Bert McCracken is tired of talking about Kelly.
"Who? Kelly? Kelly Clarkson?" he said, running his fingers through his jet-black, scraggly mane. "I haven't talked to her in a while. Last time I talked to her, she was American Idol-in', though."
McCracken's not ducking a question about the former Idol champ, but rather his former flame, Kelly Osbourne. Their on-again, off-again relationship was front and center throughout much of the second season of "The Osbournes," and to millions of viewers, McCracken came across as a crusty, spotlight-hungry brat. And because his band, the Used, scored a hit record soon thereafter, many were quick to write them off as passengers on Kelly's coattails. Which is why there's so much riding on the Used's second album, In Love and Death.
"Yeah, I feel pressure all the time. We just came out of nowhere into something out of our control," McCracken said. "But this is what I've dreamed of my whole life. I've always wanted to do this. I feel that I was born to do this. And I'm not going to throw this all away."
Basically, the only way McCracken could throw everything away is if he were to return to his old, hard-living ways. He's made it plain that he's struggled with drug and alcohol abuse in the past (see [article id="1456134"]"Now That the Used Are No Longer Using, Life is Unreal"[/article]), and though he doesn't claim to be 100-percent sober, McCracken seems to realize how important it is for him to keep it together.
"I know that if I fall into my old habits, then I'm going to lose everything I have," he said. "I'm going to lose my friends, lose my fans ... lose my tour bus. I'm going to lose everything. And this music is really keeping me on the straight-and-narrow -- kind of."
McCracken's high-wire act is what breathes tension into In Love and Death. And at several points on the record, he sounds as if he just might lose it. The first single, "Take It Away" is rife with mentions of suicide and self-abuse. "A Light With a Sharpened Edge" is heavy with defeatist mentions of "giving up." And "Cut Up Angels" is a love song ... about a hanging and a shooting.
"It's about a relationship with someone you love so much that you could absolutely kill them," McCracken said. "And that kind of love only comes from really knowing someone like I've been able to know my band or my parents. Being a part of someone's life means you get to know everything you can't stand about that person. And most of the time, those are the things you end up loving the most."
It's telling that McCracken mentions wanting to kill his band -- because for the majority of In Love and Death's recording sessions, his bandmates probably wanted to do the same thing to him. The band fought constantly about the direction of the album, and clashed with producer John Feldmann on more than one occasion.
"There was always some kind of butting-heads going on, whether it was big or little stuff," said drummer Branden Steineckert. "It created this underlying tension throughout the record."
To make matters worse, McCracken lost two close friends during the album's recording (he dedicated the LP to one of them, a girl named Katie), but his struggles seem to have instilled him with a newfound resolve. And the combative recording process is also what gave the album its caustic bite and bitter aftertaste -- just like McCracken wanted it.
"I think everything that went into the record -- me having lost two friends, tension within the band and tension with our producer -- was mostly positive," he said, "because it all made the songs come together like magic."
The Used's tour dates, according to the band's publicist: