INTERVIEW | The Used on Nostalgia, Living in the Moment, and Making it Out Alive
Nine albums deep into their twenty-four-year-long music career, The Used are still constantly inspired and excited to be making music together. Their most recent LP, Toxic Positivity, is self-described as honest – Narrating the infuriation of experiencing deep personal suffering in the midst of a digitally curative era, where many are most likely to position their lives and current mental states in line with how they want to be perceived by others, neglecting the reality of nuance, pain, and failure.
At Riot Fest this summer, Stage Right Secrets photojournalist Micki Harris was able to sit down with the band to learn more about the album and the synergy as a band writing, touring, and performing after so much time – Notwithstanding a whole lot of banter from the four friends in a laughing mood.
Micki Harris: Can you tell me a little bit about the new record and if anything about it has felt different than other things you’ve tried before?
Bert McCracken: I think this record is, on the table, honest. I think that it’s one of the darker records we’ve made, we really poured all our feelings in there, spilled our guts if you will. And I think sonically, it’s a lot like our first couple records in a cool way with a little modern Used flare to it.
Dan Whitesides: Live, they’ve been going off well. I was just saying, “Worst I’ve Ever Been” is probably one of my favorite songs to play.
Jepha Howard: Yeah, unexpectedly fun to play that song.
Dan: People are digging it. People are digging, I know it’s not on the album but it’s new, “Fuck You.” People are digging “Giving Up” a lot, you know what I mean? I feel like Bert kind of explains the song a little bit or a little bit about himself and it kind of connects a lot of people so it’s awesome.
Bert: Yeah, a lot of people struggle with depression and anxiety and I know that really well, so to be able to really put that in a record and hear feedback like, “That record really helped me” – That’s what music is all about for me.
Micki: What keeps you excited to continue making music after all this time?
Bert: I’m with my best friends, playing tunes, making shit rattle for a living. It’s amazing.
Dan: We fuck around all day long.
Joey Bradford: Having fun onstage is fucking hilarious too.
Dan: Don’t let my wife hear this interview –
Bert: ‘Cause we have the best time!
Dan: It’s fucking fun.
Jepha: Somebody makes a mistake onstage, we all look and tease them, make fun of them or something – But it’s all in good fun.
Bert: It’s actually really hard – We sit around all day, we drink Topo Chicos, hang out with our friends. It’s miserable.
Dan: And we hate being around each other, as you can tell.
Jepha: We love playing shows, love warming up.
Joey: We’re just having fun!
Jepha: We rehearse the whole show before we play, so we’ll play twice a day really. But the rehearsal part is just as fun as the show.
Micki: What is different about the writing and recording process this far in as opposed to the earlier days of your career?
Bert: We kind of just throw things at the wall and see what sticks. We do a song a day, we try to wrap up all the lyrics and the vocals and then later on in the night we do guitar and bass and drums. It just flows a lot quicker than it used to.
Joey: Everyone contributes – There’s kind of a leader taking the ideas and picking out what’s going to make it but everyone has an idea and everyone’s idea is valid. It makes it fun.
Micki: Have you always done a song a day or worked piece by piece coming back to unfinished songs?
Bert: No, before it would be, like, a song in two weeks. So [John] Feldman just has this fucking incredible [flow] – He’s a machine.
Jepha: Our producer knows how to work with us so well because he’s known us twenty-four years now so he knows how each one of us – Well, some better than others, but he knows how to get out of them what they need.
Dan: It’s fun, it’s just fast paced but you’ve gotta pay attention. If you’re not there, you’re gonna miss it.
Joey: Well, and the songs all live in the moment. I think there’s something special about discussing how you’re feeling in the moment and then writing that song until it’s gone, you know?
Dan: Yeah, usually a little therapy session before we really get into it about what we want to do, how Bert’s feeling… If I’m gonna get a drum solo or not, and we haven’t gotten to that one yet – A really kick ass drum solo right in the beginning!
Micki: It sounds like you guys are still having a really good time and making music that’s very authentic after all this time so that’s great. Is there an era of your career that you ever feel nostalgic towards?
Bert: It’s hard because I was wasted so much in the past, but I had such a good time making Artwork, making In Love and Death, making the first record. There’s a lot of crazy nostalgia, goosebump nostalgia just thinking back on how it all went down.
Dan to Bert: The fact that you made it out is fucking unreal, you know?
Bert: Some people don’t make it out alive – I did.
Jepha: I think we kind of live in the moment too mostly, like each moment is special; Each tour is special; Each record is special. We try to live in that.
Bert: Each bus is special.
Joey: And we’ve had a lot of them.
Jepha: Even the ones that rain on the inside, they’re all special!
Bert: Even the ones with black mold. Those are the best ones, ‘cause they just keep on sticking with you, you know?
Micki: That’s funny, I’m going to start a band called Asbes-bus. Check us out later.
Jepha: I will play bass!
Bert: I’ll play the triangle. Bing!
Dan: I’ll be in it if I can do drum solos!
Joey: Right at the beginning.
Micki to Bert: I’m going to steal him from your band because I’m going to let him do drum solos.
Dan: It’ll be a side project, unless we make a ton of money and then I’m going to have to quit.
Micki: We’re going to make a ton of money.
Micki: Is anything strange or sticky about navigating these spaces as a band who not only has been around for so long but also as a band who has been so integral to the birth of emo music as we understand it today?
Bert: Yeah, we’re the grandfathers.
Bert: We’re the best band in the world. Every single song is good. And we started everything.
Joey: There’s cave drawings that I’ve seen that are crazy!
Bert: No one would be out here if it weren’t for me, so I want to thank myself.
Dan: Robert Smith actually texted me saying thanks for letting him start the band. I wasn’t even born yet!
Micki: So, no – We don’t take ourselves too seriously.
Bert: Never, no.
Dan: It just depends on who it is. If it’s some stupid young band coming up, fuck ‘em. Push their face in the dirt. That’s what happened to me, bitch! Gotta pay your dues! Tie my shoe while you’re down there!
Bert: We make fun of a lot of bands, especially up and coming bands, we talk a lot of shit, like: Enjoy your band, you pieces of shit!
Dan: As we’re zooming by –
Bert: In our bus that’s raining inside.
Dan: No, all of that’s a goddamn joke. A goof – We did it as a goof!
Bert: Yeah, we love touring, we love playing with different bands, especially bands who are nice guys. That’s the best part about tours is the comradery and everybody hanging out.
Jepha: ‘Cause we’re all just hanging out.
Joey: Yeah, in the last four or five years, every tour – Every band we’ve gotten to play with has been a really good hang which is always the most important part for us.
Dan: It always starts off a little weird, like everyone’s trying to see how everybody else is and then we realize that we’re all the same. Bunch of dipshits.
Micki: I like to ask as a closer question: What is the last album you listened to from front to back?
Bert: My friend just introduced me to Cleopatrick.
Dan: Mine was in my bunk the other day, I listened to Tony Williams’ Lifetime. It ain’t for everybody.
Joey: I did Jimmy Eat World Futures recently, front to back. Holds up.
Jepha: I mean, on the spot, front to back… Y’all are gonna tease me a little bit –
Bert: Celine Dion?
Jepha: The Brothers Johnson. I don’t remember the record title but I was streaming through them a bunch.
Bert: Honestly, I listen to The Used more than any other band. I’ve listened to Toxic Positivity like 700 times.
Dan: Dude, before we tour that’s all I listen to, just to get – I don’t know what we’re going to be playing so just like in the car, in my headphones, mowing the lawn. My family doesn’t care, they love The Used.
Jepha: Every time we play a show, I listen to them for at least 2 hours everyday, maybe more. Every show, it’s true!