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If you had told The Used back at the turn of the millennium that we'd still be talking about their self-titled debut 15 years later, there's no way they' would have believed it. The scrappy foursome from Orem, Utah, recorded this album as bored teenagers living in an oppressive environment who had no idea that songs like "The Taste Of Ink" and "A Box Full Of Sharp Objects" would become the unexpected face of a new generation of youth culture. However what's maybe more impressive is the way The Used have been able to prevail for a decade-and-a-half. Their upcoming reimagined acoustic album recorded live with a full orchestra is a perfect example of the ever-lasting nature of the band’s music.
"I think this album originally came out during a time where music was allowed to be honest and brave enough in the face of emotional norms," says vocalist Bert McCracken, who along with bassist Jeph Howard, drummer Dan Whitesides and new guitarist Justin Shekoski currently make up The Used. "This is for true music fans and diehards. It's for people for whom music has been their gospel and their everything so I think that's why there's been a real resurgence," McCracken continues, citing the massive lines outside of "emo nights" these days all over the country as evidence of this movement's continued relevance. "We made this record when we were ten years less inhibited but the social realness of being an adult and we were young enough to dream." Since The Used released their incendiary debut, they've gone on to put out five more acclaimed full-lengths, but The Used has always had a special place in their hearts due to the feelings of youthfulness and angst it embodies. For that reason it only made sense for them to try to reimagine these songs during an intimate performance in Los Angeles earlier this year. "From the beginning of working on this project we took it incredibly seriously and it was so magical to be able to rehearse for a full week nine hours a day with such talented musicians," McCracken explains, adding that they also wanted to make sure that these songs retained their raw emotive core. "Leading up to that show and listening back to it, it's definitely the most special thing I've done in my career in music."
The group worked with Hiro Goto on the strings and harp to help bring out a fresh energy in these songs. Together, they arranged the various musical elements and helped the band bring out dimensions in these songs that they didn't even know existed. "We've always wanted to do something like in the sense," Howard explains, "we've played 'Taste Of Ink' every night for the past fifteen years but revisiting it and making an acoustic version was like starting the song over in a different way." In fact, not only did this experience inspire The Used to add symphonic parts to completely reimagine their hits but it also allowed them to revisit songs they rarely if ever play live. "I would say more than half the songs on this album we haven't played since we wrote them but they actually come off better in an acoustic sense then they did as big rock songs so it worked out in a really interesting way." McCracken adds that his current gig as the host of the Australian television show The Revolution With Bert McCracken has given him a new appreciation for his role in all of this. "I've found the one common thread with really successful people I've interviewed is this honest humility when it comes to what they get to be a part of" he explains. "Singing songs like 'The Taste Of Ink' today is very empowering and humbling because that song means so much more to me today than it did 15 years ago when I was writing it as a self-obsessed teenager who needed to escape this mundane reality that I thought was the ultimate nightmare," he continues. "Now I know there are real nightmares in the world, but it's refreshing to look back at where I was then and have that new perspective." "We felt like a different band the night we played this acoustic show in the sense that I haven't been nervous in that way to play a show in over a decade," Howard recalls, noting how rare it is for a band with the type of history and catalog as The Used to ever feel that way again at this point in their career. “I got strength from seeing all of my friends onstage and everyone was so easy to play with that it wasn't stressful at all," he continues. "We definitely had a revitalization of the band through this performance in the sense that it brought a whole new dynamic to not only these songs but The Used as a unit. It was a very magical night."
The exposed nature of acoustic music is something The Used sought to encapsulate within their performance. “We’re an honest band and that was an honest show. We did it for the right reasons, which were to give everybody a little something different - including ourselves,” Whitesides reflects. “I just hope that people really watch it, because I think that watching it will give you a better idea of everything that went on.”
Shekoski, a longtime friend, fellow touring musician, fan, and the newest member of the band adds: “I heard the self-titled record and I knew that it was going to change the state of music, shifting the direction of rock to come.” He continues, “These songs mean so much to so many people for so many different reasons, I hope they can listen and watch this performance and maybe experience the songs in a way they haven't before."
Whether you remember watching McCracken defy gravity by jumping off stacks of speakers when The Used originally came out or were exposed to the album by an older sibling over a decade later, there's no denying that there's something special about this collection of songs and a reason why they resonate today as strongly as they did at the turn of the century. "I think we really captured the night perfectly and listening back to the mixes it reminded me how music can allow us to be children once again—and once you open yourself up to that emotion it's like a virus, it's contagious," McCracken summarizes. "Nearly every eye in the venue was weepy the night we played with the orchestra because these songs are so emotional and this recording is a truly special thing that I can't wait for everyone to hear. It still gives me goosebumps."
The Used is Bert McCracken (vocals), Jeph Howard (bass), Dan Whitesides (drums), and Justin Shekoski (guitar).