Now That The Used Are No Longer Using, Life Is ‘Unreal’

Utah rockers touring on Ozzfest, plan to hook up with Box Car Racer.

Q: What do you get when you combine Mormons, homelessness, drug
addiction, poetry, heavy metal, alt-punk and emo?

A: The Used — a tangled mass of thrillingly contradictory sounds
and messages that will likely appeal to both headbangers and mopey, lovelorn
rockers.

The Utah band’s self-titled debut begins with the surging “Maybe Memories,”
which sounds like a cross between Deftones and Afghan Whigs and seesaws
between painful screams and stinging melodies. The rest of the album is even
more eclectic, aching like Dashboard Confessional on “Poetic Tragedy” and
yowling like Saves the Day on “The Taste of Ink.”

“Each of us comes from different backgrounds and inspirations,” explained
drummer Branden Steineckert, who formed the group 18 months ago with
vocalist Bert McCracken, bassist Jeph Howard and guitarist Quinn Allman. “So
when the four of us come together it creates what everyone else hears. In
the past we were in groups that tried to emulate other bands we like. But
now our sound comes from writing whatever came natural and not trying for a
particular sound or style.”

Aside from being shaped by their listening habits, the Used have been
profoundly affected by their backgrounds. Howard and Allman were non-Mormons
raised in a devoutly Mormon region of Utah, and McCracken and Steineckert
both grew up in Mormon households and later rebelled against their strict
upbringings.

“I had certain beliefs shoved in my face all my life. So it wasn’t until an
older age when I started thinking for myself and choosing my own direction,”
Steineckert said. “We all wouldn’t be who we are if it wasn’t for our
parents and families and all those things being the way they were.”

“There was a long time when I just wasn’t willing to do the whole Mormon
thing, and my parents couldn’t deal with that so they kicked me out,”
McCracken said. “I just kicked it around wherever, slept in the park or at
friends’ houses — wherever I could crash.”

While the Used haven’t officially released a single yet, “A Box Full of
Sharp Objects” is receiving radio play, and a live video for the song is in
rotation at video outlets.

“That song, for me, is about drugs and alcohol and loss and love,” rambled
McCracken. “It’s about being proud of who you are, being proud of your
situation and just being stoked that things are always going to get better
or always gonna get worse and that’s such a great thing. Every day is a new
surprise.”

The single was inspired mostly by the singer’s drug experiences, which
ranged from being arrested for being high and trying to buy alcohol after
hours to watching one of his peers destroyed by the substances he himself
was so reliant on.

“One of my ex-girlfriend’s really good friends passed away of a drug
overdose, and that was kind of crazy at the time ’cause we were all out of
our minds.”

Lots of hedonistic rockers get hooked on drugs after they join a touring
rock band, but the camaraderie of being in the Used has had a calming effect
on McCracken.

“For a long time I was really off the deep end using needles,” he said. “But
all these guys are clean and sober and they’re good guys, and they’ve helped
me out a lot. … I don’t think it would have worked out if it hadn’t been
these guys.”

The Used will likely follow “A Box Full of Sharp Objects” with “The Taste of
Ink.” While the Ozzfest nation the band is currently playing for might take
it as a tribute to tattoos, the song is literally about accidentally ending
up with a mouthful of ink.

“It’s pretty much about being frustrated and maybe biting on a pen,”
McCracken said. “It means a lot of different things to me.”

After the Used finish Ozzfest, they’ll hit the road with Box Car Racer,
whose drummer, Travis Barker, is a big fan. Barker received the Used’s
record from manager Paul Gomez, who has known Blink-182 for years, and the
drummer was so impressed he asked them to open a string of shows in October.

“We actually played a show with them and Good Charlotte at the Warped Tour
kickoff party, and it was awesome. They just really wanted us out on the
tour, so that’s gonna be so good for us.”

In less than a year, the Used have gone from total obscurity to budding rock
stars. They’re still pretty far from being able to buy country houses, but
they’re grateful for all they’ve received.

“Every day seems like a dream,” said Steineckert. “We used to have a
refrigerator that was always empty because all of our money went to barely
being able to make rent. We’d sell CDs or clothes just to buy groceries or
pay bills. And now here we are living out of a bus and we’re able to eat a
couple meals a day. We’ve got a record in stores, and we’re doing what we
love for a living. It’s unreal.”