PropertyOfZack spoke with Bert McCracken from The Used a few weeks ago for a fantastic interview. Bert and I discussed the band jumping back into the game, how their former label restricted their creative ability, their new album, Anger Music Group, and much more. Read up and enjoy!
For the record, could you state your name and role in The Used?
I’m Bert, and I sing stuff in The Used.
The Used have been out of the spotlight for some time now, but have jumped back in it pretty quickly. Was it odd to sort of step away for the longest time in your career really?
Yeah, it was. We’ve been doing nothing for a while. It was because of our whole label process with Warner. They had picked us up for another record and then dropped it. Everything got pushed back because of that. We’ve definitely been working on this record for a long time. It’s been weird for sure, but we can’t wait to get back out there.
We know that you left Warner, your management, and have really sort of taken on a DIY ethic with Vulnerable besides patterning up with Hopeless. Was it difficult to push through so many road blocks during that time off?
It’s always difficult when everything changes so drastically. It’s never easy to adapt to a new situation. It’s definitely not easy and a little frightening when you’re going out to do everything by yourself. We were done working with people that we didn’t like. We decided to fire those people and hire people that we like and wanted to be around. We’ve been wanting to put out our own records for years now since we had been stuck with Warner for quite some time. We had the opportunity to start not only a label but an art production company that deals with every single type of creative art that’s out there from food to fashion to clothing to photography and film. It’s all inclusive.
How did that play into, interrupt, or push on the writing process for Vulnerable?
We’d get together and have writing sessions, but then something would happen and everything would fall apart. We’d get back together and everything would fall apart again. It wasn’t until we were completely done with Warner that we started to pick up the process a little bit.
Vulnerable is of course following up Artwork, which may have been the band’s most polarizing release in terms of reception. How do you feel about that record two and a half years later?
It was definitely a process with the label for that record from day one. Record labels were falling to pieces and they were desperately reaching for anything like trying to tell us to dress us in certain clothes with bullet proof vests and arm bands. They even told me to change the lyrics on the record. So instead of saying “He’s full of shit,” they’d have me say, “He’s full of it.” A lot of the songs that I initially liked turned into “it,” you know? It was complete bullshit in my mind. It’s my least favorite Used record. I rarely listen to it. It’s a very negative record as well, which I thought was therapeutic, but you can really just get yourself down when that’s all you think about. To spite myself, I wrote a really positive and inspirational record with this new record. It’s my favorite thing that we’ve done so far.
Being an artist is obviously making what you want to create. Was being forced to make so many changes on Artwork really affect the whole album cycle as well?
Yeah, it did. When somebody tells you that you have 100% creative freedom and then you realize that it’s a big lie, it’s really disheartening for your artwork and creative being as an artist. Like I said, four or five of the songs I originally liked I don’t even like anymore. I refuse to play those songs live and they’re not the songs I set out to write. There are a lot of good songs on Artwork, but in my mind, it was too fucked with. It says a lot about artwork in general especially now in 2012. It’s a rare occasion when an artist gets to put out exactly what they want.
When a band gets five albums deep in their career it can be difficult to come up with something new to keep themselves and fans excitement. Was it the opposite of that on this record because there was so much spurring you on after the last record?
Totally. Not just that, but there were a lot of things that happened in between the last record and the touring cycle. I was just tired of playing the game. I was also in a serious accident last March. I fell off a stage and broke my elbow and hand. I was down for the count for four months. I was just eating pain killers and getting fat. Something inside of me snapped a few months after that. I wasn’t happy and wasn’t creating anything and I was miserable. It lit an unstoppable fire inside of me. We went into the studio and wrote and recorded 11 songs in 11 days. It was this fury explosion of creativity.
In terms of emotion, is the album sort of raw?
This is definitely a play back to the emotion on the first two records. It’s all about becoming more than who you are. It’s about life’s failures and successes and how we embrace those failures and successes that makes us who we are as artists and the same as people. In a big way, that’s what Vulnerable is all about. I wanted to take that word and switch the meaning up too. Being vulnerable in life is an extremely powerful thing. It can be dangerous as well.
If you’re comparing the album to your first two records, would you say this is a brand new start for The Used?
We’ve been through so much and have played so many shows. We know ourselves a lot better. It’s not a new start, but it’s a new chapter. I wouldn’t do anything differently. As artists, we need to fall down and stand up. It’s all about how we accept our failures.
And The Used started a company called Anger Music Group to turn over a new leaf. Did you know that that was the direction you wanted to go in once leaving Warner?
We’ve been thinking about putting out our own music for years. They told us we’d have 100% creative freedom and we never did. We’ve talked about putting out our own records for a long time. We’re all artists and enjoy many different things. Quinn is an amazing photographer and Jeph has a wicked eye for fashion. I love to cook and film. We wanted to start a company so we could venture out of our little box.
I’m sure the band is more than happy being partnered with Hopeless as well, but did you originally think you were going to have to partner with another label?
In the initial process we were talking to strictly distribution companies like RED. The type of people we met with were great people, but the fact is that Hopeless offered us strict distribution, which independent labels never do. I think this is the first time it has ever happened. It’s a rare occasion. We know these people and understand their inspiration. Hopeless has raised over a million dollars for charities. They’re not fucking liars, thieves, and crooks. In that aspect, we were more than excited to work with them. It’s always good to have inspiration people behind you as well. We couldn’t be more happy.
Can you talk about how important it’s been to be working with people that are on the same page as you guys?
We started this bands because we’re fans of music. It’s always been our salvation. We were all the outcasts that were picked on at school. I didn’t fit in anywhere, but when I put on my records, everything was cool. It’s annoying to work with people who don’t feel the same way about music as you do. We got everything we needed out of Warner. We have millions of fans all over the world. I wouldn’t change anything, but after doing this for 10 years, we don’t want to be surrounded by people like that anymore.
Have fans been overly supportive of the decision to go this semi-DIY route?
It seems like we have the coolest fans ever. They always back us. The hype about this album is absolutely incredible. We have true diehard fans out there. We would do this for free. So you can fuck off with your suits and bags of money.
Is the rest of the album similar to “I Come Alive?”
It’s a good starting point, but it’s not the whole vibe of the record. We abandoned the typical process we do. The majority of this record was written on a keyboard and computer. It has old school pop, R&B, and hip hop influences. With the combination of that and my vocals and Quinn’s guitars, it ends up sounding like a new Used. There are so many different types of songs. It’s not boring.
What about tour dates? You guys have Soundwave going on, but when are we going to see a US tour?
Starting in mid-April we’ll definitely be touring in the US three or four times around by the end of the year.
We’ve heard that Anger Music Group is not going to be limited to The Used or just necessarily music itself. Can you talk about the other sides of Anger Music?
Good question. We’re just concentrating on the record right now, and we’ll be focussed on touring for now. There are lots of things in the works. I’m working on a fashion clothing line with my friend Andrew who is an established designer. I’ve been working on a little cook book as well with Bert recipes. We’re working on a DVD as well. Who knows, but soon.
Has it been inspiration creatively to immerse yourself in other areas of art as well?
Anyone that is a musician out there who really delves into the art of music can appreciate any kind of art. For me, anything I do that is creative like cooking or dancing or film, I think is just more inspiration for the pot.
Obviously you’re focussed on this record, but are you open to working with other artists with Anger Music?
Of course. We don’t want to be a record label. We want artists to be paid for their art. It’s a bright future down the road. All genres of art are clashing now, and I feel a powerful surge for the future.
Do you think you’ll release more music sooner than later now with being on your own?
I definitely think that’s the way music is working. We’ll see how the touring goes for this record. I don’t think touring cycles exist anymore. Bands put out singles and go on tour. We wrote 40 to 50 ideas, so we have stuff kicking around. We’ll have a record out sooner than we did after Artwork.
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