by Karina Espinosa
VANCOUVER – Redd Kross is one of the greatest underrated rock bands to come out of California. Formed by brothers Jeff and Steven Shane McDonald (when they were 15 and 11, respectively), the band started out in the first wave of the Los Angeles punk scene and got their first gig opening for Black Flag at a middle-school party. Ever since, the band has made music on its own terms, combining the best elements of punk, glam rock and ’60s power rock. In their refusal to bend to the mainstream, Redd Kross has become one of America’s most enduring and significant pop rock groups.
Starting in December, the band will embark on a West Coast and Southwest tour to promote two re-releases on Merge Records: an early EP of cover songs, Teen Babes from Monsanto (1984), and a 2016 collection of rarities entitled Hot Issue. Both albums are interesting in that they lay the groundwork for the band’s later records. From their unique take on hardcore on Born Innocent (1982) to the power pop masterwork Show World (1997), the band’s wide-ranging catalogue is chock full of astute references. Bassist Steve McDonald is especially enthusiastic to revisit these Redd Kross staples with the band’s songwriter, Jeff.
Jeff, whom McDonald affectionately calls his “partner all along the way,” always had a knack for mystifying his younger brother. In the early ‘80s, at a time when hard-core punks in California sported crew cuts, the elder McDonald opted to grow out his hair. Years later when the band received a cease-and-desist from the International Red Cross, Jeff decided to add the extra “D” in “Redd Kross” without much of an explanation. “He ensured that our name would be spelt incorrectly at least 60 per cent of the time throughout our career,” McDonald jokes.
But McDonald is grateful for his brother’s quirks, and credits them for Redd Kross’ lasting impact: “I think those kinds of confusing decisions always kept us out of step in any kind of movement we could’ve gotten a free ride out of. We’ve never closely or exclusively associated ourselves with one particular movement or scene. But those movements die out eventually, and sometimes bands die with them.”
Thankfully, that never happened with Redd Kross. As teenagers in Hawthorne, the pressure to have rigidly codified taste in music never fazed the McDonald brothers. The two listened to an array of genres, but McDonald stresses that he and Jeff “liked them all on the same level.” While they dug mainstream teenage music like Led Zeppelin and KISS, they listened to Patti Smith and the Ramones with as much frequency. Redd Kross’ own connection to underground rock culture is something McDonald completely attributes to his older brother.
Redd Kross’ influences are clear, and their commitment to a hooky yet hard-edged sound has been unwavering. And still, the band’s music continues to sound fresh and new. The band is currently working on an album due next year, which will be their latest collection of new songs since 2012’s Researching the Blues. McDonald doesn’t offer too many details, but it’s clear that the album will maintain the essential, innocent fun that marked the band’s previous work.
“I’d describe it as a bit of a party album. I don’t want to get too political, but at a time like this I think it’s exactly what people really need,” he says. “We’ve constantly changed over the years, so you can’t say that it’ll sound very Neurotica or very Third Eye. To me, it just feels like a great Redd Kross record.”
If the past four decades were any indication, we couldn’t expect anything less.
Redd Kross will perform at the Biltmore Cabaret (Vancouver) on December 15.