We all remember our firsts. Our first car. Our first love. The first CD we ever bought. For me—and for many others—The Usedwas the first band I ever listened to with harder music and screaming vocals. They started paving the way back in the early 2000s for many popular hardcore bands today, and even after a decade, The Used is still pumping out albums.
The band released their fifth studio album, Vulnerable, in March. After being with a major label for a 10 years, The Used decided to do this one their way. They created their own label, Anger Music Group, which allowed them complete creative freedom. Vulnerable also saw the return of producer John Feldman, who recorded The Used’s first three albums and who has worked with other bands including D.R.U.G.S., Atreyu and Anthony Green.
Now, five years since their last stint on The Vans Warped Tour, The Used are back and putting on unforgettable shows on the Kia Rio main stage. At Warped’s San Antonio stop, we sat down with lead singer Bert McCracken to talk about the inner works of Vulnerable, how the music industry has changed and the vision behind Anger Music Group.
Although Warped Tour is nothing new for you guys, what are you looking forward to the most this year?
Bert McCracken: The crowds are what I really like—love—at the Warped Tour. The crowds are always amazing and huge and excited so it’s really fun.
It’s been about five years since you’ve been on Warped if I’m correct. Why Warped Tour again?
McCracken: Well we thought it was cool being that this is our 10-year anniversary of the first time we did Warped in 2002. There’s a lot of bands that have a lot of time under their belt like we do, lot of older bands that have been around for a long time, and we love Warped Tour. It’s always fun.
How is the younger generation reacting to you? Do you think they understand the impact The Used has had on the screamo/hardcore/rock scene?
McCracken: I think that they understand that The Used has always been an honest band, and we play from the heart, and I think that’s what they really appreciate.
The Used first came on the scene in 2002 with your self-titled album. How has the music industry changed since then?
McCracken: I think people are a bit more impatient than they used to be as far as music. I think that people’s attention spans have definitely gotten the best of them at times, but I think that also things are a lot less genre-specific than they used to be. There’s a lot more bands trying to integrate a lot of sounds, which is really cool. I think that kids can appreciate that kind of stuff. When I was growing up, you either liked hardcore or you liked punk rock or you liked whatever, so that’s cool.
So let’s talk about your new album. Where were you in life when you wrote Vulnerable?
McCracken: I was in a strange place. I’d just come off of a long-time injury. I’d fallen off a stage in 2011 or ’10 or something like that, smashed myself up really good. So I was down for the count for quite a while, so I really wanted to write something that was uplifting and positive and inspirational.
This is The Used’s fifth studio album. What makes it different from your previous albums?
McCracken: I think the way we approached the songwriting was different. Usually it’s drums, bass, guitar. And I think a lot of this record was written on a keyboard and with ideas from beats and putting things together like that. Also, just being able to do everything ourselves without having someone look over our shoulder. You know, we’re putting it out on our own label, and no one’s telling us what to do. So that was also a really incredible feeling.
You’ve stated that Vulnerable is your favorite Used record ever. Can you talk about why you feel that way?
McCracken: I think it’s incredible all the way through. First song to last song, it never gets boring to me. I feel like there’s a little bit of a lot of different types of music in there for anyone who likes any type of music. And it’s all about the message: daring to be yourself and go for your dreams no matter what the cost. It’s this really powerful positive message.
You recorded with John Feldman on every album except Artwork. Why did you decide to go back to him for Vulnerable?
McCracken: It was a really a matter of circumstance. He’s close to us and we’re family. We’ve known him for such a long time, and it’s really easy to work with him, and he’s a really hard worker and willing to experiment and do anything that we wanted to do in the studio.
Why did you decide to create Anger Music Group?
McCracken: We just wanted our own outlet to be able to put our own music out there. It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time, and instead of starting a specific record label, we wanted to start a free-for-all art production company where we could release anything and everything that had anything to do with creative art. It’s an imprint of Hopeless Records.
Why did you decide to go with them?
McCracken: Well, they were the first independent record label to offer us a distribution deal. We were really just looking for a distribution company, and then they offered a specific distribution deal. Plus we love the people there. They have kind hearts. They do a lot for charity at Hopeless, which we’re into. You guys have been together for about 11 years now.
How has your writing process changed from the self-titled album to Vulnerable?
McCracken: Well, I think we all know our place a little bit more in the writing situation. Before when it was everybody trying to jam out and come up with ideas for songs. Now we all know our place and what we do best. It’s a little bit easier for us to be in the studio and be like, “This idea works, and this idea doesn’t.” And we all are much tighter than we were when we first met each other, so it’s easy for us to say, “No that’s a bad idea,” and move on.
Now let’s talk about the music video for “I Come Alive.” You’ve said it is a piece of art that is meant to be enjoyed, but there’s no denying that it is very violent and may be hard for some people to watch. Why did you decide to go with such a graphic concept?
McCracken: I’m a huge fan of horror movies since I was a little kid, and I love gratuitous violence. I think that special effects makeup especially in those kinds of horror movies or in those situations is an incredible art form. I think that people sometimes forget that it’s just art, and people have to create those special effects. I love it. I think it’s amazing.
You finish up with Warped Tour about halfway through July. What does The Used have planned next?
McCracken: Doing a lot of overseas stuff. Going to South America and some Southeast Asia stuff, the UK and Europe, and then plan on coming back for Take Action Tour in January and February in the U.S.
*Watch the music video for “I Come Alive” from Vulnerable below.