Image for Redd Kross – Golden Blues

Redd Kross – Golden Blues

Written by Cameron Tyeson on February 27, 2013

“It hasn’t changed much.” After a hiatus of 10 years, Redd Kross lead guitarist Jeff McDonald has found that the more some things change, the more they stay the same. “It’s amazing how things go back to that exact vibe we’ve always had while working together.”

A perennially important band in the annals of the first wave of Los Angeles punk in the early 80s, Redd Kross was formed by Jeff and younger brother Steve McDonald when the pair was just 15 and 11 years old respectively. Legend has it that the group’s first gig was opening for Black Flag at a middle school graduation party. Flash forward through a career including a swathe of highly influential records which helped steer the shifting sounds of cities such as Seattle and New York, and you might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps their 1997 break was the cap on a career well spent.

And yet, in 2013, Redd Kross are back – definitely a little older, maybe a little wiser, and possibly even better than ever. Rarely is it that a permanent reunion is as seamless and organic as this. But, as Jeff explains, when it comes to music, familial relations are a little thicker than usual. “You’re in contact,” he explains. “Oftentimes, when you’re playing with someone and then you’re no longer playing with them you lose touch with them or you haven’t seen them in years. My brother lives a couple of miles away. I see him all the time. If we have the idea to play again, half the band is right there.”

After playing the obligatory reunion shows covering much of the band’s prior output, the past few years have seen Jeff’s attention thrown onto new material, the bulk of which had been gestating away inside a head that never truly switched off after the bands’ initial departure. “I never really stopped writing songs,” he details, “so I had this whole cache of songs and song parts.” But last year’s triumphant return, Researching the Blues, was more of a stop-start affair with regards to production. “We went in and recorded the basic tracks for the majority of the record in a couple of days. But then we got busy; a tour came up, my brother (Steve) had a kid. So we didn’t really pick it up for a while.” For Jeff in particular, this proved frustrating. “The idea of having this unfinished project would drive me crazy when I thought about it.”

As frustrating as the nag of a loose end might have been, the enforced time away proved to be something of a minor godsend for the record. “I casually one day started listening to it. I’d had the time away from it and erased all the warts and anything strange about it to me, and I was like, ‘This is a really great record.’” From there, the old familiar work ethic kicked in for Jeff and the rest of the band. “The last part was a watershed because I got really enthused, finished up my parts, gave it to Steve to mix and he came back and mixed it in a week.” Though the hiatus had given Redd Kross the unique position of being free from any contractual obligations, the strength of the record quickly erased any fears of distributional hell. “We thought we’d just give it away. We didn’t have a record deal. We didn’t really know. We just gave it to a couple of record labels and they were both like ‘No! No! We really want to put this out!’ It all kind of happened really naturally.”

Once again pursuing Redd Kross full-time in 2013 has posed some unique but by no means unwelcome problems for the band. In the intervening years, bassist Steve has found a significant measure of success, initially in various capacities working for artists as diverse as The Donnas, Turbonegro, Tenacious D, fun. and Beck, and later as a member of hardcore supergroup OFF!, a band who is absolutely no stranger to either Australian shores or an overall hard touring ethic. With both OFF! and Redd Kross releasing new albums in 2012 within mere months of each other, coordinating time to dedicate to each band became somewhat of a curious predicament. “We had to be on it as far as when we scheduled tours,” says Jeff. “It was a little bit of a nightmare. We weren’t able to promote [Researching the Blues] extensively for the first couple of months.” Fortunately this proved less of a hurdle for the group and rather something of a blessing in disguise. “For sanity’s sake it’s a lot nicer to have a month off between tours.”

Hinting at a new phase in his life that has seen him grow weary of the road warrior days of old, Jeff continues, “We come from a time where you get on a plane and don’t come back for two months. Then you’re home for 10 days and then you’re off again. I would never do that again. Even if we had some freakish hit, I would never be on the road for eight months out of the year. I would lose my mind.” Rather than coming from a life view fatigued by a youth spent between gigs, Jeff cites a desire to not let this Redd Kross reunion fall victim to pity. “We’re a live band. It’s all about conjuring that inner performer. You can get into automatic pilot after a while, and that’s something that I’m not interested in.”

But the tone of Jeff McDonald’s voice never strays from overwhelming enthusiasm, and the allure of playing abroad still clearly presents a distinct, welcome sense of adventure. “Our last European shows were a couple of months ago. It was basically a tour of Sweden and Spain, with one German and one British date thrown in. It was like a nice, weird paid vacation.” And when his thoughts turn to Australia, that enthusiasm only grows. “We always have a really great time there. I just think it’s a great country with great rock ‘n roll fans.” Prior to the release of Researching the Blues, the band visited southern shores as a hand-picked guest for Hoodoo Gurus 30th anniversary tour, a run of shows that provided Redd Kross with the opportunity to mix it amongst a particularly diverse lineup. “That was fantastic. The bills had such variety. I guess it was designed as like a 60s Caravan of Stars type tour, where everyone played abbreviated sets but there were lots of different groups. You went out there and [had] 30 minutes to knock ‘em dead, and then someone totally different than you would go on after. It was really fun.”

It’s that lure of diversity that has Jeff McDonald particularly excited about the band’s looming Australian tour, which includes a stop at the seventh instalment of the Golden Plains festival in early March. “I’ve only heard amazing things about [Golden Plains]. I’ve heard it’s really unique. I like the idea that it’s a 1-stage festival. It’s great that all the energy and focus is on one place. [Other] festivals there are 10 tents, a techno area, a DJs event – it’s a carnival. But I like the idea that it’s one focused energy so you get a chance to experience the diversity of the different groups. I’m really looking forward to being a part of it.”

If it’s true that you’re only as young as you feel, then Redd Kross might well live forever.

Redd Kross will be touring Australia in March, playing Golden Plains as well as a run of shows up and down the east coast.

Saturday, 9th March
Golden Plains, Meredith – SOLD OUT

Tuesday, 12th March
The Espy, Melbourne
Tix: www.espy.com.au

Thursday, 14th March
The Hi-Fi, Brisbane
w/ Dinosaur Jr
Tix: www.thehifi.com.au & www.feelpresents.com

Friday, 15th March
Coolangatta Hotel, Coolangatta
w/ Dinosaur Jr
Tix: www.thecoolyhotel.com.au

Saturday, 16th March
The HiFi, Sydney
w/ Dinosaur Jr & Royal Headache
Tix: www.moshtix.com.au & www.feelpresents.com

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