The Used’s Bert McCracken Talks New Album, Becoming a Business Man
The Used just unleashed ‘I Come Alive,’ the first single from their forthcoming album, ‘Vulnerable.’ But Noisecreep hadn’t heard any music when frontman Bert McCracken did this interview just days before Christmas. A press release had just gone out announcing the formation of the Utah band’s new record label, Anger Music Group, and new distribution deal with Hopeless Records.
McCracken said the album, due March 27, is in the can and the final two songs would be mixed and mastered in early January. Now, they are working on artwork and video direction. They are their own label after all. “Yup,” McCracken laughs. “We’ve got to do everything. It’s really exciting.”
Dental Records, the original name you had for your label, was really cool. Anger Music Group is a great name too. Did those come quickly?
Maybe eight years ago, me and my friends were always joking around about starting a record label called Dental Records, but it was taken by somebody in Sweden or something.
Anger Music Group – I keep wanting to say ‘anger management group’ – that’s just as good.
One of our best friends of all time is our manager now for the past year and a half, and I can’t remember, I think it was maybe Jeph [Howard, The Used’s bassist] who thought up Anger Music Group, which was pretty cool, so we just thought we’d roll with it. But instead of starting just a record label to release records, we figured everything is changing so fast in music, no reason to have simply a record label when you could have a complete art production company, so all-inclusive to management, fashion, video directing, anything – anything that has anything to do with the production of art.
Going outside The Used as well?
That’s a big undertaking. You’re going to be businessmen.
Yes, definitely. It’s been a lot of hard work so far, but now that it’s all coming together, it feels really good.
Are you the divvying up responsibilities? Is any one member really good at something for this company or are you hiring staff for it?
Our manager works his ass off pretty much 24/7 and then we all just pow-wow on decision-making.
Being with Warner for 10 years, noting the inner workings there, are there things that were positive that you took and applied to Anger Music Group or even tips from speaking with fellow musicians who have their own label?
Definitely, we learned a lot through Warner. We definitely got exactly what we needed from the company in the 10 years that we were part of it. We learned a lot about radio; we learned a lot about the actual art packaging and distribution in every single way. In a big way, record labels are slowly falling to pieces so we’ve scooped up freelance people who used to work for labels and are now working for us.
Some musicians just want to make music and don’t like the business side. What part of the business are you gung-ho about?
For now, I’ve just been concentrating on the music. I’m excited about the fact that we’re putting out our own record. No one can tell us anything. It is exactly what we want it to be, so that’s super exciting. But in the future, I’d like to venture into tons of different areas of art. I’d like to start a little clothing line with a good friend of mine. Maybe, hopefully, someday, open up a restaurant and that could be all-inclusive to Anger Management, as well through the Music Group. Who knows? But I think keeping it this broad and vague is perfect for what we’re trying to go for because the possibilities are endless at this point.
Would you have stayed with Warner if you had the choice?
I like to say it like we felt like we got dumped when we had been trying to break up with our girlfriend for years [laughs].
Do you think if they kept you, then you couldn’t be bothered to fight to get off the label and you would’ve just stayed with them?
They’d already picked up the option for our fifth record. So they’d already given us money to stat making the record and then dropped us. So I think we would’ve made this record with them and it would have been a nightmare, just like the last one [2009’s ‘Artwork’]. I mean, we really started to butt heads towards the end. They wanted to get really involved in the creative side and kind of killed a lot of the passion in the last record for me. A lot of the songs that I really enjoyed in the beginning, it fell to pieces the more the suits got involved.
But you’re working again with John Feldmann (Goldfinger), who you didn’t on the last album, but had on first three. He signed you way back when, didn’t he? He was doing A&R for Warner.
He was definitely the facilitator. He flew us out to LA and recorded our demos for free and then introduced us to our management, which then shopped us to every major label that existed at the time.
Had you tapped him for this album before you knew your fate with Warner?
It’s been a long process. We kind of didn’t get together with him ’til June or July.
Was that after you had started Anger Music Group?
In the process of starting it. So he was really helpful in the whole process. He kind of worked for free until we really had enough resources to pay him.
Then you went to different distribution companies? What were you looking for in a distributor for the label and album?
We were looking for distribution, period, but when we started meeting with these companies, the thing about Hopeless that really attracted us is their involvement with charity. They are really passionate about the charities they work with and for us, at this point in our career we’re all really passionate about giving back.
What are you involved with charity-wise and what Hopeless does?
Hopeless has just raised over a million dollars, they just celebrated, for a variety of different charities. They work with a lot of youth organizations. I know that they’re building a recording studio for homeless kids out in the Valley in Los Angeles, so kids on the street can go have a place to hang out and get a bite to eat and maybe write music with musicians and maybe write a song.
I’m really passionate about equality for gay and lesbians. I think that it’s really important that the world finally just let’s go of all the hatred. So for me, I’m really passionate about that. I’m really passionate about kids [not] getting bullied in school and getting picked on because I was always the kid getting tripped and beat up after school. So those are just a few.
Well the album is called ‘Vulnerable.’ The homeless and gay youth could be included in that set. Do you have any plans to tie it in?
Nothing’s set in stone, but we’re definitely going to be involved. Nothing’s been talked about really.
Listen to ‘I Come Alive’ From The Used
Tell us a little bit about the album, the song themes and the sound.
The whole record is really a Used record and really plays back to a lot of the emotion from the first record [2002’s ‘The Used’]. For all the hardcore Used fans out there, I think they’re going to be surprised and excited. We’ve just taken a different approach to writing the songs. Mostly [before], we would get together as a band and jam the songs out, so they come from guitar and drum ideas and this time, more so than ever, we’ve pretty much written the whole record on a keyboard and on a computer. So it has a more influenced drum ‘n’ bass, and maybe even hip hop and R&B feel, mixed in with the big guitar sound of The Used. I think it sounds like the future. It really sounds very modern for us. There’s a lot of tricky twists and turns in the songs that you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate.
Does that mean you might have remixes done for clubs?
I think we’re going to remix a few songs, but we’re definitely going to try to steer away from trendy dance, the whole feel. I don’t want to discourage anyone from liking whatever they want, but the whole top 40 dance feel and even the drum ‘n’ bass dub-step, that’s totally not us, but we’ve always had elements of electronic sounds in our music. So we’re definitely open to experiment.
And are the lyrics tied in with the album title, ‘Vulnerable?’
Yeah, for me, working on this record for what seems like a year, around last March I was in a serious accident, fell off the stage, broke my elbow and my hand. I was down for the count for about three months and in this time I realized that the best way to be the most powerful person you can be is allow yourself to be vulnerable. I think that in life that’s really the only way that we can have great experiences is to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Like falling in love, I don’t think that you can be able to unless you allow yourself that vulnerability. So these songs are about becoming more than just the person you are and a lot about rising up, falling down and getting back up. I like to write about that a lot, in general, but this record has a bit more positive feel than the other records. At this point in my life, I really needed some words to stand on.
And what is the first single about?
The song is ‘I Come Alive’ and it’s really about exactly what I was just talking about – falling down and picking yourself back up. I think that life is about successes and failures, and if we take the successes and failures all with the same amount of importance then it helps us become the people we are. There’s no success without failure along the way.
The Used’s ‘I Come Alive’ single will be available on Jan. 17 through iTunes. ‘Vulnerable’ will be out on March 27 via Anger Music Group/Hopeless Records.