Interview: ‘Heartwork’ With Jeph Howard Of The Used

Interview by India Raine

When I was filling in as bassist for a Brisbane pop-punk band we covered The Used’s 2007 hit song Pretty Handsome Awkward. I instantly fell in love with its pumping bass and wanted to know more about Jeph Howard, the man behind the song’s grooving bass lick. We finally got to chat and talked pandemic lock downs, musical diversity and their hard-hitting new album ‘Heartwork’ 

With guest appearances from Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, Fever 333’s Jason Aalon Butler and Beartooth’s frontman Caleb Shomo, ‘Heartwork’ is bound to be an album loved by their die-hard fans as well as a new generation who may not have even been born when their debut album was released in 2002. 

The singles released from the LP so far are diverse, energetic and passionate – thanks in no small part to the band working with their long-time producer John Feldmann who has captured the raw energy of their older albums whilst combining it with the band’s need to explore new directions.

However, with the on-going global pandemic lock down affecting live performances, the release of this album is unlike any other, but Jeph reveals, he’s not letting it affect him…

“You know, I’m kind of a loner anyway so I really don’t mind being locked down at home. Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m an only child and I don’t really have a big family. So for me, I’m either on tour with the guys or simply hanging out by myself anyway. But, you know, I’ve gotten a lot of stuff done around the house I needed to and I’ve been jamming tons of bass because I have all this free time just to play – which is great, you know what I’m talking about?”

Yeah, perfect the skill! I guess as musicians using this time now to practice and come up with new ideas and songs is a really good use of our time.

“Right! You know how it is – sometimes you don’t feel like playing or sometimes you’re not in the mood or maybe you’re just too busy – there’s other things going on. This kind of freed up so much time for me that I’ve been able to do what I want. I’m trying to use it!”

Lockdown has definitely changed the way we connect and we’re now so far apart from real human interaction and that seems to be summed up in your new single Cathederal Bell with its lyrics touching on feeling trapped and stuck within yourself. What a perfect time to release that song!

He laughs “That’s funny, I didn’t even think of that! But comparing this song to what’s going on in the world is probably how everyone’s kinda feeling –  you know, needing to get out of the house and not handling being so disconnected. I didn’t see that because I’m used to being ‘disconnected’. I don’t have the internet at home because I live in the middle of nowhere. I barely get phone service so I don’t really call people, I don’t really text people, I don’t make video calls –  so I’m kind of used to this whole ‘alone’ thing.”

The chorus lyrics, “I’ve got moves to make but I can’t move” – a lot of people will be feeling that!

Jeph laughs, “Talk about timing!”

In a 2016 interview you said: “No matter what we do musically, it’s going to sound like us.” With Heartwork was there any particular influences when writing it or that affected the feel of this album? 

“Each record we do there’s always something different. This one we had maybe 20 to 30 song ideas ready to go before we went into the studio – they were almost finished musically. However, once we got into the studio we scrapped all of them and decided to start from scratch. That’s not that weird for us, we’ve done it before. We worked with producer John Feldmann again who we haven’t worked with for a couple of years and it felt like coming home to family. Everyone’s very comfortable. This is actually the easiest and most relaxing time I’ve ever recorded with John. This is the best I’ve ever felt recording with John actually!”

What prompted you to work with John again? 

“You know, because I like to explore I’m usually the guy that says ‘we should branch out, try something new, do something different’ but John for us is a family member and it just seemed right to work with him again – he gets us. I think we needed to make a record that felt like our first two. We needed something that was more powerful in a different sense and I knew John could help get that out of us. We all felt that way!”

The Beatles producer George Martin got called The 5th Beatle a lot because of his history with them as a producer, a friend, a collaborator. Would you say John is like that extended member? 

“I think so for sure. For our first three records we wanted to be a hardcore band. We all liked heavy and hard music –  we were hardcore dudes. So we were all wanting to go that route and try to get extreme and crazy, but John kind of toned us down in a good way and he kinda let the melody shine a little more than just screaming. That kind of mixture added to the sound and it changed us as a band.”

Was it a fun process recording ‘Heartwork’?

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had recording! And I say that because on our previous album we worked with one of my favourite producers ever, Ross Robinson and his whole idea is that ‘vibe’ is the most important part of a song; make as many mistakes as you want as long as the vibe is there, I loved that.  John’s kind of the opposite – he wants things to be a little more clean and perfect, but he’s also into the vibe, which is kind of a great mix of both worlds. So this record with John was just easy! Creative freedom, conscious streaming of creativity – just easiness flowing out of us.”

You can really hear that. The three songs you’ve released so far are full of passion and energy and it sounds like you had given yourselves the freedom to explore different genres. It’s really paid off!

“That’s great! I mean, as far as the band goes we have so many genres we listen to it makes sense that it would start shining through a little more.”

Did being so open to multiple genres help in the writing process? Doesn’t sound like you were limiting yourself to a strict musical formula.

“Yeah, I think we’ve always been accepting of all genres. I mean I listen to the weirdest mix of sh*t possible. At the moment I’m on an Afro-Cuban tip, and I love the Ethiopian style, just so rocking and so awesome. Ethiopian Jazz – I’m so into that. You know, everybody has their thing and that’s the beauty of the band all coming together to combine their influences. It just works.”

You’ve got a few different artists featuring on ‘Heartwork’, including Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker, Fever 333… How did those collaborations come about?

“We were really lucky with that. We had the song Blow Me, it was totally done except for the last chorus, and it was a heavy breakdown. We kept trying to mess with the song and get it heavier and heavier. We weren’t sure who was going to sing on it, we were just trying to make it as heavy as possible. I think it was John Feldmann who said ‘Why don’t we get Jason (Aalon Butler) from Fever to come down here?’ We all love Jason, he’s awesome and he’s such a talented person. So having him come down was so much fun for all of us. He sang the whole thing and wrote his own lyrics and did it all in an hour – which is really cool to see!

Travis came down and jammed with us which was really fun to do. It was really fun for me personally because obviously, bass player, you know. That song is… er…Oh god, they changed all the names of the songs, or Bert (McCracken) did, so I don’t remember what that one’s called! You guys will hear it, it’ll be fun.

Caleb Shomo from Beartooth came down and sang. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet him but his part is so awesome! It’s the heaviest thing we’ve ever done as a band so I can’t wait for that to be released. And Mark Hoppus does The Lighthouse – one of my favourites on the record.”

It sounds like everyone, no matter what stage of a fan they are, are really loving this album. You’ve got two decades worth of fans! It’s really amazing to see from the three songs that have been released so far how fans are reacting. It’s going to be a big album, I’m really looking forward to its release. 

“I really appreciate that and hopefully, at some point in time, we’ll be able to tour again!” he chuckles. 

You can Pre-Order and Pre-Save their new album ‘Heartwork’ due on April 24th via Big Noise here.

Read Good Call Live‘s album review written by Sam Townsend HERE



With thanks to Collision Course

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