening to the track “The Taste of Ink.” Bert McCracken sings, “The taste of ink is getting old. It’s four o’clock in the fucking morning, each day gets more and more like the last day.” I felt like the song was written just for me and my freshman year of high school angst. I nodded along to the song while my inner-monologue hummed, “finally, someone who gets me. I am going to listen to this band forever.”
The false feeling of unrequited love is a common one at the age of fourteen and, as I grew up, I stopped listening to The Used so frequently. But although my interest in the self-deprecating screamo band faded, others continued to tune in. On MySpace, The Used has a six-digit list of devoted internet-friends. On July 6, a user named “MATT (says use the cloak of invisibility)” wrote: “I love u guys…I’ve been ur biggest fan since the day I heard you…so since ur first album. I love u guys…Keep the music alive.” He’s not the only one who feels this way. According to The Used’s bassist Jeph Howard, they receive MySpace messages from new and old fans everyday. “I was personally adding every fucking person and replying to everyone I could for six months. We’d go and write and then I’d get home and do that all night.” But Howard doesn’t even mind.
The down-to-earth bassist barely seems to notice the band’s growing fame. “We’re really just in it for the music,” he insists. “I got misquoted on an interview a few days ago, and it sucks. I was talking about record companies and how they’re trying to figure out how to make money and they misquoted ‘they’ve’ to ‘we’ve.’ Like we’re trying to make money off kids. Nobody cares, that’s fucking stupid. They made me look like a money-loving asshole and I really don’t give a fuck.”
The Used’s most recent album, Lies for the Liars, rocks with the same amount of fury as Howard’s misquotation anger. After old drummer Brandon Steineckert left the band due to unclear “creative differences,” the band picked up new drummer Dan Whitesides and left their Utah homes for Los Angeles, a city notorious for coke heads, fashion snobs, eating disorders, and, oh yeah, liars. Originally, lyricist McCracken stated that the move had a huge influence on the album. “Personally I don’t think it did,” counters Howard. “It was just very personal to Bert.”
According the Howard, the esoteric and occasionally stubborn McCracken is the sole creator of The Used’s lyrics and melodies. But all band members try constantly to challenge each others’ musical content to make sure each of them is doing what’s best for the song. “We’ll have a guitar line that Quinn (Allman) has. Usually we sit down and jam out musically.” “I like the stuff that didn’t make the record a little bit more than the stuff that did make the record. I’m happy with all twenty songs that we recorded,” says Howard as he beams about the progression his band has made. “The next record we’re going to do is going to be even crazier,” he says. But has The Used changed too much? Howard has a well-recited answer to the question. “We’ve changed for sure. If a band doesn’t change and doesn’t mature, they’re kind of lying to themselves and their fans.” And hey, The Used hates liars.
Although it’s hard for many to believe, Bert McCracken is not an original member of The Used. “We started out me, Quinn (guitarist) and Brandon (drummer) a few years ago,” Howard says. “When we actually started The Used we didn’t have a singer. People say I sang for the band, but that’s really not true.” After seeing McCracken perform with other bands, they gave him a call and the rest is history. “He sounded like exactly what we were looking for in a singer.”
But McCracken’s abilities are not limited to just singing. Also in his repertoire is growling, screeching, screaming, whining, and then there were the infamous puking incidents that, although they occurred a full seven or eight years ago, still haunt the band to this day. “He did it at a couple shows just cause he thought it was funny. There was hardly anybody there. There was a bunch of prissy girls at the show sometimes. He would just scream a lot and scream so much it would gag him sometimes and he’d just puke cause it was funny. It really hasn’t happened for years.” McCracken is currently in the hospital recovering from node-removal surgery.
My initial attraction to The Used was due to their knack for lyrics so morbid I couldn’t listen to the record in front of my grandmother. “…found a box of sharp objects, what a beautiful thing,” spat McCracken on their first release. But as I’ve aged, darkness without steadfast reason doesn’t seem as impressive. And with lyrics like “so deep I didn’t even bleed,” off of The Used’s second release In Love and Death, seemed a bit spineless until I learned more about McCracken’s inspirations. “There’s a girl that he dated off and on for ten years that died during the last record so a lot of the record’s about her.” But he says that McCracken doesn’t like to get too specific in his lyrics in hope that everyone can take away something different and personal from what he has to say. “The more you know about what’s going on in Bert’s life, the more you get.”
As for Howard, he claims he rarely leaves his house. “I play bass, I play video games, I eat, I play with my dog, she barks.” The bassist’s dog is a long-haired wiener named Zelda, after the videogame character. “Yesterday I was at an anime convention,” he gushes. “I really like that whole culture. I like that everybody was dressed up in little outfits, it was really cute actually.” Howard has two favorite costumes in particular: the kid dressed up as the Japanese videogame character Katamari and, of course, the girl dressed as Zelda. Although Howard spins no tales of the outfit he sported at the convention, I did stumble upon a picture of him on the internet: naked and holding a pineapple over his nether-regions. Kind of intriguing, but ultimately besides the point. This man’s band is getting hotter by the minute, and their spiral into fame is fueled by more than just video games and nudity.