Flood Magazine: “Steven McDonald on the 35th Anniversary of Redd Kross’ Neurotica”??

Merge Records is releasing an expanded edition of the band’s 1987 classic on June 24.

“Come on lose your mind / Now you’re one of us,” sang Jeff McDonald on the title track of Neurotica, the 1987 album that heralded the LA-based quartet Redd Kross’s full transition from KISS-obsessed weirdos with roots in the South Bay hardcore scene to one of the great American bands of the alternative rock era.
Released at a time when hair metal bands were offering irony-free sleaze and most alt-rock acts were grimly imitating either R.E.M. or The Stooges, Neurotica stood out with its giddy blast of bubblegum-flavored hooks, roaring punk guitars, bell-bottomed hard-rock riffage, and lyrics that celebrated ’60s and ’70s pop cultural references. The album wasn’t just a series of flashbacks, however; tracks like “Play My Song,” “Frosted Flake,” and “Peach Kelli Pop” also eviscerated the lame, cocaine-driven culture of LA’s Sunset Strip–centered music scene.

Though the album didn’t sell particularly well, for those who “got” what McDonald, his younger bass-playing brother Steven, drummer Roy McDonald (no relation), and lead guitarist Robert Hecker were laying down, Neurotica offered an alluring invitation to lose one’s mind, indeed. The album’s unique sound and aesthetic—imagine Cheap Trick doing a soundtrack for a John Waters film—would leave a deep impression on bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, and Teenage Fanclub, to name just a few.

Previously reissued in 2002 and 2007, Neurotica returns on June 24 for its 35th anniversary, this time in an expanded edition via Merge that features both a 14-track version of the album (including finished outtakes “Pink Piece of Peace” and a cover of Sonny & Cher’s “It’s the Little Things,” neither of which were on the original 1987 release) and a dozen previously unreleased Neurotica demos from 1986. The demo tracks make for fascinating listening, both because they’re considerably rawer than the finished album—which was produced by Thomas Erdelyi, a.k.a. Tommy Ramone—and because they really allow you to hear the band’s musical evolution in progress.

We spoke with Steven McDonald about the making of the album, the influences that led to its creation, and why people still love the record so much to this day.

There was a three-year lag between 1984’s Teen Babes From Monsanto, which was essentially a collection of cover songs, and Neurotica. In that time, you guys really evolved, both as songwriters and as a musical unit. Do you remember how that happened?

Those demos were recorded in ’86, which I’m realizing is the year after I graduated from high school. And by then, we had been doing it for seven years. We weren’t very prolific songwriters—we still aren’t—but it wasn’t like we were just kind of hanging out and flaking off all the time; we were down in the laboratory trying to get our show together. We were always really motivated to put on a great live show, and that’s kind of what Neurotica came out of.

“As much as we’re making fun of the hair metal scene, we’re also kind of saying, ‘Don’t box me into a punk rock scene, either.’”

You guys had a cult following in LA, but what you were doing was very different from what else was happening there at the time. Several Neurotica songs quite clearly express disdain for the hair metal scene.

Sure—but as much as we’re making fun of the hair metal scene, we’re also kind of saying, “Don’t box me into a punk rock scene, either.” We would play shows with some of those SST bands, but we felt like that was limiting, as well. We wanted to go beyond that.

Teen Babes made that pretty clear—you guys covered everything on it from KISS to David Bowie to Boyce & Hart.

Jeff was always exposing me to weird music, and he’s only three years older than me. So, you know, how did that happen? I mean, there was never a time in my life where “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper didn’t exist. And then I remember in Christmas of 1972, our uncle Shane, who’s like 12 years older than me, had an 8-track copy of Ziggy Stardust, and he wasn’t really interested in it. Jeff was immediately attracted to it, and Shane said, “You guys can borrow that if you want.” We never gave it back, and within a few weeks, Jeff had gotten all the Bowie back catalog, so I was listening to Hunky Dory when I was, like, five years old!

Jeff always talks about how he went to the local shopping mall when he was 10 and bought Aladdin Sane, and the hippie girl behind the counter just looked at him with disgust, like he was buying a bestiality magazine or something. She said to him, “Do you know what this is?” Like she felt it was her responsibility to warn the kid of what a gross thing he was getting himself involved in [laughs].

“I think we were always trying to find that sweet spot between the Partridge Family and The Who Live at Leeds. I don’t know if we nailed any of it, but we definitely came up with our own thing in the process.”

Jeff was not one of those older siblings that didn’t want their younger sibling around; he really liked introducing me to all this stuff. And he had that same mentality in 1983-84, when he started collecting songs that he wanted us to cover for Teen Babes—or, as he called it, “our Pin-Ups, a rock n’ roll history lesson.” He’s barely 20 himself at this point, but he’s already schooling everybody.

Steven McDonald and Jeffrey McDonald of Redd Kross, Variety Arts Center, Downtown Los Angeles, California. 23 September 1988.

Neurotica had a similar thing, in the way that it drew upon and mixed up all these influences from the past, but it didn’t sound like throwback music. You weren’t copying a specific period sound, like the bands in LA’s ’80s garage scene.

I think we were always trying to find that sweet spot between the Partridge Family and The Who Live at Leeds. I don’t know if we nailed any of it, but we definitely came up with our own thing in the process. It’s funny you bring up that Greg Shaw/Bomp Records/Cavern Club scene in Hollywood, which was a very small, insular world. In the later years of high school, I spent a lot of time going to the Cavern Club, because although I didn’t want to limit myself to only dressing in mod clothing from, you know, November ’65—and those people were very specific about their references [laughs]—I didn’t really relate to popular music of the ’80s, either, and I preferred what was happening at the Cavern Club.

Steven McDonals of Redd Kross, Los Angeles, California. 11 May 1987.

We kind of existed in this great charmed space, where we were granted access to environments that other people may have been excluded from. We could jam with Sky Saxon—which we did during that time, “with mixed results” as Jeff would say—but at the same time we were accepted in that Paisley Underground scene that The Bangles and The Three O’Clock and The Dream Syndicate came out of; those bands were our friends, and we had friends in the SST world as well. We even played a show with Poison once, before we ever saw them, and it was so mortifying to us that anybody would think that we had anything in common with these assholes. [laughs].

“We played a show with Poison once, before we ever saw them, and it was so mortifying to us that anybody would think that we had anything in common with these assholes.”

But my point is, we got to interact with all these different kinds of movements or scenes without ever feeling any kind of exterior pressure to somehow conform to what that scene was. At least amongst the music makers, the scene makers themselves, we were given a certain amount of respect. And, you know, I think Jeff stopped wanting to be a part of anything around 1981. I was definitely more of a standard teenager who would’ve been glad to conform to whatever was popular in 1981, but I remember the day he told me he was no longer cutting his hair, and he suggested that I stop, too. I was like, “Wow, I just got a cool punk haircut!” And he was like, “Yeah, well, I don’t know; I’m not doing it anymore.” And that was him rejecting the whole Orange County punk scene.

Redd Kross, Los Angeles, California. 11 May 1987. L-R: Jeffrey McDonald, (front), Robert Hecker, Roy McDonald, Steven McDonald.

How did Thomas Erdelyi get involved with producing the record?

Well, when we were still on Enigma Records, who put out Teen Babes, we had a loose idea that Kim Fowley would produce our next record, but Enigma wasn’t really offering us any money for it. Kim had told me that Enigma had given Poison $25,000 to make their record, and I was outraged. I was incensed! I walked into [Enigma co-founder] Bill Hein’s office, an indignant 16 year old, and I told him that he was making a grave error and that Poison would never do anything [laughs].

So, flash forward to ’86 and we finally get our 25 grand or whatever—Big Time Records is gonna give us some money to get a producer. We really loved the most recent Ramones album that had come out, Too Tough to Die; it was definitely a return to form and they’d done it with Tommy producing. And then Tommy had just done that Replacements record, Tim, and he was kind of available at that moment—and we were this happening band in LA, and we had some money and enough things going for us to get him to come to Los Angeles and record us.

How was it working with him? Did he give you guys much guidance?

Yeah, I think he tried to help us refine our performances, maybe not rush the tempos, a lot of technical things. Some stuff, looking back now, I kind of wish that no one had ever tried to impart to us [laughs]—things that I feel kill some of the spontaneity in our recording—but I understand where he was coming from. At the time, the model of a band that was coming from the underground and then making it into that college radio world would’ve been R.E.M., so that might have been a secret point of reference for him, like, “Maybe we can sort of get some of those qualities onto this recording.” But that was nothing that we really cared about. We were mostly listening to ’60s records [laughs]; Too Tough to Die was the most up-to-date thing I had given two shits about.

Redd Kross on set of “I.R.S.: The Cutting Edge” taping at Windows of Hollywood, Hollywood, California. 17 August 1987. L-R: Jeffrey McDonald, Roy McDonald, Robert Hecker, and Steven McDonald.

On the demo for “What They Say,” Robert Hecker sings it like he’s doing a Paul Stanley impression, but he takes a much different vocal approach on the actual record. Did Tommy tell him to stop singing it like Paul Stanley?

That would’ve been Tommy, not us. We would’ve been encouraging it 100 percent [laughs]. Another thing about Tommy I remember, we told him, “Yeah, we like the bass sound in ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ by Led Zeppelin.” And he was just looking at us like, “What are you talking about?” Like, “That’s so yesterday, we gotta move on!” He’s thinking about competing with his peers who are having success with bands like R.E.M. or whatever, you know? And we’re like, “We don’t give a fuck about that—we’re into Led Zeppelin!” I later would have that similar experience when I produced The Donnas; they would play me early Motley Crüe records and I would just be like, “Are you kidding?” [laughs].

35 years on, what does Neurotica mean to you—and why does it keep finding new fans?

For me, it’s just another record. But in terms of why I think it might keep coming back, I think it’s the moment that it intersected with. It’s where my brother and I were in our development—we were these weirdos who were a little ahead of the curve with our graduating class—and then it just happened to land in certain environments a little bit before anybody else had gotten a chance to put some of those pieces of the puzzle together. And then I also think there’s just a certain kind of authentic joy being captured, which still really speaks to people as well. FL

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Third Man Records is excited to announce reissues of Redd Kross‘ two beloved 1990s albums, Phaseshifter (1993) and Show World (1997). The 180-gram vinyl-only reissues, which come on the heels of their amazing 2019 album Beyond The Door and after 40 years as a band, will mark the first-ever North American vinyl pressings of either album. Look out for the reissues via Third Man and in indie record stores on March 27. Pre-order Phaseshifter HERE and Show World HERE.

The band will also headline day 1 of Third Man’s two-day party during SXSW in Austin, TX — find more information about the party HERE.

Brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald formed Redd Kross (originally Red Cross) in Hawthorne, CA in the late ‘70s. Rumor has it that the band name was inspired by a prop from the 1973 horror film The Exorcist. Their first show was opening for Black Flag and they released their debut record the mythical Posh Boy EP in 1980 when they were just 17 and 13 respectively. The Posh Boy EP features Black Flag’s 2nd singer, Ron Reyes, on drums and founding member of Circle Jerks, Greg Heston, on guitar. 1982 saw a line up change and the release of Born Innocent, a high water mark of American Punk Rock. Containing nods to Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Linda Blair, Lita Ford and breakfast cereal as well as a killer cover of Charlie Manson’s “Cease To Exist.” Redd Kross loves pop culture.

The brothers have kept Redd Kross going through the decades (and line-up changes), releasing 8 studio albums and a slew of EPs and singles. They have also stayed busy with side projects, production gigs and even occasional acting jobs. What are Redd Kross? Punk Rock? Psychedelia? Heavy Metal? Bubblegum? Power Pop? Whatever they are they are 100% Redd Kross, the catchiest of catchy, chock full of hooks, melodies and harmonies, impossible to not smile and sing along…..maybe even dance. Their live show just keeps getting better. Redd Kross are one of those rare bands who would be equally at home in a dark punk club and on stage at the Enormodome.


The McDonald brothers are joined by drummer Brian Reitzell, guitarist Eddie Kurdziel (R.I.P.) and keyboardist Gene Fennelly on 1993’s Phaseshifter. Redd Kross leaves the ‘60s and ‘70s pop culture references at the door (well, most of them) and brings their strong melodies, dreamy harmonies, psychedelic punk/bubblegum metal to the front, tearing through 12 new Redd Kross tunes. Every track is a full-on Redd Kross gem, with standouts like “Crazy World,” “Dumb Angel,” “Pay For Love” and “After School Special.”


Show World

Phaseshifter line-up intact (Gene Fennelly would soon move on, but plays all the keyboards on the recording), Redd Kross came back at us with amps turned up and smiles on their faces on 1997’s Show World. The album starts off with a spot on cover of The Quick’s L.A. power pop classic, Pretty Please Me, and sets the tone for yet another killer album by the thinking person’s good time band.

Like all RK albums before and since, this one is all killer, no filler, with special highlights Stoned, Vanity Mirror, One Chord Progression and the absolutely sublime Follow The Leader.

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Redd Kross Return to Rock the Underground with “What’s a Boy to Do”

Listen to the latest song from the band’s upcoming album, Beyond the Door. 

Redd Kross to the rescue! The legendary Los Angeles rock pioneers are set to return with Beyond the Door, the band’s first album since 2012’s Researching the Blues. In advance of the record, Redd Kross have shared “What’s a Boy to Do.” Listen to it below.


Still led by brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald, the group insist that Beyond the Door is their most collaborative effort in decades. “Jeff is still very much the driving force behind the compositions, but with more help from me than ever,” Steven explained. “Jeff and I haven’t shared this much of the writing and singing since ?Born Innocent i?n 1981.”

When Beyond the Door drops in August, ?the band says fans should expect “total commitment to having the best f*cking time we can have while we’re all still here,” a.k.a. “the Party.” Preaching the gospel of rock and roll that can save your soul, the McDonald brothers and company—guitarist Jason Shapiro and drummer Dale Crover of The Melvins, to be exact—have still got that unquantifiable “it” that makes them special.

Citing a panorama of influences including K-pop, glitter gangs, embarrassed tweens, long-term relationships, and a mysterious character named Fantástico Roberto, Beyond is the sound of Redd Kross circa 2019. Swirling with psychedelic power pop elements and the band’s penchant for hard-charging riffs married to sweet and sticky melodies, it’s Redd Kross at their tuneful finest.

Beyond the Door arrives on August 23 via Merge in the usual formats of CD and vinyl, along with a “peak vinyl”—a.k.a. a limited-edition pressing on opaque purple vinyl.

The band will hit the road hard in support of the record, linking up with tourmates The Melvins in San Diego, CA, on September 3, with the groups rolling across the country before winding up in Las Vegas on November 5. See the full tour itinerary below.

Redd Kross on Tour with The Melvins:
09/03 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
09/04 – Santa Ana, CA @ Observatory
09/05 – Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
09/07 – Sacramento, CA @ Holy Diver
09/08 – Berkeley, CA C@ ornerstone
09/10 – Eugene, OR @ Wow Hall
09/11 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
09/13 – Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s
09/14 – Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s
09/15 – Spokane, WA @ The Big Dipper
09/16 – Missoula, MT @ Top Hat Lounge
09/17 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
09/19 – Ft. Collins, CO @ Aggie Theatre
09/20 – Englewood, CO @ Gothic Theatre
09/22 – Kansas City, MO @ The Record Bar
09/23 – Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room
09/24 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
09/25 – Madison, WI @ High Noon Saloon
09/26 – Chicago, IL @ Metro
09/27 – St. Louis, MO @ The Ready Room
09/28 – Louisville, KY @ Louder Than Life Festival
09/30 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
10/01 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Pyramid Scheme
10/02 – Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
10/03 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
10/04 – Columbus, OH @ A&R Music Bar
10/05 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Red Theatre
10/07 – Syracuse, NY @ Wescott Theatre
10/08 – Boston, MA @ Paradise Rock Club
10/09 – Hamden, CT @ Space Ballroom
10/10 – Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw
10/11 – Asbury Park, NJ @ Stone Pony
10/12 – Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
10/13 – Baltimore, MD @ Otto Bar
10/15 – Richmond, VA @ The Broadberry
10/16 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle
10/17 – Charlotte, NC @ Visulite Theatre
10/18 – Athens, GA @ 40 Watt Club
10/19 – Birmingham, AL @ Saturn
10/21 – Orlando, FL @ The Social
10/22 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Rom
10/23 – Tampa, FL @ The Orpheum
10/25 – Pensacola, FL @ Vinyl Music Hall
10/26 – New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks
10/27 – Baton Rouge, LA @ Spanish Moon
10/28 – Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live Studio
10/29 – San Antonio, TX @ Paper Tiger
10/30 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
10/31 – Dallas, TX @ Trees
11/03 – Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
11/04 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom
11/05 – Las Vegas, NV @ The Bunkhouse Saloon
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