Bert McCracken of The Used is Mad as Hell and He's Not Gonna Take It Anymore

The screaming frontman opens up about communism, the music industry, and drinking out of prosthetic legs.

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Apr 21 2014, 6:37pm

Take a moment and acknowledge how the world’s gaping structural inequities and the indomitable systemic corporate interests supporting them have set civilization on a swift and bloody path to Mad Max-style degradation, probably before Yeezy drops a new sneaker.

Who better to register the apocalypse than Bert McCracken, lead singer of The Used? He spent his teenage years struggling with drug addiction and homelessness, and made a career screaming his pain away with such force that he used to throw up on stage. Now he’s sober, happily married, and raising a child in Australia. He's calmer, maybe, but not softerwhen I Skyped with him a few weeks ago it became clear that Bert is coming for the system. At his show in New York last Wednesday he pulled no punches, exhorting the audience to steal from the rich and give to the poor.

Call him naive
Bert's Occupy-esque radicalism is the sort of thing you read snarky web-based publications to avoid thinking about. Give him a chance though. He's intense, sure, but he's not wrong, and in a dying world bursting with native advertising and self-aware corporate Twitter accounts I admire the refreshing sincerity of a guy who doesn’t know how to wear his heart anywhere but on his sleeve. Check out the new album Imaginary Enemy and, if you're in NYC, don't miss the show tonight with Taking Back Sunday at Best Buy Theater in Manhattan.

Noisey: How's Australia?
Bert McCracken: It’s wonderful, it’s a beautiful day, probably 75 degrees. Yeah, there’s a lot of differences for Americans who are so used to the convenience of American ignorance. It might be a bum out for some people, but I love it. They protect small businesses here, and we have a real health care system.

What do you do on weekends?
I’m kind of a homebody to be honest, I read a lot, and I just had a baby 24 days ago.

Wow, you must be pretty busy.
It’s hectic. Nothing can prepare you, people talk all this shit in the world, but it’s like once it really goes down it’s incredible.

At what age are you going to first play her your music?
Right when she was conceived we started playing her The Used songs, so she’s very familiar with the new record.

What does she think of it?
She seems to really, really enjoy it. She’s quite a peaceful little anarchist.

Tell me about the new record. How long you been working on it for?
I was in LA, through October and November, it was kind of a firestorm. Like any record, any book, any piece of art, I think it’s important to capture the moment—right now I’ve really opened my eyes to the world. I’ve really had a bit of transformation in the last two or three years. The thing I most enjoy about being on stage is when I can actually see people smiling in reaction to the music—If people can be led to smiles, they can also maybe be led to action too. We have the opportunity to really change things.

If you were in control of the world what would you change?
I would make everybody in control, there would be no leaders but a horizontal group movement and effort, where everybody is the citizen of a more pure ideal. I’d like to have faith that we don’t need to one up each other and I don’t think we live in a world where its every man for himself. If we as people learn who we are and who is oppressing us, who’s part of this process of dehumanization, then there will be inevitable revolution and it’s just as simple as that.

To what extent do politics influence your songwriting now?
I’m not pushing any specific ideas and I know the people are afraid of communismthe examples we have, as far as Russia and China are horrible examples. They weren’t communist movements, they were fascist totalitarian movements, but I think introducing big questions is great. The Used has always kept it big enough to where it might be something going on personally in your life in the moment, but it’s about the bigger picture and I think this record focuses more on the macro world.

It seems like an interesting trajectory towards thinking more about pain you see around you than on how you're feeling.
I think its becoming cultural, I think it’s almost becoming popular to talk about the problems in the world, and we haven’t seen that since the late sixties-early seventies when art was directed towards this ridiculous world of injustice. There’s a lot of things to focus on and American culture is so distracted. We watch commercials and reality TV, which is just the furthest from reality—I remember growing up and watching Saturday Night Live, and it was hilarious—there’s something so special about those parody commercials. And then what the true advertisers of propaganda did was to copy those parody commercials that we loved and used tricky, tricky ways to sell us things.Iit’s gone too far.

They’ve definitely co-opted irony, the corporations.
It has always been a plan for democracy, because if the common people really understand what’s going on they will come at the leaders throats. [Laughs] I think people should watch a little less Duck Dynasty, and whatever Kanye's wife's name is.

How do you think American culture has changed since The Used first started?
When we first went on tour, you would find a little bit of personality in all these small places in the United States, and they’ve all slowly become carbon-copies of one another with TGI Friday’s stacked right in a row. Just the amount of unhappy people, when people can’t afford to be part of economic centers of fundamental life, it’s devastating. We know what happens past that. People create their own economies and look for ways to escape, like drugs and alcohol. It’s changing so slowly that it’s kind of hard to realize, but I don’t think the younger generation is gonna fall for this kind of bullshit. You know, my daughters not gonna be homophobic or racist, I hope not.

How do you feel about the music industry in the context of these kind of corporate interests you're talking about?
Henry David Thoreau said some pretty cool things about civil disobedience, and about how men just have no time to pursue anything that makes them happy when they’re part of such a monstrous machine. If you look at the state of the music industry, it’s just like any other aspect of economics, it’s the same type of trickle down economics you see everywhere else in the world. We’re actually trying to start, and we’re probably going to launch in March, around the tour, the first ever free music record label, which will be called G.A.S. Union, it’s an acronym for ‘Give A Shit’. It’s going to be humanitarian based, but we’re tackling music first and we believe if you took off all the scabs, all the fat rich fucks who don’t have anything to do with music, or even like music, that art can exist as a true patron-to-artist kind of relationship.

How will that work financially?
We’ll take everything that has worked so far, like the Radiohead donation process, crowd funding, and combine ‘em all into something that works and hopefully in the next ten years, make everything free, not only records but concerts too. With advertising nowadays, the true cost of my record, is someone’s labor at McDonalds or whatever, and I just want people to be free. Music is free anyways, so I think it’s ridiculous to spend a bunch of time trying to block all the holes in the wall that let the water through, when we should just knock down the wall. We should just breakthe barriers down and embrace the new way. You know, I stream music, I stream movies, it’s an incredible—whether or not the artists get paid fair, it’s not up for debate, because we know that they don’t, but sitting around complaining about it, and to only talk about problems and not solutions will never solve anything. But look for GAS Union.

One last question: what's the craziest gift you’ve evergotten from a fan?
We had a kid try to give us his prosthetic leg, which actually had a keg in it, a keg tap, so you could drink beer out of his leg. We couldn’t accept it, it was like a $10,000 leg. He threw it onstage, and then came hung with us on our bus after. Super cool.

Did you drink from his leg?
I did! I was still drinking at the time and I had some drinks. [laughs]

Ezra Marcus would have kept the leg. His Twitter is @ezra_marc