The last year has seen The Used transform and mature beyond expectations. With the release of their sixth album ’Imaginary Enemy’, the post-hardcore giants have made a jaw-dropping turn toward livid anarchic punk while steadfastly maintaining their familiar emotive sound. Their UK headline tour arrives on our shores sans lead guitarist Quinn Allman due to personal issues, replaced by Saosin’s Justin Shekoski.
About to draw the curtains on a storming tour with Decade and Landscapes, Already Heard sat down with bassist Jepha Howard to discuss their indomitable 15-year career, advice for the past, future plans and the quest for spicy Indian food.
AH: As you’ve obviously guessed, there’s a huge Quinn-shaped hole here! How’s it going without him then?
JH: Oh yeah, I’ve seen that, noticed a little bit. Quinn just didn’t feel like coming. It’s great, Justin (Shekoski) is one of the most incredible guitar players I’ve ever seen in my life, he’s one of the coolest people. We’re really good friends with all of them (Saosin), one of their other guys usually tours with us as like an ear monitor guy, so it became like a family. So it was very easy having Justin come in, and he knew all the songs already, so it was perfect.
AH: So speaking of line-ups, you’re one of the few bands that keep their line-up, with the exception of Dan (Whitesides – drummer) obviously. What’s the secret to keeping things together?
JH: We’re all friends, if you’re not friends, it makes it a lot more difficult. That’s what’s amazing about Justin coming in, Justin’s a very good friend of ours. Dan is one of my favourite people and same with Bert, we’re friends. That’s what we do, we hang out together. It’s really nerdy but we’ve got a big kick on board games lately, so we’re all playing together. We’re not that band doesn’t hang out or see each other and only play the shows. We want to go on tour so we can hang out with each other.
AH: What’s your downtime like? You’ve got bored of the tourist-y things by now, surely?
JH: I have a lot of friends, and of course I can’t see them because they work a lot of the time, so I’ve been trying to hang out with them when I can, other than that, I’ve just been getting great Indian food. I eat a lot, I love spicy food, the spicier the better. I can’t get it spicy enough. I’ve been trying. I’ve been asking them for spicy and they don’t give me spicy. I wanna be in trouble. They still don’t give me spicy, but it tastes good, so that’s okay.
AH: It’s clear to see you’ve developed over the years. You see ‘Revolution’ and you see how much it’s changed from ‘It Could Be A Good Excuse’ and ‘A Box Full Of Sharp Objects’, but what’s the biggest musical lesson you’ve learned over the years?
JH: There’s so many. It’s really tough because there’s so many bands, and there’s so many bands that come and go. We’re very lucky that we’ve managed to stick around and stay relevant. And it’s lucky that we’re friends, like I said, at the same time. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is personalities, people. I was an only child growing up so I didn’t have any friends. I didn’t really understand people too well. That’s not nice, that’s not so music-related but it’s personal for me in a sense, to where I’ve really understood people and personalities and how to mesh with those personalities and make things work. Also the magic of music is amazing, writing songs. Everyone has their own special way to add something, each thing matters, each person matters in their own way for that song and that sound.
AH: On that subject, you’ve got a good reference to ‘Buried Myself Alive’ in the lyrics to ‘Cry’. With a catalogue that’s as extensive as yours, what’s your secret to keeping us all hooked?
JH: I think it’s Bert’s voice. Bert’s voice is something that it’s really easy to be okay with, it’s very comfortable. The first record was getting to know his voice, and from there on, it’s like you’re comfortable with that voice and you really understand it, and what Bert says is real. He’s singing real things, everything he’s singing about is something that’s happened or something that’s happening. So it gets you in that heart area, you’re connecting with that person and feelings at the same time.
AH: What’s the one song you know will never make a set list but you always want it to?
JH: That’s really tough because there’s so many songs. I’m going be honest with you, to play a show, we only get somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. We have 6 records, so that’s 6 hours, so trying to put 6 hours of music in an hour and a half is really difficult. Everyone wants to hear certain songs, we have to play ‘Taste Of Ink’, we have to play ‘Box Full…’, we have to play ‘All That I’ve Got’. Those are the songs that if we don’t play them, people get really angry about. At the same time, I understand, so it’s still fun for us to play them, but there are certain songs like ‘Let It Bleed’ that I’d love to play, but we never play it. Well no, we played it a long time ago. Another song I like is ‘Give Me Love’, which was one of my favourites but we don’t play that one, we used to but now we don’t have the time. There’s a song called ‘Pain’ that we put on a B-side but now there’s just no time. That wasn’t supposed to make it on the record, it was a long story why it didn’t make it on the record, but it made it onto that B-side. It was definitely one I fought for to be on the record. I fought for a lot of things, don’t we all I guess?
AH: Which album would you like to revisit, to re-record or replay the tour?
JH: I would like to re-record all of the records, maybe not the newest one, the newest one I don’t want to touch, I’m pretty happy (with it). There’s a couple of things I’d like to change bass-wise but everything other than that record. I would start re-recording it. I would probably write it different than I did, but that’s coming from a bass point of view. Sometimes you can’t touch it, sometimes they feel like they are as good as they are and it’s probably better not to look back and revisit them. It sucks because sometimes when you’re writing, you’re not really playing those songs live. Even in ‘Cry’ and ‘Revolution’ the two new ones, I have different bass lines for that than I recorded with, and I like the bass lines live more than the recorded bass lines.
AH: So as we’re moving onto ‘Imaginary Enemy’, it’s such a politically-charged record, there’s punk anarchy right through those veins. Where did that anger come from, do you think? Was it always there?
JH: Yeah it was always there, we all talked about what’s going on in the world. Bert’s very into, not politics, but the world and everybody does their part for what they think they can do. Some of it’s like what are you going to do against corporations and companies? All these people want money to change the world and do that, but you don’t need money, you need people. That’s really what’s going change the world. This record, to me at least, is about helping to get more people on the side to realise what’s going on. It’s probably bad here but it’s really bad in America, nobody has any idea what’s going on there, it’s all just money, it’s corporations. I did leave for a bit, I went to Panama. I would still live there again, it’s like little America there, they still use American money. Who knows? I’d love to move to Europe, I’d love to move to Japan.
AH: We’ve already mentioned that every album brings a new sound and a new realm. What’s the next step then?
JH: We’re going to do another record for sure, probably the end of this year. We’ve got a lot to do. We’re going to do a special tour that involves the first and second records. I’m not sure how that’s going work and what’s going to happen, it’s just in talk. I’m sure it’ll come over here too, but so far it’s just talk about America.
AH: What advice to give to your 13-16 year old self? Would you tell him what’s happened?
JH: It’s tough, if I went back and said something, would it change it and ruin it? It’s like that whole time paradox thing, by changing the past, you change your future. I don’t know, there’s a lot of things I’d like to completely do different music-wise, but you get so confident that you don’t do anything.
AH: What advice would you give kids around that age that are looking up to you personally as a bass player?
JH: That’s tough – the best advice I would say is do it, do it like your heart says. Don’t try to join a band to sound like someone else. I think the best thing you can do as a musician is just be yourself, that sounds so cheesy but it’s so true in the same sense. You aren’t going to sound like anybody else because you’re doing it your way. Whatever influences you have, whatever you like, your loves, I think that’s the most important thing. I wish I could go back and tell myself that, but I don’t want to step on the bug.
‘Imaginary Enemy’ by The Used is out now on GAS Union/Hopeless Records.
Words by Ali Cooper (@AliZombie_)