Q&A: Redd Kross's Jeff McDonald On "Familiaritus," Why 2NE1 Are The New Ronettes, And How Survivor Is Like Being In A Band
Legendary L.A. groovy punks Redd Kross are back for reals with a new album, Researching the Blues (Merge), and soldiering on with their insistence that punk is indeed groovy. They were never strictly "punk" according to the norms of the early-'80s California scene they grew up in; nor did they always sport the "Brady Bunch extras" look they cultivated later in that decade, when the founding brothers starred in the goofy cult classic Spirit of '76 and went off about Charles Manson, Cher, shag carpeting, and whatnot. But brothers and founding members Jeff and Steve McDonald have consistently crafted oddly catchy tunes via an undying love for Cheap Trick and all loopy things L.A. And judging by their new record, they're still as good as distilling those influences into songs as ever.
The band has had the same lineup for six-plus years, and when we caught lead singer/guitarist Jeff McDonald on the phone, they had recently returned from a two-week tour in Australia. Since the Brothers McDonald pop up in the occasional film and TV show, when Jeff started by saying he'd just returned home from Universal Studios I figured he was lining up a new role...
Hey. I just got back from dropping my daughter off at Universal Studiosthe amusement park. Her and her friends have season passes.
Oh, I thought for a second maybe she was starring in the next Jurassic Park or something. I always assume you L.A.-ers are always up to some movie biz action.
Ha. No no.
So what about your daughter, Astrid? Is there going to be another Ze Malibu Kids record, or was she involved in the new Redd Kross record?
Actually, yes, it's really strange you asked that. When I started getting songs together for this album a few years ago, we'd been going to a lot of teen pop shows, and I started writing this song about teen pop. And then I realized, I can't sing about this, it's from the eyes of a sixteen girl! We saw at least seven or eight Jonas Brothers shows, Miley Cirus, that whole pop thing from a couple years ago. So I gave her the song, and she sang a great vocal. It's called "Pop Show," and it's on the iTunes version of the album, and the Japanese version. I wish it was on the real record here, but it isn't. They wanted a bonus track or whatever. I don't even know, do they have "bonus tracks" anymore? Whatever... Anyway, Astrid is 17 now, and she and her friend are working on music, and I'm going to help. I guess we're hip enough that I'm not an embarrassment, so I'm going to co-write some songs. I'm a big fan of girl groups anyway.
Who are some of your favorite girl groups?
You know, it's weird, right now girl groups have made a huge resurgence via the Kpop scene, you know the Korean pop scene? A lot of the Kpop stuff is bad and I don't really like it. But the good stuff is always done by girls. Right now I am obsessed with this group called 2NE1 [ed: 21, get it?]. I just discovered them through a Korean pop TV station in L.A. here, with subtitles. So what they do with Kpop is they have these entertainment production houses. So you're signed when you're a teenager, and then you're a trainee for awhileyou get in physical shape, you dance like 20 hours a day, you learn how to deal with the press, and you record and record until you're ready to make your debut. It's kind of a cross between like the Phil Spector/Motown model and the Olympics gymnastic team. But 2NE1 have this reality show, and it's really fascinating seeing people come up through that system. The guy that ends up producing and writing most of the songs is from the U.S. actually, he's Korean-American. And these records are amazing! 2NE1 has recorded a couple songs in English. A lot are in Korean with English in the choruses; and a lot of the English is really bad broken English. But a lot of the YG Entertainment groupsthe one that 2NE1 and Big Bang are ineverything is pristine as far as that. 2NE1 are the new Ronettes as far as I'm concerned.
So, the new album. Wasn't it going to be called Motorcycle Black Madonna or something?
Ha, yeah. But when you do that stuff, and make these premature announcements, it's always doomed. That was doomed. Like before we made Neurotica, we'd announced that it was going to be called, The Shroud of Laurie Bono Christ, and of course by the time we got around to finishing the record, you're way over it. But yeah, Researching the Blues. We couldn't come up with a title, and I'd just thought about that. I'd been reading these John and Alan Lomax books, like Bob Dylan and history of the Carter Familyjust these ridiculous, scholarly American roots books. And I'd remembered that we had this song on Ze Malibu Kids record called "Fiona Apple," which actually had nothing to do with Fiona Apple. And there was a line in the song, "She wrote a song about me while researching the blues." And I just thought that was funny, I couldn't even remember the origin of that line, but I liked the idea about being scholarly about the blues. But it can mean many things, like obsessively doing things that make you miserable, which a lot of people do.
Thank God, because I thought for a second it would be Redd Kross doing old blues covers and "rediscovering roots music" or something like that.
Someone else brought that to my attention, because usually when "veteran rock bands" make like a comeback record or whatever, they return to the blues, and they make some boring bad noodly blues album. So I understood that that title would fuck with people a bit.
That reminds me a bit of when that terrible band, the Killers, released their second album and were proclaiming their love of Bruce Springsteen. I mean I like Bruce, but it was funny that a band like the Killers had to dredge up some idea of "authenticity" in their music...
Oh gawd. A lot of people do love Bruce Springsteen. But from when we were at our most busy and psychedelic in the later '80s, there was "Born in the USA" and Bruce was the absolute epitome of horrid for us. You liked Prince if you had to like anything currently popular at that time. But I've come to terms with Bruce, though I still think he's completely overrated. Sorry. Because I'm a Bob Dylan fanatic, and I always hated that comparison.