For the Used, it's personal


POSTED: Friday, January 08, 2010

BERT McCracken had reached the bottom of the barrel when he became the lead singer for The Used, an alternative rock band from Orem, Utah. He was homeless, panhandling on the streets and addicted to crystal meth.

“;The band gave me something to focus on ... the things I loved, like music,”; he said. “;They dragged me out of the mud.”;

McCracken was always surrounded by music. He started taking piano lessons at the age of 4, played trumpet in his school band and performed with a rock band called I'm With Stupid when he was 12 years old.

“;There's not a lot of outlet for creative energy in Utah ... and not much support for rock music, especially,”; he said. “;We tried to make the best of it. We did what we had to do to get out music out there and get someone to notice.”;

McCracken joined Dumb Luck (later changed to Used and then The Used) in 2001; their self-titled debut album was released the following year. Current band members include lead singer McCracken, guitarist Quinn Allman, bassist Jeph Howard and Dan Whitesides on drums. Original drummer Braden Steineckert was responsible for sending demos to John Feldman, who eventually signed the band with Reprise Records.

“;Now we have something that we can put all of our aggression and emotion into,”; said McCracken. “;Our music is everything to us ... (so) it's really nice to have that kind of outlet.”;

USING PERSONAL experiences, the band writes songs that often deal with serious subject matter.

“;Life inspires me—the stuff that happens every day,”; McCracken said. “;It could be a book that I'm reading or the animals around me, just about anything.”;

Alcoholism, drug addiction and unsavory circumstances also led him to write lyrics that would inspire listeners in similar circumstances to heal themselves. McCracken stopped doing hard drugs a few years ago, following some pretty serious happenings.

At a 2003 concert in Kentucky, after performing one song he was carried off the stage to obtain treatment for severe chest pains, nausea and vomiting which turned out to be acute pancreatitis. His ex-girlfriend also killed herself and their unborn child in a car accident while under the influence of drugs in 2004.

“;The way I write lyrics, it's general enough that anyone can take these things and adapt them to their own experiences, not just what I'm writing about,”; he said.

For example, an older song, “;Liar Liar,”; was inspired by the time the band spent in Los Angeles and the pretentious people they encountered. More recently the band released “;Meant to Die,”; a song that talks about how easy it is to accidentally die.

The Used's latest album, “;Artwork,”; was released last summer and produced by Matt Squire, Panic! at the Disco's producer.

“;We wanted this album to be different. We wanted to lash out and at the same time move in a different direction. The band has a bright future. This is just the beginning for us,”; McCracken explained. “;We're sick and tired of being lumped in a genre of music that we want nothing to do with. I think 'screamo' is kinda a joke title for a genre of music. You can't tell me that John Lennon or David Bowie never screamed during one of their songs.”;

The first single from the album, “;Blood on My Hands,”; is intended to sum up everything about the band. “;Empty With You”; is a song that talks about feeling lonely and empty—and how everything is OK if you have someone you can feel lonely with, according to McCracken.

Looking ahead, 2010 will continue to be fully packed with touring, but the band hopes to take some time in March or April to work on new material. Having recently wrapped up a few months of touring on the mainland, McCracken said the band is ready for some downtime.

“;I haven't been to Hawaii for about a year and a half, so I'm really stoked,”; he said. “;I want to relax and enjoy ... eat too much rich food, drink too much wine, smoke some really good pot and just chill out.

“;We'll get some time to sleep when we're dead.”;