We are beyond thrilled to announce Redd Kross are doing a month long 24 date tour of the UK and Europe April/May 2020. It will be our first fully comprehensive headlining tour in the region since 1998. Tickets go on sale this Wednesday the 23rd. Go to Reddkross.com or the events listings of our fb page to purchase. Many of the rooms are tiny so don’t delay buying tickets and chance missing out. We can’t wait to see you! Much love, RK
Redd Kross are one of the longest-running bands Los Angeles has spawned in its history, with a career that launched in the city’s late 1970s punk scene (when its brother founders, Jeff and Steve McDonald, were aged 15 and 11, respectively), carried into the power-pop era of the 1980s, then into the alt-rock boom of the ‘90s and straight into the present — the band released a new album just last month.
While Redd Kross never quite broke through — make that haven’t yet broken through — in as big a way as many thought they deserved, the band has a formidable discography, they’ve always put on enormously entertaining live shows, and the brothers are some of the funniest, most gossip-spewing interviewees one could ever hope for. Equally influenced by punk, Kiss, the Partridge Family and pop culture — their first single was called “Linda Blair” — the group reveled in a self-deprecating kitsch and level of humor that flew in the face of nearly every contemporary who took themselves too seriously: As punk became more violent and self-serious during the mid-1980s, Redd Kross grew their hair down to their waists and began wearing the most ludicrous 1970s outfits they could find, specializing in elephant flares, paisley vests and Mary Tyler Moore-style hats.
In short, they’re long overdue for a documentary, and the filmmakers behind “Born Innocent: The Redd Kross Story recently shared a trailer of the documentary that coincides with the launch of a Kickstarter campaign to help finish the film.
“There’s a case to be made that Redd Kross is the seminal Los Angeles band of the last 40 years,” the tagline reads. “And ‘BORN INNOCENT’ is gonna make it.
As the trailer indicates, the group has spent much of its career in the unusual position of being an influence and a participant in many of the above music scenes. Their first gig, in 1978, was opening for punk legends Black Flag. Their 1987 “Neurotica” album — felt by many fans to be their best — merged power chords with pop melodies and was a deep influence on the nascent grunge scene and the group’s show in Tacoma that year was attended by the future members of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. The ensuing albums, including “Third Eye,” “Phaseshifter” and “Show World,” found the band developing its harmony-heavy power pop sound even further.
The film is directed by Andrew Reich an Emmy Award-winning television comedy writer/showrunner, best known as an Executive Producer on Friends. He has written and produced television pilots featuring stars such as Zac Efron, Candice Bergen, and Zachary Levi. Born Innocent is produced by Julian Cautherley an Emmy-Award winning filmmaker whose projects have participated at Sundance, Berlin, South By Southwest, and TriBeca Film Festivals and have twice been shortlisted for an Academy Award.
The documentary has already filmed interviews with Jeff and Steve and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover (The Melvins) and original Red Cross member Greg Hetson (Bad Religion, Circle Jerks), with many more lined up for later.
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.”
Redd Kross‘ upcoming album, Beyond the Door, closes with a cover of Sparks’ 1994 single, “When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way,” which they transform from glittering synthpop disco into a triumphant rock anthem. It also comes with the creators’ approval. “Redd Kross has always been one of my favorite bands and that opinion was cemented when I heard their amazing version of our ‘When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way,’” says Sparks’ Ron Mael. “To do a version of that song with a completely different musical approach from the original while keeping every ounce of the original sentiment was an amazing feat. I love it!” The song premieres in this post and you can listen below.
Beyond the Door is out August 23 via Merge and Redd Kross’ tour with Melvins and ShitKid kicks off in September and hits Brooklyn’s Warsaw on October 10 and Asbury Park’s Stone Pony on October 11. Tickets for both are still available.
All dates are listed below.
Speaking of Ron Mael, today (8/12) is his 74th birthday. Happy Birthday, Ron!
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.”
“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.”
Redd Kross team up with Melvins’ frontman Buzz Osborne on new single The Party Underground – track taken from their upcoming album Beyond The Door
Photo by Julian Fort
Redd Kross have released a stream of their new single The Party Underground exclusively with Louder.
The track has been taken from the Los Angeles outfit’s upcoming studio album Beyond The Door, which will launch on August 23 through Merge Records.
The song features a guest solo from Melvins’ vocalist and guitarist Buzz Osborne, with Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald explaining: “I wanted to hear three of my favourite guitarists and collaborators – Buzz Osborne, Jason Shapiro and Jeff McDonald – trade off solos while we celebrated the finer things deep in the bowels of the underground, expressing gratitude for a life lived in the cultural petri-dish of the world, the world of underground culture.
“I’ve been playing nightclubs since 1979 and I was 12, and it was time for me to talk up the wonders down here. The best stuff will always come up from the bottom. It’s the Party Underground.”
Beyond The Door is said to be inspired by the band’s “total commitment to having the best fucking time we can have while we’re all still here,” with Steven reporting it’s his and brother Jeff McDonald most collaborative record to date.
He says: “Jeff is still very much the driving force behind the compositions, but with more help from me than ever. Jeff and I haven’t shared this much of the writing and singing since Born Innocent in 1981.”