Founded by Jeff and Steve McDonald when they were in middle school, Redd Kross are cult heroes that have traversed the rock, punk, hair metal, and pop scene for over forty years.
While Redd Kross never achieved mainstream success, their music has been influential for bands such as Guns ‘N Roses, Nirvana, and Stone Temple Pilots. Bands such as Soundgarden and Poison have also opened for Redd Kross, with the band playing a pivotal role in the creation of the grunge era’s unique sound. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has said that “Redd Kross are definitely one of the most important bands in America.”
We caught up with Jeff McDonald (Vocals, Guitar) and Jason Shapiro (Lead Guitar) at Louder Than Life to talk about their new record, Beyond the Door, as well as an anticipated independent documentary on the band, Born Innocent: The Redd Kross Story, which has gained over $80,000 in Kickstarter funding.
How has the festival been?
JM: Oh, it’s been fun. We kind of just rolled in. It’s been great.
You’ve been doing this for about 40 years —
JM: [Laughing] Longer than 40 years. We started as pre-teens and teenagers. In the late 80s. Our first record was in 1980.
Tell me a little bit more about the journey so far
JM: Well, Jason wasn’t with us, but he was also a kid in a band. We both had that in common where we were playing in clubs that we shouldn’t have been allowed in. When we first started touring, we weren’t allowed IN the clubs. We’d have to wait in kitchens — did you go through any of that [Jason]?
JS: I had a fake ID very early on — I don’t know how I got away with it [laughing].
JM: It’s hard to describe the journey. How do you encapsulate 40 years [of playing]?
The record Neurotica had a huge influence on so many people — did you anticipate the response?
JM: At the time? No. One thing about Redd Kross — for most of those records that people love, it took a while. It took a while for their little cults to brew. And that’s how it’s always been for us. That’s why we’re in the way that we’re still playing. I always made honest records and tried to be fun and interesting.
How do you see yourself blending genres, like punk and pop?
JM: We started as a punk band, but grew up listening to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and kiss. We’ve been through all of the various subgenres and it all has an effect, it all has an influence. You can’t describe it, it just happens to you.
JS: The magic of Redd Kross is we like all of that stuff. We may have gotten really big if we stuck to one genre and rode out that storm. But we like too much stuff and that’s probably why we’re still a band now.
JM: If we would have had a power ballad in the Poison-era, I don’t think we would have still been here talking to you now.
Does that make your music more authentic?
JM: Yeah, because we were never really part of that [glam-rock] stuff. It was just weird to see that going on. We were just saying, “oh my god, these men!” We were snobs [laughing].
With the new record, Beyond the Door, how has your writing process and sound changed?
JM: Everyone brings their own flavor, like Jason. We all bring our own flavors to our experience. The songwriting kind of just happens. You write songs and you’re like, “this one’s good, this one’s not.” Each person brings something to it. It just starts to become a little easier, a little more natural the more we do that. We haven’t really made that many records, we’ve only made like eight.
JS: I think all the Redd Kross records are completely different.
JM: You know, because it’s such a tedious process. You have to be held to entertain yourself. If you make a song that’s bad or sucks, you have to hear it a thousand times. So you want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you while in the process of recording it.
You have a new documentary coming out. Can you tell me a little bit more about it?
JM: It was created by Andrew Rike, he’s a television person in Hollywood. And he’s just been a big Redd Kross fan. So I’m basically out of it. We can participate in any way shape or form. But I think it’s more of a fan’s look at us. We’re involved, but we have nothing to do with the production, the final product. We’re just going to be interviewed when they want us to. And, hopefully, find some tidbits of old archival stuff.
What’s the funniest thing/craziest moment while playing a show/tour?
JS: In [my former band] Celebrity Skin, the bass player of Blondie asked us to play at his party. And everyone was drunk and on acid, and during the set, the drummer kind of flipped out and threw his pink drum set in the pool. And the singer jumped in and he had a fur jacket that started coming apart. He was throwing fur at everyone. But that’s a different band [laughing].
JM: That was the legendary Celebrity Skin before Redd Kross.
JS: [With Redd Kross] we got to play the song “Deuce” with Gene Simmons one time. We jammed with him. These kinds of things happen, but you forget. Oh, we played Ivanka Trump’s 16th birthday party [laughing]. No, I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding.
What’s next for Redd Kross?
JM: We’re just gonna keep doing reissues, we’re gonna keep touring the world, we’re gonna work this Beyond the Door record. Redd Kross records are always a slow burn. We just have a great time and have fun.
You can check out Redd Kross’ latest album here.
Watch the trailer for the anticipated documentary, releasing in 2020.