The Used: Do You Know Your Enemy?
Capitalism? Democracy? Russia? When The Used’s Bert McCracken is on the warpath, no one is safe. Photo by Kane Hibberd.
“I’m finding it’s the same nonsense bi-partisan bullshit: do I wanna vote for the guy who hates gays, or do I wanna vote for the guy who hates fags? Ummm, neither, so fuck them. You’ll notice something that’s probably true around the world with American allies: it’s either kneel down and suck and play the game, or get fucked like Pakistan did.”
The Bert McCracken we’ve gotten on the line is a far cry from the Bert of 10 years ago. Heck, it’s a far cry from the Bert of five years ago. When we speak, the frontman for The Used is busy cultivating his latte art in his new surrounds of Sydney, a move that saw him relocate to our fine country with his Australian wife ahead of the birth of their first daughter last month.
“No offence to the failing empire that is the United States, I just wanna raise my daughter here in Australia,” he quips. “It’s tough to make comparisons, but I’m loving it here and it’s really relaxed. There’s a lot of things that I find really comforting here.”
The man once known for his proclivity to chunder on stage has found the tables turned as he adapts to looking after a newborn, though it’s not as farfetched a notion as we all might have once thought.
“I think that I’ve been in this mind frame for quite a bit and it’s kind of caused me to take a look around,” McCracken tells us of adapting to fatherhood. “I’m really conscious of the world that I want my daughter to grow up in, so every day is a fight against oppression and dehumanisation.”
It would seem that the prospect of fatherhood can birth many things, and for McCracken it’s seen him turn to the larger issues facing the world. From the follies of capitalism to the failings of modern democracy, the singer’s impassioned worldviews have made themselves known on the latest full-length from The Used – their sixth studio album Imaginary Enemy. And no topic is off limits.
“What’s wrong with this world?” the singer questions. “Belief systems have made people delusional. The constitution was brought in in 1900 and it in no way reflects a modern ethos or our zeitgeist or our society today. We get off on this kind of dog-eat-dog every-man-for-himself world, which is a huge part of a capitalist society. Monetary gain seems to be more important than personal freedom and that’s backwards in my opinion.”
Imaginary Enemy’s call to arms is instant: “All revolutions are impossible til they happen, then they become inevitable” ring out the words of Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky on the aptly titled opener “Revolution”. And for McCracken, the question isn’t one of whether or not we’ll see a revolution in our time, but instead that we need to stop being blind to the myriad revolutions happening every day.
“If you look at Egypt, there’s been a revolution happening in Egypt since late 2010,” he chimes quickly, “there’s been Arab uprisings all over northern Africa and the Middle East. Look at Occupy Wall Street, look at all these kinds of movements that have woken people up. Before Wall Street, how many people knew about the 99% verses the 1% of the population with the money? My point in talking about a revolution is on a personal, individual basis, that’s where a revolution begins. I was directly inspired by an educator named Paolo Friere, he was a Brazilian revolutionary who wrote a book called Pedagogy Of The Oppressed, which is about the idea that if you teach people who they are, and if you teach people who is oppressing them, who’s putting them down, then there’ll be an inevitable revolution. Educated people won’t stand for much.”
The well-versed singer’s newly focussed intelligence is astounding, and he’s holding nothing back. Admittedly though, if any band has been seen as the voice for the disenfranchised and outsider youth of the ‘00s, The Used are certainly up there. McCracken may no longer be sporting a shaggy mop of black hair and unintentionally championing the emo movement (nor is he still asking us to be his “thousand fucks”), yet the ideas behind Imaginary Enemy are as crucial a message as you’ll hear today. And okay, so you didn’t see the frontman on stage at a music festival beheading an effigy of our current leader, but the artwork of Imaginary Enemy – a vivid red heart hanging from a noose in front of a collage of key political figures who’ve had their eyes scratched out – more than speaks for itself.
“I think the huge issue that’s driving every world event nowadays is income inequality and the fact that we see 1% of the world with 99.9999% of the wealth,” McCracken explains. “That’s capitalism for you, and that’s what it was supposed to be when they set it up, that’s how it was planned to go and in the idea of infinite growth, nothing is possible, nothing grows forever, so this is a pyramid scheme we’ve gotten into since the beginning. Just the fact that there’s still 30 million slaves in the world, that should be an issue on everyone’s minds. In some places in the world you can be put in prison for your sexual orientation, and that’s a huge, huge deal in my mind.”
What of Imaginary Enemy’s place in The Used’s back catalogue, then? The 11-track effort is hardly the work of a budding young rock band and while the singer recognises the cliché in blindly loving your latest artistic output, he’s sticking to his guns on this one.
“12 years ago when the band first started, I wasn’t nearly ready to approach the type of subject matter I’ve approached on this record,” the frontman admits. “I think this album is the most self-conscious. I think that we’re really trying to look beyond a personal statement here and this record is more about asking questions. I think in a big way, artists will always be excited about what they’ve just done. I know it’s really easy to say, but it’s the best Used record so far,” he chuckles. “And not because there’s really kick-arse songs on it and because we’re really questioning the way the world works, but because we approached this record with all the humility we have left. These songs are fun and they’re also meant to provoke a little thought.”
Before we wrap up what’s easily been one of the most thought-provoking interviews we’ve conducted in recent times, McCracken offers some words of wisdom as a final parting gift.
“I think revolution starts with you, it starts with becoming informed about situations in the world,” he begins. “I think we all should know what’s going on in Syria, we should all know what’s going on in Ukraine, and we should all be aware of the church and state acting in union in Russia. If we don’t have time for that, then we just don’t have time for the world. Maybe we should all cancel our Twitters and really try to do something positive. My opinions are only my opinions; we just hope people enjoy the music. It takes a lot less than we might think to change the world, all we have to do is give it a shot.” The man has spoken.