MUSIC INTERVIEW: The Used
Photo Credit: Brian Cox
2020 is a big year for The Used. Celebrating two decades together, the Utah quartet are stronger than ever as they release their eighth studio album, Heartwork. We recently caught up with bassist Jeph Howard to discuss the stories behind the album, releasing music during a global pandemic and more.
You release your new album Heartwork this week, what’s the overall feeling amongst you guys in the run up to an album release?
Y’know it’s usually a bit of both nervousness and excitement, but I think this time the excitement is kinda overwhelming. We’ve been doing a lot of online push for it y’know of course, we’re all at home so we can’t tour! But it’s been a lot of fun seeing the response from all of the artwork that’s been released, we’ve been releasing a song a day that goes along with the tarot card, a lyric video that goes along with a song. The response has been explosive, it’s been really awesome.
It’s great to hear that you’re being so creative in the run up to release despite everything that’s going on. Does it feel different to usual releasing an album during a pandemic?
Yeah, of course! I mean this is unprecedented, this has never happened in our lifetime. The exciting part is that it’s one world, it’s becoming more and more apparent overall that it is one world and that’s what we’re facing. This is a world problem. No matter how you look at it, conspiracy or non-conspiracy it doesn’t really matter, either way we’re one world involved together to do something. I hope the right people win, you know what I’m saying? Whatever that means, and however that means…but other than that it’s been interesting. We have a song that was released a couple of days ago, called Cathedral Bell, and it’s interesting because this song is one of my favourite songs on the entire record. It really struck me when we were writing it and the overall ending of how the song came out really sticks with me. This song also have an undertone of being trapped, being confined and being stuck in a place, so it’s really interesting for that to be released when everybody is pretty much on a home quarantine. It kinda fits the theme which is a very odd thing that wouldn’t have happened normally.
Some bands have been postponing their releases, was it an easy or difficult decision to stick to the original release date of 24th April?
Y’know, it just seems like we’ve been pushing it for so long for this date that if we changed it, maybe it would just lose it. This gives people the chance to listen to the record by themselves, take in the vibe however they need it. I kinda think it’s more exciting to be able to be stuck with a record as opposed to just having another record be released.
We agree and a lot of people listen to new music on their daily commute so they won’t take everything in as much.
Yeah that’s what I’m thinking to.
Heartwork is your eighth studio album. It feels like you’re taking elements from your back catalogue whilst maintaining a fresh sound. What is the writing process like for The Used? Do you have a go-to formula or does it vary on each record?
It’s very interesting. So we’ve been a band I think in May, it’s exactly twenty years. Maybe before May, it may even be this month. It’s a little vague when we exactly started. Either way, it’s twenty years this year and over those twenty years it’s really been different almost each record. There’s been certain ideas that stick the same. I personally, because it’s different for each one of us, like jamming and coming together, throwing out an idea and jam through that, but that isn’t always necessarily the right way to go about it.
On this record we ended up jamming and being together and writing about 20-30 ideas over a year period. The little time we have, like two weeks here, a week there, on the road a week here, and when we got to the studio we ended up scrapping the whole thing and just starting over. Which normally seems scary, but we’ve done that before in the past and this time it just felt right. I think it was the best choice overall because all of the stuff we came up with in the studio, the ideas we were jamming in the studio, I think turned out way better than all of those other ideas we had, it was kinda interesting. It was like pre-prepping to actually write the record by writing all of those songs.
That’s really cool, you’ve been a band for that long yet taking those risks keeps it exciting and fresh. So the record features a lot of guest appearances, you’ve got Jason Aalon Butler [Fever 333, letlive.], Travis Barker [Blink-182], Mark Hoppus [Blink-182, Simple Creatures] and Caleb Shomo [Beartooth]. Did you always have them in mind to guest on the record or did it come about naturally?
Y’know, over the years we’ve added a couple of people on songs just because we really look up to their band, or they happen to be a friend of ours or something similar like that. This record, it all happened really naturally. We were very lucky, because we’d known the Blink guys not as like, super friends, or anything like that, but we’ve known the Blink guys, we’ve toured with them before so we’ve been acquaintances, so it’s not like it was that weird having them come over, but it was the first time that we’ve actually done something together.
Jason too, we’ve toured with Fever, we’ve toured with letlive., we’re a big fan of him and his voice, really. All of the bands he has been in are awesome and he’s such a stand-up human being. If you ever met him and talked to him, he is an ultimate inspirational human I think. So when we got the chance to have him on the record, it kinda happened almost overnight. We had a song, Blow Me, we kept jamming this outro part and we were like “we should have someone else sing on here…” I think Bert [McCracken, vocals] said it. Then John Feldmann was like “oh I know Jason, I’ll just call him right now and see what he’s up to.” Or maybe somebody else who said we should have Jason on…either way, Jason came over like a day later and he wrote all of the lyrics for his part and sang it within like an hour. And it was perfect! It was awesome.
Caleb, same thing. We had this part that we just kept trying to make heavier and heavier and heavier, and we were searching for a singer to come sing on it. We were trying different people and searching around, and then we thought about Caleb from Beartooth. We’d never met him, but we love his band, we like his music and his voice, so it’s a similar kind of thing. We just happened to know somebody who knows him and that’s how that one worked out.
You’ve probably made some good friends out of it too!
Oh definitely, this record has been so much fun overall. The most fun I’ve had recording, maybe forever.
We love that! Could you share a story or fact about the record that we may not know?
Yes, actually! Paradise Lost, a poem by John Milton, that song. The verse guitar is actually Bert playing the guitar on it, just the verse part where it cuts out and it’s just guitar and vocals. That part is Bert, because we wanted to have that sort of Nirvana feel to it a little bit, y’know what I mean? Bert’s guitar playing kinda fits that vibe a little bit. I don’t think Bert has ever played guitar on the record before, so that’s why it was so much fun. I think there’s actually a video on one of our media outlets, it might be Instagram or Facebook I don’t know, of Bert actually playing the part for the part that was recorded which is really interesting!
We’re going to have to listen back to that part!
It’s fun because it’s so brutal, it’s just guitar and vocals so you can’t help but hear it.
So let’s talk about John Feldmann. He’s been there since the beginning, he signed you in 2002 to Reprise Records…
Yeah, he found us out of Utah. Well, we found him and then he found us if that makes sense. He’s kind of a brother.
He’s produced several of your records and fast forward to 2020 and he’s signed you to Big Noise. How does it feel to be working with him again in a label capacity?
It’s awesome. We’ve all grown up, twenty years is a long time, we’ve all been through a lot of emotions, a lot of changes…I know I have. I’ve been really stubborn in the past, or just really confused. My knowledge level and my emotional level, everything has kind of bloomed in a way and I feel like John has too in his own way. He’s really bloomed and he’s such an amazing person, and doing this record with him has really opened my eyes to the family that we have. I feel so strong about our family, being in the studio, getting this record out and having that creative freedom. I mean, I’m talking for all of the music, but especially on my bass parts just me…I don’t mean that to sound arrogant…but I mean it in the way that I felt free. I didn’t feel trapped, I felt really good. I’m always getting goosebumps about how good I felt on this record.
That’s really nice, and you’re right family is so important. To have that team around you where you feel so comfortable, it’s the key to creativity.
Totally, it’s almost like, not negativity, but you know when there’s tension…tension is good for some things, but when you’re trying to record something and there’s some negative tension it kind of stifles all creativity. It overwhelms it. Sometimes that’s needed and wanted for a part, but as an overall idea for creativity it just doesn’t help.
So you have been a band for almost twenty years now, if you could turn back the clock to 2001 what is one piece of advice you would give yourself?
We have been a band for twenty years, 2001…our demo was even done by 2001 [laughs] I’m not correcting you I’m just throwing this out there. We made a lot of mistakes where we had a shirt that said we started in 2001, we just didn’t get it re-printed and we kept selling them, and we even had other people who kept saying 2001 and we didn’t correct them. We even went back and we’ve found the area of time that we started and we were like okay, we’re pretty sure it was April or May of 2000, so we know that. We just weren’t really paying attention, not that it really matters because it doesn’t but I’m just throwing that out there!
You’re like no really, it’s our twentieth birthday and everybody else is like no, it’s not! The internet says so [laughs].
[Laughs] you don’t get it! It’s really funny, but yeah it’s crazy. It’s been a long journey…if I could go back in time I would tell myself to relax a little more. I was always worried about the dumbest shit. I mean, I was worried about a lot of other peoples’ perception on the idea of our band. Thinking that we sold out because we something, we made a mistake in other peoples’ eyes. That’s the dumbest thing to worry about, there’s no point. No matter what people are going to have their opinions, and it’s not like I’m looking, well I was, I don’t do this and I don’t care anymore, it’s not like I was looking up reviews of our record or anything and cared what people thought about our record. I think I was just worried about letting people down. That’s really it, that’s the honest opinion. I didn’t want to let ours fans down, I didn’t want to let down people that liked our band or cared about us, that’s such a weird thing to think about, but I think I just held our fans in such high respect, that I didn’t want to do something wrong against them.
That’s a good thing though, in a way, in any walk of life it’s important that you care about other people.
Now I care still, but I’m also less worried about it. I’m just more relaxed, I’m like if you’re going to hate us because you think of something or you think that’s why…it’s like when you’re dating someone and you guys split up and all of a sudden you have these friends that you both have, right? Then one side of the story is told to those friends and all of a sudden those friends don’t like you anymore. Even though they didn’t know the whole story, maybe that person was cheating on you or did something else screwed up but they don’t say that part. They just say what was wrong. You have enemies that you didn’t do anything for and that’s why I think too much. Now I just don’t care, it’s like if you’re going to hate me because, well, whatever – well that’s your own fault!
It’s wasted energy at the end of the day.
Right! It’s hard to tell yourself that when you’re a kid.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, do you have a final message for our readers?
Honestly, I appreciate you so much. Thank you. I’m so excited about this record, I’m so excited about these songs, I can’t wait to start touring again. I’m so excited about touring, I’m so excited about this record and this music that we’ve been coming up with, I’m excited about the future. The future of The Used is really bright right now. It’s exciting to see where this is going to lead us.
We’re excited to see where it takes you too and just think how amazing it will feel when we can all go back out socialising, going to gigs!
[Laughs] yeah, tell me about it! It’s going to be a lot of fun.