I FIRST DISCOVERED and became totally infatuated with Redd Kross in the eighth grade—approximately the same age the group was when they cut their first record. At that age, I couldn't have asked for better celebrity role models than brothers Jeff and Steve McDonald, the band's core artistic nuclei. They were badasses—rock stars!—yet they embraced and entertained all their eccentricities; they were still complete weirdos. The evidence that such a dichotomy could exist was bolstering to an unassured young dreamer like myself; as a musician, Redd Kross served as an immense influence, and continue to. More than any other band, possibly excepting Big Star, they make that hyper-melodic, Beatlesque brand of pop sound attainable, human.
Perhaps most importantly, though, through Redd Kross I figured out what punk actually is—a specific emotional approach toward playing music, not drainpipe jeans or mohawks or studs or [fill in the blanks]. This was a band that unflinchingly performed Boyce & Hart covers in front of hardcore audiences and somehow still had clout with them, simply because their blood was red hot, too. This was the band I was searching for, and thankfully I found them sooner than later.
Redd Kross' pedigree is ferocious. The group formed in Hawthorne, California, in 1980 as a hardcore punk band, and the brothers McDonald were initially buttressed by Ron Reyes on skins and Greg Hetson on auxiliary ax (later of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, respectively). But it wasn't until the band's second full-length record—1987's anachronistic Neurotica, which has been retroactively credited with being the first "grunge" record ever—that their effulgent pop sensibilities blossomed. "Play My Song" sounds like "Surrender" with the lead sheets turned on their head, and Jeff's snot-nosed wail suggests a prepubescent Lennon. This was power pop.
The band spearheaded a '60s pop renaissance, along with the Posies and Jellyfish, with their third album Third Eye. They all too briefly became darlings of the mainstream with the closest they got to a straight-up alternative rock record, 1993's Phaseshifter (which, I should mention, was mercilessly, roundly ripped off by Stone Temple Pilots for their Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop album). After Show World, the band's slightly weary 1997 effort—although it does contain "Mess Around," one of the group's best songs—Redd Kross called it a day.
"Redd Kross had been my life since I was 11 years old," says Steve, "and I wanted to branch out a little bit. I was making career decisions since before I was a teenager."
But once the band reunited with the Neurotica-era lineup—featuring Roy McDonald (no relation) on drums and Robert Hecker on guitar—for a few gigs in 2006, "everything sort of fell into place," in Jeff's words, and a "new record seemed inevitable."
"We were worried, because it's a rare occasion for a band to reunite and make a record that doesn't sound like a reunion record," Jeff says. Redd Kross have defied the convention with flying colors. If anything their new album, Researching the Blues, surpasses its predecessors in several territories; the production is leaner, and the band hasn't sounded this energized since Neurotica.
Despite stylistic makeovers, Redd Kross have always been distinctly Redd Kross, as obvious as that sounds—there's that common, recognizable thread in all of their material. "Yeah, we don't really have any reservations playing Shangri-Las covers in front of punk crowds," Jeff admits.
This encapsulates the band's entire ethos: indifference toward whoever may or may not be listening. Not in an irreverent, unappreciative way, but in a way that's totally not patronizing. The band is more or less in it for themselves, and anybody who wants to come along for the ride is more than welcome. "We've just never cared," says Jeff, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is why they are the coolest band in America.