Since exploding onto the music scene with the 2002 release of their Gold-certified self-titled debut record, The Used have become one of the fixtures of the alternative music scene over the past decade. But now, with the release of their fifth studio album, Vulnerable, the boys from Orem, UT have paused, thought, and changed almost everything up. After years of being signed to a major label, they have taken control, forged a business partnership with progressive indie label Hopeless Records, and self-released their record through the newly-formed Anger Music Group.
To promote that new album, Bert, Jeph, Quinn and Dan headed out for a coast-to-coast summer roadtrip with The Warped Tour and it was on the Irvine, CA Warped stop that Buzzine’s Stefan Goldby sat down with The Used to talk new music, new beginnings, new generations of music fans and to examine the pro’s and con’s of doing meth…?!!
Stefan Goldby: Even though you guys are heading into your second decade as a band in a lot of ways you just made a fresh start: Can we start today by talking about the beginnings of your new Anger Music Group?
Bert McCracken: This is actually our second century as a band and it’s been a long time coming…
We’ve wanted to put out our own music for quite a while and record labels are a failing industry, so we’re really excited. Instead of starting as a record label specifically, we wanted to start something that’s more inclusive to all forms of creative artworks. It’s pretty much an art production company. So we can deal with anything from fashion to food to clothing – that’s fashion, I guess, too... music videos, management, records… anything in between…
Jeph Howard:Turtles, food, turtledoves…
Dan Whitesides: Turtle food.
JH: Turtle food. [Laughs]
BM: Have you ever seen a turtledove? A turtle with wings?
JH: Yeah, I’ve seen that.
Quinn Allman: I’ve seen two.
JH: They fly around…
DW: And a partridge in a pear tree.
SG: What happens when they cry?
BM: When turtledoves cry?
JH: It’s very sad. It sounds like a guitar solo, yeah...
DW: [Singing] "din-din-din-din, din-din, din-din”
JH: Something like that, yeah…
SG: You haven’t completely struck out on your own: What made Hopeless Records the right partners for this new venture?
BM: We needed someone to distribute the record because that’s a lot of work for us to do on our own. Handling the whole record was pretty much enough! So we looked into some specific distribution companies, but Hopeless offered us a specific distribution deal, which is the first time they’ve ever done anything like that. And we really get along really well with everyone there and they’re awesome.
JH: It turns out they’re not ‘hopeless’, at all…
DW: And they have a lot of resources that we could use, as well as hiring out on our own so it’s really quite cool.
SG: Even if so much has changed in your world, one thing has remained the same: working with Mr. John Feldmann as your producer. He has played such a big role for you over the years - what is it that makes him such an indispensable part of your music?
JH: His caffeine addiction maybe?
DW: His lack of human contact? [Laughs]
BM: He brought us out of Utah originally. Like we sent our demos around and he called us from Sweden and offered to fly us out to LA on his dime and recorded our demos for us twelve years ago. So he’s always been real easy to work with. He’s a really hard worker. He’s definitely able to experiment and take it to the next level in the studio.
JH: This record especially, most of all…
BM: He’s like a stepbrother to us.
DW: That we don’t like. He’s like camping, like he’s… intense.
DW: That’s so old, but it’s still good…
QA: He has a good work ethic. I think that’s what it comes to the most. Working with John, we’ve gotten to know each other really well so we’re comfortable. And if we just have a little idea, he can really help us to see the big picture and stuff…
SG: So when it came to Vulnerable, is there a day or a session that stands out most in your mind as particularly notable this time around?
BM: Well, for this record, Vulnerable, we’ve really been working on it for like the last two and a half years. We wrote “I Come Alive”, which is the first song on Vulnerable, we wrote it two and a half, almost three years ago. So we had a bunch of songs ready. But it wasn’t until we really got in the studio and tried to kind of switch it up a bit… the majority of the songs were actually written on the keyboard and the computer so it was kind of a different approach we took in the studio.
SG: One of the things you guys have gained on this album is more control than ever before. So when you’re pretty much the only people that can say when the record’s done, how do you decide when the record’s done?
QA: That’s always the question, when is something done. Because it’s done when we know it’s done.
DW: It’s done when we have no more money left to spend. [Smiles]
BM: It’s done when I say it’s done…
DW: We just all knew it was done. And the coolest thing was the last day I was there was the day that we did “Put Me Out”. And that did feel like an ending to me. I mean, that song is f***ing sick and it turns out that it is.
JH: What three did we do? We did three songs then.
BM: “Put Me Out”, “Together Burning Bright”, and “Now That You’re Dead”.
QA: We just kind of do it in different little like blocks of time. You know, like the first part of it, we’ve got like five songs maybe... and then the next time, we’ll have five to ten more and then we’ll do like one little thing at the end…
SG: With a couple of months of hindsight, what are you proudest of about this record?
JH: The songs!
BM: I like the overall positive vibe. I think that it’s really important to us right now in our careers and I think it’s really important to… teenagers: I feel like in that age from ten, eleven, twelve to sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, that’s when music means the most to people. I feel like that’s when the music saves people’s lives almost. So it’s nice to have something to put out that’s inspirational and inspired. Our last record was… a little bit less than that.
SG: Those exact people form the majority of the people who are outside this tour bus right now, and out there in many different parking lots and fields and all around the country attending the Warped Tour. You are Warped veterans, and here you are returning to the main stage this year. Do you notice anything that’s different now at Warped Tour 2012, compared to years gone by?
BM: Personally, I feel like attention spans have kind of gotten fragile. I feel like people are so used to sitting on their computers and clicking through… and for a band like us, it’s no so much an issue because we’re mostly verse/chorus, verse/chorus, kind of rock and roll… but I just feel like kids get bored real easy nowadays.
JH: You see kids checking their phones in between... in the bridge part or something. “Yeah, I’ve just got to check my email real quick” before they… [pauses, looks up] “Okay, I like this part…”
BM: Yeah. Which is kind of sad but at the same time, it is what it is. And I mean… I also feel like teenagers are a lot less genre-specific than maybe we were when we were teenagers, which is a good thing, y’know? We can experiment with so many different types of music and no one’s going to be like y’know; “Well, f*** them!” and whatever.
SG: Warped is now a long running music festival, which is an impressive thing: What do you think is the secret sauce…?
BM: I think it’s just that love for music, man. When I go out to Warped Tour, it’s the opportunity to get to see more then ten bands in one day… and everyone’s got their merch... You can cruise around, there’s a lot of different outlets for anything, you know. So stuff… and things… and…
JH: It’s kind of like a flea market. I feel like I’m a giant flea market with random s*** flying up. Get a bag from this guy… or get a watch from this guy…
QA: I don’t know what’s the difference between a clothing line and a band and a charity and a clothing line or a band. Is that…? What is that? They’re all selling shirts… I feel a little out of touch. It’s a different time, a different generation right now…
SG: You have sold millions of records and played thousands of shows. I imagine you’ve achieved most, if not all of the things that you set out to do. And yet, you’ve knuckled down and you’re going for it again… So what’s left - What drives you forward as a band having achieved that first round of goals?
BM: I guess what really drives us as a band is there’s a lot more places to go that we’ve never been, there’s a lot more kids out there who’ve never seen The Used who would probably love to. Every time we get to experience something new for the first time, it’s magical. We just went to Manila for the first time, went to Kuala Lumpar, and there’s tons of kids who were stoked to see The Used play there so it makes it worth it. We’re grown up. When we first started this band, Quinn and I would talk about what success meant to us and that was pretty much just playing the Warped Tour, we thought we’d succeeded in all of our dreams and aspirations had come to fruition.
QA: But here we are again.
BM: But we never really put any limits on our success. We never set out to be the biggest band in the world. We just wanted to play from our hearts and whoever wanted to come along for the ride, buy the ticket, take the ride.
SG: If we were to pinch the fifteen-year-old versions of you and play a highlight reel of what’s happened since, what do you think would be the most impressive moment?
BM: Just seeing the crowds that we’ve played to thus far in the past eleven years would be the most impressive moment for me to watch if I was fifteen. I never would’ve believed it, y’know? “Hey, you’ll probably play to like, sixty-five thousand people at Reading one day.” I’d be like; “No, I won’t!”
JH: …and the traveling, too. Like… even being at Reading or even being in the Philippines, like you said, or Malaysia…
BM: Quinn didn’t even know where Manila was, before we went there…
JH: …True story.
DW: I would just think, “Damn: I’m cool!”
BM: “We rock!”, that’s what I’d say…
JH: I’d probably be scared…
BM: I’d put down the meth pipe for a sec. and take a look! [Laughs]
SG: So with what words would you like this interview session to end here today?
JH: Don’t do meth!
BM: Or do meth… either way!
DW: One time’s not gonna kill ya! [Laughs] ... everything in moderation?
BM: I’ve heard that you can do meth up to ten times, without getting addicted… [Laughs]
DW:… and still have most of your teeth [Laughs]
BM: And we also want to say that… We all agree that The Used has some of the most hardcore fans of all time all around the world. And if it wasn’t for you guys, we wouldn’t still be here doing what we do...
So thank you, and the love is greatly appreciated… [Makes heart sign]…
The Used's new album ‘Vulnerable’ is out now on Anger Music/Hopeless Records.