Redd Kross Aren’t Resting on Their Laurels
Brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald talk Beyond the Door and keeping the party going for over forty years.
Being around Redd Kross’ Jeff and Steven McDonald feels like hanging out with your cool older brother’s even cooler friends. The cluttered studio at Steven’s home is not unlike a garage-turned-band-rehearsal space, even if it’s in the very grown-up home in Beachwood Canyon that he shares with his wife, That Dog’s Anna Waronker, and their ten-year-old son, Alfie.
Though the space seems disorganized, it’s still a working studio, one where Steven produces artists, including Jeff’s daughter Astrid’s punk band, The Side Eyes (he had Astrid with Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s). For the last forty years, Redd Kross has been inextricably tied with that part of Southern California’s underground music history. The most recent RK product is their eighth album, Beyond the Door, their first in seven years.
“It’s a good decade if we can get two albums out,” says Jeff, referring to the fifteen-year gap between 1997’s Show World and 2012’s Researching the Blues.
“I always thought of us as the last prolific band in the world,” says Steven. “We average an album every five years. That’s not as bad as I thought. Women are born with their lifetime supply of eggs. Maybe it’s the same for songs. We haven’t gone through song menopause yet. We’re slowly rationing so we don’t use up our supply and we can continue.”
“Or maybe we went through song menopause years ago,” jokes Jeff. “One of the benefits of being in your fifties and not having made too many records is that we’re not spent creatively. There are still ideas that haven’t been done yet.” This type of banter between the brothers, who are about four years apart, is the stuff of legend amongst Redd Kross fans.
“Women are born with their lifetime supply of eggs. Maybe it’s the same for songs. We haven’t gone through song menopause yet. We’re slowly rationing so we don’t use up our supply and we can continue.”
— Steven McDonald
The two started out in the LA punk scene at ages eleven and fourteen, respectively, spurred by punk rock icons Black Flag. Always a step ahead of the curve—they were glam before glam, grunge before grunge—the brothers have gone through shifts in sound that signal what’s coming next, but they’ve also managed to swerve the level of commercial success that some of those who’ve followed in their footsteps have achieved. They’ve got a matter-of-fact attitude about this phenomenon, considering it a blessing in disguise.
“If we had even one big freakish hit, we’d forever be doing ’80s cruises,” says Steven. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but we’re always bubbling under in the cool underground rock scene. It takes a lot of nerve to put new material out.”
“We’re always trying to be this vital, up-and-coming band,” says Jeff. “We like that excitement, that electricity of the underground scene. As a fan and follower of music, when someone’s got something brand new and you’re seeing it congeal for the first time, we can feel it. It’s palpable. We’d rather be there. If you want to remain relevant, you have to keep doing it. You have to keep moving. Resting on your laurels is the kiss of death in any art form.”
Beyond the Door has several Redd Kross hallmarks: the signature youthfulness, sense of joy, and—at thirty-four minutes—the brevity. It signals a party attitude with the unmistakable opener, “The Party,” a faithful cover of the Henry Mancini–penned title song from the 1968 Peter Sellers film. This cover is something Jeff has had in the works since 1994, when a fan in Japan gave him the soundtrack to The Party as a gift. Beyond the Door is bookended by covers, the closer an unforgettable version of Sparks’ “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way.” There is also “Ice Cream (Strange and Pleasing),” an ode to the cold treat and a summer anthem for the ages. Halfway through is “The Party Underground”—and if we were still in the days of vinyl or cassette, this track would mark side two of the album with a reinvigorated celebration.
“That’s the place of Redd Kross, what we bring to the party,” says Steven. “With social media, we’re in contact with a lot of people who have been fans for years. You hear that what we do is uplifting to people. Not that we take that on as our role or responsibility, it’s just what we do naturally.”
“It has to be fun, otherwise there’s no sense in being in a rock band,” says Jeff. “But the really fun thing about being a creative person is it’s coming from your brain and it might make you laugh, but it might be really serious for someone else. Whether a song is nonsense or more literal, the good stuff always comes from a place of honesty—which is something I can’t even define.”
“It has to be fun, otherwise there’s no sense in being in a rock band.”
— Jeff McDonald
The lively spirit is turned up even higher for Redd Kross’ live performances. This September, they’re embarking on an extensive tour with upwards of fifty dates in just over two months with Melvins. Steven is doing double duty here: since 2015, he has been a full-fledged, bass-playing member of the band (as well as funding the supergroup OFF! since 2009). The brothers credit their exuberant shows partially to the punk scene in which they were incubated, and partially to the music they listened to growing up, whether it be Kiss or Liza Minnelli.
“Razzmatazz,” says Jeff, quoting Ms. Minnelli, when describing the Redd Kross live aesthetic. “With today’s technology, anyone can make a multi-track recording, but as far as being able to organically grow into a live performing act like us, it’s a little more difficult. The performance aspect of it is very natural to Steven and I. We grew up dazzled by show business.”
“We’re hams,” Steven adds. “That means a lot of jumping around, which keeps me young. I have a ten-year-old, so I want to be around as long as I possibly can and I want to be fit. Jeff says he needs applause to exercise. I definitely identify with that idea. It’s like the apps that encourage you to keep going when you’re exercising. That’s what the audience is for me.” FL