Interview: Jeph Howard of The Used

Twenty years strong, The Used are still nailing it! With a history of conquering hardship, The Used keep coming back stronger than ever. When they wrote their eight studio record ‘Heartwork’ (it’s out now!), the band had no idea that the world would soon be plunged into dark and uncertain times. But harking back to more emotional albums, ‘Heartwork’ is the album so many of us needed.

Spotlight Report caught up with Jeph Howard to talk about the new album, getting through hard times, twenty years of the band and of course music in the time of Covid-19.

SR: Are you doing okay at the moment with isolation and everything?  

JH: I’m probably the maybe one percent of people that are happy being alone and happy being at home, so …

SR: I bounce back and forth. I can get sick of it at times.

JH: I get that, I get that. Everything gets old.

SR: That’s true! And I can’t believe it, but it’s been twenty years of The Used!

JH: Yeah. Twenty, I think in … May. I think May is exactly twenty years. April – it is April, right? – it’s either April or May. I can’t remember the exact day. I consider when Bert joined the band is when the band was started. Even though it was a little bit before, it’s literally when he started the band it’s when The Used started.

SR: That’s so nice! I can’t believe it’s gone so fast. Where’d the time go, right?

JH: Yeah, twenty years. It’s wild! Two decades.

SR: And there’s so many of us that have grown up alongside your music.

JH: That’s awesome!

SR: How does it feel to know you’ve helped so many of us become real adults?

JH: That’s really positive. I appreciate that. We’re all in it together. Even that part, you know.

SR: And you guys have gone through so much – it feels like you’ve gone through everything a band can go through – and a lot of it has been very public. I’m not going to go into it too much …

JH: That’s okay.

SR: You’ve gone through everything from Bert’s drug addiction to two guitarists leave and the very public … I’ll used the word “disagreements” [laughs] …

JH: [Laughs] Yeah.

SR: So how do you get through the tough stuff and keep your focus?

JH: You know what? We’re family. Not just me and Bert – because we’ve been together for twenty years – but me, and Bert, and Dan, and all of the people on our crew that tour with us, our manager, our manager’s assistants, our accountants … everybody – to me – that works with us is a family member and we all treat them like that. Most of our crew always want to be with us. They could make more money touring with bigger bands, or different bands, or whatever, but they want to be with us because they love our family vibe. And they feel good around us because we make them feel good. We treat them all with respect, you know. It’s just … we’re all equals, and we all understand that. I hope that wasn’t a rant [laughs].

SR: Not at all. And that’s kind of what music is for right?

JH: Yeah! Totally! That’s kinda what it is. No one’s better than anyone here, you know? There’s not “the most important person” on tour or something. We’re all equals, and we all have the same goal. Our lighting guy is coming to make our shows look great. That’s his goal, but that goal makes the entire show look better. The same with our merch guy. He’s coming out because he’s selling merch to kids that want those t-shirts. He wants to give those to people that want to support the band, that want to get something to help us, you know. But he’s coming out because he loves us, and he wants to be around us. But he loves doing that. So, everybody that works with us … it’s that same vibe … it’s a family.

SR: I really get that! The Used has this magic around it … and I think really needs your magic right now. So, you’ve timed your album launch perfectly [laughs].

JH: Yeah [laughs]. And it’s funny you said that. I didn’t realise this until the interview right before you. The song ‘Cathedral Bell’ – I don’t know if you’ve heard it, it got released today – that song is exactly how people are feeling right now. So, if you haven’t listened to it, reflect on that when you’re inside of your house today [laughs].

SR: I have listened to it. I’ve had the album on repeat for the last few days.

JH: Awesome! That’s great!

SR: I can’t stop listening to it!

JH: Awesome! I appreciate it!

SR: I was on Spotify this morning and I saw that ‘Cathedral Bell’ was released and was pleasantly surprised to see it had been released.

JH: I’m really excited about that one. I think there’s a video that just came out. We might do another one, but this is just for quarantine sake.

SR: Oh, cool! I haven’t seen the video, so I’ll go check that out today!

JH: It’s just a lyric video … but it’s one of the better lyric videos we have, so it’s worth seeing.

SR: That’s cool! And with this timing, you’ve got everyone captive and waiting. I mean you teased us for a long time. Everyone is so ready for it.

JH: [Laughs] that’s awesome!

SR: If you had just a few words to sum up what this record means, what words would you pick?

JH: You know … to me, this record – it’s different for everyone; everyone has a different take, everyone has a different point of view, but for me in general this record is about relaxing into it. For me. I’m not talking lyrical content. I’m talking the vibe I get from this record: it’s about becoming one with something that is … unavoidable. Relaxing into something without friction. I guess it’s harder than to put into words than I thought [laughs]. But this whole record, from the beginning, has been very easy. We went into the studio with twenty to thirty ideas – pretty strong song ideas – they were almost totally finished musically. We had some lyrics, vocal melodies going through that Bert had. But nothing was finished. But once we got into the studio we decided we were gonna scrap everything and just start over. And that’s where it gets a little scary sometimes. But going in with Feldmann again – who’s like a family member – returning to Feldmann and just relaxing through everything. And just all coming together and having free creative consciousness. Just a flow of creativity. Nothing’s a bad idea. Where do we wanna go? Let’s go there just try it and see what happens. See where we get led to.

SR: Nice! You mentioned working with John Feldmann again and how he’s like a family member. He is such a big part of The Used’s history. How did working on this record compare to working on the early ones with him?

JH: For me personally that’s why the relaxation into it goes … in pretty strong effect. From the beginning we were definitely leaning towards trying to be a hardcore band. You can kinda hear it. If you’ve ever listened to our demos you can see that we wanted to be hardcore. We wanted to be heavier and heavier. It’s just we didn’t have that kind of musical style as well, we just kinda had whatever melded … musically … that we listened to … but you can see that was our direction. And when Feldmann came in, he polished the prettier side of that. And the melodic side of that. And kind of brought out those colours. It’s almost like touching up a painting and bringing out colours you didn’t really see originally. And making it look a lot different. And that’s kind of what our demo to our first record has. So, you can see a lot of that. You can see what Feldmann adds to our band. Later on, … it’s always been a struggle going to different producers or wanting to evolve and change and go to someone else, or try something different, or be different or just whatever. And going back to Feldmann this time, I think he’s relaxed … I know I’ve relaxed as a human being. It’s been twenty years … like we were saying. I’m definitely not as stubborn as I used to be. I used to be pretty stubborn [laughs]. I’m okay with anything. I’m okay with trying whatever. Creativity works so much better if you’re in a positive place. And I don’t mean a positive place like … you can write songs about negative things, you can be unhappy, you can be whatever. If you’re angry at somebody else while you’re writing that song, it’s a little harder to get something accomplished when there’s anger toward each other involved. But if you have just pure love, easy creative flow … I’m sounding like a total hippy … but you know what I’m talking about. That’s how this record flows. It was just easy love [laughs]. That’s even a terrible quote to have [laughs], but …

SR: It’s lovely! It’s really nice!

JH: [Laughs] Okay, good.

SR: It’s nice that you haven’t come out of this saying “I hate recording! I hate everyone I work with!”

JH: [Laughs] Yeah I love that.

SR: And so, I’ve seen some of the behind-the-scenes material of you guys working on ‘Paradise Lost[, a poem by John Milton]’. How long did it take for that song to come together?

JH: Let’s see … recording that record in general – not to skip from song to record – but recording that record … we did in three weeks … wow, man, that’s really hard … we did three different three week recording sessions. So, we did one and that song, ‘Paradise Lost’ was recorded over a year ago, so that song’s been done forever, which is kinda funny to think about. Which is funny because it didn’t get released until – you know what I’m saying … it’s interesting … But that song just kinda stuck and we knew that was gonna be a single. But I think what was so cool about doing these three week sessions was we’d record for three weeks, come up with some ideas and some songs – I think even ‘Cathedral Bell’ was recorded in that first session too. I could be wrong. But then we would go, and we would tour, or we would go home for a month or something – probably tour, is what we’d be doing – and then we’d come back to the studio after a couple months and then we’d do it again. Overall, it was nice to have that space in between where we could tour or go home and see our family or just whatever we needed to do. We were very lucky to have that option.

SR: That’s quite unusual. Normally you’re kind of locked in for a long period of time and you don’t leave until it’s done – Is that right?

JH: Yeah. Actually, the record before this we were locked in place for a long time. Months [laughs]. It was wild. That was the longest we’ve ever recorded – the last record. It was really funny. We even ran out of time – that’s how funny it was. But what was so cool about this was, like you said, it was: imagine doing some artistic stuff, coming together, coming up with all your energies and then getting burnt out. And then everyone can leave and kind of refresh yourself and then come back together again and do the same thing. But since you’ve left, all that creative energy is back and flowing again. It was really awesome to be able to do this. We’re very lucky. Not a lot of people are able to do that.

SR: And you said earlier that you always knew ‘Paradise Lost’ was going to be a single.

JH: Yeah.

SR: How on earth did you pick other songs to release? I think they’d all be really good contenders for me. I wouldn’t be able to pick. I’m glad it’s not my job.

JH: Oh, man. There’s even … there’s eight songs that didn’t make the record.

SR: Oh, wow!

JH: I think eight. So, there’s a bunch. And two of the songs on the record – yeah, it was really tough, honestly – I think there’s one that I woulda liked to see on there, well there’s maybe two that I would’ve liked to see go on there. And the two that are little snippets of songs … I think one’s called ‘Heartwork’ and the other’s called ‘My Cocoon’ … those two were full songs at one point.

SR: Woah!

JH: But the songs weren’t as good as the part. So that part was so awesome that it made the song sound kinda terrible. So, we just cut the song out and left the best part [laughs].

SR: That is really interesting! I love both of those and I had no idea that they were smaller parts of something bigger. That’s so cool!

JH: Yeah, one was a chorus. Yeah. It really worked out [laughs].

SR: And I just wanted to bring up the 15th Anniversary tour, which was a huuuge success.

JH: Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s right. It was wild.

SR: Are you thinking of doing something like that again?

JH: Yeah, we’ve talked about it because it’s literally been over twenty years. So, hopefully we’ll have a twenty year anniversary – oh, actually, it’s gonna be too late – it’ll be our twenty-one or twenty-two anniversary, but at least we’re on the right track [laughs].

SR: That would be awesome! And thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

JH: Of course, of course! Hopefully we’ll have a longer time, next time.

SR: That would be fantastic! And I can’t wait until you’re back down here! So, I’ll see you then!

JH: Yeah [laughs]. I can’t wait until we can actually start touring too. I’m really excited to go back to Australia. Fingers are crossed for soon!

‘Heartwork’ is out now! Grab it today: