The Guardian: Grunge veterans Redd Kross: ‘Courtney Love blacklisted us!’

by Michael Hann

They were heralded as the forefathers of grunge, but a fondness for snubbing fashion – and crank calling their peers – meant that the McDonald brothers never made the big time. Not that they care

For a group Thurston Moore once called “the most important band in America”, Redd Kross have a knack for not helping themselves. Take grunge, of which they were unlikely forefathers. Jonathan Poneman, founder of Sub Pop Records – the label that kickstarted the grunge scene with Nirvana and Mudhoney – said their 1987 album Neurotica, which mixed sludgy hard rock and bright choruses, was “a life changer for me and for a lot of people in the Seattle music community”. But by the time grunge broke, they were making music inspired by early 70s AM rock and bubblegum pop, and 1990’s big-budget, major-label album Third Eye died a death.

Or consider the late 80s, when one promoter looked at an LA band with long hair who loved Kiss. Surely they would fit right in with hair metal? And so they appeared – fairly inappropriately – at the Country Club in Reseda with Poison and Leatherwolf. “We wore makeup on occasion, but our idea of it was to be like a transvestite hooker in a back alley,” says bassist Steven McDonald. “Poison looked more like the cast of Dynasty – honey-toasted and frosted, a midwest mall-chick vibe.”

“We were also very bad pranksters at the time,” says his older brother Jeff, singer and guitarist. “A lot of those hair metal bands would leave their phone numbers on their ads. So we would crank call groups like Poison.”

“I would say we damaged our career on more than one occasion through the act of crank calling,” Steven says. “We used to crank call our own record label.”

“As members of Poison,” Jeff adds.

“We would call the label pretending to be members of Poison or Stryper,” Steven continues, “really disgruntled that we were seeing too much of the other band’s activities out there, and complaining they weren’t paying any attention to us.”

The McDonalds convinced the label the calls had been made by a friend of theirs – letters of apology to their victims were demanded. “Our friend said he’d do it,” Jeff says. “On a tortilla. In ballpoint pen. Needless to say, Enigma Records were not super-enthusiastic about the next Redd Kross album.”

Though there are common threads running through their albums (up to their seventh, Beyond the Door, released this month) – namely a profusion of pop-culture references, a love of glam rock, and the sense that they had been imagined for a Richard Linklater film – they’ve also been a little different each time, but often at the wrong time. Even the approval of the grunge scene brought no benefits. “We were never able to open for Nirvana,” Steven says. “We shared the same manager. Flash forward to Nirvana being the biggest thing in the world – OK, can we please go on tour with your band? We were told we couldn’t, because Courtney Love said we were mean to her when she was fat.”

“We used to crank call Courtney,” Jeff says. “But not about being fat. We didn’t even know she was fat.”

“When she met Kurt Cobain we realised: Oh man, that Courtney chick – we have to be friends with her now,” Steven says. “But she had her revenge. She blacklisted us from Nirvana tours.”

Jeff was 14 and Steven 11 when they formed Redd Kross (first as the Tourists, then as Red Cross) in Hawthorne, California, in 1978. And pity the person who hosted an early show: one Lisa Stengel, who for her eighth-grade graduation party approached the only band in her junior high school. They were “heckled non-stop by local teenagers,” Steven says.

“It was like Bob Dylan in 1965,” Jeff says, adding that it was “great training” for being a support act. “The audience would be freaking out and booing, and we were always able to handle it. We knew we were better than the audience who were booing us. We got an intense education in bravery at a very young age.”

Steven continues the tale. “We had asked Lisa if we could have our friends come along that also had a band, and she said sure,” Steven says. “So we invited Black Flag. When they came in, kids are just evacuating. They knew they couldn’t heckle these guys. The six or seven stoners were blasted out – they were literally standing four feet from walls of extremely high-watt amplifiers. There was no booing. We learned the power of the sonic assault and the shields that electric guitars can provide. It should eliminate all fear if you’re playing.”

More than 40 years on from Lisa’s party, the McDonald brothers are still in love with playing music. “When we play shows now, the percentage of hitting that transcendent moment when you’re really not aware of the mechanics, that exhilarating thing I’ve been chasing my whole career, happens way more often than not,” Steven says. “And that’s one of the ways I can judge whether things are in a good place: the batting average.”

More than that, they still sound as if being in a band together is the most fun you could possibly have. And, Jeff suggests, maybe the fact that they are only now releasing their seventh record has been a good thing. “I thank God we weren’t prolific,” he says. “I think we would have muddled the soup. Taking the time to grow as artists or people was important for us – we haven’t spent all of our allotted creative juices. We weren’t prolific, we were precocious.”

 

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NME: Redd Kross: the eternal alt-rock underdogs on the dos and don’ts of surviving 40 years on rock ‘n’ roll’s sidelines



For almost four decades now, Redd Kross have been stalwarts of the alternative rock scene. Famed for their consistently ace – and really quite glam – indie rock, the band they started as children has persisted through punk, new wave, grunge, college rock and beyond. Sure, their peers in Sonic Youth, Nirvana, The Lemonheads, Dinosaur Jr. and all the rest, may have become household names (if your house is a pretty cool one at least). And yes, Redd Kross certainly haven’t. But they’re still here, making wild rock ‘n’ roll sounds, living the dream – and their stories are excellent.

Rock ‘n’ roll can be a treacherous and vicious place. Many have fallen. Many have failed. And so, who better than Steven McDonald, Redd Kross bass player, to give you some life lessons as to how you can have a 40-year career in rock…

DO… BE A LIFER

“I’ve been doing this band for four fifths of my life,” says Steven of the band he formed with his older brother Jeff, then 14, in Los Angeles back in 1978. “I started doing it when I was 11. It was everything to me. I took a nine-year break somewhere in the middle. That seemed to make sense at the time and so I spent nine years seeing what else was out in the world for me. But then I decided that I could happily be in Redd Kross for the rest of my life. I need to perform. That’s a big part of me. If I don’t perform I get weird.”

DON’T… TRY AND JOIN THE BAND YOU’RE PRODUCING

“I remember I was producing a Turbonegro record in Oslo. It was 2005 and I hadn’t been on tour for years. I went to the suicide capital of the world in suicide season. It got weird. At the time, the band were considering getting a third guitarist and I totally crossed this line as producer of offering to be in their band. They laughed, nervously. No-one was asking me to be in their band. It got super awkward. I just missed performing so much. That’s when I decided that I needed to get Redd Kross back together.”

DO… REMEMBER AGE IS JUST A NUMBER

Steven is fifty-two now. Could he see himself doing this when he’s 80? “Well, the Stones are still doing it. My dad is a precision welder, and he’s 80, and he’s still doing it because it’s what he does. I’d like to be still doing it. If you go by My Generation by The Who, and the mission statement of “I hope I die before I get old”, we’re supposed to be dying around about now anyway. Since we’re not, I guess we’re gonna have to work it out. Pete Townsend is still doing it. He has a nicer backstage area than I do, so I guess that helps, but still…”

DON’T… LET THE BITTERNESS CONSUME YOU

As we touched on previously, despite being consistently brilliant composers of hyper gooey, impeccably melodic glam-cum-indie rock for all of their career, Redd Kross never broke big like their peers. It’s not fair. But life isn’t fair.

“There’s bitterness there, if I’m being perfectly frank,” says Steven. “But I’m trying to chisel my disappointment into wisdom rather than bitterness.”

Can you hear a Nirvana song on the radio without wanting to smash the radio up?

“Well, Nirvana is a weird one,” he laughs. “I loved Nirvana. They don’t make me want to smash the radio up, but Nirvana might make me want to ring up my old manager and scream at him because we shared the same management. Once Nirvana took off, we couldn’t get them on the phone anymore. We couldn’t even get to open for them, which didn’t seem fair.”

Why do you think so many underground rock bands took off in that early ’90s and Redd Kross didn’t?

“Timing is one,” says Steven. “But I don’t have the algorithm. But then maybe it’s still lurking. The world has changed. I don’t want to sound like a deluded fool and I certainly know I’m not going to be sold to masses of teenagers at this point, but these days there’s not really an elite that control the gateway to the masses. I think we can genuinely do things on our own terms now. Which is super cool to me. I never really wanted to be a rockstar. I just wanted the ability to keep doing it.”

He laughs.

“I don’t know… I just heard something on a podcast about trying not to be so bitter recently, so I’m trying it out.”

DO… UPSET THE SQUARES

Not only were the band allegedly named after the scene in The Exorcist where a possessed Linda Blair masturbates with a crucifix (then named Red Cross, they added the ‘d’ and the ‘k’ when they were threatened with a lawsuit from the humanitarian organisation), they also covered the song Cease To Exist by Charles Manson – yes, that Charles Manson – on their first album.

“We just wanted to upset people,” says Steven. “Classic punk rock stuff. That said, we didn’t list it on the tracklisting of the first record, Born Innocent, because we were legitimately worried that some stragglers in the Manson Family would come and kill us. It was only just over a decade since all that stuff had gone down, so it didn’t feel too ridiculous at the time…”

DON’T… PRANK COURTNEY LOVE

“Actually,” says Steven, frantically, “I think the reason why we couldn’t support Nirvana was because Courtney Love said we’d been mean to her. Which is possible. We did prank call her once I think. We did that a lot, normally with our record label. We’d pretend to be members of [wretched hair-metal doozies] Poison and Stryper who were our label mates and try to get them in fights with each other. It didn’t work. We just got dropped from our record label instead.”

DO… LOVE THY BROTHER

Rock ‘n’ roll is full of siblings who are known for lamping the shit out of each other. Redd Kross are no different.

“We were never as bad as the Gallaghers,” laughs Steven of his relationship with brother Jeff, “but we would fight all the time in the early years – often onstage. We’ve always been close, but when it comes to responsibility within the band, it’s really easy for us to become bratty little kids again. That’s improved loads over time though. I’m really proud of that. There’s a song on the new record called ‘Beyond The Door’ that is the closest collaboration we’ve ever worked out between the two of us. I’m not sure we could have always done that.”

DON’T… BE AFRAID TO DREAM BIG

“I played my first ever live show supporting Black Flag,” says Steven. “I was 12. We were so tenacious at that age. We’d go through the phonebook and find the numbers of our favourite bands and just call them and ask if we could support them. We called X and The Dickies, and Black Flag were the first band who kind of bit. They invited us down to their rehearsal room and we watched them, and then they just handed us their instruments and said, ‘Go on then, show us what you can do’. I was hanging around with all these grown-up punk people when I was just a little kid. I got completely disowned by all the kids my age at school because I was talking about punk rock all the time. It was very strange.”

 

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Denver Westworld: Redd Kross: The 39-Year-Old Band You’ve Never Heard That Inspired Nirvana

Redd Kross is playing Denver for the first time in twenty years.

The influential proto-alternative band started in 1978, when bassist Steve McDonald and his older brother, Jeff, were eleven and fourteen, respectively. They had grown up in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, where they, led by Jeff, discovered underground music from magazines like Creem and Rock Scene. They’d already experienced stadium rock at a young age. By the time they started their own act, they had discovered a punk band whose members lived and practiced nearby: Black Flag.

The Flag, a fairly new band at the time, took these kids under its wings. And Redd Kross’s first show, as “Red Cross” – the band’s name before it was legally forced to change its name by the medical organization – was at an eighth-grade graduation party in someone’s living room.

“If you’ve seen the first ten minutes of the movie Boogie Nights, where they show Dirk Diggler’s humble beginnings in suburban Torrance and suburban L.A., imagine that living room and imagine a rock band playing in it, and that was the scene,” says Steve McDonald.

From those humble beginnings, Redd Kross took its glam-rock influences and infused them with a wide variety of musical styles and a punk attitude defined by irreverent humor and a skepticism about fitting in; the result was one of the most secretly influential bands of the era. You can hear the impact of Redd Kross in generations of musicians, including Sonic Youth, the Melvins and Nirvana.

“My brother has never been interested in joining any kind of community and has been into his own trip and is a little too shy to be that social,” says McDonald. “So he never wanted to be pinned to any kind of community. That said, if you look back at the history of the band, any time the band seemed to be part of any kind of movement, we would throw a wrench in it and not benefit from being part of any kind of bandwagon. I don’t know that it was because we had the forethought to think that once that bandwagon starts to fall apart you go with it, or if it was just that we were way too anti-social or punk in our attitude to let anyone else speak for us.”

That willingness to change gears and follow instinct over trends made an impact on a young musician from Washington and all of his peers. Dale Crover, perhaps best known as the drummer for the Melvins, caught a show in 1987 at the Crystal Ballroom in Tacoma, when Redd Kross toured in support of its Neuroticaalbum, which Crover feels was massively influential on the grunge movement. Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic were in the audience, too, as Crover remembers, acting unimpressed with the band’s “good vibes and their happiness.” But the seeds of fusing punk with pop in the heart of the band that would become Nirvana were obviously firmly planted that night.

Although it was influencing underground musicians and impressing music critics, Redd Kross only flirted with mainstream and commercial success its entire career before going on hiatus from 1997 until 2006, when the band was convinced to play some festival dates. Around the same time, the Melvinsrelocated to Los Angeles, and Crover and McDonald became friends. Crover would go on to occasionally gig with McDonald’s hardcore band OFF! when Mario Rubacalba wasn’t available, and McDonald played on the 2016 Melvinsalbum Basses Loaded and then on 109 dates of a tour promoting that project. McDonald also recently played on the new Melvins album due out in summer 2017.

“Those guys came from a punk-rock world but fell into their own thing,” says Crover. “I always thought they were into the same kind of music I was getting into. They could be into Kiss and the Germs at the same time. The Melvins guys had the same vibe. We can listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd and MC5, Black Flag and Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater and Discharge. Punk rockers were dumbfounded by that stuff. A lot of that music I grew up on, and from that I found this. So I feel like I understood where they were coming from very well. [Steven’s] the punk-rock-Paul McCartney bass player.”

Crover always appreciated what he calls the “weirdness factor” of the band as well as Jeff’s strange but compelling pop songs. “Those guys are both weirdos, and I love them for it and wouldn’t want it [any other] way.”

Long-term, that weirdness factor has meant that Redd Kross can still have a career precisely because it avoided trends.

“We saw to it that we were awkward in all worlds. We inhabited many worlds but fit into none of them,” says McDonald.

Redd Kross, with The Omens and The Lollygags, 8 p.m. Saturday, April 15, Larimer Lounge, 2721 Larimer Street, 303-291-1007, $17-20, 16+.

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LA WEEKLY: OFF!/Redd Kross Bassist Steve McDonald Loves His New Gig in The Melvins

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steven-mcdonald-rhondi-reardon

A conversation with Steven McDonald of Redd Kross, OFF! and now The Melvins is always a treat.

While the term elder statesman applies to McDonald, it seems inappropriate to use “elder” to describe anyone who brings so much youthful enthusiasm to his work. Especially in his latest endeavor, playing bass with the now L.A.-based sludge, grunge and experi-metal pioneers, The Melvins, who originally hailed from the Pacific Northwest.

Truth be told, McDonald, who turned 49 in May, seems to be very pleasantly pleased. When a legendary bass player joins a legendary band, the odds are in the fans’ favor of seeing something amazing at every gig, and this union doesn’t disappoint at all.

McDonald, who cut his teeth in the Hawthorne-based Tourists in 1978 (who would become Redd Kross in 1980) at the tender of age of 11, has a long line of music success under his belt. Along with his brother Jeff McDonald, he’s responsible for some of the best power-pop/punk hybrid music ever with his work in Redd Kross. In 2009, he formed punk-rock supergroup OFF! with Keith Morris (Circle Jerks), Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides), and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From the Crypt). In addition to his work with a bass in his hand, McDonald also has an ever-growing list of artists he is recording and producing, including The Format’s Sam Means, with whom he just did an absolutely killer record, Ten Songs.

What’s happening with Redd Kross and OFF!?
Well, my brother [Redd Kross’ Jeff McDonald] has been writing songs while I’m on the road with The Melvins. I’ve got a little recording space that I share with all the bands that I’m in. I call it the Whiskey Kitchen. I’m doing a couple records for Burger Records and In the Red Records at my space. My niece, Astrid McDonald, has a band called The Side Eyes. They’re totally rad. I’m making a record with them. My July is full with all the different balls I’m keeping the air.

With OFF!, we just had a conference call a little while ago. We’ve got plans to try and do some stuff in the coming year.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW HERE.

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Phoenix New Times: “HOW REDD KROSS KILLED KURT COBAIN AND OTHER STORIES OF TEEN ANGST”

logo-150Since early 1978, brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald have been working on a band, music, or some form of noisemaking. At first, they were The Tourists. Then in 1980, they became Red Cross (but some nutty nonprofit organization already had dibs on that name) and finally wound up as Redd Kross. Sure, over the past 37 years, the McDonalds have taken some breaks here and there from Redd Kross to raise children, relax, recharge, etc., but the fact remains that their passion for music and all things pop culture has allowed their musical acumen to continue to grow and flourish. From their first recording, the 1980 EP Red Cross, to their most recent full-length, Researching the Blues (2012), the band has continued to expand its sound, even if it hasn’t performed nearly as much as fans would like.

We caught up with the brothers one day after they were done practicing a couple of weeks ago. Always entertaining, the McDonalds occasionally finish each other’s sentences and are not shy about sharing their thoughts on their career, the scene (or “scenes,” as they point out), and pretty much anything else they could think of. Catch them on Friday night at the Crescent Ballroom as they return to the desert and promise to bring the “razzmatazz.”

New Times: Hi, guys. What’s happening?

Jeff McDonald: We just finished rehearsal.

How was it?

Jeff McDonald: We’ve been having great rehearsals and going through a lot of songs.

Are you going to bust out with some special stuff for the Phoenix fans, since it has been two decades since you have been here?

Jeff McDonald: I assume everything will be special since it’s been two decades.

Steve McDonald: We’re banking on that.

Jeff McDonald: So far, we’ve had just the best times on this tour, so we’re thinking it will be special. We don’t play that much, so we have such a good time when we play.

You took some time off, Jeff, to raise your daughter, correct?

Jeff McDonald: Yeah, that was in the early 2000s. We took this long break. I didn’t want to play. I wanted to recharge. I really wanted to be ready to perform again. Redd Kross is band that (pauses) . . . We’re kind of like seasoned performers.

Steve McDonald: (interjects) more like Liza Minnelli.

Jeff McDonald: And the Osmonds . . .

Steve McDonald: We don’t consider ourselves peers of like the Foo Fighters. We’re more like peers of Liza Minnelli and the Osmonds.

Jeff McDonald: We always make sure our show has a certain razzmatazz. Some people call it razzle dazzle, but I call it razzmatazz. I think some of our latest shows that we’ve done in the past year have been some of our most exciting gigs. We never play the same show twice. We always write up the set list, like, five minutes before the show. We kind of keep ourselves on edge on purpose.

So, how many songs did you run through today (in practice)?

Jeff McDonald: Umm, we are just kind of getting our feet wet again . . .

Steve McDonald: Like 30.

Jeff McDonald: Was it 30?

Steve McDonald: Yeah. Some of them are a minute and half long, but . . .

Jeff McDonald: We know songs from any record in our career. We do a little bit . . . You know, songs that work with the set. Sometimes we’ll be playing in front of an audience and a certain song doesn’t seem right for the vibe, so we’ll cut it, and sometimes we’ll throw in a song that isn’t on the list. We do that stuff constantly. I think it really irritates some people in the band . . . But um.

Steve McDonald: No one cares . . .

Jeff McDonald: Steven can handle it.

Steve McDonald: I can just never tell if we skip a song if it’s because someone can’t read the set list.

Jeff McDonald: It happens. I’ve skipped like four songs before on accident.

Somebody with good penmanship should write the set lists.

Jeff McDonald: I have the worst penmanship in show business. I have the penmanship of a doctor.

So you prescribe your songs?

Jeff McDonald: We prescribe our songs. We don’t perform them.

Click here to read the entire interview by Tom Reardon.

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SF Examiner: Redd Kross in S.F. for New Year’s Eve – interview with Jeff McDonald

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 11.14.34 PMNew Year’s Eve will be unusual for Jeff McDonald from the campy Los Angeles rock combo Redd Kross. The band – which includes his brother Steven – plays The City with old chums The Melvins and Frightwig, backing their latest riff-fest, “Researching the Blues.” But it’s not exactly McDonad’s preference. Most holidays, he and his wife Charlotte Caffey (of Go Go’s renown) watch “Rocking New Year’s Eve” on TV. He says, “New Year’s is a holiday that I’ve basically given up on, because people have these really high expectations for good times and it’s basically a hooligan’s paradise.”

Click here to read the full interview.

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