"I was taking piano lessons when I was five, and my mom always had me in choir. I started playing guitar when I was 10 and played a lot of instruments in school, like the trumpet and the saxophone." And when asked about the kind of songs he sang in school? "Church songs," was his reply.
Who exactly is this mystery person? Most fans of the band might be surprised to find out that this mystery man is Bert McCracken, crazed, flamboyant frontman for The Used. And after hearing the band’s debut release in 2002 that spawned the hardcore, screaming melodies of "A Box Full of Sharp Objects" and "The Taste of Ink," McCracken singing in a religious choir may be the furthest visual from your mind. But the boys of The Used, which also include guitarist Quinn Allman, bassist Jeph Howard and drummer Branden Steineckert, grew up in the straight-laced Mormon town of Orem, Utah, which in itself, explains a lot.
The Used’s sophomore album, In Love And Death, which Howard describes as "something fresh and very different from our first one," may be another surprise for fans.
"We’ve grown and we’ve changed," explains Howard. "We put all our heart into something new and I’m excited for people to hear it." He also adds that the new album documents the many "ups and downs of life that’s happened to all of us."
"A lot of huge things went on in my life," says McCracken of his experiences while making In Love And Death. "Huge detrimental things. I lost my best friend — my puppy that got hit by a car — and I thought I was going to have a baby.
"The very first girl I dated died of a drug overdose," continues McCracken, then pauses to add, "and so did my baby." McCracken also struggled with heroin addiction in the past but has been clean since joining The Used, admitting that music literally saved his life.
As a form of venting, McCracken often turns to music, with his life experiences etched in song. "Hard to Say" was written in ode to his former girlfriend, while "All That I’ve Got" is about David Bowie, his pet Chihuahua and admitted "best friend."
"He came with me everywhere," says McCracken of Bowie. "He never expected anything of me except maybe some food and a little attention. He didn’t care what I looked like or how stinky I was. We went to Vegas a couple times; we had a lot of fun on those trips. It was kind of hard when he had to go away."
Yet amidst life’s ongoing drama, the atmosphere that pervades In Love And Death is surprisingly uplifting. "The music is actually very happy, dancier and much brighter," says McCracken, "which is good, because it is like a celebration of life."
Although songs like their first single "Take It Away" and "Sound Effects and Overdramatics" are reminiscent of the aggressive, driving sound of their debut album, other tunes such as "Yesterday’s Feelings" and "Lunacy Fringe" show that The Used can also write ballads and poppier rock songs. Adding more piano (courtesy of McCracken) and string arrangements, written by McCracken and producer John Feldmann, the band has definitely stretched its musical wings.
Yet through it all — love, death, and change — The Used seem to absorb life’s experiences with a sometimes dark, yet oftentimes bright twist to their lyrics.
"Since I first starting writing music, I’ve always tried to say that it’s OK to make something negative into a positive," reveals McCracken. "That’s the way we learn the most, by falling down and then getting back up again."
Yet, despite the many falls and heartaches of the past year, it’s not surprising that McCracken still manages to find the silver lining.
"We should take advantage of our life to the fullest," he says with somber optimism. "We all die, it’s just a matter of time. This moment is the only time we have to be alive and do it, you know?"
In Love And Death is currently available. The Used will be playing on Oct. 13 at the Ventura Theatre in Ventura and on Oct. 14 at The Wiltern LG in Los Angeles. For more information, visit theused.net.