EXCLUSIVE: Listen To The Used's Brand-New Track "The Lighthouse" Featuring Blink-182's Mark Hoppus
The Used are days away from releasing Heartwork, their first album in three years, and Bert McCracken, the frontman behind the almost 20-year-old band, hasn’t been this excited since they dropped their first two records in the early 2000s.
Heartwork, the follow-up to 2017's The Canyon, sounds like a sonic trip back in time to the Utah band’s 2002 self-titled debut—an album with a powerful mesh of post- and pop-punk aesthetics that first introduced us to McCracken's emotional screams and raw emo lyricism. John Feldmann, who produced the album, is also back on Heartwork, which is set to drop on April 24. But as much as the band is going back to what McCracken calls "the basics," the new music also reflects the Used’s evolution as a band.
Home to such already-released singles as "Cathedral Bell" and "Bloody Nose," Heartwork houses big-name features with pop-punk/emo peers Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus. The Recording Academy is exclusively premiering Hoppus' feature, "The Lighthouse," which you can watch below.
In an email to the Recording Academy, the Blink lead vocalist describes "The Lighthouse" as "one of those songs that came together very quickly, with everybody excitedly throwing ideas around... What emerged from the session is a track we’re all very proud of, and I hope everyone likes it as much as we do."
Even better, as a special thanks to essential workers on the pandemic frontlines, the Used are inviting fans to be a part of the song's forthcoming music video. They can submit videos of nurses, doctors, grocery store clerks, etc., now through April 28.
Speaking to the Recording Academy from Australia, McCracken tells us about eating vegan donuts in the studio with Hoppus, how Heartwork stands out from the rest of the group's catalog and more.
Bert, how are you?
All things considered, doing well.
You're about to release an album, and you're doing something really cool by releasing some tracks early. We're sharing "The Lighthouse" featuring Mark Hoppus today. How was it working with him? Has this been something that's been a long time coming?
Yeah, it's cool being able to tour with all sorts of different kinds of bands and we've toured with tons of big bands, Blink's one of the biggest, but they've also been one of the most generous and humble and down to earth and caring and kind. It's crazy touring with a band that would strike the entire stage for your gear, and just going out of the way to always be really, really sweet to us.
It's amazing to get to be in the studio and to experience his creative mind. He's a different kind of writer. He is really quick fire. It's really cool to watch him work like that. And yeah, he's pretty legendary, even for someone who's outside of the whole world of pop-punk it's still like, oh, huge deal. So, we're beyond excited and yeah, it was a pleasure. I think it was a long time coming, but it was an absolute pleasure. We did a couple of songs with him, so there's some unreleased stuff that will be out later on as well.
Dope. So, how did it begin? Was it a song that you started and were like, "I need Mark on this," or did you start it together?
We had a riff, but yeah, we brought him in and we just kind of sat. Feldmann's process in the studio is really quick as well. We usually kind of get a full demo a day. We had [Mark] in the studio and we ate three boxes of vegan donuts and drank all the coffee in the world. We had "The Lighthouse" by the end of the session. One of those times in the studio, you'll never forget. Magic, legendary.
I really think Heartwork is a great album. It's an reminiscent of your earlier work, but it's also you evolving as a band. And you worked with John Feldmann, who produced your debut. What was it like working with him again?
Yeah, it is a treat to be able to still have that relationship. He's an absolute wizard in the studio. There's not a person I've met who works harder and is more driven and I've met a lot of people, so just to say that John Feldmann is still part of the family. He's always had this kind of passion and love for the Used that's been so genuine from the beginning, even when we were nothing. So yeah, the way that it's all grown, it's just this kind of love and respect.
I was a lot harder to work with 10 years ago than I am now being a dad and a little bit more grown and responsible and open-minded. So, we've been a long way together. I'm just absolutely grateful that nobody burned the bridge. And we're still brothers, and yeah, he's one of my favorite people on the planet and just awesome.
When you get into the studio, do you think about sounding like past albums? How open are you to new sounds?
Yeah, we are trying to focus on, especially this record, I think it was even talked about, we wanted to make sure we kept an open mind and everybody's ideas were valid for every part of it. So, my drum ideas were just as valid as our drummer's vocal ideas. In that way we kind of wanted to get in touch with the versions of ourselves who fell deeply, deeply, passionately in love with music. And that's usually in your teenage years. So, I think it sounds like all of our teenage influences, we're just trying to write just songs that we love, which will mean we will love to play them. For me, a catchy melody and a connection to the song lyrically and poetically has always been my favorite part of music. Never a direct kind of thought process, like, yeah, let's make something that sounds like the first two records. But the feeling, that was definitely a conscious move. It was like, let's make some music that feels free. I think the first two records really felt free. It was before social media and big market monsters behind... all trappings of the music industry that make it devastating for anybody to be a part of. We wanted to kind of live outside that world and live in what music is for us. And it's our form of therapy, it's our religion, it's our church. I think it's the soul to our lives.
What was different about where you're at now that made you want to be free from all that?
That's never really been part of the Used's bigger picture. We love the creation, we love the process of getting in the studio and recording what we've created and then we love the translation to how it comes out live. It's so fun for us. It just never has ever felt like work and I think that all the other stuff, the ingenuine and insincere moments, where you're trying to sell a product, for me, those have always felt like work. I think that it was never part of our plan to be one of the biggest bands in the world, that was selling out everywhere we went. All of my favorite bands growing up, if you look at their monthly stream count numbers, is really fairly low and maybe that's just concerning the content. I think we appreciate... I guess emo music has kind of become the catchphrase and the term, but I think any music that drives to the heart of things is, that tries to get in touch with humanity is, that's the type of music I would prefer.
When I think of emo music, the 2000s sound, I definitely think of the Used. How does it feel to be going down in history as one of the favorite bands under the emo umbrella?
Well, we are not one of the bands who gets upset about the beginnings or songs that people love. We celebrate our entire catalog and we're so proud of 20 years of this band. We're humbled and grateful to be any type, any part of the music that we can be. So yeah, we celebrate all of it. But I think that, for me, it feels like a celebration of everything that I loved growing up. I think inspiration is a really nice word for ripping something off. And all of my favorite bands and all my favorite books and all my favorite art in general, just kind of make its way into our sound and what people love about the Used. I think there's a lot of people who are like, there's a bigger picture.
You've been together for awhile, and the last album you released was in 2017. How was it getting back into the studio this time around?
It was really a good feeling. The last record we made was kind of an art project for me. I'd lost someone that was really close to me and I tried to make a record that kind of put art to the test, as far as how far you can grieve just with music alone. The concern was specifically selfish last time. And I think this time around, we're kind of back to were the Used started, really come full circle. I feel like these are songs about someone that we all know and love and you find a little bit of yourself in there. And the reason why we enjoy art is because we find ourselves in it. I think that it's kind of back to the basics with the Used and these catchy songs that we love, we kind of cover all the bases of who we are.
Songwriting-wise, you've never been afraid of emotion and have always gifted us with very personal moments, like overcoming addiction and heartbreak. Other than what you've mentioned, what parts of you are you sharing with us on this album?
I think a more mature and selfless look at growing up, in loss and love and everything in between. I think the subject matter is quite similar in that any good piece of art would kind of cover all bases. But this record, I think the concern and the reason why it had to be called Heartwork is, it was a concern from the very beginning, was just to get deeply in touch with whatever type of emotion we were trying to portray, whether it's maybe a bit vengeful, or victorious, or anything, to me, the record should celebrate the feeling at all costs. Heartwork felt like the appropriate title, but that was the conscious concern, was to try to write something that gets so close to the heart that I think that everybody will find a bit of themselves in it, almost genreless.
What I think about when I hear the title, is something definitely tied to healing vibes. Did you come up with that, or was it the whole band?
I think I'm just going to give credit to [bassist] Jeph Howard, but maybe he would say that I did come up with it. We have a record called Artwork that was a really painful struggle to make, and I was in a really, really dark place. This record was the polar opposite. There was not one moment, there was never any or arguments. Everybody was crazy respectful and physically, mentally, emotionally, I haven't been in this good of a place. We're all very well.
I think you can kind of hear that in the record and that allowed us, and we're not overwhelmed by the personal struggles that we're trying to capture in the songs, I think we got a little bit closer to it in a different light.
This is a perfect album for now, because there are some songs that you can just really... they make you want to get up and just rock out and let some energy out. What are you most excited for fans to enjoy about this record?
I love the extremes, the light and the dark, and the dichotomy on this record. So far, I think it's such a colorful, the record's so all over the place, that the journey along the way is a really, really worthwhile adventure. For me, two stand-out moments, the poppiest moment in the... I think the history of the Used, which is "Clean Cut Heals." And then the heaviest moment in the Used's career so far, which is "The Lottery," with Caleb from Beartooth. Can't wait for fans to be able to feel the polarization within the record, it's so fun for me.
Was the album at all affected by COVID-19?
Yeah, I mean, technically, I would be in the U.S. right now getting ready for a bunch of really cool live stuff and art show pop-ups. And we had all these really cool plans that now obviously can't happen. But, I think that people need art and healthy escape more than ever and so it was never a question in our mind whether or not to put it out. It's done. I've been listening to it nearly twice a day for three months now. [Laughs.] So I'm ready for everybody else to kind of just come join my party. It's a cool record for now. When you listen back and having no idea what was about to happen to all humans, there's lots of really cryptic, serendipitous messages on this record. We're about to put out another song too, right before the release, it's called "Cathedral Bell." It feels like a song that was written in quarantine, which is pretty crazy.
So, is this a first album that you love to listen to over and over and over, or is that usual for you?
It's not the typical, I think there's only been... it was definitely the first two records were that kind of excitement. But yeah, it's been a long time since I've been this excited about a Used record. So it's good. It's my favorite Used record so far. That could change. I know a lot of bands say that their favorite stuff is the stuff they're just working on, but I think this record is so standout and there's just... just like "The Taste Of Ink" from 20 years ago. This record has moments that, to me, feel like they have the potential to be kind of these timeless songs you hold close to your heart and you could go back to. So, really, the record has grown on me, it'll grow on everyone else, I hope.
You're looking to put together a special tribute for the people at the front lines of the epidemic, and you're looking for fans to help you. It's a really cool idea. How did it come about?
I think everybody's just scrambling to try to help. It's incredible, the people who have been put in a situation to be the most courageous. It's just what they do, it's what they always do. My wife is a midwife, so to see just a small glimpse of what it's like from the other side and just have such a huge respect for people who are putting their lives on the line at this time. Anything we can do. We're very, very fortunate and we're so lucky to be able to just make music for a living. And I'm not discrediting the importance and the power of music, I'm just saying, we do feel very lucky and until we can get back out there, we can only hope to help out in any way we can, right.
Is there something helping you through this moment?
I think that I've leaned on all of the things I know that I love. Family's easy because I'm really lucky to have that, but I also have a love and a passion for cooking, so I've been cooking quite a bit.
Are you baking bread?
I'm not really a baker. I'm more of a cook. [Laughs.] I have experimented with all sorts of different types of bread. We do our own pizza crust too. Whatever it is, we love to cook it up, and that's the perfect place for a family to make memories, is in the kitchen. It's pretty cool.