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Bert McCracken reflects on career, WWWY Festival and what is coming for The Used

24 November 2022 | 9:54 am | Brenton Harris
Originally Appeared In

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and the music of our youth is often its most celebrated dealer. Bert McCracken, vocalist for early ‘00s scene breakouts The Used certainly thinks so.

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Nostalgia is a hell of a drug, and the music of our youth is often its most celebrated dealer. This is perhaps the most popular theory to explain why the alt-rock scene of 2022 finds itself in the grips of a full-scale ‘00s emo revival. It is not an entirely accurate take though, for while it is true that the reunion of era kings My Chemical Romance, the return of Paramore and the stupendous success of the When We Were Young festival has sent the scene mainstream once again, it also true that there are millions of fans who never stopped listening to the music that meant so much to them. It is those fans who enabled so many bands to prove the snickering doubters wrong and forge careers that are in some cases now several decades long. For them, it was never a phase, mum. Now that emo is no longer a dirty word, isn’t it time we finally gave these people their flowers? 

Bert McCracken, vocalist for early ‘00s scene breakouts The Used certainly thinks so. Sitting in his adopted home of Sydney, he reflects on the special connection between The Used and their fans that has allowed them to continue not just to survive, but thrive for the past 21 years. “I think it's really about the relationships we make. Every person we come across has a lasting effect on the band, and I think being regular human beings and being nice everywhere we go has made a big difference in that. We have really dedicated fans that understand that it is our life story, our journal, and they’re supportive of us telling our story, our way. It’s pretty cool to see so many people hanging on for 21 years.” 

The seeds of that connection were sewn for many, way back in 2002 when The Used dropped their landmark self-titled debut. A genuine game-changer of a record that melded together rage, honesty and radio-accessible melody in a way that few acts of the era had managed. Powered by singles ‘The Taste of Ink’, ‘Buried Myself Alive’ and ‘Blue and Yellow’, The Used spread like wildfire amongst the teenagers of North America and then the world, going platinum in the US (and gold in Australia) and launching a dizzying ascent to stardom, that very few saw coming. The two follow-up efforts, In Love and Death, blew The Used’s success out of the water, delivering rock radio staples ‘All That I’ve Got’ and ‘I Caught FIre’,  and even inspiring a Kevin Lyman-backed tour package The Taste of Chaos, which saw the band headline sold-out arenas at home and abroad (including down under). When their third record Lies For The Liars delivered their second consecutive Billboard top-10 spot, peaking at number five, the band's fame had reached the point where they were chosen to soundtrack the Michael Bay Transformers movie and their status as one of the most important bands in the great emo explosion of the ‘00s was cemented. 

For McCracken, the opportunity to revisit this era of the band’s career and bask in nostalgia’s warm glow with so many of their friends was a key reason the group signed on to play When We Were Young festival. Despite the first-day cancellation, the experience more than lived up to the hype. “Yeah, it was pretty cool. It's like everybody's calling ‘Warped Tour on crack’. “The coolest part was seeing the old crew, we got to see some people and bands that we hadn't seen in a really long time. It's cool. They had so many bands on there that we know. Of the 60 bands, we probably know 59 of them. So it was an incredible family reunion of sorts.

For some of those bands, it was a rare chance to revisit the glory of days gone by, but for The Used it doubled as a reminder to the broader world that they’re still out there, fighting the good fight, making the music they want to make, powered by the unique connection with their fans. As McCracken explains that connection is what inspired him to write their new single ‘Fuck You’ which he describes as “...a beautiful kind of love letter to our fans straight from the heart.” The first taste of the forthcoming follow-up to 2020’s Heartwork, ‘Fuck You’ is a big, bold, defiant pop/rock anthem that McCracken hopes puts people at ease with the anger that has bubbled up inside of them over the last few years and let it all out in a healthy way, by shouting “fuck you” at the top of their lungs. “I think it's a good energy to kind of release your demons, we kind of always encouraged people to be themselves and sometimes a big old“fuck you” is the way we all feel." 

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Anger it seems is going to be a predominant emotion in The Used’s ninth studio record which saw them record twelve songs in twelve days with their old friend and regular collaborator John Feldmann. Feldmann has always had a knack for conjuring special performances from Bert and the way the frontman talks about the record seems to indicate he’s done that again. “It's just kind of off the cuff, kind of real heavy rock and roll music. We're really excited. There's a lot of screaming out there.” Perhaps unsurprisingly given the current state of affairs in his home country, some of that screaming will be politically inspired. 

I have the upper hand, the quality of life here in Australia is just worlds beyond what I get to experience in the US. Not to be completely doomer, but I feel like this could be the end of our democracy as we know it. There's a there's just a lot of fascists in the US who are maybe not aware that they're fascists, but they're fascists one and the same. You see videos of Trump supporters just being like, the craziest people since Florida man. They're all Florida man in my mind. So yeah, let's all just hope for the best but we'll take what comes. There’s a song on the new record called ‘People are Vomit’ that’s one of my favourites that is inspired by the state of America right now."

That life that he speaks of in Australia is so far removed from the life he was leading during his initial years in The Used. “I think things are kind of coming full circle since 2020. I've been in a good place I have. Well, that's kind of a lie. Everyone's been in a kind of a mess. But I'm really I have a lot to be really stoked about. I have two beautiful daughters and a really tight family. The band's never been more tight. We hang out all the time, which is so rare. Yeah, the band's never been more tight as friends and on stage, we take it a lot more seriously than we used to. I’m stoked to be in the place I'm at for sure.” 

Another aspect of the band’s longevity that McCracken is enjoying is seeing second-generation fans of the band coming along to their first-ever shows in the company of their parents. 

We all know that things come in circles and in another 10 years, it'll be mumble rap that's back in or some other something else so yeah, we were soaking it up right now while we have the chance we've seen the highs and lows. It looks like a Hot Topic exploded all over the kids, but the kids are all 40 and have kids of their own. It’s really cool that we’ve got parents coming out to our shows and bringing young kids and we even get adults now who tell us they were like one year old when their parents took them to see us for the first time and that’s pretty cool too. We definitely don’t take being in a band for granted. It’s rare to be in a band this long, we’re grateful, we’re pumped and we couldn’t be happier to still be around.

When asked whether it is harder to perform these high-intensity sets as a 40-year-old than it was at 20, he offers a considered response. “Harder is a tricky term, but we're definitely well aware of our, our limitations at this point.  I know that if I'm screaming a lot during the show, I won't be able to talk the next day. But yeah, we're all in kind of the best shape of our lives It comes back really quickly if you do like five shows, and you're back in cardio shape, so we still can't help but get down and fucking throw down. From my perspective, where I'm standing. It's still super duper fucking rocking, super duper fucking rocking.” 

Asked for his guidance on what music newcomers to emo should seek out to get a better understanding of how the scene came together, Bert chooses Sunny Day Real Estate, Texas Is The Reason and Ink and Dagger, revealing a little bit of the influence each has had on his life. 

There’s tons of music that was ‘emo’ before this scene really took off. There was a late 90s kind of ‘emo’ movement. That was really cool. I suggest Sunny Day Real Estate. They’re a good place to start. Then a little bit more obscure, but one of my favourites is Texas is the Reason, they’re a pretty cool band. Then my favourite band of all time is Ink and Dagger and they were way ahead of their time, so I would check them out too.

Getting a succinct answer out of him when it comes to selecting a favourite song by his own band is understandably a little bit more challenging, but ever the affable interviewee he settles on ‘Cathedral Bell’ from their most recent full-length, ‘Heartwork’. “That's a really good question. Out of the old catalogue out of all the stuff that we haven't just recorded, I'd say ‘Cathedral Bell’ is my favourite one of my favourite songs of all time. I’m very into the song ‘People are Vomit’ that’s definitely my favourite song that you’ve yet to hear."

When told that the title brings to mind ‘People = Shit’ by Slipknot, Bert offers his thoughts that vomit is actually worse than shit, so people should be more offended by being called vomit. “Vomit is grosser than shit”.