Music Interview: Leaving behind Mormonville

New York, Seattle and London are expected to give birth to rock bands. With their liberal mindset, these big cities have nourished bands like Kiss, Nirvana and The Clash. However, more conservative landscapes pose greater difficulty for the avant-garde.

Hailing from Orem, Utah means coming to terms with living in a conservative wasteland where hatred is reserved for homosexuals and atheists in the name of religion, a place where art is the missionary at your doorstep and literature is the religious tract invariably lining your back pocket week after week. If you’re not singing about God, you’re not welcome. Something hard rock band The Used know very well.

“It was hard, because there weren’t really any bands that came out of Utah that were like, the way we were,” says the band’s drummer Branden Steineckert. “No one did what we were trying to do. So it made it hard­–it’s not the most music-oriented place, either.”

Such is The Used’s beginnings: overcoming closed-minded religious fanaticism to create compelling and sincere music, performing it with their own trademark style and fervor. The intensity of their live performance makes for an unpredictable experience. Lead singer Bert McCracken is known to throw various pieces of stage equipment into the audience and even scream with so much ferocity he actually vomits, an incident referred to as “Bertie’s Madness.” Needless to say, such antics are generally not well received by straight-laced club owners.

“Everywhere we played, people wouldn’t let us back because of the way we play,” chuckles Steineckert, reminiscing. “I think it would frighten some people.”

For The Used, frightening people and getting thrown out of clubs is part of the gig. However, their difficulty in converting Mormons into punks has led them into financial difficulties. Lacking financial support from mommy and daddy, the boys sometimes resort to panhandling to raise funds. It has showed them the necessity of holding onto a lousy job.

“The hardest thing was just not really having the things to even be in a band,” says Steineckert. “Simple things like gear and a place to play and practice.”

“We had to hit total bottom to realize that we actually needed shitty jobs and needed money, and needed all this stuff when we just started,” adds bassist Jeph Howard. “It was like, ‘Fuck, we have to. We have to get these shitty ass jobs, and we have to fuckin’ find a house to live in or something to rent out and we have to do all this.'”

But dead end jobs, panhandling and life on the streets has paid off for the quartet. The Used received critical acclaim for their latest release­–their sophomore album In Love and Death–and currently headline the Taste of Chaos tour selling out venues across North America.

“We weren’t expecting [success] the first time, so this time around we didn’t know what to expect,” says Steineckert. “We’d already surpassed anything we thought we could do, so we didn’t care anymore. If we sell 150 copies, cool. We just did it [In Love and Death] how we wanted to do it and hoped for the best and, so far, it’s just done surprisingly well again.”

The Used is a modern-day Cinderella story and their rags-to-riches tale renews an inspiration to struggling artists everywhere. As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” For the band, if not stronger, then at least more appreciative.

“We definitely wouldn’t appreciate it the same if we hadn’t [worked so hard],” says Howard, “If it was handed to us, it wouldn’t mean shit. It just kinda makes it all mean that much more–it makes it more sincere.”

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