It's not often that a successful rock band comes out of Utah. In fact, the last big thing was probably the Osmonds, and that's not saying much. But the four-man hardcore punk/metal outfit the Used are clearing the path for religiously oppressed white-boy rockers from the suburbs with their eponymous debut album, and on Thursday, March 27th, they'll be bringing their angst-ridden anthems to the New Daisy Theatre.
Over the years, the teen-angst bit has become cliché, but the Used have put a whole new spin on the theme by blending an almost pop-punk, blink-182 sound with a dark and arty hardcore edge. Lead singer Bert McCracken belts out their generally gloomy lyrics in an uplifting sing-song way that would lead the unsuspecting listener to believe they actually make happy songs -- that is, until he interjects one of his guttural screams. That's what's so refreshing about the Used. McCracken seems to have a knack for placing his trademark roar in the most unusual places.
He'll be singing along and then -- boom! -- he's screaming. And sometimes puking. He has a habit of screaming so loud and hard that he makes himself throw up. And he does it right in the middle of the stage. It's a condition the other band members -- bassist Jeph Howard, drummer Branden Steineckert, and guitarist Quinn Allman -- have fondly named "Bertie's Madness." You can see the phenomenon for yourself in concert footage of their video for "A Box Full of Sharp Objects." McCracken even sings about his penchant for public vomiting in "Buried Myself Alive": "I guess it's okay I puked the day away/I guess it's better you trapped yourself in your own way."
Their lives growing up in the 'burbs provided them with a well-informed handle on the kind of teenage boredom and rebelliousness that follows a life surrounded by perfect white-trimmed houses and a Leave It To Beaver upbringing. The group's first single, "The Taste of Ink," is an ode to how stardom helped the band escape their boring lives: "At last it's finally over/Couldn't take this town much longer/Being half-dead wasn't what I planned to be/Now I'm ready to be free."
The few love songs on the album are hopeful and outline the conflict between an ideal relationship and a real one. In "Pieces Mended," McCracken fondly asks his lover to "Marry me/Stay the same/Lie to me and say you never will." "Maybe Memories," the first track on the album, is an uplifting song about how McCracken finally admitted and overcame addiction to heroin and crystal meth ("I know I'm stronger now/Who's looking south/Not me, I'm looking back/I'm done denying the truth to anyone").
The product of a traditional Mormon upbringing, McCracken's natural sense of rebelliousness turned him from a straight-edge religious kid to a jail-hopping addict overnight. At one time, he was staying up on meth for 40 hours at a time. When he began doing heroin, he weighed 82 pounds. It wasn't until he OD'd on heroin that he realized he had a problem. McCracken still smokes weed, but the other band members are, and have always been, straight-edge.
Fame didn't take long to find the Used. They got together in early 2001 and were signed to Reprise Records (a division of Warner Bros.) by the summer of 2002, but their short struggle to the top was laced with bouts of homelessness and McCracken's drug addiction.
Most of the local venues in their mostly white and very Mormon hometown of Orem, Utah, wouldn't book them throughout their coming-up days due to the intense amount of vulgarity -- the vomiting, lots of profanity, and the occasional free dripping of an open wound -- which was a regular part of their stage show.
Before Howard, Allman, and Steineckert met McCracken, they struggled with a bad lead singer and spent a lot of time in Utah crashing on friends' couches and occasionally panhandling to make some cash. They were determined to be stars and, for the most part, refused to work day jobs to avoid getting stuck in that rut. Howard even got his neck tattooed in hopes that nobody would hire him.
In a Guitar World interview, Allman described the early band as "311 meets a really crappy Soulfly." The guys eventually kicked out the lead singer and found McCracken, who was just getting over his drug problems. He'd previously jumped from various punk and metal bands -- even one with Donny Osmond's son as guitarist. The four hit it off as the Used, and Steineckert mailed a demo to his friend John Feldman, singer for the ska-core band Goldfinger. Feldman invited the guys to L.A. to make a record, and their dreams of fame were realized.
Now the Used are playing (and puking) nightly for venues filled with screaming fans. They've overcome the horrors of growing up Mormon, and they're not homeless anymore. Now that they're living a life of stardom -- playing major festivals like Warped and Ozzfest, guest-starring on MTV's The Osbournes, and headlining a world tour -- fans can only hope they don't forget their struggles in suburbia. Such pent-up rage makes for good music, and to keep their name on the rock-and-roll map, Utah could really use something besides the Osmonds.