Interview: Bert McCracken of THE USED
Words/Interview by Tam Schilling
Twenty years ago, The Used was brought to life and have since released a collection of albums that shaped the space of the alternative rock scene. High energy live shows, gut wrenching and relatable lyrics, plus melodies that blended pop sensibility and hard rock was the perfect combination to make an everlasting impression on fans globally. After months of anticipation and teasing with fans, The Used have ofﬁcially announced they will be releasing their 8th full length studio album, 'Heartwork', on April 24th via Big Noise. We caught up with front man Bert McCracken to discuss the new album, among other things.
Your new album Heartwork is due for release on 24th April. What can we expect from the new album?
I think that fans of the band can expect to hear a nostalgic reconnection with the energy and the love of the first couple of records. We really wanted to clear our heads going into the studio and try to make songs that represent our love for music and why we do it. The Used fans are a little bit of a different type of music listener. For us it’s like church or therapy it’s just kind of a cathartic release that allows us to be better people. Music has saved my life over and over again. So, this was a reconnection with The Used that we know and love and a return to John Feldmann. We wanted to have an open mind in the studio, and we just wanted the songs to be fun and catchy, that was our only goal.
What is it like as an artist to be releasing a new album in the middle of a worldwide pandemic?
It is such strange, strange times for everyone. It is especially daunting for entertainers, artists and musicians as we thrive on that physical emotional connection. This music and these songs have become our way to find that healthier state that inspires you to try and face normal life. Without these live shows it feels very odd. When you have something taken away from you at this point, I am desperate, and I'd give anything to be able to play a show. We thought there is no good reason to delay the release when everyone is at home and in need of good art and especially good music right now. It helps you escape in general. We are excited in a strange way; we had a lot of really cool things planned out that were put on hold indefinitely. We just have to hope for the best and try to stay positive. This record is full of positive energy, so it feels right to be releasing it right now. There is a lot of crazy sentiments on this record about feeling stuck and trapped. The songs have a really cool positive spin on them this time and I think people will really notice the difference.
Does the band have a specific writing process for writing new music?
It’s always all over the place. For this record we were meeting up at our new guitar players house down near San Diego for some of the demos. Once we started in the studio with John Feldmann it was just kind of a studio record. We had abandoned all the demos that we had played around with before we went into the studio. We just thought we’re here let's just make music in the now and see what happens. It was kind of a quick-fire method of working a couple of songs and then going home. We would do a song a day. We were only in the studio for 35 days, but we ended up with about 30 songs. It was incredible, everybody was in such a good place. It was like going to hang out with friends, drinking coffee, just sitting around and chatting and then writing a song. Being in a band for 20 years I feel really really lucky and fortunate to have all the relationships that I do. I still feel like a kid when we are doing what we love to do. It was an incredible experience. It’s kind of cliché for people to talk about this brand-new thing being their favorite thing and having the most fun they had. We made so many crazy incredible memories that will stick with us. If we have ever tried to embrace how it feels to be in a band and what that means to us, I think we did that in this album, it feels good.
Can we expect to see The Used doing a headline tour in Australia for the new album once the pandemic is over?
One hundred percent and how exciting will it be to be back to a little bit of normal. Maybe it will have taken a pandemic to give everybody a really good head check. I think we will all come out of this knowing what is really important to us and what matters. We’ve all been stuck at home, whatever we do that takes up the most time in your day. For a lot of people, I think that is technology and I think that when you are forced to sit and live with something you can develop a real relationship. I think that everybody's relationship with Instagram and Facebook will hopefully be completely different once we come out of this on the other side. Live shows will be so exciting again.
I’m a band photographer and I had so many live shows lined up and they were all cancelled within a matter of 24 hours, it was devastating.
Yeah, its tragic. We had so many amazing things coming up for us and it’s like of course it happens right now. I think the hardcore fans will love this record as much as I do. It’s my favorite record. It has the most extremes of any of the records we have recorded. It was really cool being able to take the opportunity to take big changes. There are no genres anymore, so we thought let's just make something crazy.
You work a lot with Goldfinger’s John Feldmann, what is that like?
I’ve said this many times, but he is the most driven and hardest working man I have ever come across in my life. He is so passionate about the things that he loves. It’s this kind of relationship that we have always had, I'm kind of in awe of the man and that really drives me in the studio to compete with myself and make the best thing that I know how to make because I know that John Feldmann is watching. It’s a really cool power he has. He could write three songs a day and do that every day. He is a really magic, special kind of person. I am extremely grateful to still have that connection. It was so much fun; nobody would drink as much coffee as he can. It is a pleasure to hang around someone who can do that. I don’t drink beers and neither does he, so we just sit and drink coffee all day and all night long, it’s pretty incredible.
Do you think you will ever form some sort of super group with the people you have worked with in your music career?
Umm, working with individuals in a creative artistic setting is never easy. I think it's only because we are family that The Used has functioned so well. We know each other on another level, it's very intimate and personal to the point that we know what we dislike about each individual person. The key to a good relationship is knowing what you hate about the person you love. But I don’t know, I've never been one to work well with others. I’ve always been very protective about the process of everything. I think this record was the most relaxed anyone has ever seen me, we just wanted to say yes to every opportunity. You get a lot of stuff that maybe you wouldn’t have seen from Bert McCracken ten years ago. So maybe less members than more members, I’ve never been a fan of super groups.
A friend of mine has been a huge fan of yours since the beginning, your music has helped her through some tough times, how does that make you feel knowing your music has helped other people?
Honored and excited. How I have always looked at it is the things that I’ve loved and the things that I've been personally inspired by I think are incredible. What an artist does is he kind of just takes what he knows from the things that he has read or listened to or looked at and inspiration is a really nice way of saying that you stole some stuff. I think it's really cool that a lot of the stuff that I was inspired by was stuck in my head and it was subconsciously stolen and made into Used songs. It kind of goes back to the universe just to be a part of music in general it’s so special. I'm the same kind of fan as your friend, I have music that has saved my life over and over and it’s been The Used for me as well, being able to pour my heart and soul into these songs and use it as a personal journal. We are glad that we are still able to make music and play music live as soon as we can. As soon as possible, I hope.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, before we go do you have any words for your Australian fans?
You are welcome and thank you for your time as well, I really appreciate it. It’s been a while since we have been able to do a proper headlining show in Australia. The last time we did it was really cool. We did multiple nights in smaller rooms so we could get a little bit closer and in the face which I always think it's nice to be able to smell everybody's breath and have a big sweaty Australian hug. Hopefully that is right around the corner. I always like to say to the hardcore fans that have been there since day one. We have some of the most special and insane fans and this record is especially for those guys that want to take music as seriously as we do. I hope you love it as much as I do, and I can't wait to see you all really soon!
Heartwork will be released on April 24th via Big Noise.
Fans can pre-save the new album and stream the new single today HERE.