But when you stop and actually listen to the lyrics, or better yet sit down for 20 minutes and chat with Bert himself, it’s brilliant to learn just what goes on behind the scenes!
They are fighters. They are humanitarians. They are passionate. They are opinionated. They have optimism and they are incredibly motivated… Just not about what you would expect by looking at them…
They are in the process of building a great little venture called G.A.S. Union (Give A Shit Union) that does exactly that – gives a shit! The main focus for G.A.S. is to cut out those middle men in the music industry that don’t have a lot to do with the productive side of the music or getting it to the fans.
“If we really look at the world of music today, the band signs to a major label and in doing so, pretty much sign the rights to everything away - they only make the pennies they catch from the fat rich president’s pockets! That’s kind of the laymen way to put it. So we are trying to make a world in which fans are able to pay the bands directly without anyone taking a cut of what they do unfairly. We believe if you’re not producing music, contributing to the touring side of music or are a key part of the bands strategic outlook then you shouldn’t make any money. You know, riding in private jets and whatever else these ‘executives’ do…. We know what they do. We know what they do!! (Laughs) but the system is so setup against us the musicians, and the people that truly love the music. You look at iTunes, they take 30% of everything! How do you fight iTunes? It’s become commonplace. I believe in a world where fans pay the bands and bands support the fans through the music that they make. It’s kind of like Australians supporting local family business. It feels the same.”
They are not the only ones bringing light to this issue though, Jared Leto’s band Thirty Seconds To Mars created ARTIFACT, a documentary that brought these exact issues to the public’s attention.
“Record companies used to lend enormous amounts of money to finance a bands career which is just not the case anymore, hence 360 deals where bands agree to sign 50,60,70% of EVERYTHING including touring merchandise away to the label (which is theft). Or, take the streaming side of things, that’s even worse! These billionaires get away with paying .0008 cents a play. Its like you get 1 million plays on spotify and you get paid one hundred and something dollars. It’s fucking unbelievable!!”
While he says “Good on Jared for bringing some consciousness to the world”, he did have this to say about it. “I guess it would be tactful if it wasn’t a movie with a bunch of actors playing artists…. Who are rich anyways, so what’s the point? What are they complaining about? I get it. I think its good that someone’s addressing the issue, but they are actually banking on the issue. (Laughs) What a kind of paradoxical ironic situation we have!”
Away from the music side of things, they are also working with another company called Hero Condoms. For each condom that Hero Condoms sells, G.A.S. Union and Hero are sending one condom to Botswana for free, aiming to have ZERO new HIV infections in Botswana by 2016.
The band and Bert himself have certainly come a long way since their teen years. Bert was homeless at the age of 16 after starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol, resulting in his parents sending him out on his own (you can follow this story in some of the song lyrics like The Bird And The Worm), and him spiralling quickly into alcohol addiction and heavier substance use. But he is now in his 30’s, 100% sober and stronger than ever!
“I’ve always had a passion for philosophy and for deep understanding and I love to read, but alcohol (and a few other unnamed substances) kept me from doing the things that I love and taking away the people I loved. I guess a good way to understand it is that I was the guy who was constantly in trouble because of how much he drinks or the things he does. It’s funny for a bit - maybe a year or five years, but that person becomes a burden on everyone. I’m that person times ten! I never had a night where I wasn’t ‘that guy at the wedding’. It also brought me a lot of depression; a lot of anxiety and it was bringing me clearer and closer to death. I wasn’t able to survive that way any longer.”
I couldn’t help but wonder now that he is a parent himself, how he would respond if his daughter Cleopatra Rose (gorgeous!) wanted to experiment with drugs and alcohol at some stage.
“I say knowledge is key. Knowledge is power and I think that if we are looking for escapes from reality then there are thousands of healthy escapes. Experimenting with drugs and alcohol is one thing but taking yourself out of your own reality with substances can never lead to anything but more of a close personal relationship with addiction which leads to death and jail and everything they say is true. I guess I would tell her that life is very fragile and I’d say ‘read these 40 books(laughs) and then come back’. I don’t know what I’ll say (laughs). I hope I can just have a talk. I’m not gonna TELL her anything. I don’t want to say things at her; I wanna kind of have conversations with her about how I feel and how she feels I think.”
Bert recently relocated to Australia with his wife Allison and his daughter Cleopatra. Although it still feels wrong to be driving on the wrong side of the road, It hasn’t affected his relationship with the rest of the band, they are still constantly in contact and tight as ever, and ready to put on one hell of a show when they tour the country this month!
For those who have never seen The Used live, Bert had this to say about their live performances…
“That moment where you feel a release of the pressures from every day life, that’s the moment where music makes sense. I think coming to a used show you get to experience a moment of freedom and say goodbye to all your problems. Also we are a heavily energetic band. We come from a lot of heavy slashing bands but our music inspirations meld in such a way that it’s like a harnessed fire. We are music fans first and we know what it’s like to be in the crowd so for me it feels like heaven. If that place really existed.”
The Used will share the stage with Taking Back Sunday when they play at HQ on the 21st of August thanks to Soundwave Touring. You can still get tickets here.
Interview by Melissa Donato