2024 is officially, finally the Year of Redd Kross — but powerpop phaseshifters Jeff & Steven McDonald say ‘the best is yet to come’

Published On June 28, 2024 » By »
Jeff & Steve McDonald of Redd Kross (photo: Wanda Martin)

Jeff & Steve McDonald of Redd Kross (photo: Wanda Martin)

It’s official: 2024 is the Year of Redd Kross. And it’s a celebration that’s long-overdue.

Forty-five years after forming one of the most important bands to ever hail from Los Angeles — and the “most underrated band of their generation,” according to Variety — powerpop/glam/hardcore’s coolest brothers, Jeff and Steven McDonald, are finally getting their flowers. The documentary Born Innocent: The Redd Kross Story, directed by former Friends writer Andrew Reich, is currently the toast of the film festival circuit, and October will see the release of a memoir, Now You’re One of Us: The Incredible Story of Redd Kross, relayed oral-history-style with assistance from veteran music journalist Dan Epstein.

Most musicians in such a position would just happily accept their flowers and elder-statesmen-of-indie-rock status. But Jeff and Steven — who started the shapeshifting, phaseshifting, culture-shaping Redd Kross in what Steven calls “the Liverpool of the West,” Hawthorne, Calif., at the respective ages of 14 and 10 — are not most musicians. Instead, they have returned from a five-year recording hiatus with their most ambitious album yet: the 18-song, two-disc Redd Kross, recorded with Josh Klinghoffer, who’s known as “Redd Kross Drummer No. 75″ in Born Innocent and who Steven says is “kind of like our younger sibling in many ways.”

And so, world domination is inevitable, because it seems the world has finally caught up with Redd Kross. And I was delighted to catch up with the McDonalds, in the extended video and Q&A below, to discuss their past, present, and future — along with tangents (because no epic interview with these pop-culture savants would be complete without a few tangents) about The Bachelor, the Beatles’ Get Back, Gene Simmons’s Family Jewels, Love Connection, Coronation Street, David Lee Roth, David Bowie’s R&B phase, fanzines, the Linda Lindas, Ellen DeGeneres, Devo, astrology, and the softcore Emmanuelle flicks. This interview’s got the hits.

You guys have been off the scene a bit, and now suddenly there’s all this Redd Kross goodness happening, all at once. What is the kismet that made the album, memoir, and documentary converge in 2024, aka the Year of Redd Kross?

STEVEN MCDONALD: Well, the pandemic has played a role in terms of 2024 being a year that we’re being really active, because we had planned on being really active in 2020. And I guess that’s the case for a lot of bands. It was a big deal to have to cancel so much in 2020. And then the movie [and the album] have kind of informed each other. Andrew’s been working on [Born Innocent] for eight years. … We knew that we couldn’t record until a certain time, until November of ‘23, and I did my best to tell him when we were going to be able to do something and hoped that the two could line up. My big concern was that he would get the movie out and we wouldn’t have a record, so that was my driving motivation. … I guess [the album and documentary] are also intermeshed with the fact that we wrote a theme song for the movie, which we now have included in on the record and released as a single. And from a songwriting perspective, there were a couple tunes that were somewhat informed by stuff I had seen in the movie. It was interesting experience to see people talking about you and the filmmaker’s conclusion, what he’d come to say about our relevance. It was hard to not be affected by that. One song on the record, it’s kind of a deep cut — on an 18-song record, there’s lots of deep cuts! — but there’s a song called “The Witches Stand” that Jeff and I wrote in a very collaborative manner. I feel like, at least for me, whatever I was bringing to the table lyrically was somewhat informed by some of the things I had seen in the documentary.

It must be weird to sit in a theater watching a movie about yourself, a movie that’s saying things about how important and relevant you are, how underrated you are, etc.

STEVEN: Well, not to take up all the oxygen here, but my experience was that it’s so humbling and beautiful to hear people that you admire say nice things about you. I mean, it’s an interesting experience when someone’s saying, “Oh, they’re underrated and they didn’t get a fair shake” or whatever; there’s a part of me that’s always like, “Yeah, but I haven’t really proved myself yet!” I’m always striving, and for this record, I felt like, yeah, we’ve accomplished many things and I’m grateful for all of our accomplishments, but maybe the best is yet to come. I want to make good on these things that people are saying.  And rather than just taking it and going, “Yeah, we didn’t get a fair shake and we’ve been underrated,” it’s like, “OK, maybe we’re going to be rated someday.” The only thing I can do is make the best music I know how to make and continue to try to grow and challenge myself. And even if something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it, or I feel like I failed at something, I have to face it and learn from it and see what I can do better next time. And it’s hard. We all have egos and we all want to protect ourselves. At least I do. So, that’s definitely been part of this journey. I don’t want to sound too pretentious, but it’s a journey.

JEFF MCDONALD: That is Bachelor-speak. “Journey,” that word, has been completely taken over by The Bachelor.

STEVEN: I want that goddamn rose!

To use some other Bachelor-speak, can I steal you for a moment, Jeff? Do you feel similarly?

JEFF: For me, it’s interesting to hear Steven talk because we have so many shared adventures and experiences, but Steven is a Gemini. He’s extremely analytical and he likes to look back and figure things out. For me, I’m just kind of on to the next thing. I’m just kind of in La La Land a lot. Watching the movie is kind of just organizing for me, organizing my thoughts of what the past 40 years have been, because I don’t really think about it that much. But like Steven said, he always has something to prove, and I do feel the same way as an artist. Every time I sit down to write a song, I’m learning how to write a song. It’s like, I have not figured it out yet. Maybe why there’s still a bit of freshness there, because we just haven’t got to that place yet. But as far as watching the film with audience, that’s horrifying. It’s scary until the first laugh… and then a couple of those go by and we know we can relax with our people, and it’s OK. But I haven’t seen it with a completely strange audience yet, like an audience where I wouldn’t know anyone, like a mall audience.

I think the ultimate Born Innocent theater experience would be to see the Redd Kross movie at a mall! Like the old Sherman Oaks Galleria. It’s kind of funny because I am doing some stock-taking myself: One of my interviews I ever did, for issue No. 2 of my fanzine Porkchops & Applesauce, was actually with you, Steven. And I’m reading this awesome pull-quote where you say, “I remember one time in 7th grade, some 8th -graders started beating me up in P.E. and the whole class circled around chanting, ‘Devo!’” Do you remember this?

STEVEN: Totally!

JEFF: That’s not in the movie.

STEVEN: It’s so funny. I’m sure I mentioned it, and Andrew omitted it as irrelevant. But that’s what’s would be, for me, a core moment. … It’s interesting, this very intimate experience of making a movie. You’re telling your story and being vulnerable, and then [the director is] just like, “Oh, that part’s not important.” You kind of go, “Hmmm, I thought that was this really defining part of my life! Maybe I’ve put too much stock in that.”

The ultimate irony, of course, is that Redd Kross ended up in another fabulous movie, The Spirit of ’76, with Devo as co-stars.

JEFF: Full-circle. I wonder if Devo were aware that in our neighborhood in the South Bay, in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s before punk was really defined, if you had a “punk” image, that’s what people would scream. They’d scream “Devo!” at you.

STEVEN: I’m sure they’ve been made aware of it by now. I probably told them that story when we were making The Spirit of ‘76.

My assumption, which is maybe a wrong assumption, is that you’d be the most popular kids at your school. Did your peers not think it was totally cool that you were in a band and David Bowie was seeing you play the Hong Kong Café on a bill with Black Flag?

STEVEN: They didn’t know. It was a complete double-life.

JEFF: I mean, I think when “Annette’s Got the Hits” came out and a few people heard it on the radio [on KROQ], that was impressive. But no one gave us any props at all.

STEVEN: In terms of your social status rising because you’re in a band, I think it depends on what kind of band you’re in! … If you’ve doubled down and you’re doing something people think is weird, then it stigmatizes you.

JEFF: And also, the David Bowie thing would’ve meant nothing to the people we grew up with. They would’ve thought that was weird.

STEVEN: My experience was like science fiction. If I shared with people too much about what was going on in my life, it would be like I overshared and it would suck the air out of the room. They would suddenly think that I was involved in something bizarre and really unsavory. It wasn’t something that you would brag about, necessarily. Or at least I learned early on that it was best just to keep it under wraps — which is hard for a person like me, because I’m somewhat extroverted. I want to connect and share, not just be a bragger, although I guess I can do that too! But we’ve often talked about how starting a band was like sending out a call — a distress call, maybe, even. You were looking for others, for your people, especially in the pre-internet era.

It’s crazy that at your first proper club gig, David Bowie was in attendance.

STEVEN: It was the first time playing for our people, for the people that we admired. We would have been at that show if we weren’t playing it. It was a small group of misfits, and with Bowie, I think the deal was he was just cruising around Chinatown, maybe checking out the bands. … It was September of ’79.

JEFF: And you have to admit, his next record did sound a lot like Redd Kross! He did have a reputation! [laughs] …. I forgot that [Bowie incident] was even a thing until a couple years ago. I just forgot. But it is weird, David Bowie showing up to the Hong Kong Café in 1979. That’s like Jesus stepping out of a spaceship. … It was more groovy than maybe David Lee Roth showing up at Raji’s, which he used to do a lot.

STEVEN: Another interesting part I remember is not so much the moment of seeing David Bowie hanging out by the bar — it’s more like I remember what I thought about David Bowie in 1979. One of the reasons why it might’ve been stored further back in my memory banks is because there was a three- or four-year period when Jeff and I both kind of abandoned David Bowie and didn’t check back in. Around the time of Young Americans, when he got into doing soul music, we were both kind of confused. We were rockers! … We were getting into harder guitar music and were probably more into Mick Ronson’s solo record than Bowie then. We were into guitars and that kind of attitude. It was actually through punk-rock, through that initial scene, that ‘79 scene, that I was schooled to reconsider those Bowie records that we’d missed. But that wouldn’t have been until after that [Hong Kong Café] show, because that show was sort of our coming-out party. It was like our debutante ball. It’s when we went from knowing Black Flag, who was part of this small little disparate group of weirdos in the South Bay, to our Hollywood debut.

JEFF: Also, at that show, I think we got signed. It was like a total show-business situation. Robbie Fields [from Posh Boy Records] had that old-timey hustler kind of thing. Instantly: “I wanna make a record with you!” And that was after our first show. So yeah, it was a real gutter version of A Star Is Born.

Jeff & Steve McDonald of Redd Kross (photo: Wanda Martin)

Jeff & Steve McDonald of Redd Kross (photo: Wanda Martin)

It’s a classic L.A. story! That reminds me… not to harp on Porkchops & Applesauce too much, but having revisited that interview after learning more about your history from Born Innocent, it’s interesting because I asked you back then, Steven, if you thought growing up in the Hollywood club scene had made you “grow up fast.” And you said: “I think in a lot of ways my growth has been stunted, like my emotional growth. Most people my age, 26, are married and having kids, and I’m on the road and I don’t have any permanent situation. Rock ‘n’ roll kind of keeps you immature. It doesn’t keep you tied down, so you feel you can live that ridiculous, irresponsible way of life for a really long time. I’ve never been quite in sync with what I see on TV. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s how normal life is!’ I’ll be watching Love Connection, and that’s what a normal 26-year-old is supposed to be like. It’s always, ‘He picked me up in the afternoon, then we went back to his house and changed, and then we went to a really nice place on the pier and had seafood.’ It’s so absurd. It’s a parallel universe I know nothing about.” This is an interesting quote to read now, because I don’t want to spoil the big plot twist in your documentary, but the film does get into some dark stuff that happened to you as a teen in the scene. You definitely did not have a normal childhood. But it kind of seems like both you and Jeff came out on the other side of it OK.

STEVEN: Well, first off, I’m so proud of the 26-year-old Steven! I like his insights. … Growing up fast and all that, yeah, it’s true. I had some experiences that I don’t want my son to have. … The lifestyle of the underground rock ‘n’  roll world of Hollywood brought forth some unsavory truths about the world. But I think it has also made me, hopefully, a more well-rounded individual, more empathetic and realizing that people have varied, different experiences and lives. My kid is having a very different experience than me, and that’s OK. I’m OK with that.

JEFF: I don’t think I became an adult until I was in my mid-forties. Seeing things that you shouldn’t be seeing at a young age doesn’t really make you grow up, just because it’s just harder to process.

Again, I don’t want to spoil it because such a huge bombshell in Born Innocent, but that revelation, which literally makes people gasp out loud in the theater — Steven, you’d never really talked about that publicly before, correct?

STEVEN: I started to later, when the podcast format happened and people were doing more longform interviews. Also, I’m just older. Once I became a parent, I started reflecting more on what it was like to be my child’s age. But Damian Abraham from the band Fucked Up has a great podcast, Turned Out a Punk, and I did his. I started telling that story, and that’s where Andrew heard it for the first time.

JEFF: But there was a time in the ‘90s… Steven was meeting with a guy who was one of the writers on Coronation Street, who wanted to do Steven’s story. They wanted to flush that three-month story out, the time leading up to it, into some kind of docudrama or something.

STEVEN: The funny thing about that is in Coronation Street, one of the main cornerstone characters was named “Steven McDonald” too. For people who don’t know Coronation Street, it’s a long-running British soap opera, and there’s a character named Steven McDonald who I’m very competitive with on social media and with my web presence.

JEFF: But what’s weird, if you think about it, is you could say the origins of our documentary were basically started by television writers. The original one was the guy from Coronation Street, and then Andrew was a writer and showrunner for Friends. I wonder what  the Coronation Street version of our documentary would have been like…

I do think some other documentarians who don’t have as much of a sense of humor, who don’t come from the sitcom world, would’ve homed in on the darker aspects of Redd Kross’s story. But even with the stuff about Jeff’s drug use and rehab, that’s all mentioned in the film, but Born Innocent is not some Behind the Music-esque exposé about all of the terrible things that have happened to Redd Kross. It’s also not a sob story. It does make the case that you’re underrated as a band, but that’s not the main focus.

JEFF: Oh, if it would’ve been a sobfest about us being “robbed,” that would’ve been embarrassing for me. I was so glad the way it came out. The heavy drama is part of the journey, but it’s not the entire story. Steven and I both have our moments of struggle in the film, but it’s not just about that, thank God. I mean, that would be tedious!

STEVEN: I will say we took a chance on Andrew, because one of his sticking points at the beginning, one of his requests, was that we couldn’t have final say over the film. We had to trust him, which was really challenging for me. Really challenging! But then ultimately I took a step back and thought, “Well, what’s the opposite of that?” I think of Gene Simmons, for instance — I mean, I love Gene, but I love to make fun of him too — and he did a reality TV show, and I remember at times feeling, “Someone needs to take Gene out of the editing bay! He has too much say over the way he’s being portrayed! There’s a lack of authenticity here.” And I think the temptation to do that, to give a cover story all time, would be probably really hard to fight. It’s like having some kind of Photoshop for your life; you want to always just airbrush over the nasty bits and put a filter on it. From the beginning, I wanted Andrew to tell a story that was real life and had the ups and downs, but at the same time, it’s hard to let go of that control. We were very lucky that we landed with someone that really was interested in telling a story that was compelling, but was also respectful.

It’s unique timing to be doing a movie that takes stock of the past 45 years, plus a memoir, and yet at the same time be releasing a double-record of all new material.

STEVEN: I think of [Redd Kross and Born Innocent: The Redd Kross Story] as companion pieces. … You’re just going to relate to this human dynamic of people striving and being disappointed and having to navigate the potholes in the road. And everybody has to do that, not just young punk-rockers or rock musicians or rock stars or whoever. So, I thought, if [Reich] is able to get this movie in front of a crowd that knows nothing about us, and he’s made a movie that will keep people interested for an entire 90 minutes, then that’s an opportunity for us, while we’re on their minds, to blow their minds with what we can do — with our new record.

And then there’s the third companion piece: the book, Now You’re One of Us.

JEFF: The book is for the hardcore fans. In 90 minutes, you can’t really cover 45 years; you just have to skim over everything and choose what makes a good 90-minute story. Whereas in the book, we can go in the weeds. We’re kind of famous for doing that — telling insane stories, things that just couldn’t fit in the movie.

In the film you’re interviewed both together and separately, but for the book you were interviewed individually. You seem to get along very well, but there are a couple of scenes in Born Innocent, which I think are compelling, when we witness friction between you two. When you watched those interviews back, where there’s this obvious simmering tension, how did that hit you — especially if you were watching the movie together?

JEFF: Those moments when we’re a little bit snippy with each other are really difficult to watch…

STEVEN: This is what I’ll say… I just hope that I can learn from my own foibles. I can see my part in it and adjust and try to become a more functioning partner. Of course, the other part, which I have no control over, is I hope my partner does the same. But all I can do is do my part, and I hope that that’s the silver lining of putting out that kind of unsavory display.

JEFF: But also, when Steven and I argue about stuff, it can turn into shorthand as well. We look extremely bizarre, because it makes no sense to anybody but us when we’re having these differences of opinions. It is a big part of our story, that friction, but it’s not all friction. I mean, there’s so much collaboration and love. But we kind of accept [the friction] and try to grow from it. We still fall into old habits occasionally.

I don’t get the impression that you’re like Oasis, the Kinks, the Black Crowes — brothers/bandmates that are known for really not getting along. And 45 years later, Redd Kross are still a thriving band. How have you been able to maintain that? Is it because you took all those years off?

JEFF: Well, no, because we’ve been working together consistently since my retirement from “stage work.” I had nine years off, but we’ve worked a lot since then. I think when Steven and I get into it now, it’s mostly because we’re exhausted or someone is hangry. It’s more like we’re prone to be nippy when we’re just not taking care of our own personal wellbeing. But we understand that’s the way it is, and we always bounce back. And we remained close; when we weren’t playing music together, we had all these other experiences. We had creative experiences, and we had family experiences. We were never that far apart. We just weren’t attached at the hip.

STEVEN: But in some ways it was easier when we weren’t playing music together to be brothers. We’ve always lived close to each other. Look, sharing responsibilities with anybody is difficult. … It’s not easy to share responsibilities with other human beings, and when you add a sibling history to it, it could make it more volatile. But once again, it’s just about the individual being committed to growing. But we used to fight onstage. We used to do fisticuffs, crazy stuff.


JEFF: Oh, yeah. Once I threw a very heavy Les Paul Gibson guitar at Steven’s head, and he ducked and it hit our roadie.

STEVEN: I forgot about that! OK, I’m going to hold that over your head.

JEFF: Yeah, it’s terrible. It’s worse than anything that Ellen DeGeneres ever did to any of her staff. But yet, I am not canceled.

STEVEN: You weren’t my boss. You’re not the boss of me!

JEFF: I’m talking about the poor roadie that got hit with my guitar! I apologize profusely. You learn from bad behavior, but sometimes it takes a long time.

STEVEN: We’re not completely out of the woods. This is actually a time right now where we have all these shared responsibilities that are particularly intense. We just went to Spain for one show…

JEFF: Yeah, we had a fever dream weekend.

STEVEN: Wow, I like that: “Fever Dream Weekend.” Is that a Donna Summer record or something? … I hear a Giorgio Moroder production behind that. But whatever, I guess there’s been some growth, because we didn’t get into it in Spain. We had a good time. There was a lot of pressure because it was our second show — but kind of like our first show — in five years, since the pandemic. And it was definitely our first time playing in front of a festival audience in a long time. These things are scary when you dare to care, when you know if it goes terribly awry that it’s going to hurt afterwards. The stakes are high, and you have to figure out how to make peace with that in advance and gracefully, graciously walk through these things. I think about the Beatles a lot. I’m always comparing myself to the Beatles…

JEFF: You think about the Beatles all the time!

STEVEN: But I mean, Get Back informed our record a lot. For me, it did. Watching [the Beatles’] dynamic, I think I get stressed out about things, but then I think about what those guys went through! Oh my God, the pressure on them… but when I saw the way they treated each other in the studio, in their twenties, and how advanced they were as human beings and how insightful they were about their environment, I was once again humbled. Because I feel like I’m in my mid-fifties and just starting to get to that level.

The scene in Get Back that resonated with me the most was Paul McCartney and John Lennon’s conversation in the commissary, which was secretly recorded. They’re having this heart-to-heart, and it’s like a talk therapy session. It’s incredible.

JEFF: English people in the 1960s, having that kind of deep, therapeutic conversation — that was very modern. … An English cliche is to bottle it up and not go there: “I’m fine, I’m fine.” But those two were kind of breaking it down about how they perceived their roles in the group and how they felt that others perceived them. They did it in such an enlightened way, and in their late twenties. It’s another reason to admire them and aspire to some of their qualities, I think.

Has it been therapeutic for you to make your film, as well as the book, plus doing all these interviews about both processes?

JEFF: For me, at times, I feel like I’ve OD’ed on myself… like I need a vacation from myself. I mean, I’m not complaining, but at the same time, it is like, “Oh, wow. Too much reflection!”

Well then, I’ll wrap this interview on a lighter, random note. Perhaps my first fever-dream memories of any softcore or Skinemax-style entertainment were the notorious Emmanuelle movies. And there’s a song on your new album called “Emmanuelle Insane.” I’d love to ask you about that.

JEFF: There were several Emmanuelle films. There was Emmanuelle in Bangkok, and I thought, “Emnanuelle Insane”! That song is very interesting. It was kind of like the last thing that Steven and I wrote, because it’s kind of a tribute to our “Annette’s Got the Hits” — it’s kind of a backwards version of our first song of note. And then the lyrics were just like the next Emmanuelle film that has yet to happen.

STEVEN: It’s also reminding me of the David Bowie album [title], Aladdin Sane. So, if we could cross-pollinate the two…

JEFF: We’re putting it out there, for anyone who wants to do a reboot of the Emmanuelle series…

Yes! With Redd Kross writing the score!

JEFF: Or a Broadway musical. That would be great. Steven and I are putting that out there.

That could be your next big film project! But in the meantime, just to tie it back to the album, its title is Redd Kross — spelled the way Steven made it clear in the documentary he never liked, with a K and two D’s.

JEFF: I thank the Linda Lindas for sticking up for me [and saying they like the band name’s spelling, which was Jeff’s idea].

OK, so my last question is, with all of this reflection and “overdosing” on yourselves as of late, is there some significance in simply self-titling this record?

JEFF: Well, I mean, it wasn’t that intentional, musically, but the record is really reflective: When you hear the tunes played together, you can kind of hear all of our albums, all of our records, within this album. That was not intentional; that was organic. So, it really made sense, if we were going to do a double-record,  then oh yeah, we have to do the self-titled double-record thing. But at least we did ours in terrycloth.

STEVEN: I call it The Redd Album.

Share this post


Comments are closed.