February 15, 2003

Bert McCracken admits that the drama of his life has become a distraction from the music of his band, the Used. McCracken is a former Mormon and ex-drug addict who is dating Kelly Osbourne.

"Obviously, everyone's going to be interested in that," he says. "I'm asked about it in every interview."

The public has been buzzing, too. At live shows, McCracken says, "Kids make comments about my girlfriend."

Luckily for him, that's not all they're commenting about. The Used has become one of the "Spankin' New Bands" picked by MTV to click in 2003. While McCracken refers to these acts as "spank your a-" bands, the exposure helped propel the Used into Billboard's top 50. The band has sold more than a quarter-million records so far.

Of the SNB acts--Simple Plan and the Donnas, among others--the Used is the only one not playing a variation on punk-pop. Their self-titled debut features uniquely disjointed rock riffs, seesawing under McCracken's dislocated vocals.

"Everyone in the band has different tastes, so we never write in a set style," the singer explains.

It may help that they don't hail from a typical rock `n' roll town. They're from Orem, Utah. Both McCracken and drummer Branden Steineckert come from strict Mormon homes. But McCracken moved out at 16 when he got into drugs. After he landed in jail on a possession charge, his father stepped in to help. Now, the singer says, they're good friends.

Forming the band encouraged his sobriety. While many people claim rock `n' roll got them into drugs, McCracken says it got him out. "When I hooked up with them I was still going to Narcotics Anonymous," he says. "But they were never into drugs. If it weren't for the band, I think I'd still be getting high."

The group signed with Reprise and developed a buzz through live shows well before MTV singled them out. They already had appeared on two top summer festival tours - Vans Warped and Ozzfest.

McCracken met Kelly at Ozzfest last summer, but he doesn't hesitate to state a preference for Warped. "There's more of a unity vibe there. All the bands hang out," he explains. "At Ozzfest, there's a load of big rock stars. They don't hang out."

The Used will play both festivals again this summer. And despite the band's busy schedule, McCracken finds time to hang out with Kelly. During the phone interview for this story, the singer let slip that the young Oz was in the room. He then got self-conscious and stressed that music remains his focus, employing an unusual comparison to drive home the point.

"Music and the Mormon Church I grew up with ultimately have the same function," he says. "It's all about faith."

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