We Unearthed The Used’s First Ever BLUNT Cover Story
Slip out of the Delorean and into the colourful year that was 2005, back when the Taste Of Chaos tour reigned supreme and the Myspace boom introduced us to the likes of Panic! At The Disco. As The Used look back on the last 15 years with new album The Used Live & Acoustic At The Palace, we’ve rolled up our sleeves and dug deep into the BLUNT vault to bring you their first ever BLUNT cover story. Indulge your inner emo with these random reflections on The Used’s first Australian tour and predictions for the coming of Taste of Chaos.
The chaos has already begun. It’s May 13th 2005, two days since The Used first touched down in Sydney. Just another average day in the chaotic lives of Jeph Howard (bass), Quinn Allman (guitar), Branden Steineckert (drums) and Bert McCracken (vocals). Fox Studios looks like an afternoon war zone, with barricades, blockades, police and security all working frantically to quell the enthusiasm of the mammoth crowd congregated for what will be The Used’s second ever live appearance on Australian soil. Uncle Rupert’s tourist trap hardly looks like itself swarming with black T-shirted kids who’ve come from far and near to see this free outdoor performance for Channel [V].
The atmosphere buzzing around the place is electric, charged with an extreme sense of anticipation, an unspoken collective acknowledgment that something very special is about to occur. Many of these kids couldn’t get a ticket to last night’s sold out performance at the nearby Hordern Pavilion, while others probably walked straight out of that show and marched the 200 or so metres up the road to camp on [O’s front doorstep all night, waiting. That’s the kind of fans The Used have.
Quinn shudders as he describes how far some Used fans will go to show their devotion. “There was this girl who had gotten her friend or somebody to shoot a roll of film and she sent the pictures of her with all this marker all over her body that said stuff like, ‘Put it here,’ fuck my face,’ cum in my mouth,’ just stuff written all over her. And then you look and you can see this tampon string just hanging out, she must’ve been about 15 or something, it was gross.”
Desperate menstruating teen psycho devotees aside, The Used inspire a dedication in their fans that can easily cross over into full-blown obsession. They’ve virtually penned a brand new chapter in the book on teen hysteria, having whipped up a storm of Beatlemania-like proportions in the three years since the release of their debut album.
In March this year, seemingly without warning, The Used sold out the 2000-capacity UNSW Roundhouse within minutes of the tickets going on sale. Promoter Michael Gudinski of Frontier Touring Co. didn’t need time to assess the magnitude of what had just happened. As founder of Mushroom Records and one of the biggest names in the Australian music business for the past 30 years, Gudinski had certainly seen some shit – but he’d never seen anything like this. He moved quickly to have his people secure the 5,500-capacity Hordern, and upgraded The Used’s one-off show. When the box office reopened before noon on the same day, the remaining 3000-odd tickets lasted less than an hour. “It’s a little overwhelming for sure,” Bert said of the reception they’ve received here, “and I’ve used that word at least 1000 times since I’ve been in Australia, but it really is. It’s incredible that we can come to a place where we’ve never been before, and always dreamed of coming to, and have so many people excited about us coming here. It feels really warm and it feels good.”
“It’s a little overwhelming for sure, and I’ve used that word at least 1,000 times since I’ve been in Australia, but it really is. It feels really warm and it feels good.”
The Used and their road crew spent their first day in Australia sightseeing around Sydney Harbour and Taronga Zoo before attending a small soiree held in their honour for media and guests at a swanky bar overlooking the harbour. It was here, on top of Circular Quay’s International Passenger Terminal, that the Taste Of Chaos Tour was officially announced – and it was here that I first laid eyes on The Used.
First up, Gudinski addressed the small crowd of about 50, giving an impassioned speech about the value of a grassroots phenomenon like The Used in this day and age, before handing over the floor to the band and their man-mountain of a manager, John Reese. Huddled together in the shadow of their colossal chaperone, the four members listened embarrassingly as Reese discussed their harsh upbringings and the hard work they’d put in to make this dream of theirs a reality.
Having said his piece, Reese then left the band to address the mini-throng, which prompted a glorious moment of pure awkwardness when the four of them chose to stand there for what seemed like an age just whispering amongst themselves and not saying a word. Not knowing which way to look, some members of the media started smiling, embarrassed. Bert smiled back at them sarcastically, which merely served to heighten the sense of confusion in the silent crowded room. Finally, the longhaired frontman snapped back to reality, quickly mumbling some cliché like, “We’re here to rock,” which drew a round of applause from the bemused guests. Applying even more sarcasm than before, Bert applauded back, swinging his hands in big childlike claps and smiling like a deranged retard. It definitely caught a few people off-guard. “It doesn’t matter if the guys in suits don’t get it,” Bert tells me the next day, “because the kids get it, man.”
To an outsider, Bert McCracken might seem like a lunatic. Onstage he’s like a caged animal let loose; a pint-sized ball of destruction – one of those rare unpredictable frontman that demand you do not turn away for a second. Offstage
he commands just as much attention. With piercing eyes, tom up clothes and matted black hair, Bert’s outgoing personality ensures that he is almost always the centre of attention. He can often come across as a boisterous kid trying to live up to some ideal of rock excess, but get him alone, away from the expectant eyes of fans, media and hangers-on, and the deep thinking, intelligent and articulate Bert comes out to play.
The Used spent most of their second day in Australia handling press and media on the 21st floor of their hotel. Smack bang in the middle of a hectic schedule involving TV and radio appearances, photo sessions and soundchecking at the Hordern, Bert calmly tells me, “I’m excited that people can see through some of the bullshit and really see an honest rock band. Music is so important to so many people and we can definitely feel that from our fans.
“We are those kids. Our whole lives our favourite things to do have been going to shows, rocking out at shows, playing shows, listening to music, writing music… Some people have a hard time believing that we started this band for those reasons, like, ‘Okay, you’ve given the typical answer now, really, why are you in a rock band? Is it the chicks, is it the drugs, is it…”‘ He allows his voice to trail off, then fixes me right in the eye so that he knows that I know that he really means it, and says, “It’s the fucking music, man.”
The story of how The Used escaped the oppressive Mormon-dominated town of Orem, Utah and became one of the world’s biggest punk bands has been told a thousand times. Usually the tale involves references to Bert’s battle with heroin addiction, his brief fling with Kelly Osbourne, and the tragic death of his former girlfriend during the recording of the band’s last album, In Love & Death. But the story of The Used is so much more than Bert’s story.
“Jeph and 1 had a house and Quinn and Bert would come over,” recalls Branden of the very early days. “We’d get off work and they’d hitchhike out to the house and we had like a two or three hour window every day that we could rehearse in. We remind ourselves of being in that position every now and then because that was some of the hardest times we’d ever play. It meant the most then, y’know.”
“Music is so important to so many people and we can definitely feel that from our fans. We are those kids.”
The Used are a band in the true sense of the word. Whatever suffering their singer might have endured in the years since those intense afternoon rehearsal sessions, Quinn, Jeph and Branden have been there, suffering right alongside him. Some of the individual and collective hardships they’ve overcome would have been enough to break lesser people and break up lesser bands, but the history the four share together has been a binding force.
“Our story is somewhat magical in my mind,” admits Bert. “This was meant to be. But there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve stayed together because we’re friends first.”
Having conquered the Hordern together later that night, the next day the four friends gather backstage at Fox Studios to prepare for a live interview with Channel [V]’s Yumi Stynes, who has come dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein especially for the occasion. With anticipation among the seething mass outside rising by the minute, The Used are about to send it into overload. Squeezing onto a couch with Stynes in a cramped broom closet somewhere out the back, their interview is being projected live to the eager fans via the giant video screen outside. Every time Bert plays up to the camera, which is often, the overwhelming roar of the crowd can be plainly heard way back hear. It’s both surreal and scary.
The interview itself is stilted, yet at the same time humourous.
Yumi: “What’s your favourite song to play live?”
Bert: “It changes – last night it was “On My Own””
Yumi: “So are you going to play that tonight?”
Bert: “Hell no!”
Asked to guest program a video, Bert selects the decidedly non-listener friendly “Eagles Become Vultures” by Converge, and The Used finish up the interview and get set to do some rockin’ – after the viewers at home get their obligatory Adults Only warning that is!
Hitting the Channel [V] stage to scenes of utter hysteria, The Used set alight the anticipation in the air, turning it to pure teen steam with a searing version of “Take It Away”. Pandemonium reigns as they head into “Listening”. which sees a steady stream of bodies start to spill over the barricades at the front of the makeshift stage.
To see a crowd of Used fans give themselves over completely to singing the words to songs like “I Caught Fire”, “Taste Of Ink” and “All That I’ve Got” is to recognise Bert’s power as a wordsmith. While his dark odes and gutter poems often use cryptic imagery and a concentrated set of personal emotions, it’s easy to connect with what he is saying because he offers it unfiltered, straight from the heart.
“You can just feel when the crowd is right there with you, you can feel it in the air, you can feel the love in the room, it’s just overwhelming,” Bert says of the exchange of emotion that happens between The Used and their fans at their shows. “I tear up sometimes onstage just because of how people are singing along with me with all the conviction and feeling the same emotion I felt when I was writing those songs. It feels fucking incredible.”
With the fans literally screaming along to set closer “Maybe Memories”, Bert delivers one of his now trademark speaker-column dives, sending security into a panic as they struggle to retrieve him. Up onstage, as Jeph and Quinn howl guitar noise, Branden trashes his drumkit to finish with just the touch of mindless destruction the occasion was calling out for.
An hour later and the band are boarding a plane to Brisbane to play the third and last date on their debut Australian tour. They didn’t even get time to visit Melbourne while they were here. It was very much a quick reconnaissance mission, almost like a promotional trip with a couple of gigs attached. It was a taste of chaos to come. See you there in October.
Featured in BLUNT #42 – August 2005.