After a sold out headlining tour in the USA, The Used (along with Taking Back Sunday) will hit our shores later this month to showcase why each band have survived more than a decade in music. Killyourstereo.com caught up with The Used frontman Bert McCracken to talk about the tour, politics and a possible future tour with Neil Diamond.
Hey Bert, how’s it going?
Good, how are you doing mate?
Yeah good, so you’ve been practicing your ‘mate’ since you’ve been living in Australia have you?
Seriously, I still can’t even do an Australian accent and I’ve been living here for a year, it’s insane. But, good on ya.
I’ll just start off with a few questions about the tour with Taking Back Sunday later on this year: what can fans expect from The Used side, new songs old songs, what can we expect?
Yeah a bit of everything, we have a pretty extensive catalogue to pick from, and I think what makes a good live song has to do with crowd involvement. Your favourite songs are our favourite songs and just like anybody will ever tell you if they’ve seen The Used play, we’re a serious live act. We’re very good at what we do, we’re good at our instruments and we like to involve everyone. I think the most important thing is that we’re fans of music first so we know what it’s like to feel that freedom and that escape that rock and roll/punk music lets us feel. It’s about people, we’re not up on stage thinking we’re any different that anyone else; it’s a great feeling.
On that track, what’s your favourite song to play live nowadays? Is it an old one like ‘A Box Full of Sharp Objects’?
It changes, but on the last European tour, ‘Revolution’ from the new record was a standout track. Seems like Russians and East Europeans really kind of get the idea of how important revolution is and they’re serious; like, they even brought revolution lyric signs and everything, it was awesome. Like I said, it’s mostly about the crowd, what the crowd’s into, but we’ve got some special stuff going on with ‘A Box Full of Sharp Objects’, a few little surprises in there. So that is always one of my favourites.
Since you said those fans have been bringing signs, have you noticed any other political activism from your fans after the release of ‘Imaginary Enemy’?
I kind of avoid social media like the plague, I think it’s a distraction from everything that’s really going on, so I wouldn’t really know if they’re organising themselves. I would only hope to have inspired people to find out the truth, knowledge is power and if we know what’s going on in the world we can kind of force a shift and envision a better world for ourselves and our kids to grow up in.
I was actually going to ask you a few political questions: could you elaborate further on your views on Australia’s compulsory voting and our asylum seeker policy?
Well I know that they refused prisoners at the prison in the middle of the outback, at least 47 Tamil asylum seekers, I think it’s terrible the sinking of boats and not telling anyone. I think that it’s awful, there’s nothing good about nationalism; it only breeds separatism. There’s nothing good about Jingoism, even thinking the world we live in we would be far beyond that. There’s a rampant, like serious racism that exists within Australia that’s kind of not even talked about. Hopefully, the younger generation coming up will be able to shatter some of these atrocities. The thought of trying to keep people off ‘white man’s land’ is such an old idea, so backwards, and if we want to be honest, forcing people to vote; that’s not democracy, that’s not democracy at all.
What would be your view on how to fix these sort of problems? That might be too much of an elaborate question for a 15 minute interview.
If we want to really sit down and talk about it, the studies of people who envision systemless societies have a lot to talk about it, and I’m not an expert. I envision a world where human beings live in a socially ethical environment, where people take care of other people, whether you want to call that democracy or not. There is a way for people to take care of people and it just involves letting go of taboos, and weird self existing, self-promoting preservation ideas to be rich and famous. I think that societies just kind of put a lot of pressure on people to act a certain way and if we kind of dismantle the way they want us to see the world, we get a more easy picture of how it could be. Like, Noam Chomsky’s written probably 60 books on it, I’ve read a lot of them but I wouldn’t even begin to try to organise an idea without thousands of people helping me you know?
So do you think that through your music that’s how you’re getting these ideas out, like that’s how you’re channeling it?
Yeah, I think it’s inevitable that you hear the message coming through, people can exist taking care of other people, you don’t have to live in a world where its dog eat dog and competing for everything at all times. I think that everyone should be kind of pushing that message because we want to get by and if we want to better ourselves the only way to do that is by lifting everyone else around us up.
You’re talking about people lifting other people up, who would you say was the one person who inspired you to finally quit drugs and focus on the music?
That is an excellent question, I guess if I had to pick one person, besides my wife because that’s the person that always saves… I mean a significant other has the power to help us be the people that we really deserve and deserve to be. But I’ve had a strong passion for reading since I was young, and during my severe tango with addiction I didn’t read I just wasn’t afforded the straight face. It was kind of Stephen King that inspired me to get back into the things that I loved, and also he’s an alcoholic as well so there’s inspiration to know that there’s hope for people like us. I guess it’s always important to look for people who share similar problems, if you have a problem with depression it’s always better to talk to someone who knows what it’s like to be depressed.
Well you were talking about Stephen King there, I was actually going to ask you what’s one book that you think everyone needs to read, is it a Stephen King novel?
No definitely not, one book that everyone should read is George Orwell’s ‘1984’. If you get to the end, you’ll understand why it’s so important for everyone to understand it’s even worse than expected; the surveillance state of the world is crazy, it’s way beyond Big Brother’s mess.
Well since you’re in the music industry, do you think that it needs to be shaken up and how would you go about doing it?
You know, we’ve been struggling with this new idea for an anti company called ‘Gas Union’ that dismantles the trickle-down economic system within music. I think that art should be able to exist from patron support, meaning the fan’s support of the artist directly can afford the artist the ability to afford a modern life, and still make all the art the artist can make. It’s a slow process in the world of revolutions and fighting the powers that be means just fighting billions of dollars. I mean you look at every kind of aspect of how the world works, especially within music, well not as especially within music, but also these streaming services where they’re paying the artist .0008 cents a play, and beyond that the old way with iTunes and everybody’s stealing to make billions of dollars. We got the idea to kind of dismantle the idea that people who do nothing for music deserve to make tons of money. It’s just a slow process. I believe music should be free; it’s already is free! I would prefer my fans steal music and listen to it; I’m talking about artists who are true artists who create to help shape the world we live in, and none of the people doing what I just said will be doing it for money.
That’s definitely interesting, I’ll move onto a lighter issue for the time being, so do you feel like living in Australia has made it harder to keep the band going?
No, not at all. It’s made no difference. I mean really, we come together on tour and rehearse a little bit, I just fly into the tour a couple days earlier. I definitely spend a lot more time on an airplane, but that’s about it.
Did you prefer the Warped Australia tour or Soundwave since you’ve toured on both?
I think Warped since it’s just a bit more established, it was kind of the underdog tour for me so I kind of prefer to see the Warped kind of punk rock tour succeed. But Soundwave is also incredible, and I would definitely do both all over again every year if I could.
Will we be seeing you on the Soundwave lineup next year?
You’ll be seeing me there regardless, whether it’s interviewing bands for Channel V or playing with The Used.
Did you approach Channel V or did they approach you for that spot?
Well we’ve been talking for a long time and I initially pitched them the idea of doing like a Channel Re-V-lution putting me out in the warzone, kind of like a VICE type of thing. So who knows, maybe you’ll see something in the future.
That sounds awesome, what’s a crazy touring story you haven’t told anyone?
That’s a good question… I guess I haven’t really told anyone but like my family; I was in Russia and we saw a truck explode on the side of the road in Moscow, just casually driving by. Just blew up, I mean I was taking a video when it blew up and you could hear it pop and because we drove right by it, forty metres of smoke, black smoke, up in the air, huge raging fire and the people I was driving with were barely fazed. Incredible.
Did you ever find out what happened?
I didn’t really check into it, but as my life goes on I’m kind of elaborating and turning it into a pretty awesome tale saying it was like Afghani Mujahideen suicide truck bombers or you know, I’m sure the story will become more suitable for the political now.
Eventually you’ll be the one crawling out of the truck.
“It was Russian separatists, they kidnapped me and right before they blew up the bomb I got out and saved Ukraine” (laughs)
(laughs) Back onto the tour, are there any chances either band will be covering each other’s songs?
We’ve kind of kept it really not forced and we’ve really kept it kind of casual as far as rock and roll goes. We just kind of play our sets, we figure there’s so many fans of both bands and there are so many old hits, so to speak, that Taking Back Sunday has and The Used has and we kind of just love each other, and just maybe because I’ve been in Australia it’s been harder to come together, but no plans for anything like that in the immediate life of the band.
What’s the one band you would want The Used to tour with, or again if that’s the answer?
Hmm… well I guess it would be really cool to tour with Neil Diamond before he dies, he’s got a few hits. We get off that tour and we go right straight back into that tour with Neil Diamond, but it’s gotta be co-headlining, or I’m not doing it.
So would you cover each other’s songs then? Like, you’re just there singing Sweet Caroline?
I don’t know, might just keep it casual again. I don’t want to force anything. We’ve done a few really good covers, we’ve done little bits and bits of pieces of a cover but you rarely ever see us do a cover; I think we covered Rape Me (Nirvana) one time, that’s kind of it.
That’s your one cover for the entire history of The Used…
Besides recorded covers that we did for like compilations or for like Transformers soundtracks and stuff like that, but we’ve never played those live, we just recorded them.
Maybe later on this year, you’ll be able to sneak in a few, Australian audiences get the exclusive since you’re living here now.
I don’t know, we’ll see; you might be surprised.
Just to sort of wrap up, do you feel like your records still resonate with teenagers as your earlier records so obviously did?
I don’t know if records really resonate with teenagers as they did when I was a kid. I don’t know if it’s just classic survivalism evolution in our face or what, or has society kind of captured the minds of the younger generation through the propaganda systems they’ve created? I don’t know, I don’t really see kids listening to full records these days and that doesn’t bother me; I don’t really care what they do, but I know for the true hardcore fan of music it’s a different world to your casual listener and The Used is definitely one of those bands with dedicated hardcore fans, and it’s humbling.
What’s one full record you think that everyone should listen to?
I think The Beatles’ ‘White Albums’ both sides are important records, classics. So many good Neil Diamond records [too] (laughs). John Lennon’s entire entire corpus of materials needs to be celebrated, listened and re-listened to.
So if John Lennon and Neil Diamond had been able to do a collaboration that would’ve been your absolute number one favourite album ever?
Well they would’ve probably saved the world and changed the way the world works, and Neil Diamond would definitely be dead and assassinated along with John Lennon.
They would’ve been the ones to pull you out of the burning truck that makes the story absolutely perfect.
There we go! (laughs)
Unfortunately we’re out of time, but thanks so much for talking with Killyourstereo today.
Yeah man, thanks for your time as well.
The Used tour with Taking Back Sunday this August. Details here.