Exclusive Interview: Bert McCracken on the Used partnering with Hopeless Records
After a quiet 2011, the Used are getting ready to re-emerge in a big way in 2012. For starters, they’re partnering with Hopeless Records to release their fifth studio album, Vulnerable, which is due March 27. And that’s not the only development: While it was widely reported the band were starting their own label, Dental Records, frontman Bert McCracken reveals they’ve instead started “a group that involves everything from managing to production to art design” called Anger Music Group.
Earlier this week, AP reached McCracken at producer John Feldmann’s studio, where the band were mixing the 14 songs they tracked for Vulnerable and recording two more on top of that. In a typically candid interview, he promises Used loyalists that they’ll hear music soon (“Right at the beginning of next year, we’re going to be putting out a song and some secret other stuff, too—songs for the fans—to get everyone excited about the record,” he says) and assures that the long-awaited Vulnerable will live up to expectations. “I am just as excited as [fans], maybe more [so],” McCracken says. “I swear to God, no one’s going to be let down. It’s the best music the Used have ever made. All of the anticipation and waiting will be well worth it.”
Now that you’re in the mixing phase, what is the record sounding like?
It’s got a lot of everything that you love and associate with the Used. It was written in a whole different process this time around. The majority of songs I wrote on a keyboard, just structuring out beats and bass lines, instead of really approaching the songs as guitar-piano. It sounds really modern and very futuristic. I’m not trying to say we’ve bought into any dubstep nonsense, hipster bullshit. It’s just a good, emotional, rock ’n’ roll record with edgy, synthetic [sounds] and maybe touches of hip-hop and drum ’n’ bass and a lot of cool sounds. It’s definitely still the Used.
It’s been interesting to see a lot of bands incorporate those elements into their music lately.
We all love tons of different styles of music. For me, I wanted to approach it a different way other than getting the four of us [together] and jamming like a rock ’n’ roll band. We get a cool rock ’n’ roll sound approaching it writing on a computer or on a keyboard. It’s been really exciting to do it this way, too.
What made you want to do it this way?
A combination of everything. The last record was really basic, and we got into writing songs, just the four of us. All the songs came from guitar ideas, and we wanted to completely switch that up. This record, everyone’s got their own thing going on. When we first started to jam, our guitar player just got married, our drummer just had a baby. Everyone was really in their own little world, which freed me up to take a lot more time for myself to create sounds and make things that are different than what we’ve done in the past.
That’s so freeing to do different stuff, too, especially after being in a band for so long.
We’ve been working on this record for so long, stories continue to change. Last March, I fell off the stage, and it was a huge, huge disaster. I broke my elbow, I broke my hand, I had two surgeries. I was really down for the count for three months—I couldn’t do anything but eat pain pills and get addicted to pain pills again and become fat. [Laughs.] After a couple of months, after I started to get better, I realized, “Holy shit, I haven’t done anything creative in months.” I got on this really positive inspirational kick. The record came out very positive, actually.
Just because I know fans freak out—did you really get addicted to pain pills again?
It’s real easy when you have two broken bones and doctors giving you 40 Percocets, Percodones, Vicodins a day, just to sit around and eat ’em all the time. Yeah, I definitely noticed a dependency start kicking in, and I really had to kick it by myself. It’s a horrible thing to try to come off three months of pain pills just on your own, but I had a record to make, and it was perfect timing and John Feldamann’s a beautiful influence. And I got my friends. So I’m all good. Pain pills are fun, definitely. But they’re for pain. [Laughs.]
What kind of direction did John Feldmann give you guys this time? You’ve worked with him for so long.
We just have this relationship with him where I can come into the studio and sit down immediately and say, “What have you been listening to, what have I been listening to?” and get a cool vibe just to have a starting point from. Feldmann’s so open and so creative, that it’s anything goes. Which is really cool, we can really think outside the box.
Did the stuff you write at the very beginning of the cycle make the record? How did it shake out?
I tend to really like to write about those failing experiences in life, the moments where you fall down and decide to get back up or not. A lot of people really need to hear that kind of thing; nowadays, at least, everything feels so uninspired. Kids really should have something positive to think about. The whole idea of calling the record Vulnerable is kind of like—the only way I’ve ever been able to accomplish anything in my life, whether it’s falling in love or daring to dream to be in a rock ’n’ roll band and succeed, you have to be at those vulnerable moments in your life to allow these things to happen. It’s really important for us to put a positive twist on the word vulnerable. A lot of people think it’s a bad thing, but it’s actually something that allows you success in life.
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