The Used Are on Their A-Game and Ready to Prove It at Rockstar Disrupt Festival

Emo band The Used will be playing at Rockstar Disrupt Festival on Friday.
Emo band The Used will be playing at Rockstar Disrupt Festival on Friday. Meghan Thompson

When emo was propelled to mainstream success in the early ‘00s, it consisted of two camps: one that was saccharine and upbeat, and one that was darker and more abrasive.

The Used became one of the most commercially successful and culturally significant acts to sprout from the latter, and with the release of 2004’s In Love and Death, the band cemented itself as one of the movement’s leading figures. However, as the 2010s rolled around, the subculture they were heavily affixed to started to wane, and as a result, fixtures of the subgenre either burned out or faded away.

While bands such as My Chemical Romance simply broke up, Paramore and Fall Out Boy reconfigured their sound to adapt to the cultural evolution. Meanwhile, tawdry metalcore bands tried and failed to pick up the movement’s residual slack, and last year, one of the subculture’s most venerated institutions, the Vans Warped Tour, ceased operations as a touring festival.

Amid such turbulence, The Used have stuck together and remained true to form, and in doing so, have achieved an impressive longevity.

The band is playing a new affair titled Rockstar Disrupt Festival, on Friday, along with Thrice, Circa Survive, The Story So Far and others. In anticipation for this tour’s kickoff in Dallas, we spoke with Jeph Howard, The Used's bassist, vocalist and one of the group's original members.

We’re nearing the 20-year anniversary of The Used. Y’all have the endurance of a Chernobyl plant life. What’s your secret?

(Laughs) That’s it – it’s lots of radiation. Lots and lots of radiation. You’ve got it. Really, in all honesty, we love what we do. There’s nothing else we can do. Like, I love everyone in the band, I love touring with these guys, I love hanging out with these guys. Like, we’ll just relax and talk all day. We’re friends, we’re like brothers, so to be able to keep going and to be able to do tours with some of my best friends, it’s exhilarating.

Is touring much different now from back in the early- to mid-’00s?

Yes and no. Things change – we went through some ups and downs, and we’ve been through some hard times and went through positive times, but we really learned how to be a stronger family through all of it. Like, even our crew is our family. We treat everybody with respect.

In 2002, you played the Vans Warped Tour from June 21 to Aug. 10, then on Aug. 11, you played Ozzfest. You transitioned between both festivals without a day off, which is just absurd. Do you remember that?
Barely. (Laughs) There (were) a lot of shows in a short amount of time, and it was some heavy stuff. I remember one time – this might be what you were talking about – we were playing Ozzfest, and we had to fly from Ozzfest to another state to film a music video. We had to fly back in, we landed, we drove straight (to the venue), then walked up on stage and played at like, 9 a.m.

Y'all didn’t exactly fit in with that sound. That was a metal crowd, and (The Used is) more of a post-hardcore band. I remember one time, (vocalist) Bert (McCracken) explicitly said, “Fuck metal” in an interview with Revolver Magazine.

(Laughs) He was probably just kidding, because Bert loves hardcore; he loves all music. One of his favorite bands of all time is Converge.

You played a lot of touring festivals back then. Back during your formative years, anyway. You played Warped Tour many times, you played Ozzfest, but you also played Projekt Revolution with Linkin Park, you played Taste of Chaos in 2005 and 2007. Did festivals ever get exhausting in comparison to more traditional gigs?

Oh, no. Obviously, festivals are a lot different than (regular) shows. They’re not as intimate, but at the same time, you get to do something different. You get to see new fans that aren’t normally going to your shows. You also get to experiment a little more with things, which is exciting. Plus, the bands you’re touring with also help make up the set a little more. If you’re on a heavy festival, then you’re probably going to play more heavy stuff. What’s so cool about this tour that’s coming up, the (Rockstar) Disrupt (Festival), all the bands have a similar vibe and a similar genre somewhat. We’re going crazy with lights on this tour, we’re going crazy with production. We’re going to have one of the coolest sets that we’ve ever had. So it’s definitely something not to be missed. I’m not just amping it because it’s a new tour, I’m amping it because we’re fucking excited about it.

This festival is kicking off in Dallas. Dallas is a hotbed for post-hardcore and emo. It especially was back in the ’00s, so you’ve played Dallas many times. Do you have any memories of Dallas – crazy stories, anything peculiar that has happened?

You know, it’s weird. Touring has just blurred my mind into a mess of random events, and it’s hard for me to remember what event happened in what city. Dallas, as far as I remember, has always been great. I know Texan crowds are always awesome, for sure. We have certain cities and certain states that (make us think), “Oh, this is going to be an awesome show, no matter what.” Texas is filled with those kind of cities, and I think Dallas is the top for Texas.

What was the worst show that you remember?

We’ve played a lot of those, too. We’re not afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are real. If you’re a computer, you don’t make mistakes, right? But we’re not a computer, we’re a band. So we play live music, and live music has mistakes in it, and that’s what’s so awesome about seeing it live. We’ve fucked up. We’ve had tunings go wrong, we’ve had wrong songs start where they aren’t supposed to. Anything you can imagine has probably happened to us, and the best part is coming out of that. That’s where the real work is, and the real fun is, is figuring out how to come back from some kind of a mistake.

I want to talk about your veganism, if you don’t mind. First off, I want to recommend a place in Dallas called Spiral Diner. It’s this ’50s-style diner that’s all vegan, and it’s affordable.
Dude, that sounds awesome.

With that out of the way, I wanted to ask what prompted you to become vegan. Was it a concern over the commodification of animals, concern over the environment, or both?
That’s such an awesome question. So when I was a kid, I didn’t really connect with meat too much. My parents ate meat, it was always on our table and whatnot. Steaks grossed me out, I just couldn’t quite get there. I found options that I would eat, so I was eating meat as a kid. Then it got to enough points. My first recollection was biting into something that had blood all over it. I made the connection there: “Oh, this has blood in it. Obviously, it was alive.” Then my brain started working, over the years, in figuring that out. I went through (pescetarianism), and then I made the connection with fish and said, “What am I doing? I’m even going there.” And then I made the dairy connection. It (happened) in steps. And just my personal opinion: I’m a super lover of animals. I love everything. I’m not like, hippie style or anything like that, but once you fully comprehend that, it’s massive.

Is there anything you want to add before I let you go?
I’m very happy. If you see Bert right now, he’s just at the top of his game. He’s never been this on it as far as us touring ever. This new tour we’re doing, we’re trying to take up every second to play songs. Bert’s voice sounds better than ever – he stopped smoking, he’s working out every day, he’s fit. He’s like, what I want to be right now. (Laughs) I’m looking up to him in so many ways. You need to go to this Disrupt tour to see how fit and how upbeat (he is). As far as the band goes, too. We are strong right now, and I’m feeling it.

Rockstar Energy Disrupt Festival starts at 12:30 p.m. Friday at Dos Equis Pavilion. Tickets $14.99 to $55.
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.