The Used

HEARTWORK IS A RECORD SO DE­FI­ANTLY LEFT-FIELD THAT NOT EVEN THE MOST IN­TENSE OF THE USED’S FANS COULD HAVE SEEN IT COM­ING. IT’S LOUD, ABRA­SIVE, AND TO­TALLY F***ING WEIRD – AND THAT’S EX­ACTLY WHAT FRONT­MAN BERT MCCRACKEN WAS GO­ING FOR.

Australian Guitar - - Contents - WORDS BY MATT DO­RIA. PHOTO BY BRIAN COX.

Any­one who’s met him will at­test that Bert McCraken is one hell of a char­ac­ter: the Utah-na­tive emo le­gend ex­udes ec­cen­tric­ity, his com­mu­nal per­son­al­ity an amal­gam of friend­li­ness, hi­lar­ity and angst, with just a tinge of ma­nia for good mea­sure. Such rubs off em­phat­i­cally on his song­writ­ing in The Used, where he pairs acidic, bru­tally hon­est quips with an idio­syn­cratic whim­si­cal­ity. It’s why The Used are such an ex­tra­or­di­nary force – there are no other bands like them, be­cause there are no other bands with Bert McCracken in them.

Though he’s al­ways kept The Used fairly close to his chest – ‘col­lab­o­ra­tive’ isn’t of­ten a word used to de­scribe him – McCracken is grow­ing wiser and more open-minded as he nears his 40s. He’s less pre­cious about other voices chim­ing in when it comes to the con­cep­tual process for an al­bum, and the band’s 2020 record, Heartwork, is de­fin­i­tive proof of that. Across its bold and bom­bas­tic 16 tracks, the band ex­plore in­flu­ences from each of its four mem­bers. In the end, we’re pre­sented 45 taut, tena­cious and twist­ing min­utes of ev­ery­thing from gristly un­der­ground punk to glit­tery bubblegum pop, with chunks of ev­ery fruit in the mu­si­cal for­est scat­tered in-be­tween.

Heartwork is, at its core, a youth­ful and ex­cit­ing record to delve into. McCracken is well aware of its child­like jovi­al­ity, too – he’s de­scribed it as a spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to The Used’s 2002 self-ti­tled al­bum and 2004’s In Love And Death, all the un­equiv­o­cal ur­gency and im­pen­e­tra­ble pas­sion of those records re­vived and mod­ernised in only such a way that McCracken and The Used can.

What is it about the early style and ethos of The Used that you wanted to re­cap­ture and em­brace again?

I think it was the deep hon­esty of the first cou­ple records. I feel like so­cial me­dia has changed the dy­nam­ics of the mu­sic world, but The Used has never re­ally had a hard time keep­ing the big­ger pic­ture in mind – for us, it’s just about the love of mu­sic. We grew up as mu­sic fans, and mu­sic has saved our lives since we were kids – so to to give that back has been more than a dream come true.

Our feel­ings for the first cou­ple of records was that hon­esty com­bined with this catch­i­ness that I al­ways look for in a good song – if it gets stuck in my head, then I’m in. That’s what I mean when I talk about the kind of feel­ings we had on the first and sec­ond records – just kind of let­ting it be what it is, lay­ing all our cards out on the ta­ble, never think­ing about what kind of record we were go­ing to make or what kind of song we were go­ing to write; just let­ting it all flow from the sub­con­scious

There’s a lot of vari­a­tion in the sounds on this record – from heavy, shred­ding gui­tars to re­ally cere­bral, left-field pop mo­ments. Play­ing with all th­ese dif­fer­ent flavours across 16 tracks, would you say this is the de­fin­i­tive Used al­bum?

Yeah, to­tally. This is a very colour­ful record for The Used, I think – there’s some­thing on the record for ev­ery­one, and I think that comes down to ba­sic in­flu­ences in­side the band; we all dig such dif­fer­ent stuff, and when we get to­gether, we end up hav­ing songs that show all of our dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties. There’s one song on this record that’s maybe the pop­pi­est song The Used has ever writ­ten.

We just have a lot of fun in the stu­dio. A lot of the times, when you’re mak­ing a song or when you’re cre­at­ing some­thing, a re­ally fun time and a lot of laughs will turn into a se­ri­ous mo­ment, and sud­denly you’re like, “Well, now we have a slap bass bridge on our record.” We wanted to say ‘yes’ to ev­ery­thing that came up in the stu­dio for this record – that was a big part of it.

You’ve al­ways been the kind of song­writer to re­ally push the bound­aries of what a track can be. How did you want Heartwork to chal­lenge you as a song­writer?

Well, like I just men­tioned, say­ing ‘yes’ to ev­ery­thing was a big one. Say­ing ‘yes’ to any­thing has been a chal­lenge for me through­out my ca­reer; my cre­ative process has al­ways been re­ally spe­cific and strict – when I came up in mu­sic as teenager, I was very nar­row-minded per­son. If it wasn’t a pretty heavy, straight-edge hard­core band, then I just hated it. I de­spised it. But I don’t think kids are like that any­more, and I cer­tainly don’t want to be like that as an adult.

Do you think that height­ened dy­namic of col­lab­o­ra­tion comes out in the mu­sic it­self?

100 per­cent! I can hear the dif­fer­ence right away; I think it still sounds like me – the lyrics sound like my lyrics – but with kind of a dif­fer­ent feel. I think there’s a new kind of hon­esty and a new kind of ur­gency be­hind the re­al­ness that makes this record re­ally stand out in my mind.

I mean, I’ve been lis­ten­ing to it so much – I should be sick of it al­ready, but I just love it! It’s such a cool lit­tle jour­ney to go on. And we still love mak­ing records that you’re sup­posed to lis­ten to from front to back, so it made a lot of sense for us to have, for peo­ple who still love lis­ten­ing to records in the old-school sort of way, some­thing spe­cial they could ex­pe­ri­ence.

Of course, this is the first Used al­bum with Joey Brad­ford on the gui­tars. How did he gel into the flow of the chaos?

He is like jelly, in a way. You don’t have it in Aus­tralia, but in the US, they have this re­ally crazy jar with both peanut but­ter and jelly in it at the same time. [ Laughs] that’s ac­tu­ally a re­ally bad metaphor, be­cause that shit is dis­gust­ing… He’s like a nice scone with jam and cream, right out of the oven – he gets along with ev­ery­one, he’s su­per pos­i­tive and friendly, and he’s the youngest guy in the bunch so he’s got that youth­ful en­ergy.

And this is still all brand new for him – when he was in high school, it was bands like The Used that were blow­ing up. He was a huge fan of us and a lot of bands like us in the same genre, so it’s been re­ally amaz­ing to have his en­thu­si­asm on hand.

And with [pro­ducer John] Feld­mann, it’s kind of hit or miss – he’s a pretty tough guy to work with in the stu­dio, but Feld­mann took to Mr. Jelly right away. That was a good sign.

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