FOREWORD: Redd Kross have been around since ’78 (as the Tourists). By the ‘80s, they were a leading independent L.A. pop band out of Hawthorne. I caught up with guitarist-vocalist Jeff Mc Donald in 97 to promote their second-to-last LP, Show The World.
My editor at Aquarian at the time, Michelle, hooked me up with him. After nearly a decade apart, the prime Redd Kross lineup reemerged for a few local ’95 performances. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
“I guess disposable pop isn’t all that disposable,” insists Redd Kross guitarist/ vocalist Jeff Mc Donald when confronted with the suggestion. Along with brother/ bassist Steve Mc Donald, Hawthorne, California’s unflappable Redd Kross has survived various setbacks and lineup changes (Bad Religion’s Greg Hetson was an early member) since “I Hate My School” and “Annette’s Got The Hits” appeared on the 1980 three band sampler “The Siren.”
Inspired by legendary pop, punk, and no wave artists, Redd Kross continually attract underground club heads undisturbed by melodically bright, alluring landscapes and charming simplicity. Skillfully skirting the current L.A. glam-rock scene, these sugarcoated smoothies craft infectious songs, bucking trendiness by remaining unassuming and predictably consistent in their search for the perfect pop song. The bands’ ebullient first single from Show World, “Stoned,” an electronically radiant montage contrasting dissimilar female characters – a Venice hippie, a troubled low rider, and a speed freak punk squatter – should make High Times’ Pot 10.
How has Redd Kross evolved since forming in ’78?
JEFF MC DONALD: Certain things such as playing and singing were made easier simply because we could now play our instruments well. And through better technologically, we’ve been able to expand. For some bands, that could be bad. But for us, it was good. Now we are able to translate how our heads hear the music. When we started, we got away with not being able to play. So we’re better musicians. As for the music, it’s like asking someone how their face has changed in 18 years. I don’t have a full perspective on it.
Redd Kross has been on record labels such as Posh Boy, Smoke 7, Frontier, Big Time, and Atlantic. Have you changed labels frequently because they tried to constrict your sound?
JEFF: We’ve never had to compromise on our creativity at any level. We’ve always been able to take responsibility for the success or failure of each record. We’re very good at being passive aggressive; pretending to give the label what they want while doing what we want to do. We never stayed with a label for more than one record because the label either folded or we were dropped. It was always circumstances beyond our control. We’ve experienced every facet of the business on large, medium, and small labels. The indie labels were unstable and Atlantic dropped us because “Third Eye” didn’t sell a million copies. But what did they expect from a garage band out of Los Angeles. Happily, “Show World” is our second release from Mercury – following ’93′s “Phaseshifter.”
How tough was it to gain exposure when there was no permanent company releasing your records?
JEFF: When you’re in a cult band such as ours, there are no platinum hits or MTV exposure. But cult bands are dedicated to fun and are more mysterious. In a perfect world, we would have written some million sellers. But when our breakthrough album, “Neurotica,” came out in ’87, rap, Motley Crue, and Ratt’s “Round & Round” were getting airplay. We had no fantasy of becoming a platinum success. Then again, we’re still around. We just started touring internationally 4 years ago. Most of our peers did it for years but we never had the financial support. But we do have a small audience which spreads across the globe now.
What songs and artists inspired you most?
JEFF: Two of my favorite songs are the Beatles’ “She Loves You” and the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action.” I would say the Beatles and Stones form our basic foundation. And Iggy Pop, the Velvet Underground, New York Dolls, Merseybeat pop, and the Beach Boys are inspirations. My brother and I were into no wave artists like Teenage Jesus – whose first single was “Orphans” on Pink Records – and DNA during the late ’70s. They remain influences. But I also enjoy novelty records like Annette Funicello’s beach period albums “Muscle Beach Party” and “Monkey’s Uncle,” which were produced by Brian Wilson. Another novelty fave is Jimmy Osmond’s “Long Haired Lover From Liverpool.” And I liked Lesley Gore and the Monkees, too.
Wait a minute. Redd Kross, a pure pop band, was influenced by the atonal minimalism of DNA and Teenage Jesus?
JEFF: We always liked noise. In ’87, our live shows became very spontaneous. We’d take a two-minute song and stretch it out to 20 minutes like Sonic Youth or Jefferson Airplane. On the road, first we’d get bored, feel bad, and get tedious. Then we’d feel lively and get spontaneous. If the audience walked out during a long song, we’d chill out. But we were more self-indulgent back then. We actually haven’t played live in two years now. So in ’97, we’re touring Europe and then the States.
You attended Hawthorne High School over a decade after Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys did. Is there still a buzz out there for the Beach Boys?
JEFF: It’s 95% black now. I don’t think they care about the Beach Boys. Or, for that matter, Emmitt Rhodes of the ’60s pop band Merry Go Round. He also attended Hawthorne High. I hear Rhodes is currently living with his mother. Amazingly, I picked up his first solo album from a small girl while I was in Asia.
Redd Kross has previously recorded cover versions of Kiss, the Stooges, the Rolling Stones, Queen, the Beatles, and David Bowie. Were there any covers on “Show World”?
JEFF: Yes. We have one new cover called “Please Tease Me,” originally done by the Quick. They were an L.A. band produced by Kim Fowley.
Do you find there is a difference between East Coast and West Coast audiences?
JEFF: No, not really. Most people who enjoy Redd Kross are into the same things, whether they’re from Los Angeles or New York. They like the same books, movies, rock bands, and clothes. And we just communicate through the music. So it’s really mystical. While New York is more artsy glamour, Los Angeles is more power pop glamour. That’s probably because there was a huge explosion of glampop which began in the ’70s in L.A.
I heard your band originally got into trouble with the Red Cross because of copyright infringement.
JEFF: It was only a brief problem. We had played a local community picnic and someone snitched on us. So Red Cross located my brother Steve at school and told him they had the copyright to that spelling. They were really very cool about it. We chose it as just a dumb punk name. At the time we were rehearsing with Black Flag. It kind of stuck with us.
Are your songs generally fact or fiction?
JEFF: They are a little of both. Some are autobiographical and some are based on our own perception of reality.
Is the new album titled “Show World” because Redd Kross wanted to show the world how good it was or was it a spoof on ‘All the world’s a stage and we are merely players’?
JEFF: It’s definitely closer to the latter.
Those Rickenbacher guitars on the song “Mess Around” reminded me of the Byrds.
JEFF: Yes. But the melody, which was written in a car, has weird phrasing and was intended to sound like Chrissie Hynde doing that Kinks B-side “Stop Your Sobbing.”
“You Lied Again” has Beatlesque harmonies riding above murky organ and pulverizing guitars.
JEFF: I co-wrote that with our drummer, Brian Reitzell. We never had a drummer who didn’t worship Neil Peart of Rush. And I had never listened to Rush until I took acid with a friend a few years back and heard “2112.” We practically pee’d in our pants laughing. Geddy Lee’s gerbil tone was hilarious. And the lyrics are great. I hope “You Lied Again” is a smash so I could do a film version of “2112.” I’d make it into a movie without music and call it “Neil’s Vision.”
Give me the dirt on the hard hitting, snotty punk tune “Teen Competition.”
JEFF: I’m not sure what it’s about. But it’s co-written with Pat Fear, someone I know whose name is based on Pat Smear. We were dreaming up this cult where the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan was a male Stevie Nicks figure. Like essential oil, Corgan’s the high priest and kids are trying to get his attention.
What previous Redd Kross album is your personal favorite?
JEFF: “Third Eye” may be my fave. But it alienated and annoyed a lot of people who thought it was slick. It made us instant pop lepers. Our old fans were freaked out and college radio wanted nothing to do with it.
What band truly changed your life?
JEFF: Definitely the Ramones. I was really into Black Sabbath until they released that shitty “Technical Ecstacy” album. Around that time, I heard the Ramones. They were like Black Sabbath, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys rolled into one.
Are there any stars who blew you away when you got the chance to meet them?
JEFF: Yes. Cher. I recently met her for an interview I did for Raygun. I found out she sang backup on lots of Phil Spector records like “Be My Baby” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” She was cool.