“That’s a pretty heavy question,” Jeph Howard, bass player for Utah rock band The Used, says when asked where the band was at mentally when it started writing the songs on Vulnerable, the album the group released this past March.
The band’s last album, Artwork, had leaked three months prior to its August 2009 release date. As a result, Howard says, the band’s label didn’t give the album much support.
In the two-and-a-half years that followed, the band - rounded out by singer Bert McCracken, guitarist Quinn Allman and drummer Dan Whitesides - struggled through problems with its management. Allman got married, as did Whitesides, who also welcomed a baby into the world.
“Everyone’s priorities got kind of mixed up,” Howard says.
In the midst of it all, though, the band wrote 60 songs, of which a dozen appear on Vulnerable. Howard says the goal was to create something very different from the band’s previous four studio releases.
Initially, the band wanted Vulnerable to have a very basic, simple sound with not many overdubs.
While experimenting in the studio with producer John Feldman, the Goldfinger guitarist who discovered the band and who has produced three of the group’s previous releases, The Used added hip-hop and electronica-inspired elements to the songs.
“It’s electronic but (still) simple,” Howard says. “It’s not overcrowded and overdone and too much of something, but it has (an) electronic feel to it.”
He adds that lyrically, the album deals with themes of hope and positivity.
While the dictionary definition of the word “vulnerable” is “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt,” Howard says for the band, the word “vulnerable” has to do with strength.
“The whole idea of Vulnerable is looking on the positive side of (being) vulnerable - going to your core self,” he says. “If you strip away all these layers of fashion and tattoos or whatever you think makes you look cool, or whatever you think makes you happy, if you just block everything out and start over to what you really are and who you really are, you’re not hiding yourself from anything. That really right there is (being) vulnerable. That’s as vulnerable as you can be.
“You can either take that as a weakness or a strength, and if you take that as a strength, you can’t be hurt anymore. That’s yourself, that’s you. You can’t be farther down than that. And that’s really the idea of this record.”
So was the three-year period between Artwork and Vulnerable the most difficult period of time in the band’s career?
“One of the many,” Howard says with a chuckle. “Our career is filled with ‘most difficult’ moments, and that’s just part of it. That’s part of being in a band.”
The Used formed in 2001 and the band’s members are now between 30 and 33 years old. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the group’s self-titled debut album. Howard says a DVD is in the works that will commemorate the band’s decade-plus history.
“We’re excited (we’ve been) a band for this long. We’re excited to still be touring and still have die-hard fans that still come out to the shows and love our songs, love our music and sing every song,” he says. “We’re very appreciative of it.”
The official video for “I Come Alive,” the first single from “Vulnerable.”
The video for “I Caught Fire” from The Used’s 2004 album, “In Love and Death.”
Published in Volume 66, Number 27 of The Uniter (May 30, 2012)