In 1980, Redd Kross put out its first EP and played its first show—opening for Black Flag.
The name was a joke referencing the cross scene in the movie The Exorcist. The band’s early music was inspired a lot by pop culture, and from there, the band members enjoyed both a modest amount of success and hardship.
Some 35 years after the band’s formation, Redd Kross will be appearing at Pappy and Harriet’s on Friday, Aug. 7.
When the McDonald brothers, Jeff and Steven, formed the group, they were quite young. In fact, Steven McDonald (who also plays in Off!) was only 12 years old at the time. Through the years, the Redd Kross lineup has included Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks, Bad Religion), Dez Cadena (Black Flag, Misfits), Vicki Peterson (The Bangles, Psycho Sisters) and Jack Irons (Red Hot Chili Peppers).
In 1980, Los Angeles was in the midst of the hardcore-punk heyday. However, Steven McDonald said during a recent phone interview that he didn’t necessarily think the term “hardcore” fit Redd Kross.
“I don’t think we thought about it,” Steven McDonald said. “Because I’m in Off!, I hear ‘hardcore’ so much. I never felt that Redd Kross was something you could call hardcore, but I think that we definitely loved punk; hardcore has a distinction there that started with Black Flag. I think we always just thought of ourselves as a rock band or a punk band, or a pop band in the Beatles/Ramones sense. When you listen to our first EP, you hear that. … It came out in 1980 when I was just 12 years old. It’s very poppy.”
The band’s first proper album, Born Innocent, came out in 1982.
“I guess Born Innocent hints at hardcore; that was sort of the environment we were in at the time,” Steven McDonald said. “It’s less melodic, a little bit more aggressive, and it’s very trashy at the same time, with things about Linda Blair. The topics are not really your hardcore topics. It does have ‘Kill Someone You Hate,’ but it’s pretty trashy. But I don’t think we thought, ‘This is our sound forever.’ I think we were just into what we were into.”
Third Eye, the band’s third album, was released on Atlantic Records in 1990. Steven McDonald said the experience with a major label was not positive.
“Considering we were on the label and off the label within one year, I’d say it was an awkward fit,” he said. “It was weird timing for us, because we definitely did not relate to popular music. There was no precedence for our perceived peer group of having any success at that level. I suppose we could name-check Guns N’ Roses or something, or Jane’s Addiction, but it wasn’t until bands like Nirvana and the Breeders cracked into mainstream culture a couple of years later (that) the major-label experience for underground music made any sense to us. We loved music that had been popular like the Beatles and the Ramones, and we thought, ‘These people want to give us money.’ Their expectations for us and what we would sell was sort of a senseless battle. For all the Nirvana stories, there are thousands like ours.”
During the ’90s, Redd Kross found itself sharing the bill with a lot of popular alternative bands; Stone Temple Pilots and The Lemonheads took Redd Kross on the road with them.
“It was really fun. We liked playing to full auditoriums and large stages,” Steven McDonald said. “The Lemonheads came from the same scene as us. The first time I met Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, he was a kid who followed us up and down the coast. We had that sad experience of watching a band open for you and then becoming huge—and then we’re opening for them, which happened a few times.
“It was one of those rare experiences where you felt you were on the road, and this effort was making a difference. More often than not, you feel that people are waiting for you to finish to get to their favorite pop star, and that was more of the case with Stone Temple Pilots, because they had a more mainstream audience. Stone Temple Pilots were peaking when we toured with them and had a different reputation, and people accused them of being poseurs, and maybe they asked us to go on the road with them because they liked us, but also because it was a selling point, adding credibility to their situation. I preferred their tunes to Pearl Jam and didn’t give a fuck if someone had less credibility.”
On the subject of the revolving door of people coming through the group, Steven McDonald said it’s been a mixed bag.
“It’s been creatively positive in some ways,” he said. “We’ve always been inclusive toward those who have played with us and let them affect the sound of what we’re doing, and that’s probably why you hear a change in sound when you listen to our records. But there were some times when it was a real blow when someone left the band right before you’re going on tour, or right before a major-label debut. It was always, ‘We built so much around this person and I don’t know how to replace them.’”
In 1997, the band decided to go on hiatus. In 1999, guitarist Eddie Kurdziel passed away. Steven McDonald said he re-evaluated his life during this period.
“When the band started, I was really, really young. I was 12 by the time we recorded our first sessions. By the time I was hitting 30, I realized I had made decisions about my entire life when I was 11,” Steven McDonald said. “I felt sort of handicapped by that as a human being and didn’t know if I could do anything else. Had I been Donny Osmond and made millions of dollars, it would have been less of a question. I just left it really open and had no idea what I was going to be doing.”
In 2006, Redd Kross returned, and in 2012, the band put out its first album since 1997’s Show World. Steven McDonald said it wasn’t hard for the members to start the recording process all over again.
“I think the hardest part was wondering if anyone was going to care about it,” he said. “I never stopped recording and continued to make records with other people. My brother had always been in the basement making recordings, also. Not having a machine behind you, not having a team to go out and start a campaign, not having a record label behind you, and wondering if people are going to give two shits—that part is hard.”
However, Redd Kross has since learned that there are indeed people who care. In fact, Redd Kross was touring Spain at the time of this interview.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Steven McDonald said. “We have a very loyal following where we are right now. One day, you have hundreds or a thousand people singing along, and I get overwhelmed very easily.”
Redd Kross will perform an all-ages show at 10 p.m., Friday, Aug. 7, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Tickets are $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit www.pappyandharriets.com.