Rebuilding the music industry may be as easy as the rebuilding of one band or at least one small step is being made towards this goal by rock band The Used. Having recently split with their label of 10 years, the direction they took was to start a company on their own that’s more than a record label and will commence with The Used’s new album, Vulnerable.
The past few years have seen many changes for vocalist Bert McCracken, guitarist Quinn Allman, drummer Dan Whitesides and bassist Jeph Howard, who have emerged refreshed and better than ever as explained by Howard. Anxious and excited for the new album, there is a strong desire for this album to stir those same feelings in fans. With tour dates leading up to the album’s release, The Used plans on keeping things under wraps till the big unveil.
The most cheerful and calm voice came through on the other end of the phone from Howard. Claiming to be the “least angry person in the world,” he lived up to this title with no harsh words on the hurdles The Used faced over the past couple of years and made the name of the band’s new label seem like a pretty ironic choice. The conversation is as follows.
How are you guys preparing for your upcoming tours?
Yesterday was our first day at rehearsal, which we haven’t had a full band in a nice studio band practice in a while. We’re now in the studio practicing and rehearsing all the stuff from the new record that we’re actually not going to play on this tour. (Laughs) We’re so excited to play this record live and we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but it’s fun.
Are you playing any new songs before the album comes out?
We’re only going to play that one single, “I Come Alive.” There’s two problems with playing songs that haven’t come out yet. The first one is as soon as you play it, it’s out on the internet and everyone knows what the song is. We want people to hear the record first and then hear us play it live. Plus, it’s kind of boring if you see a band play a bunch of songs that you have no idea what they are. We want people to come, know the songs, know the parts, know everything about it and be as excited about it as we are.
Is there a theme or concept for the album?
I would say it’s sort of a concept. The theme overall would be the word “vulnerable.” A lot of people hear that word and think weak, but vulnerability actually could be a strength and that’s sort of what we’re going off of on this record. If you strip everything away, you take everything down to the core and soul of it to show people that’s really what vulnerability is. The strongest you’ll ever be is at your core and by showing people how vulnerable you really are.
Your first single, “I Come Alive,” how does it set the tone for the album musically?
“I Come Alive” is sort of a nice taste of the new record. It kind of just goes to the edge because the record has a lot of explosive colors and textures to the tone that we normally don’t go into. Also, as far as vulnerability goes, the chorus, “I come alive when I’m falling down,” pretty much sums up what I was saying. It’s kind of like being beaten to the end of your life, not being able to get up and just being vulnerable and then turning around and showing yourself as who you are and as vulnerable as you are, as strong as you really are.
Where did this theme of being vulnerable come from? Did it have anything to do with your split with your old label?
I think it kind of came from the last two years of writing and recording. Let me take it back, we were on Warner Bros. for 10 years and our last record with Warner was Artwork and we were so in love with it. It leaked three months early and that’s a major leak. Warner Bros. just kind of let it release, which is fine, I get it, but our record already didn’t get a push. Our die-hard fans got it, but a lot of our fans didn’t even know it came out. One of our fans didn’t even hear it. It’s sad when you work on something so hard and have nobody hear it. After that, we had a problem with our management and we didn’t want to be on our label anymore. Our label actually ended up dropping us, which is one of those weird things because we were so excited to get off of it, but then, it’s like, when you’re dating someone and you’re over the relationship and you want to get out of it, but then they break up with you first. You kind of have mixed feelings about it. After that, we kind of had a moment to think about things.
Everybody had other stuff going on in their lives, changing, people getting married, people having kids, people just doing their own things. I think we hit bottom at that point. I know Bert definitely did. I think that’s the whole vulnerable idea a little bit. Bert was at the bottom and wanted to come out. Right now he is so on top of this record, so inspired by music and we’re all really so excited by this record. It’s like we’re kind of a phoenix almost where the last record burnt and we all died and now we’re rising from the ashes to start a whole new chapter.
Does this album feel more special than the others and is that part of why you’re being over-protective in not playing new songs live before the album’s release?
It’s definitely the most I’ve been excited for a record. We’ve always been protective, but we’re super protective about this record. We’re not letting anyone hear it at all. We’re not giving it to people to go through, we’re really, like, shy about it. But when it comes out it’s going to be awesome.
Are there any surprises fans can expect with the music or lyrics?
Bert’s not the most positive of lyrical writers and this record—there’s a lot of this “phoenix rising from the ashes” kind of thing. There’s a lot of positive tones coming from it. Definitely we got a little more experimental in the music we love. Bert and I actually love hip-hop and there’s a lot of hip-hop sounds on this record. It seems weird, but no matter what we do, no matter what music we have, Bert makes us sound like The Used because of his voice in the way he sings. We have a lot of different tones over this record of like R&B and hip-hop over like metal and blast beats stuff. But when you get down to the music of it, you can kind of tell that there’s these kinds of tones and textures and feelings to it that in all these years, we have never used.
You worked with John Feldmann on this album, which you didn’t on the last. How is it being back in the studio with him?
It’s very interesting actually—for me it’s very interesting. We’ve recorded four albums with Feldmann and I never really got to know him. On this record, I feel like I got to know who he really is as a person and that made recording this record very interesting for me. In understanding who he is and where he comes from.
What exactly is your Anger Music Group?
We started our own label with the help of Hopeless Records, so it’s under Hopeless distribution for now. After 10 years being on a label and seeing how things go and seeing how people work at a major label and then kind of getting fed up with it, we wanted to start a label that was for the right reasons. We want to start not just a music label, but something that encompasses all kinds of art and that’s the idea right now. Of course, the first project is us because that’s what we’re doing.
You definitely are interested in signing more bands?
Yes, this is definitely about helping. This is not a selfish idea. We don’t want to start something that’s just about us making money, it’s not about us. It’s been so unfair for so long and it’s about time for the artists to get their media back, get their lives back and get their art back.
Is this a step in the right direction for other companies to follow for the revival of the music industry and artists being in total control?
That’s kind of the hope. There’s a lot of future work involved and searching. We’re always on the lookout to help a band out, help your friends or somebody you know.
The Used will be performing acoustically at Looney Tunes in West Babylon, NY, on April 3, Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ, on April 4 and at FYE in Philadelphia on April 5. Their new album, Vulnerable, is available now through Hopeless Records. For more information, check out theused.net.