Here’s how Bert McCracken ended up collabing with MGK on “body bag”
The Used vocalist opens up about working with Travis Barker and MGK as well as the importance of destigmatizing marijuana ahead of a cannabis trade show.October 13, 2020
If there’s one thing Bert McCracken is proving this year, it’s that being stuck in quarantine in no way equates to stagnation. From the release of the Used’s Heartwork in April to his long-awaited collaboration on Machine Gun Kelly’s track “body bag,” alongside YUNGBLUD, the singer is hardly lacking in new content. Now, he’s adding advocacy to the agenda through participation in the Immersia Connect Virtual Trade Show, a platform that promotes the destigmatization of cannabis.
The event, which is scheduled for Nov. 12-13, will feature a series of videos called Immersia Talks, during which celebrities including McCracken share their cannabis stories. The singer’s involvement is just the latest demonstration of his support for the legalization and responsible use of the drug. Earlier this year, he announced a collaboration with Five Star Extracts with the launch of a tincture aptly named “Taste of Peach.”
Alternative Press spoke to McCracken regarding his inclusion on MGK’s Tickets To My Downfall, the complex task of addressing the stigma imposed on weed and his continued creative endeavors.
You recently appeared on the MGK track “body bag” alongside YUNGBLUD. MGK had told Zane Lowe at the end of 2019 that he wanted to collaborate with you on his pop-punk album, so how did it all end up coming together earlier this year?
BERT MCCRACKEN: We’ve known the blink-182 guys for a long time, so [Travis Barker] hit me up and asked me if I wanted to do a track with Machine Gun Kelly. I’d never met MGK before, but I’ve been around the same shows. I think we’ve played a few shows together in the past. I was really excited to work with Travis and anyone who’s working with [him]. Machine Gun Kelly’s new stuff is really awesome. I love the direction, so we were really stoked for the opportunity.
What was your immediate reaction to the prospect of working with two artists such as MGK and YUNGBLUD who, though heavily engaged in the pop-punk and emo scenes, are highly experimental in terms of genre-bending?
I think that the process of songwriting always comes from what’s locked inside the artist’s subconscious. I’ve never really pictured the Used as any certain type of band although we’ve been grouped into a specific genre. So anything outside of the comfort zone of pop punk or post-punk or hardcore or anything in that vein, I’m comfortable outside of any of it. I love a lot of different types of music.
Over your career, you’ve done a lot of live collaborations but only appeared on other artists’ recordings a handful of times. What do you look for in a song or dynamic when taking on a collaboration? And what was it about this MGK track that appealed to you?
When it comes to collaborations, it’s always really about timing. We tend to stay so busy that it’s hard to arrange a scheduled time to meet up and actually get the track done. In the past, it’s always just been about where we were at and what we were doing. Luckily, Machine Gun Kelly had a night at John Feldmann’s studio, and we were playing a show in Los Angeles that very same night. It worked out perfectly for me to just cruise right from the show to the studio, track this stuff and stay on tour. It’s usually just about timing.
What did the dynamic in the studio end up being like? Were there any particular aspects to the production that surprised or challenged you?
The night that we recorded in the studio was really exciting. There [were] a whole bunch of people there. It felt like a bit of an aftershow party. Travis [Barker] and Machine Gun Kelly came out to the Used show beforehand, so it felt like a little bit of a celebration. I’d heard the track before, and I was really excited about the direction. I think that the pop-punk stuff is really fun, really endearing. And I think it’s really easy to connect on an emotional level. It was exciting. Usually after a show I’ll go to the gym and workout, so I was really pumped to be able to put that energy toward something really fun and productive.
How do you think this collaboration will reflect that evolution of pop punk that we’ve observed?
I think punk has come and gone from the middle of the mainstream and out and back in. I think that what punk initially should represent is something different. All of the tweaks and the differences in pop punk lately, whether combined with a hip-hop background or something else, [are] really cool. [Music] always evolves along the same lines. Grunge and pop punk turned into this post-punk that, in my mind, represents what emo is. So it’s cool to see the new iteration of what this new sound is and how these younger artists and creative musicians are approaching songwriting nowadays. It’s really cool.
You’re participating in an upcoming virtual event with Immersia to promote the destigmatization of cannabis, which is a cause you’ve backed openly over the years. Can you explain your involvement and what drew you to engage in this event?
We have been working together with this cannabis group for a little while now. In my life, I know that sometimes when I could have turned to pain medication or other things that weren’t quite as healthy, cannabis is always a step in the right direction and a healthier alternative to depression or anxiety or some of the casual things that I suffer with. But also being around these people and understanding that it really does help [those] who have serious problems like PTSD and serious pain. People have gone off morphine and onto cannabis, and it’s just changed their life. I think the U.S. is in the right place and moving toward a really cool future where it’s not considered a deadly substance or a gateway drug. We all know by now that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol is way, way worse for you and can bring you way more hardship than cannabis can. So yeah, that’s my passion for the involvement that I have.
You announced earlier this year that you’d teamed up with Five Star Extracts to launch a line of cannabis products. What inspired you to get involved with this company?
They’re a really cool “feelings first” company. Their backstory is [that] their grandfather was one of those people I was talking about who suffered with serious, serious pain in [his] older age and was just crippled by the pain medication [and] couldn’t get off the couch because of morphine. [He was] able to get off the morphine [and] switch to a cannabis regimen that really changed [his] life, helped [him] eat again and get up off the couch and walk. [It’s] just such a different approach to pain in a way healthier lifestyle. So the empathetic approach this company had really attracted me. The guys are really cool. I’ve known some of the people for literally my whole music career, so it felt like a good fit.
Will any of your Five Star Extracts products be highlighted during the trade show?
I’m sure. We have a tincture, “Taste of Peach,” and a few other really exciting things coming out, so we’ll see what the trade show brings. I’ve been pretty busy lately, so I haven’t really been in touch with them, per se, but I’m sure that they’ll be featuring all sorts of fun and exciting products.
Do you have any plans to expand your involvement in the cannabis industry beyond this partnership?
I’m not sure, I haven’t really thought too far ahead about it. We just had a record come out six or something months ago, so I’ve been pretty busy with the record work. I’m not really a businessman. I’m an artist, so I don’t really sit and foment my future business plans. I think this was just about the compassionate approach that they had. We’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of talk with Five Star about doing other products—a shatter and some other things that are exciting. But as far as branching out, I’m not sure. I don’t really have any plans as of now.
What message do you really hope your fans will derive from your talk and the event as a whole?
Well, I think that it’s slowly breaking down the stigma of marijuana and understanding the difference that it can make in a positive way. [That’s] what I would hope that most people would take from my appearance in this online trade show. Other than that, it’d just be good to be out of the home quarantine element. Anything that we can do as far as getting out there and being involved in anything right now feels good. [There’s] so much down time for touring artists. I’m going crazy a little bit.
What can we do in our everyday lives to engage productively in destigmatization efforts?
I think, as far as destigmatizing marijuana, there’s not a lot that people can do other than just read. I think it’s really dangerous for people to talk about weed as an end-all, cure-all type of drug that will cure your cancer, cure your depression, solve all of your problems. It’s still a drug. It still affects your mind. It still affects your body. So I think that for people [to] become a little bit more educated about the difference between what helps and what actually cures and ends problems is really important. Not to jump the gun and jump on the train of “marijuana is the savior of all mankind” is pretty important.
I think just understanding those small differences can help and understanding that for some people marijuana is not the answer. They know it can trigger proclivities to psychotic problems or deeper mental health issues, that sometimes it can go the wrong way, so understand that it’s something to be safe with. Also understand that it can be a bit of a trap for those of us who aren’t necessarily self-motivating. I think a lot of the stereotypes and the stigma around marijuana, unfortunately, are true—that you could just sink into your couch and eat the entire grocery store. It’s helpful to know the difference between safe use and abuse.
We’re almost six months out from the release of the Used’s last album, Heartwork. Have you been working on anything new in that time? Can fans expect anything from the Used in general this year?
A few little things. We had so many tracks from the recording sessions we did last year, almost a full record worth of songs. So, I think the Used fans can maybe expect to hear a few new tracks this year. We’re just trying to stay as busy as we can, and hopefully we’ll be back playing shows before 2025. Jeez, get us back on the road… But hopefully in the next little while, we’ll hear some new tracks from the Used. There [are] also some more features coming up. I’ve been lending my voice out as much as I can while I’m at home. Actually, [there’s] something coming up in the next couple of weeks, so it should be really exciting.