Catching Up With Redd Kross’ Jeff McDonald

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Redd Kross got their start 34 years ago when brothers and core members Jeff and Steve McDonald put together the band in middle school, but you’d never guess it. Their first album in 15 years, Researching The Blues, has none of the typical reunion record drag, sounding as clean and promising as when they were fresh-faced teenagers. With Jeff writing and Steve producing, Redd Kross put together their 1987 Neurotica line-up for the record.

Jeff McDonald spoke to us about the new album during a lazy, hot day in his home in L.A., detailing some pretty surprising influences and what he thinks is going to be the next big thing in pop music.

Paste: You and your brother have both said that you think Researching The Blues is what you feel is your best album yet, which is not something you typically hear from a band that hasn’t put out an album in such a long time. What do you think made this album different?
Jeff McDonald: Well maybe it’s been so long we forgot our other records. [Laughs] I don’t know… It’s been 15 years. It’s weird because we started a couple years ago, and then we put it down because of various reasons, everyone had other things to do. So by the time we started working on it again, it was like working on some other band’s record. It didn’t have all any inner-turmoil or insecurity. It was really objective. So I think it made the whole process more fun.

Paste: How long have you been working on it?
McDonald: Well, about two years ago we record the basic tracks. Just like the drums, bass, guitars and some of the vocals. And then we put it down. So we haven’t worked continuously for the past two years, but a couple years.

Paste: You’ve been playing shows again since 2006, so what made you want to take the next step to actually put out another record?
McDonald: I don’t know. I just had a bunch of songs, so I wanted to make a record. And also playing shows all the time, you don’t want just to become just strictly an oldies band. We fortunately had a big catalog to draw from, which was pretty diverse, too, so we could do really weird sets. But I just wanted to make a record because I was writing songs. I wasn’t writing songs to make a record to compete with today’s market, it was just kind of an organic thing. And since we had enough good songs, we thought, why not?

Paste: Were you writing during the nine years you weren’t with Redd Kross?
McDonald: Yeah, I always did. I stopped performing live. I didn’t even plan on it, just stopped doing it. Steven continued to tour and stuff, but I didn’t. And I was always writing songs, and continuing to make music just out of a need to do it. So it made me realize, oh – I guess I’m kind of a lifer at this, because I couldn’t put it down.

Paste: All press about the album is saying that you wrote and Steve produced. Is this a line that you stuck to, or did you cross over?
McDonald: It just so happened to be what happened with this record. He wasn’t really writing, but he was producing a lot of other groups, and I was just kind of writing. I just had songs, so we just billed it as such because it was the first time it had ever turned out this way with one person writing all the songs, and one person being the leader behind the board, so to speak.

Paste: Supposedly Neurotica was influenced by cartoons and breakfast cereal, so what was Research the Blues influenced by?
McDonald: Oh my god, pretty much the same thing. I had to re-live my childhood through my daughter—I have a 17-year-old daughter. For the past decade I’ve gone through all of that again, so who knows, it makes its way into the music. And also, another thing that was really inspirational was getting back in through my daughter into really extreme pop music. I don’t actually know too many people my age who have gone to six Jonas Brothers concerts and Miley Cyrus concerts. And at any of those shows, it’s so great: you realize, this is just the same kind of pop music that I like, basically, that I write even. Mine’s obviously more twisted as an adult. But kind of just that essence of that pop music’s about. That inspired me, too. So this record was indirectly influenced by the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus.

Paste: I read a couple years ago that you thought the most interesting current pop culture figure was Britney Spears. Who would say it is now?
McDonald: Well right now my absolute favorite hasn’t broken through in America yet. But I am really into some of the Korean pop music, the K-pop music. It’s ready to explode in America, I can tell. These groups are so good, their fashion and their style is so outrageous and really great to look at. For me, it’s like seeing the New York Dolls for the first time. You’re just like, “Woah.” And the music is producer-based pop music that you can trace back to the Phil Spector era, but with modern technology. That’s what I’m really into right now as far as pop culture’s concerned. And like I said, it’s out there, but it hasn’t exploded in America quite yet.

Paste: Your albums have always been so riddled with pop-culture references. Is I something that you try and put in your writing more as a puzzle, or does it just come out?
McDonald: I think it just comes out. A lot of times I was just trying to be funny, or to fuck with people’s heads. Many years ago that’s always the way it was, imagining what people would think when the listened to it. That’s a lot of what our kind of mysticism was, always this kind of tongue-and-cheek. But it’s weird, now, even back then, you would kind of just write the song and if it doesn’t embarrass you when you finished, it’s done. You don’t always think about it.

Paste: Other than the fashion, what do you think draws you to intense pop culture today? You don’t often hear people citing the Jonas Brothers as one of their main influences.
McDonald: You always have to find something to inspire you on some level, and sometimes the source is so on the surface surprisingly different from what it would appear I might be into. It all worms itself in there somehow. And I don’t know, I’ve never become an old man in that sense, saying, “Only this is good,” or “Only that is good,” or “They don’t make good music anymore.” I really realize that usually most, as far as rock music is concerned, most of it’s been shit, and just the really good stuff has survived. And people associate the good stuff with an era and think that it was just dripping great, but it wasn’t necessarily good. It’s just that the really good stuff has survived.

Paste: You started this band when you were in middle school. What’s it been like to watch it evolve over such a significant period of time, especially since you’ve had so many different members?
McDonald: I don’t know, we’ve just lived it since we were in our early teens. It comes and goes, because sometimes we do it, and then sometimes there’s long period of time where we’re not playing it. But living in L.A., it’s always been part of my identity, because I’ve been around so long, if I go anywhere there’s rock people they know who I am and talk to me about some record we had done or something. It’s always there. It’s not like I’m able to completely go away, and disappear and act like that wasn’t part of my past like it doesn’t exist any more. Maybe it will at one point, but for some weird reason it hasn’t. People remind me on a regular basis. But I think that with anyone who’s been around long enough you just become sort of a fixture. And I’ve lived in L.A. my entire life, so I think that would change if I moved to a different state. There’s always someone here to remind me what I do.

Paste: After having so many different line-ups, what made you come back to the Nuerotica one specifically? Was it just happenstance, or was in pre-meditated?
McDonald: We’ve stayed close with most of the people, and this one here, I hadn’t worked with Roy for many, many years, but we started chatting again and started jamming, because we both had free time. And then Steven got involved and started jamming, then we called up Robert because he had lived in Vermont for a while, and we started playing again. I hate to overuse the word organic, but it was very organic. It was all like, we’re all friends and we all live within a 25-mile radius with each other. And we also started getting offers to do these shows that were really interesting, so it just kind of happened.