Interview with The Used’s Jeph Howard
With over ten years tenure under their belts and a brand new album towing their shifted sense of purpose, everything about The Used’s career has gotten a second wind. Making the decision to hang up their time with a major label and release their latest album on their own imprint, The Used has got back down to the root of it all–making music just the way they like.
Eleven PDX got a chance to chance to sit down with bassist, Jeph Howard, to talk about rolling with the punches, tour life, and what being Vulnerable has meant to him.
11: After touring for over ten years, how has your approach to your live shows changed if at all?
Jeph Howard: When we first started touring, it was like try and kill yourself every single show. Sometimes it’s like after you’re trying to kill yourself, it’s like you’re trying to do it. You’re not really concentrating on the vibe and the energy and the show, you’re just kind of concentrating on exploding. After awhile, you kind of learn like maybe if you tone down, you can do this. You kind of elevate it for the songs because ultimately it’s about the songs; it’s about the music. I think I have more fun now than I used to because I’m concentrating more on having fun and having a good time.
11: Your lineup has stayed mostly the same, save for a few session instrumentalists as well Dan (Whitesides). I remember that being a pretty big change for a lot of fans—Did that shake things up for you at all?
JH: That was like seven years ago. I don’t remember (laughs).
11: Maybe talk about how you guys function as a unit. So many bands who started around the same time as you guys are now coming to an end. What keeps you guys cohesive?
JH: It’s tough being in a band, I know what you mean about bands like Thursday. We saw their last show and hung out with them. This question kind of relates to that like “Oh shit, I remember touring with you guys on Warped Tour and our own tours”. I guess that’s just it, you’re done. Being in a band is definitely like a marriage, you have to find your niche with everyone in the band. You love each other as just themselves and you have to take them as they are. You get used to knowing how to not piss people off, work together and be happy together.
11: What does that mean to you when you do see your peers dropping off and knowing that you’re still going at 100%?
JH: We’ve had a really tough ride over the last ten years, like what you said about Brandon leaving and losing members and changing members. We’re lucky because it did work out for the best for us. It’s always a constant work in progress and I can understand why some bands give up. I’m not the kind of guy to give up and I don’t think we are. It’s a tough journey but it’s worth it if you’re willing to give it what it takes.
11: You guys seem really comfortable playing through your back catalogue of music. I think there are some bands who will play those old songs but reluctantly so, and from the times I’ve seen you, you always appear to be pretty happy to do it. Is that a cathartic experience to you? Are there songs that, if you weren’t factoring the fan’s wants, you wouldn’t play?
JH: Yeah, I’m sure. I guess we could play really whatever we wanted but sometimes people get pissed off because they want to hear their favorite song. We’ve played “Box Full” and “Taste of Ink” for eleven years now. We’ve never not played those two songs.
11: Can you get re-interested in a song?
JH: Totally. I love playing “Box Full” every single day. For me, concerts and music and albums and art are like 50% both sides. The viewer is putting that energy into it that they love and care about and the artist is making what he loves and cares about. Either way, it’s 50/50 so when we’re playing these songs that are ten or eleven years old and kids are singing every word of it, it changes and it’s like this is fun because everyone is so into it.
11: It has to be cool to see when you play an old song about something that used to be so big to you and now it’s kind of maybe a joke, that kids are singing along to every word and it means so much to them now.
JH: This record Vulnerable and our first record are kind of knit closely together. Our first record was really about hope and getting out and leaving. This new record is really about hope ultimately and climbing out and getting out. I think that’s why we’re so happy about this record too is that it’s kind of a revamp of the first record but with a different take on it and just as much emotion as the first record. Everything is coming back around.
11: How are the themes on Vulnerable vary from previous albums? Can you talk about what this album, Vulnerable, represents for you?
JH: It’s a fresh start. Going back through our records, the first one came out and everything was good. In Love and Death came out and everything was really good. We had problems with Brandon and that’s when we started Lies for Liars. We were starting to get problems with labels and then Artwork came out. Artwork, we were super excited about and then it got leaked three months early by the label. Our management was really bad and they were booking poorly and we had to cancel all these shows because they weren’t paying attention. That and the record leaking and not getting any support from our label, we were like “Fuck, what are we going to do?” So then it was kind of like a disaster scenario, everything was crashing and we weren’t ready to give up but we were falling. It took us three years to write this record, really. The end of Artwork was the beginning of Vulnerable. We crashed that far down to figure things out. We kind of found a way out of it.
11: Now that you’re wrapping up this section of touring, you probably have a pretty broad scope of how people have been reacting to Vulnerable and the new material. How has that felt? Is it the reaction you were expecting?
JH: It’s actually doing better than we thought. We were so down from Artwork still so when we finally got it done. We were so pumped and ready for it to come out. It’s a gamble because we’re not on a label; we’re on our own label with Hopeless Records helping us out. Compared to what everything was ten years ago, it’s not the same and it’s a little scary. Things worked out way better than we imagined.
11: You recently had to cancel all of your dates in Canada? Obviously that’s a pretty big hitch in your tour and the fans reaction. How do you deal with stuff like that?
JH: It sucks because it’s not fair. Who do you blame? We can’t blame Canada, we can’t blame Canadians. I love being in Canada. We actually got fucked on both sides, more on the American side than the Canadian side. We’ve been strip-searched; they rip everything out of our bus. One time, we were driving in and our tour manager brought the wrong paperwork for us to get into Canada. They said don’t worry about it and to try again tomorrow. They stamped all of our papers with “Denied Entry” which in Canada, that’s like permanent marker in your life. It wasn’t really denied because we were there just with the wrong paperwork so it was a delayed entry really. We got in the next day fine but it still haunts us. I get double searched because of “denied entry”. They ask me every single time which one is a gang tattoo.
Find more on The Used here.