*This post was originally published in The Aquarian Weekly.
They’ve been classified as “screamo,” “hardcore,” and “emo,” and with a name like “The Used” it has to be said that, nearly 15 years since their inception, the passion and excitement exuding from this band is palpably shiny and new.
Authenticity is perhaps one of the most redeeming qualities of successful bands, and The Used have been unapologetically themselves since their earliest days jamming out in Orem, Utah.
Vocalist Bert McCracken, guitarist Quinn Allman, bassist Jeph Howard, and drummer Dan Whitesides (who joined the band in 2006) recently released their sixth studio album,Imaginary Enemy.
While the album doesn’t hide behind bells and whistles, there might be just a little bit of “smoke and mirrors”—but in the literal sense. The lyrical content on Imaginary Enemy is a true extension of The Used repertoire, a constant reflection of McCracken’s open mind of existentialism. The album is packed with great sing-a-longs that will offer a killer live soundtrack, like the song “A Song To Stifle Imperial Progression.” The opening track, “Revolution,” pulls political punch as the chorus chants, “Yeah! This is the end, this is the end, calling for revolution/Burn! Like the fire in the ring, like the fire in the ring.”
The band’s latest single, “Cry,” is a well-balanced track with perfected production pitch. The vengeful chorus ensues, “I’m gonna let you bleed for a little bit/I’m gonna make you beg just for making me cry/I’m gonna make you wish you never said goodbye.” Overall the album’s production is not as heavy as others.
“This record has a lot less production,” says bassist Jeph Howard. “I’m not a big fan of lots of production. I think it clouds the actual song. It’s always a battle when you go into the studio with producers because they like production.”
From Howard’s perspective, Imaginary Enemy is comparable to 2004’s In Love And Death in terms of production value. “I’m excited about it and I hope everybody else gets what they want out of this record,” he says.
We threw a few more questions Howard’s way while he was in Nebraska in between tour stops. He talked about recording the new record backwards, the band’s tour with Taking Back Sunday, and his favorite songs to play out on the road.
Congrats on the release of Imaginary Enemy! It’s a great record to “set and forget” so you don’t have to skip tracks. That’s pretty rare to enjoy today, when music fans are subscribing to more of an “à la carte” consumption model. What did you enjoy most about creating the new album?
I like how you put that: “à la carte.” I never thought about it that way, but that really is what’s going on right now in music. Every record is different in that we have a different writing and recording process. This one has been interesting. Everyone’s idea of what direction we should go has been different. I think it has to do with us “letting go,” if you will. When we originally went into the studio we had about 27 songs and scrapped them all the first day in the studio to start from scratch, which is kind of scary.
The songs were really good ideas, it just wasn’t working, if that makes sense. So we started over and decided to record backwards, just to try it as an experiment. Quinn went in first and recorded a bunch of dummy guitar riffs that were just jam ideas. Then Bert came in and sang on top of those riffs, and then we put dummy drums on them. So we made songs that way, and then [to complete them] Bert went in to record lyrics first, then we added drums and composed the songs that way.
The record is the first to be released on the band’s own label, GAS Union. You’ve experience firsthand the shifts in how music is created and distributed, so what is your perspective on the current state of the music industry and how has it affected The Used?
Music is in a weird spot right now. Everything goes in cycles. We’re at one of those moments in time when music is at a high and low point simultaneously. When you’re buying music online, or stealing it online, where do you think the money goes? [A vast majority] 99.9 percent, maybe even 100 percent of that money goes to labels. So what you’re doing is feeding a corporation. When you put it that way it becomes a question of, “Wait, should I buy this record? Shouldn’t I just steal it off the internet?”
We are joined with Hopeless Records. They helped us put out this record, the EP [TheOcean Of The Sky, 2013], and the record before it [Vulnerable, 2012]. Hopeless has treated us really well. They’re good people and they are trying to do something different and help bands. It is a label, in the end, but it’s an indie label that’s trying to do something for the greater good of music, which I can’t say about all labels, but I can say about Hopeless.
I think out of every CD, we maybe get a dollar. So then [one could ask], “Should music be free? Maybe bands should be giving away their music.” That brings another problem into question: The measure of how well a band is doing is their CD sales, even though we’re in 2014 when most of CDs are stolen. It’s a weird cycle of problems we’ve got to overcome.
Labels look at things like Facebook and Instagram to see how many followers bands have. That makes no sense at all. Longevity is important. There are bands that always will be around. That’s success. It is so complicated to stay around and be a valid band. Bands come up, get huge for one year and then no one likes that band. That’s sad. Why can’t that band keep going and growing and putting out music? It’s kind of a hole. There’s room for as many bands as possible. It’s not that one band gets picked and another gets pushed out.
You’re touring now with Taking Back Sunday! What a great treat for fans! Bothbands’ audiences are equally enthralling crowds. What it’s like being out with those guys?
I love the Taking Back Sunday dudes. [Lead singer] Adam [Lazzara] is quite possibly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. That’s important. Not a lot of bands get crazy cocky, but when they do, it’s a crazy thing. When they get full of themselves and start talking shit about other bands, it’s sad. We’re all in this together. It’s art. Art can keep going.
“Creativity is the best rebellion.” That’s one of the best quotes I’ve ever heard and it leaves room and freedom for everyone. That’s what is so great about TBS: They’re here to just do it. They’ve been around forever.
The tour has been great. Every night has been great. It’s fun to tour with a band that has the same mentality that we do. We’re here to inspire, play music, and have a good time. We’re not serious most of the time. But we’re playing shows the way we love. That’s who we are. We’re not playing parts.
Creating a setlist must be challenging, particularly as your discography expands. What are your favorite songs to play?
Creating a setlist is really tough. While we don’t “have” to do anything, there are songs that fans come out to see, that are their favorites. We try to put in as many songs that people want to hear. Sometimes it’s not as fun for us to play “Taste Of Ink” for 15 years, but if we don’t play that song, people want to hear it! We still play it. And we still enjoy it.
[The concert dynamic] is 50 percent the artist and 50 percent the viewer. That’s why the experience is different. We write songs, we play them live, and if the crowd is super into that song, the song becomes awesome live, not because we’re playing well but because the crowd is good. That’s why we play songs that our fans want to hear. But at the same time we throw in songs that we really want to play, too.
For this tour we’re playing “Cry” from the new record, which to me is a lot of fun. I’ve had a lot of fun recording that. For me all the basslines in the new record are really fun to play so I’m very excited to play that song live. “Listening” is the second song we ever wrote, and it’s extremely old, but it’s one song I’ve never gotten bored of playing.
The Used are on a co-headlining tour with Taking Back Sunday, and will play the Tower Theater in Philly on April 13 and the Best Buy Theater in NYC on April 15, 16, and 21. Imaginary Enemy is available now. For more information, go to theused.net.