Interview: The Used
Sun, 30 Aug 2009 14:23:54
Real artists bleed for their art.
The Used frontman Bert McCracken has done more than his fair share of bleeding on tape. In fact, each and every blood-splattered line that he's written bares a piece of his soul. It's as real as it gets, and that's why Bert is just so goddamn good at what he does—on stage and in the studio. Bert lets it all out, and the fans willingly receive.
Artwork is The Used's masterpiece to date. Thematically, it's filled to the brim with pain and passion, and Bert schizophrenically switches from chaotic crooning to soaring screaming. It's everything you'd want from a pure and unbridled rock n' roll record.
In order to get a closer look at Artwork, Bert invited ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino into his home to discuss the album.
When Bert talks, he looks inside of you, and he listens just as much as speaks. Most importantly, he gives. Artwork is his greatest gift yet. Find out why in this exclusive interview.
On Artwork, each song comes to life as its own self-realization. Is the best art always about growing up or changing?
All of art is about changing. I think everything in art is about reaching another level. When you take your creativity to a new place and you reach beyond what you're mentally, emotionally, spiritually and actually physically capable of, that's when art gets interesting. When you go outside of yourself to create something that's so important to you—that's the only art that matters. If your art isn't important to you, then what the fuck do I give a shit about it for? If you created it for me, it's like you're trying to cook me my favorite dish. I already know how to cook my favorite dish. You couldn't cook it better than I could. You could cook me your favorite dish. I could try it, and because you love it so much and because of your passion for it, I could possibly love it as much as you do.
It may end up becoming your favorite after that.
My point exactly! At least you got it.
You pull a lot from inside of yourself on this album. A song like "Blood On My Hands" really punches listeners in the face.
I'm only writing for me. Sorry…I have to. I'd be bored as shit if I wasn't doing that. It's a really "trailer park" way to put it, but I'd be bored as shit if I was writing for anyone else.
So you keep challenging yourself as a performer and a lyricist.
You have to. Creatively, I'm not the guy who throws up on stage and jumps on speaker stacks and talks about anything in particular. I'm ready to do everything and be everything that I have inside. I have a lot more to give. I have so much more to inspire. I have so much more to be inspired by. This is really just the beginning of the story.
Well, you continue beginning the story on each successive album.
It's perfect; it's just another book. The Used doesn't have a Bible. We have little short stories along the way, which is really cool. We don't write concept records, man; we write about us, which is important. We don't write about some people we don't know and some shit we don't know about—like cancer or whatever. I don't know anything about that. I write about what I know about.
You can be the most poetic that way. You can't apply words or language to what you haven't experienced.
Obviously, you can't. There's no way. You could be the best speaker of all time—talk about the troops, talk about oil, talk about bureaucrats, talk about the state of the union and talk about the fall of capitalism. When you know nothing about those things, people see right through it and it's obvious that you have no idea what you're talking about. If I'm about to talk about feeling happy or sad or anything that I've ever talked about—mortality, relationships, love, drugs, sex—I know all about that shit. I've been through every part of it. There's not a drug on this planet I haven't done except for the rich designer drugs that we don't know about that Paris Hilton sniffs [Laughs]. Rich people get to do whatever they want.
Hostel was true!
It is! I've been there [Laughs]. I went there with Eli Roth. He's a good dude—the best. So creepy in Cabin Fever—I loved it. I can't wait for Inglourious Basterds. It's all art!
There's not much of a difference between Artwork and Inglourious Basterds. Each one is collection of emotions.
That's what I'm saying! Everything that is succulent is artwork. That's what our record cover is about. We're being force-fed all of this nonsense—reality TV. At least there are still artists out there, and they're injecting art in their veins for the right reasons, other than being force-fed. I watch a lot of good TV. There's a lot of good shit out there. Weeds is one of my favorites. I love True Blood. Dexter is also one of my favorite shows ever. I was a huge fan of Six Feet Under.
Masters of Horror was incredible too.
Are you kidding? Remember the episode Pro-Life? I got the little baby from that episode tattooed on my hand. John Carpenter is the best. I love all of the Masters of Horror episodes. Jenifer was great. All of Dario Argento's stuff rules. Have you seen Asia Argento's movie, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things? She directed it and starred in it. She's this fucked up mom who keeps abandoning her child in the movie. Marilyn Manson's in it as this sick child molester.
"Kissing You Goodbye" is one of the darkest songs you've ever written, even though it's bright tonally.
True that [Laughs]. I agree with you in some ways. It's a piano-driven song. I originally wrote that song about something else deeper. The tone of the song seems so operatic or almost soap—operatic [Laughs]. It's such a devastation from the beginning. In a way, the song is whatever you want it to be. It's a "Fuck you" or it's an "I love you the most." Either, it's "I'm not kissing you goodbye. I'm fucking out of here," or it's like, "I'm not kissing you goodbye. You're everything. I'm not leaving. I'm not going." You could perceive it two ways. It's almost like saying, "Get the fuck out of my life," but at the same time it's like saying, "I can't live without you. I can't do anything without you." The song is the perfect dichotomy between where relationships fall apart.
That ambiguity is scarier than anything else. What's scarier than not knowing?
Nothing. I've found love is one of the most integral parts of hate and vice versa. You cannot love someone completely unless you fully hate them and you hate everything about them. Those certain things that you love about them shine, and that's why you would do anything for that person. You know everything about them. You understand everything you hate about them and you know why you hate it. That's what makes you love them so much. Love without hate isn't real. It's like alcohol with cigarettes or heroin without a needle [Laughs].
Was this record automatically ready for the stage?
No, but either way, it's all about letting people be a part of your world. If I make mistakes on stage, at least I know the people in front of me came to see me make mistakes.
It's not real if there aren't any mistakes here and there.
That's the point of this record. We don't want to make anything perfect because we're not. We want to make something that comes from us, that sounds like us and is us—which is not perfection. It's boring being perfect. At the same time, we're great songwriters. Quinn, Bert, Dan and Jeff write amazing songs together. It's just the beginning. There could be ten other Artwork records—one through ten. It'd be just as cool as calling the next record Sick With Your Eyes or some ridiculous shit [Laughs]. What do people call records? It's so funny. We could call it, October's Crust! Or The Used's Hey! That's My Bike! due out this September [Laughs]. Jesus, that's his bike! Someone stole my bike. For real! Some bum stole my bike out of my garage.
No, like a year ago! I've been looking for it for a year [Laughs]. We could call the album Slimer's Revenge!
That's an acoustic EP!
What are you reading lately?
I've been reading a lot of Irving Welsh. He wrote Trainspotting. I've been reading a lot of Chuck Palahniuk. His new book Pigmy is amazing. You've got to read it, man.
You should check out Guiellermo Del Toro's book, The Strain!
I did! I love Guiellermo! He's one of the best directors ever. Pan's Labyrinth was incredible. I love Blade II. He can do such mainstream movies and then full Spanish movies like Pan's Labyrinth. That dude rules. I've got to read Shutter Island before the movie. I love to read. Irving Welsh's new book Crime is incredible. He brings you into his world and he writes in that Scottish accent. It's so real. It's like you're right there. Pale Fire was like Irreversible before Irreversible. I've been getting back into my old childhood favorites like C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia is cool, but it's more like a fair tale. He gets deep on Screwtape Letters. It's about this worm, this screwtape who is writing letters back and forth with the devil on how he should fuck this guy's life up. I'm reading The Great Divorce right now, which is about this guy who's in Hell and he takes a bus to Heaven to check it out. It's twisted. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to hang out every day and debate. Everyone thought C.S. Lewis was the hardcore Christian. The exact opposite was true. J.R.R. Tolkien was a huge Christian, Lewis was the guy that was like, "I don't buy into that shit, man. Let's smoke some more weed and talk about it." They were always debating back and forth. It reflects in Lewis's work. Narnia is obviously his most celebrated work, but his other work is incredible.
When are you going to release a book?
Soon! I've been writing one for a long time.
Do you like living in L.A.?
I love Venice. Fuck Hollywood and all of the scabs. The Hollywood lowlifes have the biggest egos. It's cool to be close to Hollywood and observe from the outside in. Living where I live, there are a lot of artists. I like it around here. It is what it is. It's definitely not Utah. That's for sure.