A guy has to be careful when he opens his mouth. For instance, he might proclaim one Utah band as being on the express train to fame while another is snowboarding and ogling strippers on the major label dime. Of course, there are other instances that Used, the Orem punks who were enjoying label-sponsored boarding and boobs, knows well. We’ll get to that later. Right now, it’s time to discover how Used beat Salt Lake rockers No Release to ink without causing so much as a ripple in the Salt Lake music scene.
Formed in early 2001 by drummer Branden Steineckert, bassist Jeph Howard, guitarist Quinn Allman and vocalist/liability Burt McCracken, Used came together at supernatural speed, finding a sound—pop-punk melodies paired with the nerve of hardcore and metal—composing a batch of first-rate, radio-ready songs and assembling a visceral live show in scant months. The thing was, their performance style didn’t fit their conservative environs.
“Everywhere we played,” says Steineckert, “people wouldn’t let us back, because the way we play ... I think it would frighten some people [chuckles].”
Now, it’s easy to shock the people in Utah County, considering their wholesome nature, but how Used got blackballed at Orem clubs is a little unusual, even if it’s intrinsically rock & roll. You see, from the beginning each member knew success would demand excess. “When we play live ... talk about 110 percent,” says Steineckert. “Everyone in the band, it’s like, literally blood, sweat and tears. We really like to go off and get sick with it live.”
Sick? He’s not kidding.
“Burt likes to just fuckin’ freak out,” laughs Steineckert. “He’ll throw his mic on the ground and just scream straight in people’s faces. He’ll sing and scream so hard and it ends up bein’ a little too much for him. He’ll just puke all over the stage. Then he picks right up where he left off and keeps going just as hard.”
So they have a hot live show and a gimmick. Do they have songs? Sure. In fact, Used has the recipe for the consummate mainstream rock song: ringing, rollicking guitars, coarsely melodious vocals and candid, real-life lyrics. That, ultimately, is what set them on the path to a deal. Well, that, and Goldfinger frontman John Feldmann.
Steineckert, who had been corresponding with Feldmann since the two met at a 1998 Goldfinger show, e-mailed him some MP3s. Feldmann wrote back, raving. Steineckert recounts, “He was like, “Dude, send me more. This is good shit!” So, we sent him four songs we’d finished. He called at six the next morning from Norway, just goin’ off—”Dude! These are fuckin’ good songs!”
Feldmann, who had an A&R deal with Maverick Records, flew the band to his home in Los Angeles where they cut three songs, “A Taste of Ink,” “A Box Full of Sharp Objects” and “Maybe Memories.” In short order, Used had management, a lawyer and the beginnings of a bidding war. “It was insane, how it worked. Technically, he could only submit our stuff to Maverick. He did his job and they were interested, but our management also went to all the labels they know.”
No less than 10 labels, including Elektra, Virgin, Island/Def Jam, Warner Bros. and Jive, began courting Used, flying them coast-to-coast to play showcases and giving them the music biz equivalent of Turkish Delight. At each showcase, the band would impress. “You’re in this little studio room and it’s set up like a concert: full-on lighting, a stage and a huge PA. And they have a couple couches, like, 15 feet in front of you and a couple big record execs and our management people would just sit there and watch you play. Burt, he’d throw up in the middle of the set and our bass player’s shoe flew off and hit one of the record executives. We were just goin’ fuckin’ nuts and they were eatin’ it up.”
At decision time, Warner Bros. won out.
“They really understand what we’re doin,’” beams Steineckert. “And we have absolute freedom. They would say they don’t give a fuck about radio. They want to make us a career band, put us out on tour to develop a following. It’s awesome.”
Used left on Jan. 23 to record their debut with Feldmann in Los Angeles with a summer release in mind. Between sessions, the band will play a week of arena shows with Blink-182, April dates with Glassjaw, Finch and Thursday, and possibly the entire summer Warped Tour. It’s everything a band like Used could want, but they remain grounded, opting not to open their mouths prematurely. “It’s all been so exciting and so surreal, [but] we just want to pace things. We wanna do this for a while.”
Visit www.angelfire.com/band/Used or www.mp3.com/-used801 to hear “A Taste of Ink,” “A Box Full of Sharp Objects” and “Maybe Memories.”