Photo by Jaime Monzon
The Used just embarked on a tour to promote their new album Imaginary Enemy co-headlining with Taking Back Sunday. During SXSW, I got to speak to lead singer Bert McCracken on the second floor of a bar called the Chuggin' Monkey on 6th Street while the whole time hearing about five different bands playing in the background.
Imaginary Enemy is an amazing album. It was produce by John Feldman, who did your first three albums. Tell me about working with him again.
He’s like family to us. We don’t have to spend a lot of time in those awkward moments. You hug and then you’re back. You can fight and then scream at each other and almost fist fight; then we go for a drive and be cool. He kind of let us go for it this time. The focus was on the message, the lyric and the melody.
How was that different from other producers you’ve worked with?
We worked with Matt Squire, and he was a more hands-of-corporate example of a
it wasn’t that enjoyable. People are people. I mean John Feldman is so passionate. It's hard to find that passion somewhere else. Which kind of puts us in a box in a way. We self-produced the EP The Ocean and the Sky right before. We really wanted to bring this new found love for shit. Noisy, shitty shit. John Feldman let us get in there with that in a structured way, because I did want a good sounding record. One that was on a professional level of “Wow, this sounds fucking incredible.” But then again, I did want to have the freedom to sing out of key and not keep things tuned up, play out of key and keep it loose.
How has your writing process changed from your first album to this new album?
It's constantly changing and evolve is the greatest kind of word to use. We’re constantly trying new things and each time we do we learn something. We find things that work and then next time we try, we incorporate what we know works. It doesn’t get easier but more comfortable, maybe. I wrote all the lyrics myself away from the band. The music we tend to write all together.
Is there a particular song that you can say is your favorite on Imaginary Enemy?
I love the heavy track “The Song to Stifle Imperial Progression (A work in progress).” It's something that I kind of always wanted to do with our music, since I was little. That was to say “fuck you” to the government in a big way, and I think that it's really ok to say that about the United States government, about the policies and ideas of what's going on. We know what we’ve done is fucked up, and that some of these things don’t work and it's really confused. I think we’re asking these questions because we love where we live, where we grew up. We love the United States.
Photo by Jaime Monzon
So do you feel your message has now become more political?
Yeah, in a big way. I think we all understand that the people who run the world are these corrupt politicians. I think people should run the world.
One of my favorite tracks from The Used is “Hospital” off of Lies for the Liars. The lyrics describe what feels like a crazy car ride to the hospital. What’s the story behind that song?
Yeah, I put my hand through the wall and had this crazy broken hand. I was in the midst of this insane emotional fight with my significant other, and we’ve all been there, where you’ve gotten so deep into a fight, where there’s no way you're coming back now. It will take days. It was one of those moments where it’s like a life or death kind of emotion. On my way to the hospital, I was thinking “What has just happened in the last 10 minutes? How did I let myself get to where I’m at?”
A big trend right now is for bands to do an anniversary tour for their iconic albums. Your first album came out in 2002, but you didn’t do anything like that. Is that something that you’ve thought about doing?
I think it would take away from the movement of creativity right now. There’s just too much to say, too many new songs to create, so we just want to keep moving. We do celebrate our back catalog. We love our old songs. I realize how important they are to everyone. We do give ourselves credit for the genre-bending we did. Maybe some people were pissed that we made that type of music a little more mainstream or pop. But whatever happened was organic in my mind, which a lot of people would debate. There’s too much new stuff. We just want to focus and keep moving, keep creating.
What kind of show can we expect from The Used on this tour. How do you pick your set after having so many albums?
We like to play what we want while being conscious of what the kids would be able to escape to, and embrace that ecstasy of a natural type of escape. People who understand what being at a rock show is all about
that’s who we’re playing for because my favorite thing of all time growing up was rock concerts and that kind of escape has to be so exciting. So we like to start fast, get heavy; we like to bring it down low, emotional, but really playing from the heart and sharing that with everybody on a horizontal level. No one's better, no one's worse. Unadulterated enthusiasm. Act like a crazy person because that’s what its all about.
What song just never gets old to play for you?
I love playing “Take it Away.” I feel like that song is such a driving, moving song. To be perfectly honest, I don’t get sick of playing a lot of our songs. I’ve never been sick of playing “All That I’ve Got.” I’ve never been sick of playing “Pretty Handsome Awkward.” I guess it could get easy to get sick of them, but I try to keep myself in check because not a lot of people get to do what they’ve dreamed of their entire lives. I’m very, very lucky, very blessed.
I’ve never heard you play the song “Let it Bleed” live. Is that something you won't play?
Yeah, there are a few songs from In Love and Death; they maybe twist my heart in a really weird way. There’s a few. We have played “Let it Bleed,” “Poetic Tragedy” and “It’s Hard to Say” a few times. These songs are hard for me to even listen to let alone get out. I don’t mind crying on stage, but it's rough. I went through a lot making those records, so it’s tough.
So you’re living in Australia now?
Yeah, I moved about eight months ago; I had to get out of the United States as quick as possible. I’m just kidding. My wife is Australian. So, she stuck it out for me in LA for eight years, and we wanted to have a family. I felt eight years was a good sacrifice for her, and now it’s my turn to give back a bit. To say living in Australia is a sacrifice is the funniest joke of all time.
The Used’s new album Imaginary Enemy comes out on Hopeless Records Tuesday, April 1.