Published in The Music (WA) | 16.04.14 | Issue # 34
CALL TO ARMS
It’s been a tough couple of years for The Used frontman Bert McCracken. He’s conquered an addiction that once ruled him, but is still in the depths of another fight. Daniel Cribb prepares for battle.
When you spend April Fools’ Day in the “Amsterdam” of the United Stated among a touring party of four bands, shenanigans are a given. In the midst of a month-long co-headline tour promoting their new record Imagery Enemies with old mates Taking Back Sunday, Australia’s Tonight Alive and Florida’s Sleepwave, there’s chaos surrounding The Used frontman Bert McCracken when he answers his phone. “There’s all sorts of shenanigans – Dan [Whitesides, drums] grabbed a trashcan and put it in the bunk area, someone did the whole cellophane on the toilet seat thing; people went wild,” McCracken laughs backstage at Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado, having just come off stage.
Had such a conversation been instigated during the touring cycle of 2012’s Vulnerable, McCracken may have come across a little less focused. In 2012, the vocalist checked himself into rehab to deal with drug and alcohol abuse. “I was on a real destructive blackout phase, drinking, lying to everyone I knew, and even in rehab still sneaking and drinking. I did check myself in and I did get help, and I think in that context, that’s the only real way I was able to climb on top of my so-called [demons],” he says.
“I can never be the guy who has four beers, or two beers, for me it’s all or nothing; I’m the best at it, so you cannot beat me. My life is just so much more balanced and happy without it… in Australia there’s a lot of heavy drinking going on which is culturally more acceptable than even smoking weed, and it blows my mind.”
The drinking culture isn’t the only thing McCracken still hasn’t come to grips with. Moving to Australia with his wife and daughter in 2013, he’s seeking dual citizenship with America, but is willing to go to jail rather than vote in Australia because he believes the country’s political system is closer to “fascism” than democracy. “It’s hard because the Commonwealth was written so long ago. I don’t believe that democracy is possible when it’s based on antiquated ideas – in my mind, 100 years is antiquity… when the rules of the system to control people only reflect old and out-of-date ideas, then we need to rethink all the rules, and who writes the rules is a really important part of this ‘democracy’. Being an anarchist at heart, I don’t believe in that type of democracy.
“Being in Australia, with free healthcare, the system is so much better in ways, and it’s so much worse in ways. There’s bipartisan nonsense everywhere – I think in the last election for prime minister, it was really tough… you could either vote for the guy who hates homosexuals or the guy who doesn’t care for fags, you know. It’s pretty discouraging.”
It was overcoming his addiction that allowed him to break his sights from internal turmoil and direct it towards political issues. For the first time, The Used have produced a record with a political edge. “Now that I’ve been in Australia for a while, you really have to watch what you eat and drink [in the US]; it’s almost like everything’s poison out here. It’s really rampant for floriated water and genetically modified everything in the food. It’s slowly getting better out here and I think the people are becoming aware, but it’s crazy; the United States is a crazy place and I have a lot of hope for the future of the United States, but only time will tell – it’s up to the people.
“People have to become informed about what’s going on in the world; what’s going on with the business of their government systems and politics or nothing will ever change. In the new record we talk about how this revolution has to start with each individual person; humanity depends on each one of us individually, so that’s kind of where we’re going – whether or not you’re ready to take the ride, that’s up to you.”
Long-time fans needn’t fret, though, as their new mindset is accompanied by a healthy dose of pop-influenced personal tunes. The pop sounds can partly be attributed to returning to producer John Feldmann – the Goldfinger frontman who signed the band back in 2001. With every new record, The Used’s sound and lyrical focus evolves into a new beast, but McCracken stresses this time they’ve found something that will stick. “My background of music is Michael Jackson first and then I kind of came into a real pop world growing up, so I have a strong love for a good melody that gets stuck in your head – I love a good melody. The magic behind the record is that it’s a snapshot of whatever’s going on in that artist’s life at the moment, but I doubt very much that I will lose passion for people who have no ability to fight for themselves.”