Utah rockers helplessly watch as their lead singer slowly destroys himself
The Used's guitarist Quinn Allman just got back from having butt sex with his neighbor, or so he claims. There's always a smirk in his voice, like he's not taking anything seriously, whether he's pontificating about why Mormons "are really fuckin' stupid" or cracking jokes about his lead singer's ex, Kelly Osbourne.
At the moment, he's holed up at his place in Salt Lake City, not far from Orem, Utah where the Used grew up. "Everyone around here, their entire lives are based on all these false values," he says of the Mormon community. "They're just a bunch of fuckin' weirdos. They go to church and then come home to beat their kids. You wouldn't believe it, but if you live here, you realize these people who you're supposed to follow, there are just too many of them following other people. It just made me kind of want to do my own thing and define what it was I was after."
|The Used: Simultaneously repulsed by and attached to their native Utah.|
This propensity for rebellion is endemic of all four members of the Used, who, with their diverse sound - the melodic nü metal called "screamo," incorporating emo/punk vocals and über-layered production techniques - have in the past couple of years dominated tours such as Ozzfest, Projekt Revolution, and Vans Warped. One gets the sense that straight-edged Orem was more of a battle for each of them than fame will ever be, especially frontman Bert McCracken. His family kicked him out at 15, leaving him homeless. The ensuing years of sleeping on friend's couches eventually led to him being accused of using those close to him - which is where the Used's name came from.
"Mormons think they live in their own world," says Allman, "and that Utah's this place where it's supposed to be perfect. 'God is here.' But he's not. Not any more than he is in Compton."
Orem compelled the Used - Allman, McCracken, Branden Steineckert, and Jeph Howard - to swear they'd leave town the first chance they got, but two of the four, Steineckert and Howard, have since returned, while Allman lives less than an hour away. McCracken resides in Los Angeles.
"It's not so much where you're at as who you're with," says Allman of how the company of friends drew him back home.
It seems life for Allman and most of the band is finally starting to settle down after a rough stretch that led Howard to say their volatile chemistry didn't mesh and Steineckert to voice uncertainty about how they could survive another two years together.
"We kind of had to learn in reverse," explains Allman. "We hadn't even busted our ass touring, you know what I mean? It's strange to say that, but that's all I can say. We got signed so quick. We played like five shows in Utah, that was it. We've all just had to figure out who we are in a strange way. You need time to adjust." And today?
"We're all super-fuckin' good with each other. Everyone's more comfortable with what's happening, has had a chance to swallow it and live with it. Now, we can all just joke around about how gay we look on stage."
The Used clashed most in their views about how to enjoy their success, with Steineckert and Howard both leading clean-cut lifestyles and Allman and McCracken choosing to embrace the rock star myth. "When you're out on the road," says Allman, "somebody's going to be cutting fuckin' loose. It's not a job. It's not nine-to-five. After I play a show, I'm going to get fucked up, that's what I'm going to do.
"One of the biggest problems we had was that Branden `Steineckert` wouldn't bend," he continues. "He's never jerked off in his life, never smelled beer, never smoked pot or a cigarette. He never had sex before he was 24." Ultimately, Steineckert's inflexibility led to the band making a function-versus-dysfunction division, opting for two tour buses. "When it comes down to it, somebody has to bend and it's usually going to be the guy who's high."
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Allman, however, claims he's lost the taste for excess. "I hardly ever drink. I've just been more into... you know, it's just how it goes. I don't do shit anymore." Of course, that's a matter of degree. When it comes to degree, though, no one spins the dial up all the way like the Used's frontman, who, back when he was dating Osbourne, made a few uncomfortable appearances on The Osbournes.
McCracken is more than just a twisted train wreck. He's the train that left the tracks at the edge of a steep embankment, has been rolling down that embankment ever since (in this case, in slow motion), every day closer to the precipice that he can't avoid because that's what would be expected of him. Rebellion is like a mantra to him, even if it means a rebellion against life.
A lead singer with greasy long tresses, an impish grin, and psychopathic glare, he looks a little too much like a fallen angel in some bad direct-to-video Hollywood thriller.
"I do worry about Bert, I'll tell you that," admits Allman of his friend's habit of getting "fucked up every night." It's one of the few moments in the conversation that his inflection isn't tinged by smart-alecky irreverence. "There are times when I'm powerless to... you know what I mean. There's nothing I can really do. He's going to do what he's going to do."
One thing's for certain, and that's that the Used are very likely sitting on a time bomb, except no one can see the ticking timer. The band might've learned how to survive together, but none of them can deny how McCracken's steady diet of cigarettes, beer, and junk food is destroying him, as evidenced by the pancreatitis his doctors say will, if he persists (and he is), kill him in a most agonizing fashion. Allman can see it, you can hear as much in his voice, but like so many band members who've lost close friends to rock 'n' roll, there's little he can do except hope. And maybe look the other way. •
By Cole Haddon