You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Jeph Howard of The Used

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Q&A with Jeph Howard of The Used

As promised, here's the first of many interviews to come from the "Get A Life" tour. My friend Wendy (concert photographer extraordinaire) and I were lucky enough to talk with Jeph on their infamous tour bus. Jeph chatted with us about touring, the truth about groupies and their upcoming album, which he says is "the record of records." The interview is a bit long, so feel free to come back and read, it's not going anywhere. Check back later this week for more interviews with Army of Me as well as MP3 format of the interviews!

What’s it like being on tour? How do you prepare for a headlining tour?
This one run right now, isn’t really a headlining tour. We wanted to hit a bunch of spots that we hadn’t been to yet. It’s kind of an out of the way, off set tour. We’re not hitting any major places. We’re going to the little guys and going around because we still have fans out there. I try to get all my stuff in order at home. Just make sure I don’t have anything left at home. For me, going on tour is more like going back home. I feel more at home on tour. I don’t feel as weird. Maybe it’s because the past eight years of my life have been on tour.

How long have you guys been together?
The band started, I want to say, the beginning of 2001. We had a different drummer for the first two records and he left. Dan, he’s our newest drummer, he just got here about a year ago, so he’s been with us for a year now. Yeah, originally it was four of us, again. We’re kind of all the other dropouts of all the other bands on the scene. We’re kind of the black sheep of the whole Utah Valley scene cause we’re not even from Salt Lake, we’re like an hour south of Utah Valley. We’re little town boys.

Even worse, not only are we the drop outs, we also would get kicked out of every show we’d play originally. Random things would happen, it was all just blaming it on us because we were the heavy band at the time. We were the outcast band, so no matter what Bert did, it was scary. Bert’s always been like that, unpredictable kind of dude.

You guys don’t get kicked out anymore, do you?
They do. We’ve been kicked out of places still. Quinn got kicked out of our CD release party, he was either pissing on the floor or he was breaking beer bottles on something. Yeah, things happen.

What do you love most about touring?
Being on tour I feel like I can get away from everything, like all my worries. Anything I have that’s been bugging me and bumming me out is gone, because what I’m doing right now I love. This is my favorite thing to do – be on tour and play music. We’re kind of finishing up a record right now on tour. Everything about it is great to me. Waking up in a new city and not knowing where I am for a couple hours, meeting new people, I love meeting people, even though I’m a little shy sometimes. I’m great with faces, horrible with names. I’ll remember kids I meet at one show for years. Not all the time, but if they change their hair, it’ll fuck with me.

Do you have a favorite city you’ve played?
It changes everywhere. Australia is a great, great crowd. Japan is always a great place to go. The kids there are insane. Every time we play there it’s the weirdest/best crowd. We just played Chile and that was the best show by far. It was our first time there and there were kids waiting at the airport. There were like 300 kids there. They were pulley too, like grabbing your arm, your clothes, your hair. It was pretty scary. Once we got to the venue, kids were waiting at the hotel with a big sign they made so you could see it from the hotel room. At all times there was at least 20-50 kids out front of the hotel. They opened the doors six hours before we played because there were 2,000 kids in the street trying to get into the venue. Loudest show we’d ever played. They were in there hours before we played, just waiting and pumped and screaming at everything, it was crazy. If you look up videos online of it, it’s insane.

How about the U.S.?
Utah’s always a great show, it’s going home. But hometown crowds are always the same thing, love/hate. Either people love you because you’re from Utah, it’s a pride thing or they hate you because they don’t think you deserved it, you didn’t work for it, you didn’t do anything for it. But we worked our asses off.

How do you deal with it?
You can’t really care what anybody thinks. At the end of it, it’s all about if you love what you’re doing and you’re doing a good job. If nobody likes your band and you’re happy with it, who cares, you’re happy with it. If you make 10 kids happy, those are 10 kids you just made happy, so cool.

What would you be doing if it wasn’t for the music?
I’m a traveler. I like traveling and going around and visiting. I would probably just save up and travel if I could. The lucky thing is I can actually travel being in a band, so it’s cool it works out. I take every country, every place I try to go out. There’s some scary places where you’re not supposed to really, so I don’t there as much, but I still try to. I’ve seen a little bit of everything, not every place all over the world. There are still so many places I still want to go to.

Do you have a favorite song you like to perform every night?
There’s a bunch. “Paralyzed” is my favorite to play. It’s like the danciest one. That one’s really fun to play, in the beginning of it me and Dan go into some little funk, getaway grove part. That’s the funnest part of my show, that little funk jam. That song is really fun to play too because it’s dancy. I’m kind of into dancy music, I grew up loving James Brown and stuff like that. It’s got that sort of a vibe, but not quite. I like heavy stuff too, ‘cause heavy stuff is always fun to play, “Pain” is kind of an in between, it’s got this grove/heavy to hit. There’s this really cool, tappy bass line in the second verse. You can’t really hear it recorded, but it’s so much fun to play for me.

Screaming songs are fun. I like the singy stuff. There’s a lot of bands lately that have overdone the singy/screamy stuff. Bert’s a really good singer. He’s very good at piano and he has an ear, he has a really good overview, he can hear something for a song and know the biggest picture. He can see the planet. When you’re writing a song you build the continents together. He can see the planet before the rest of the continents is built. Quinn’s really good at that too. Me, I settle with pieces more and I’m not so good at seeing the giant picture of everything.

Do you all help out when writing the music?
Yeah, we’re open for anything. We’ll sit and we’ll jam songs out. If Quinn’s like, “That’s cool, but why don’t you try playing this note here instead of this one." I’ll try it and most of the time it’s cool. Me and Dan will have a jam down and Quinn will play something over it and it’ll just be magic. It depends every time. There will be times it takes forever.

How do you know when a song’s a hit for you guys, or when it’s right?
You can just tell. There’s a feeling, like “Wow, this song’s great.” Right now, we have a song that doesn’t have any words to it, but it’s great, it’s my favorite song we’ve ever written by far. So I can’t wait to hear it with words. That usually makes or breaks songs. Usually, most of the time if the song is really, really cool, the words will probably wind up cool too.

What percentage have you guys been on tour/writing/in the studio this year?
We got off our last tour in November and we had a month off and we started writing in January. I went to visit some friends for a week, hanging out at home. After that we started jamming again, started writing, did that till the beginning of this tour, three months, two months of that and then we went straight to tour. The next album comes out the end of the month probably. This is going to be the record of records. I’m excited about it. I can’t wait to have the finished, because all I have is the bits and pieces, but I can’t wait for the ending, to finally hear it.

What makes it different from your other records?
We’re going to a different producer. The same guy has produced our last three records so they kind of have similar sounds almost. All of his sounds and all of the stuff that he uses, all of his equipment is the same so every time we record it kind of sounds the same, but its different songs, different feelings and different vibes. But we want it to be very different; we don’t want to be on the same path at all. We want to take a big left turn and switch everything up as much as we can, just to do something different, just to try something new because bands need to change, they need to mature. We’re not the same people we were seven or eight years ago, nobody is. Your surroundings make up who you are. Since we started as a band, every year it’s just changing constantly and changing it up. We want to show how much we changed in a good way. I think it’s very important for bands to do that. You can write songs that work, and whatever music that works, but to me you’re fake unless you’re really showing how you can change a person.

Do you guys record in L.A.?
Yeah, usually. This record we’ll probably record in L.A. as well. We’re trying to record it as fast as possible, we want it to take a month or less. We want to get to it and get it done, we want it to sound a little dirty, a little raw. The less we take worrying about details the better it’s going to sound in that sort of way. We’ll see how it sounds. It’s really hard to leave it as it is, leaving it as breathing as opposed to going back and tweaking it and making it perfect. If you just let it breathe and let it be as it is, it’s almost more difficult. That’s what the plans are, we’ll see how it works out.

What is it about the music that keeps you going - going on tour, recording?
It’s hard. You kind of have to say goodbye to everything. You have to be willing to give up everything. Family, friends, relationships, anything really is all on hold until you’re done being in a band. It’s pretty difficult. It’s difficult on your mind, difficult on everything.

How do you deal with that?
Don’t think about it. I really have given everything for this band and I would do it all over again. I don’t regret anything. It is what it is and you have to take it as . . I think you have to be a bit crazy, maybe, to be on tour.

How many months is this tour?
Oh, this tour is pretty quick, it’s about a month and a half. Longest tour I’ve ever been on was two years. There were breaks in between, like a week break and then another week break, two months, three months later. The reality of it is we didn’t stop touring, which I don’t mind. I’m happy on a bus, I’m happy hanging out with these guys. I have some of my closest friends here; I have other ones of course. It’s weird when you go back home too because it’s almost like your friends start up where you left off, it’s like you didn’t miss out on anything. A lot of friends can’t handle it, but they figure it out. It’s weird to watch them grow up in a different way, seeing them get families and get married and stuff.

Is there anything you miss most about being on tour? Your bed maybe?
I like bunks. They’re dark. You close the thing, it’s completely silent . . . well, not really silent because usually Bert’s screaming in the hallway or something. But it’s comfortable, you get rocked to sleep every night. When I came home after touring for two years straight I couldn’t sleep. I had to turn a fan on because I had to have some kind of noise and still it wasn’t right. Now it’s easier because we don’t tour as much, but I actually get more depressed when I’m not on tour now.

What are you thinking about when you’re on stage?
It’s different every time, sometimes it’s random. It depends, you never know, sometimes you’ll be so into the show that you can’t think of anything but what’s going on. Sometimes I’ll think about random stuff, like I’ll be looking at the ground and I’ll see something and think about, “What the fuck do you think that is?” Your mind wanders. It sort of becomes less you’re actually playing the song to an action. You’re sort of in the mood and in the vibe and the song is sort of playing you, if that makes sense, a little bit hippie-ish. It’s like writing is the same way, the music is flowing through you. Sometimes I’ll think of something funny and I’ll start laughing.

What happens if you play a show and there’s no energy from the crowd, how does that affect you as a band?
Oh it kills it. The crowd is half the show. I put every little bit of my life into every show. I put everything into it. Like what I was saying before, not pay attention, but I’m still completely involved in the show. I’m not gonna just play and be like whatever, “Let’s just get this fucking show over.” If you look at a crowd and they’re just standing, staring at you, usually I have to close my eyes and be like, “I can’t look at these guys.”

Most of the crowd is here to see you, do you think it’s hard for the other bands?
Oh, yeah. It’s tough, starting out too. That’s how it was for us for years. Playing in front of people who’ve never heard us before. But you have to win the crowd over. That’s sort of fun, because it’s hard but at the end it’s like, “How many people did we win over. It’s like, fuck these guys, let’s win. Let’s show them what kind of band we are and what we’re made of.” It’s really fun. If you can get the crowd cheering by the end of the show, it shows that you won.

We’ve played some hard tours, we’ve played Ozzfest once and we’re not the heavy band. We’re a little heavy, but we’re not like Ozzfest heavy. Nine in the morning playing shows, it’s really hard to get kids into the shows. But at the end of those shows, we won over the majority of the crowd. Except the guys who were still drunk and pissed off, maybe not those guys. Now they probably like us, so whatever.

Do you guys party a lot on tour?
There’s usually a party going on the bus. I’m very moderate myself, everything in moderation is good. I guess that depends what moderate means to somebody. There’s usually a party on the bus after the show. We’re all friends, hanging out.

Do you have any pre-show rituals?
We hug each other, we get in this big circle of hug and we just kind of pump each other up and get stoked and just talk about something really quick. Sort of like, bring our own vibe together, a togetherness vibe and then go play. It’s a little gay, a little hippie.

So I have to ask about the groupies . . . is it cool to sleep with the band?
Groupies are gross. Groupies are the girls that sleep with all the other band dudes. I’m not down with that. It’s hard to meet people on tour because they either like you because you’re in the band or they like you because they just saw you play a show or they like you because it’s cool. So it’s pretty hard to meet people on tour. Although touring is pretty lonely at the same time. A lot of our crowd is mid-younger age too so that wouldn’t work out. I try to meet and hang out with our fans as much as possible, because it’s cool to meet them and stuff. It’s weird when they just come to try to sleep with the band. It’s like, “You’re fuckin’ 17. You’re not old enough.” That’s why you usually have to ID check before you bring anybody on the bus usually, because we’ll go to jail.

Relationship-wise, if you guys have girls at home is it hard to stay loyal?
It’s weird, being lonely on tour is a hard thing to pass. No matter what, relationship or not, three months alone is three months of being alone. It’s not like three months and then you’re okay. It’s constant loneliness in a way. It really is what it is. You either have a girlfriend and deal with it or you don’t and you deal with it. My favorite phrase and saying is “it is what it is.” It stands for everything. You have to deal with it. It is hard. I’m not about to go date some groupie girl. That’s fuckin’ nasty. “Which band did you sleep with? Oh cool, you wanna hang out later.” I like making fun of the groupies. Which is very fun. Most of them are pretty stupid. I mean, to want to just sleep with band dudes to make points. What else do you have going on for you, what else is your life worth?

How do you know the difference between a groupie and a real fan?
It’s obvious. You didn’t really come to meet anybody, you came to sleep with somebody. It’s fun to mess with them. We bring them on the bus and tease them, but not let them know we’re teasing them. Its fun, it passes time.

Do they really exist? Do you recognize people?
Oh, yeah. It’s really hard too, meeting people. I consider life moments, sets of moments in your whole life. Because I’m not religious at all, I don’t believe in anything really like that. I believe in moments and that your whole life is sets of these things and each little moment you capture is great. Being on tour you have select moments with people because you’re not going to see that person again or those people again for months probably. You have a day to have a moment with somebody, and that’s pretty much it. It is what it is. But moments are a good thing, you can either share moments and hang out, or you can share moments with other people on the bus and hang out. That’s why I enjoy hanging out with people, I’m all about it.

I’ll hang out with fans, but it gets weird a little bit. You’ll hang out with fans and share a moment with those guys, you’ll be hanging out and they’re super cool and maybe you’ll go get a drink at Starbucks, you and five random kids. And then next time you come through town they get mad if you don’t, which is weird, it’s like, “Sorry, man.” To them it was a big moment, but for us, we’re trying to hang out and spend our time wisely. Next time we come through town, maybe we don’t have time, maybe we’re doing press or maybe we’re hanging out with somebody else and all of a sudden they’re offended because they’re waiting for months to hang out again. I feel bad about it. I’m an asshole. I’m pretty good because I remember fans faces. There’s a lot of ups and downs.

Are there ups and downs to having really close, loving and adoring fans?
Yes. There are three types of fans that I’ve noticed. There are the best ones, which are the loving fans, that love you so much for what you do and they just love to see you and come to your show. And that’s it. That’s all they want – to come to the show, see the show and be happy because they got to see a live concert of a band that they love. Those are the best fans by far because we’re writing music for them and we’re touring for them. They’re accepting of that.

Then there are the fans that just want to meet you because you’re in a band, and that’s okay. I don’t mind, I love meeting people. But, some of those fans get angry when they don’t meet all of you and they get angry when they only meet one of you and they start getting really mad at you because they only met one. They think it’s pointless that they even came to the show because they only met one of you.

Then there are the fans that want something of yours. Your hat, your shoes, your belt. And they get mad if you don’t give them something. Even the ones that want a lot from us, they’re still good people, they’re good fans. It’s just hard to please everybody.

How do you keep motivated each night for every show?
I love playing music. For me, it makes me happy to play a show. The vibe you get from playing a show I can’t really tell you what it feels like playing a show. It’s like telling a blind person what red apples look like, it’s sort of orange-ish. No matter what mood you’re in when you go play a show, you’ll probably be in a better mood. If you have a bad show it will probably put you in a bad mood too. But you’re still probably in a better mood then being in a real bad mood, if that makes sense. No matter what, it’s going to uplift you a little bit to a lot.

Do you guys have a musical background?
Yeah, it’s different for all of us. I think I know everybody’s background. Quinn’s dad was a drummer, so Quinn picked up music easily because his dad was a musician. I think they would jam together a little bit. Quinn’s naturally good at music. When we met him, he was the best guitar player we ever jammed with. This was back in the day, he was 17, I was blown away. He was just so good with what he did. I think the first thing he learned was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s song. The whole solo from one of those songs. I think it’s the “Freebird” solo. Bert is really good at piano, he started out playing piano and taking lessons I think. He can play trumpet too. His musical background is excellent. It comes from piano. Piano is the best way to start. I wish my parents would have forced me to take piano lessons. My musical ear is sort of hazy sometimes, but piano solves that whole problem.

Dan, his whole family are musicians. His dad too, is a guitar player and Dan’s a drummer so he just jammed with his dad and played with his dad all the time. Dan is definitely the best drummer I’ve ever played with in my whole life. Honestly, he’s one of my favorite live drummers, which is incredible that he’s in our band now because we used to watch his band and just watch him. I’d never seen anybody hit like that, I’ve never seen anybody play like that. He uses these thick marching sticks, they’re huge. I’ve seen him playing and he’ll break one, and he’ll pull one out and he’ll bust the next one in half right in the middle. He’s crazy, he’s an excellent drummer.

Me, my musical background’s weird because nobody in my family is a musician. I’m kind of the black sheep, my dad’s the black sheep of his family and so in a way, being a musician, kind of makes me the black sheep, even though I’m not. I picked up music, because my best friend growing up played guitar, and we always looked up to these other little, local bands that were awful, but great at same time. I was into weird music when I was a kid and I always liked bass stuff and for me bass was a calling almost. I picked up bass because he played guitar and it felt like that’s what I should play anyway. I’ll never regret that. I love bass, it’s my favorite. It was probably a good decision.


Check out The Used on MySpace to hear some of their songs and for current tour dates.

3 comments:

kelly said...

this is a really good interview. great pictures as well. thanks for posting! i'll definitely be checking back for the audio.

chrissy said...

wow, i like read right into his mind lol i love jeph and think he's the coolest guy around. its awesome to get to sit down and get to know more about him on a personal level. He's really down to earth and he has such a great heart, if i were to get a chance to meet him i'd DIE lol kuddos Jeph ,ur the best n im ur num 1 FAN n friend

Annie said...

he was really open in the interview..just realized i never posted the audio of the interview yet, i'll have to add that to my "to do" list lol

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