Bert McCracken of The Used is now officially an Australian resident. He’s just received his papers on the same day I talk to him and he’s excited enough to demonstrate just how Australian he is: “Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi oi oi, ’Straya, mate!” Although he lives in Sydney, right now he’s in Milwaukee as his band is one-third of the way through a run of sold-out dates on a co-headlining tour with Taking Back Sunday.
Today he gets a day off from touring to do press and catch up on some light reading. “I’m reading Hannah Arendt’s The Origins Of Totalitarianism,” he says. “It’s quite interesting I guess, if you are interested in that kind of thing.” McCracken’s also been diving into the heady work of Italian writer Umberto Eco. “His essay book, Inventing The Enemy, really inspired a lot of the lyrics and the content for this record,” he says.
That record is Imaginary Enemy, The Used’s newly released sixth album. The politics are central to songs like ‘A Song To Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work In Progress)’, which also happens to be one of the heaviest songs they’ve ever recorded. “That one came really quick,” McCracken says. “I wanted maybe a soapbox to stand on a little bit.”
All of the songs on the album came quickly this time around, as the band tried a new approach to writing and recording. Working in reverse to the full-band approach they normally take, guitarist Quinn Allman laid down some basic skeletons of the tracks and then McCracken wrote lyrics and melodies to suit them, before finally bringing the rest of the band in to record using as few takes as possible.
“Quinn had sketched out hours of just rough ideas,” McCracken says. “I had a massive amount of melodies. When I’m sitting around at home I’ll hum a melody and record it on my phone, so it was cool to be able to work the songs backwards. Start with the melody and a lyrical idea first and see what we had to play with.”
In a way, he was getting closer to the music he loved as a kid. “I grew up listening to Michael Jackson and a lot of what you would consider pop music back then. I really come from a place of being a huge fan of melody, so to be able to control that from the other side is really cool. Also, just taking that approach frees you up to experiment and play around with different transitions. It’s nice that way.”
While he admits that “‘pop’ is a kind of tricky word,” especially in the context of hardcore music, there is definitely an element of pop in The Used’s most anthemic and catchy singalongs. McCracken says he likes the way these straightforward structures allow him to communicate his ideals – he really does believe revolution is just around the corner – even when it’s what he calls an “almost cringingly simple message to absorb.”
For someone who can tend towards the dogmatic, he’s very open with regard to how people can best enjoy his band’s music. “I like people to listen to music any way that they can,” he says. “Get a hold of it, stream it, download it for free, steal it from a rich person, give it to a poor person, enjoy the message, absorb the lyrics, read them over and over and over, read my essays – or not. Just enjoy the drumming, or the bass. Jeph [Howard] went crazy on this record; the bass is simply fantastical, funkadelic rock. Amazing. And Quinn just continuously blows my mind. His skill on the guitar is so unique, he plays unlike anyone else.”
Imaginary Enemy out now through Hopeless/UNFD.