Los Angeles band Redd Kross, led by brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, has had a long and storied career, releasing its first EP in 1980 and then albums slowly but steadily through 1997. After 15 years away from the studio, the band came roaring back in 2012 with Researching the Blues, a cracking rock-’n’-roll record that earned Redd Kross some of its best reviews yet. Guitarist/singer Jeff McDonald weighs in on the twists and turns of the band’s existence.
Having weathered many styles and eras, it seems you’ve almost staked your career on change. What would you say were the major turning points for Redd Kross? There have been tons of them. We started as children. Our very first record became a hit on [L.A. radio station] KROQ, and that was the early days of punk rock and there weren’t very many records out. We were one of the first dozen groups to have a record out and get recognized. After that, we just stopped. We became more interested in seeing bands and not really performing. It took us another two or three years, until maybe 1981, and that also was very transitional because between our first EP and our first full-length, the whole suburban-hardcore thing happened. We came from the Ramones school and then Orange County hardcore happened, and it wasn’t really our thing. Our roots were the Beatles and the Stones, and that wasn’t where most of our peer group was coming from. We were on our own island when we did our first album.
You signed to the majors in the late ’80s as alternative rock was becoming mainstream. Were you hoping for a hit? Would you have been OK with becoming one-hit wonders? We never had any commercial aspirations. No, that wouldn’t be OK. We wouldn’t be talking now if that had happened. In the late ’80s in L.A., it was like us and the Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction and even Guns N’ Roses, and we really had no connection to each other besides being the bands that were selling out the clubs in Los Angeles. I always wonder what it would have been like if we’d done, like, a big Desmond Child single or something.
Did those kinds of opportunities present themselves? Being on Atlantic Records in 1988, we could have easily made that happen. The way it worked then, on a label like that, they were really into the Las Vegas mentality where you’re just a chip and they throw it against the wall, and if it takes off right away, they go with it, and if not, you get dropped. That was the one time we could have worked with Desmond Child and had a hit single, but then we’d be playing these oldies shows at state fairs.
Redd Kross plays Monday at 3:30 p.m. on the Fountain Lawn Stage.