REDD KROSS INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN MCDONALD INTERVIEW BY JEFF HO
Hey Steven, I know you were out on the road touring with Redd Kross. Did you see that wave pool up in Lemoore?
There’s an insane looking wave pool near Fresno.
That’s Kelly Slater’s wave pool. A lot of people think that the wave pool is boring and the wave is too perfect and you can only do certain types of maneuvers and it’s not as challenging as having contests in a natural environment. In natural surf, you have the unpredictability of the swell. Sometimes, during your heat in a contest, you don’t know what you’re going to get.
That seems like part of the challenge. How do you feel about the point of view that a man-made wave isn’t representative of the challenging of surfing?
Well, I think it’s all fun. Surfing is surfing and waves are waves. If a wave is in a machine and it keeps going a certain way, then you ride it. If you don’t like it, get out of the water and go somewhere else.
The one in Lemoore made me feel like I should try it.
Well, if you want to, it’s a good thing. That’s one of the questions I was going to ask you. Did you ever surf, as a kid?
The story behind that would be that my brother and I skateboarded a lot, and we rode boogie boards. We used to get those kits where you make your own boogie board and you’d stack the styrofoam center and put the outside on it. Then we got into punk rock and started getting hassled at the beach. We were called tourists because we weren’t living on the strand and we’d get called Joey Ramone and stuff like that. One time my brother, Jeff, was boogie boarding in Hermosa Beach and this surfer, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, surfed over him and his skeg left a really gnarly gash on his head. When he came out of the water, it looked like Jaws had attacked him. Around that same time, skating in an empty swimming pool in Lennox, California, Jeff had a near compound fracture. He fell and braced himself with his arm behind him and it just snapped. Then he got run over on his boogie board and took a skeg to the head. Between those two things, we thought maybe we should focus more on trying to write songs, so we kinda shifted out of surf culture. This was before surfers were really into punk rock. I remember when Tony Alva started going to punk shows in 1980. Prior to that, I didn’t feel welcome with green hair on the beach. If you didn’t live on the coast, they’d be like, “Get out of here tourist!” So we started a band called the Tourists and we embraced our Hawthorne nerdiness. It was weird because we were still into beach culture and the songs that we were writing, like “Annette’s Got The Hits”, were referencing surf culture from the ‘60s.
“My idols were even earlier than Tony Alva, like Ty Page. I was catamaraning at Skateboard World in Torrance, which was the park I had a membership at. I was going down the slalom course with my friend where you would sit on your board and your friend would sit on their board and you’d join hands and roll, and Ty Page did a running jump over us. It was like being anointed by Robert Plant. I was a fan of those guys. They were like rock stars to me.”
You mentioned Tony Alva. Did you know Tony?
Yeah. I knew him a little bit. I remember when he first started going to shows because we were huge skateboard fanatics and we read Skateboarder. My idols were even earlier than Tony Alva, like Ty Page. I was catamaraning at Skateboard World in Torrance, which was the park I had a membership at. I was catamaraning down the slalom course with my friend and Ty Page did a running jump over us. It was like being anointed by Robert Plant. I was a fan of those guys. They were like rock stars to me. By the time I got into punk rock, I had a chip on my shoulder about surf culture because it seemed like, at the time, you had to choose one or the other. My brother always talks about when the Ramones opened for Black Sabbath at the Long Beach Arena. That was the moment when high school was no longer tolerable for him because the Ramones got booed off the stage. Prior to that concert, no one understood why Jeff had green hair. They just thought he was an alien. All of the stoners and surfer dudes were at that concert, so they had Joey Ramone as a point of reference now. The two cultures hadn’t cross-pollinated yet, so it became a total hassle for Jeff. He hated school and he couldn’t even walk down the halls anymore. When we started our band, we already had a “fuck that scene.” mentality. Black Flag had a song called “Wasted”. “I was a surfer, I had a skateboard, I was so heavy man, I lived on the strand, I was so wasted.” We related to that point of view. When Tony Alva showed up at an X show at Baces Hall, a venue on Vermont that is now a Wells Fargo, we all thought, “Hey, man, this is our turf.” We were just unfriendly. Then there was a scenario that has been talked about a lot with Janet Housden and Tony and a bottle over the head. There was a lot of debate over what the back story was with that. It’s a bit controversial so there’s probably no need to get into that too much other than to say that was the first interaction we had. It was crazy. Jannette bashed Tony over the head with a bottle. Within a couple years time, it was all forgotten. I remember Redd Kross playing at a party in San Francisco and Tony was there and it was all good. He had a band in ’82 and we did shows together.
“When Tony Alva showed up at an X show at Baces Hall, a venue on Vermont that is now a Wells Fargo, we all thought, “Hey, man, this is our turf.” We were just unfriendly. Then there was a scenario that has been talked about a lot with Janet Housden and Tony and a bottle over the head. There was a lot of debate over what the back story was with that. It’s a bit controversial so there’s probably no need to get into that too much other than to say that was the first interaction we had. It was crazy. Jannette bashed Tony over the head with a bottle.”
Let me take it back even earlier. When did you first start playing music?
I joined the school orchestra when I was nine. There was a kid in the Wiseburn School Orchestra who had a Vox electric bass that he played. My brother and I saw that and we were like, “Whoa. You can play electric bass in this orchestra?” Jeff decided that he was going to get a guitar and he was like, “Steven, you need to join that orchestra.” The evil plot was that I would play the stand up bass enough to convince my parents to buy me an electric bass, so that was exactly what we did. I learned to play “King of the Road” and I showed my parents and then I proceeded to beg like Bart Simpson, relentlessly, “Please, please, please!” At Christmas, in 1978, I got a Fender Musicmaster bass, which was really cool of my parents. Jeff and I immediately started writing songs and we wrote our first batch of tunes, like “I Hate My School” and “Standing in Front of Poseur”. We started the Tourists in 1979 and then we started cold calling all of our favorite bands. We would call 411 and ask for the phone numbers of the Dickies, like Leonard Graves or Chuck Wagon. We’d find out their real names and Jeff would call and try to get us gigs. He would always pitch us as these little kids, and say, “Our bass player is only 11 years old. Can’t we open for you?” I remember he talked to the keyboardist for the Dickies dad or uncle. We cold called the Avengers. We cold called Penelope Houston. None of that panned out but, eventually, we found out about Black Flag, who were a new band that had just started in our area. That was mind-blowing because we were in the suburbs. People that grew up in Kansas, or wherever, in the middle of the country, hear our story and often think, “Oh, yeah, but you were in L.A. in the center of everything, so of course you did that.” That would mean that everybody did that in L.A. and it’s not really true. L.A. is so massive and the Rapid Transit was really not very practical, especially then. Even though there was all of this amazing stuff going on 15 miles away in Hollywood, we might as well have been in Kansas, so it’s pretty remarkable that we found Black Flag. Jeff called Greg Ginn, who he found through information. Greg thought it was funny that there were these little kids that liked punk rock and he invited us to come down to a Black Flag rehearsal, so the four of us did that. When they were finished playing, they were like, “So you’re a band? Show us.” They handed us their guitars and we had our drummer, who was 13, sitting behind Robo’s massive Vistalite drum kit. I was holding Chuck Dukowski’s bass. Chuck’s name was Gary at the time and Gary had an Ibanez Flying V bass, which was as big as me. We went through our set and they were impressed or charmed or something and they immediately asked us to play shows with them. We had seen them play at a Moose Lodge in Redondo Beach, but they hadn’t really started going to L.A. and playing proper venues yet. When they started that, they very generously invited us along. That was in ’79.
You opened up for Black Flag at Polliwog Park too, right?
Yeah. Technically, our first public performance with Black Flag was at an eighth grade graduation party in Hawthorne. It was our drummer’s graduating class. I was graduating sixth grade. We were going to play in this living room in Hawthorne and we asked if we could invite another band to come play and the girl whose house it was said, “Sure!” So we invited Black Flag to come down and play. [Laughs] These kids were not feeling us at all. The standard fare at that time would have been cover bands and we would have been playing Bad Company songs, but we were playing New York Dolls covers and our own songs. So we got hassled by our peer group and then Black Flag just blew everybody out of the living room. Then Black Flag invited us to play at Polliwog Park where they had misrepresented themselves. It was supposed to be a light jazz in the park series at this outdoor amphitheater. Usually, people would bring picnic baskets and listen to some Kenny G style music. Black Flag had sent them a tape of someone else’s music and said that’s the kind of band they were so, when the show happened, the organizers and the crowd were very confused and not happy. They were polite enough to us, but we were little kids. When Black Flag played, it became a full food fight riot and it got a lot of attention in the local paper. It started this whole thing that Black Flag built their initial notoriety on, which was a war with the police department in the South Bay. Soon after, when they started getting popular, a riot would happen and the cops would show up and bust it up. Sometimes it turned into a bigger riot.
“The title track of our new record, “Beyond The Door”, is a song that Jeff and I co-wrote together. The song is inspired by a horror film that we saw in ’73. It was a rip-off of The Exorcist. Go check it out. Juliet Mills, of Nanny and the Professor, is the star. The new record is great. We’ve got Dale Crover on drums and Jason Shapiro has been playing with us for eight years now on guitar. I’m really proud of this record.”
At that time, were you called the Tourists?
Yeah. We became Red Cross when Black Flag were going to play shows in L.A. in Chinatown at the Hong Kong Cafe. They had booked a show and they were headlining and they invited us to come play. Our 13-year-old drummer was going to be visiting his relatives in the Midwest and we were like, “What do we do?” There was a kid that lived in the basement at the church where Black Flag rehearsed in Hermosa Beach and it was an 18-year-old Ron Reyes. He didn’t play anything, but Black Flag suggested him when we said that our drummer couldn’t do it. Ron was up for it, even though he had never played, and he gave it a shot and he had enough attitude. Around that time, we learned that there was a New Wave band in Europe that already had the name the Tourists. It turned out to be Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox who later had huge success as the Eurythmics. We learned about them and changed our name from the Tourists to Red Cross. I don’t remember who came up with the name Red Cross, but they probably thought it sounded cool and punk and would be good on a bill with a band called Black Flag. For all I know, it could have been Raymond Pettibon’s idea. I’m sure we would have gotten suggestions from that crew of guys that we were hanging out with, who we were very impressed with. I was maybe 12 at the time, and rolling with people like Raymond Pettibon and this guy named Gary who changed his name to Chuck Dukowski. Obviously, it was a Charles Bukowski reference, but I didn’t know who Bukowski was yet. It was quite a scene for a 12-year-old to keep up with. Greg Hetson might remember who came up with the name Red Cross, which we then changed to Redd Kross.
How did you know Greg Hetson?
Well, Greg Hetson from the Circle Jerks and Bad Religion was our first guitar player. He was in our band first. At Hawthorne High School, my brother Jeff was in a photography class, back in those days when it was common in public schools to have things like dark rooms. Jeff and Greg were both taking pictures at punk shows, so Jeff had pictures of a very early version of the Go-Go’s and Greg had pictures of the Dickies. Once again, that was a real fluke. They were definitely the only two kids at this massive school of 3,000 students who had any idea who these punk rock images were. Greg also had an electric guitar, which was a real rarity. Jeff told him he was starting a band and Greg came over and I had my Fender Musicmaster bass and Greg had his Gibson S-1, natural finish. I remember Greg was kinda freaked out that I was so young because I don’t think Jeff had warned him that his bandmate was a kid, but we had these songs and I could play a little bit and Greg was impressed and into it. The other plus was that Greg was 18 and he had a pickup truck, so that meant we had potential to put some gear in a vehicle and go do something.
You mentioned that Redd Kross and Black Flag and Circle Jerks mixed and played in different bands during that time. How did that work out?
Well, I guess it got weird with everyone because, with the Circle Jerks, their initial set of songs, in many ways, was thought of as plagiarism. When they did their first shows, they had a bunch of Red Cross riffs and they weren’t ones that Greg had written. They were ones that Jeff and I had written. They were doing the same thing with Black Flag songs. Even though Keith had written some of the lyrics, they were playing some of Greg’s riffs, so it was a little bit of beef, for a minute. Then I think they retooled it and took most of the lifted riffs out of the set. I will say that in that song “I Just Want Some Skank”, I wrote the verse. I didn’t write the lyrics, but I wrote the first riff when I was 11 and I never got credit. The Circle Jerks became really big really fast and that burned a little bit. Lucky Lehrer resurfaced in recent years and he gave this drum kit he had to the Hard Rock Cafe. It was this gigantic drum kit by a company called North. They are these weird horn drums where the drums are curved like a horn and they look crazy. They’re not very punk. When Ron Reyes ceremoniously quit Red Cross, we were all friends, but he was pissed at my brother for wearing make-up on his eyes like Iggy Pop. Ron left the venue in a huff, so we didn’t have a drummer. After that, Greg Hetson found this guy named Lucky Lehrer. Lucky came to our house in Hawthorne. Ron wasn’t in the band anymore, so we couldn’t rehearse at the church. When Lucky came to our house, he was 24 years old and I was 12. He set up this crazy looking North drum kit in our bedroom and we jammed. He was really good. He was also twice my age and his energy felt really awkward compared to our energy. We were like, “This guy is really good, but we can’t be in a band with him.” It felt really weird. Jeff and I told Greg afterwards, “I don’t think it’s going to work.” Then Greg, rather than siding with us, was like, “Are you kidding? I just found an amazing drummer, which is always the hardest to find.” After that, without telling us, Greg kinda conspired with Keith, who had just left Black Flag, to start a new band, the Circle Jerks. The reason I told this story is because Keith was invited to go to the unveiling of Lucky’s drum set at the Hard Rock Cafe, like a year or so ago, and he wrote this post on Facebook saying that he wasn’t going to this stupid unveiling. I said, “Keith, this drum set is basically the reason we didn’t want Lucky in our band and that’s how the Circle Jerks started, so you can thank that drum set for the Circle Jerks. You should go to the drum set’s party.” That got a few laughs. Ron Reyes was in Red Cross before he was in Black Flag. Dez Cadena was in Redd Kross at one point too and he played guitar. Then he left Redd Kross to become the singer of Black Flag. When Dez decided to leave Black Flag in ’83, he came back and played with Redd Kross for another year. That was a cool line up. We had Janet Housden and Dez Cadena in the band in between Born Innocent and Teen Babes From Monsanto. There was a lot of crossing over between bands, but it was a very small group of people. Even though L.A. is massive, it still felt very small town. I just think it’s a natural thing to experiment and play music with all of your different friends.
You referenced the church, which was an integral part of what you were doing at first. What happened at the church?
The church was Black Flag’s headquarters. That’s where Greg Ginn had SST, which was a little electronics company at first where he was building some kind of ham radios. Originally, SST was in Lawndale because the first Black Flag EP Nervous Breakdown had a Lawndale address. Then he moved his operation to Hermosa Beach to this church, which was no longer in use for religious purposes. These hippies held the lease and Greg had rented out a bunch of rooms there and Greg lived there and he had a room upstairs where Black Flag would rehearse. These hippies weren’t really peace and love. They were angry and very anti-punk rock, so it was war between Black Flag and the hippies at the church. The church was this weird space where the original members of Black Flag and another group of young musicians, the Descendents, would hang out. Then there was us. The Minutemen were in San Pedro and we met those guys at the same time. I don’t think they rehearsed at the church, but we did and Black Flag and maybe the Descendents did too, and we would all just hang out and drink beer. Janet Housden has a great story about just walking around Hermosa Beach when Medea, Greg Ginn’s girlfriend at the time, saw her. Medea was this real hard-boiled character like something from a John Huston film – really intense, but very funny. She saw Janet Housden walking around and she came out and said, “Hey, do you like punk rock?” Janet was like, “What?” She said, “Come in. There’s a punk band in here.” So Janet got invited to go in to a Black Flag rehearsal and check it out. There was a cast of like 20 characters that just hung out at this place. That’s the scene that we came from. Soon after, we started doing our own thing. By ’82, we would still do gigs with Black Flag, but things started to change. The scene changed. When other people our age started coming up north in large numbers to Black Flag parties, from places like Huntington Beach and Fullerton, they were called HB’s. That would have been Vicious Circle, which later turned into T.S.O.L. and some other groups. We just didn’t really gel with that scene. It seemed more violent. It felt like it was more about trying to live the mythology of English punk rock. The thought that it was all about violence and spitting on each other and cutting yourself up, we weren’t really down for that. We didn’t feel connected to that scene. Black Flag became wildly popular in that scene and we were still playing shows with them, but we stopped hanging out at the Church. We started growing our hair out and referencing our roots prior to punk rock, with things like KISS. We wanted to put on a show and we got more into showmanship, whereas, in a SST environment, you would have been called a poser for putting on some kind of stage performance. You had to be very tongue in cheek or be making fun of it, but we were serious. We wanted to put on a fantasy performance in whatever way we could. We wanted to do our own thing more, so that’s one of the reasons we never put a record out on SST.
You were on The Siren compilation and then Posh Boy put out the Red Cross EP. How did that influence your music or how did your music change after that?
Well, even though SST wasn’t a proper label yet, they were obviously looking to start a record label and put out music by other bands, but we were immediately snatched up by someone else, which was Posh Boy. When we did that first show with Black Flag at Hong Kong Cafe, Robbie Fields, A.K.A. “Posh Boy”, had already put out one compilation record, Beach Blvd, and he immediately wanted to do a record with us. You could say, after our first proper show, we got signed. In terms of a change in our sound, it didn’t make any. We had already made a demo, which I paid for with my paper route money. We made that demo in Hermosa Beach at Media Arts Studios, which was right around the corner from the church. Spot recorded it, and Joe Nolte of The Last, who was Ron Reyes roommate in the basement of the church, produced it. It was many of the same songs that we did on our first EP. I always wondered why Posh Boy didn’t put that out. I think he probably wanted to have his own say over how this record came out and maybe he turned up the little kid backing vocals a little louder, but it was still the same band. We did those songs and he put them on the Posh Boy comp, The Siren. Then Rodney Bingenheimer started playing our tracks a lot on his show on KROQ. Posh Boy was no dummy, so he pulled our six songs and made them into an EP on its own and slipped them into some blank 12-inch sleeves. He didn’t have any proper sleeves made up. He just bought generics. I don’t know how many thousands of copies he printed, but probably a few.
You mentioned earlier that you wanted to put on a show, but you weren’t feeling the English punk rock scene.
Well, we didn’t want to get into the pit and spit on each other and we weren’t into the safety pin in the cheek mentality. At that time, the kids in Orange County were very Sid Lives! I liked the Sex Pistols, but I was also into other things. I remember when Public Image did their first show in L.A. at the Olympic Auditorium, and it was kinda notorious. All these kids from O.C. went and did what they thought they were supposed to do, according to what the English press was saying about punk rock, which was, “Go and spit on the musicians!” That first Public Image album was great and Johnny Rotten was out there just getting showered with spit. It was disgusting. After we saw that, we were kinda reacting against that. We were doing our own thing and we didn’t care if we bummed people out. We liked having a bit of an antagonist relationship. At the same time, we were playing with all of those bands too because there was nowhere else for us to play. We were still very trashy musicians, so it probably made sense for us to play alongside punk bands. At that time, we were getting into ‘60s music and discovering thrift store records and getting into The Seeds and Arthur Lee and Love. We were doing a Seeds cover in ‘82, and sometimes that went over well and other times it didn’t. I remember playing at the Olympic Auditorium with SS Decontrol, and Social Distortion was the headliner and the crowd was moshing and going crazy and then, when we were playing, they just stood there and stared at us in total confusion. We had learned early on, from our very first show, when we were heckled by surfer teens, don’t back down. It was like, “You don’t need to back down. You have an electric guitar in your hands and that’s some kind of power. Even though you might be a shy teenager, right now, on stage, you have a different voice.”
How did TV shows and movies influence you and your music?
Well, popular culture, in general, was an influence. Our parents worked most of the time and we come from a working class environment. Television was our babysitter and you only had the three local channels and the three network channels, so you were watching whatever was on. We ingested pop culture in copious amounts and, by ’82 or ’83, it was time for us to turn around and vomit all that stuff back up at people through our music. It was like, “Let’s cover a song from a TV show. Let’s play a song from Bewitched where Elizabeth Montgomery, the foxy housewife witch, is playing a rock song in her living room.” Then antihero Linda Blair became an obsession. Think about the effect that The Exorcist had on us as children. The idea of this normal, cheerful, 12-year-old girl being taken over by the devil had a huge effect. Then Linda Blair went on to be in these TV movies, one being, Born Innocent, about a juvenile delinquent, and Linda Blair became an antihero for us. We were also referencing things like the Manson Family and grappling with moments in popular culture. Before the internet, everyone’s experience of popular culture was not customized. Everyone who interacted with popular culture knew about all of the same things going on, so it was such a bigger thing then. I don’t know how many households tuned into the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, but I don’t think that happens anymore because we can all chose our experience differently on YouTube or whatever. At any rate, someone like Linda Blair was very important to us, so that’s why we started writing songs about her.
You’ve been credited with influencing the Seattle grunge scene. Do you agree with that assessment? What is your take on the whole deal?
[Laughs] I don’t know. It’s hard to be objective. The only thing I know is that we went up there to play in 1986, as that scene was germinating, and all of those bands either came out to see us or played with us and opened for us. The first time we played Seattle, Soundgarden opened for us and so did Green River, which later became Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. I now play with the Melvins too and they tell me stories about when we played the Tacoma Ballroom in ‘87 and Nirvana was in the audience, as well as Dale and Buzz. Dale likes to tell the story of how, after the gig, they were in the lobby talking to Kurt and Chris and they were like, “Those guys are so happy.” They thought it was uncool. Dale was like, “They are also very good.” I’ve heard those guys at Sub Pop go on about our record that came out at that time called Neurotica. I think the point of reference was that we were coming from a punk rock background, but we were starting to reference a lot of classic rock and ‘60s psychedelia. We had made a covers record, prior to Neurotica, called Teen Babes From Monsanto and it was our version of Bowie’s Pin Ups, which is where we heard a lot of ‘60s music for the first time. Bowie did Pretty Things covers and Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd and it was this really cool process of your hero turning you on to music history. In ‘83, we made this record where we covered the Stooges and KISS and The Shangri-Las. That’s when we did that Bewitched song too. The combination of Teen Babes From Monsanto and the Neurotica record might have been exciting to these kids in the Northwest. At least, that’s what Buzz and Dale tell me. I’ll take their word for it.
Let me ask you about your brother. What do you respect most about your brother and did you get along with him? You certainly wrote a lot of music with him.
Jeff is my older brother and he was the guy who brought home Bowie’s Hunky Dory when I was five years old, which is bizarre, considering he was only 8 1/2 himself. He is definitely 100% responsible for much of the life I live today. In terms of our getting along, we’re siblings, and we shared a room until we were 16 and we were energetic, hyperactive, crazy people experimenting with drugs like young people do, or at least we did. It was a crazy time and we had a lot of battles and a lot of the classic Kinks, Davies brothers-style, stuff going on. It was common to see a fistfight break out on stage at a Redd Kross show, when I was 15 or 16, between the two of us, but it was just sibling stuff. On the flip side of that, we have a special communication. You can push buttons like no one else, because you have that communication, but you can also use that power for good and have a musical communication that is non-verbal and remarkable. I play with so many different people now and I have grown to see, “Oh, this is what’s different.” It’s that relationship and there is a comfort to it and a non-verbal side to it that is terrific. The other thing I would say is that Jeff has always been a true individual. Sure, as we were kids, he would be reactionary and want to do the opposite of what was popular, but also, at times, he just didn’t give a fuck. He just did his own thing. He is really a unique character, way more so than myself, and he has been a guiding force on a lot of levels for me. I remember being in junior high and getting into a lot of shit for being into punk rock and getting beat up by an eighth grader and stuff like that. Jeff would just tell me, “You know what? These kids, these fuckin’ assholes, these are the best years of their lives. It’s gonna be downhill for them from here. It might get a little better for them in high school, but this is their peak. Your life is different than that.” He had this knowledge at age 13. When I was trying to write my own songs and music, he would say, “You just have to be your own genius.” That was his quote. “Be your own genius.” I feel very lucky. For all of the battling and antagonism and the typical craziness of siblings, the pros outweigh the cons for sure.
When you were touring with Redd Kross, you toured with The Go-Go’s at one point.
We went on tour with The Go-Go’s in the States for that album, Third Eye. The Go-Go’s were doing their first reunion tour and they took us out with them on the tour and that’s when Jeff met Charlotte and they have been together ever since.
“That’s Sofia Coppola on the cover. I was dating her for a while. She had just made the The Godfather Part III, and I was with her when all that went down. I got dropped off of Atlantic Records with Redd Kross and she got blamed for the third installment and failure of The Godfather series at the same time.”
That’s cool. I wanted to ask you about the Third Eye album cover too.
Oh yeah. That’s Sofia Coppola on the cover. I was dating her for a while. She had just made the The Godfather Part III and I was with her when all that went down. I got dropped off of Atlantic Records with Redd Kross and she got blamed for the third installment and failure of The Godfather series at the same time. [Laughs]
Wow. That’s what the perception was.
Yeah. She wasn’t prepared for it and I don’t think that she thought that she was necessarily great in it, but she was helping her dad out. Winona Ryder was originally cast in the role and then she got pregnant or something. At any rate, at the last minute, Winona had to bail. It was this huge, multimillion-dollar production and she bails. Sofia was there visiting her dad on the set and, the next thing you know, she was in hair and makeup. They had written the part with her in mind anyway, so that’s how it went down. Those were crazy times.
Yeah. In the ‘90s, you got signed to a major label. How did that come about?
We got signed to Atlantic in 1990, or maybe ’89. There was a period when college rock was really big and college radio was very powerful, and a lot of underground bands were starting to percolate up into the mainstream. The common example is REM, who broke through to mainstream success. Suddenly, there were bands in L.A. starting to break through a little bit and it became this sort of frenzy where the major labels were snapping up any band that was getting a lot of attention on a certain underground level. When we signed to Atlantic, it was less that we had any sort of connection with a person that signed us to the label. It was just our moment to get signed and it was that A&R person’s moment to be able to sign a band. We didn’t really have any dilemma about it. It wasn’t like we were worried about selling out or all of the punk ethos people had at that time. Every college radio station had an SST sticker that said, “Corporate Rock Still Sucks.” Some people were like, “Oh, they are going to give them the boy band treatment and make them rehearse in their underwear and brutalize their music.” That didn’t happen. In my opinion, The SST “Corporate Rock Still Sucks” thing was a total sham, as history tells us now, because they were the ones who were not paying their artists and they were making them sign contracts that were taking their publishing away from them. Talk about something you should be skeptical of. At the same time, we were fed to the major label machine when these record labels would sign a bunch of bands and just throw everything against the wall and see what sticks and then just move on. They had five or ten bands that were selling tens of millions of records, so that was kinda paying for them to experiment with other new artists. With Atlantic, we didn’t really connect, and we were on and off the label within a year. That was the downside. When you think of a band, you’re always trying to make progress. You’re trying to get bigger and build a business, and show growth. It’s like the capitalist fantasy and GDP and we weren’t showing growth. Getting dropped had a stigma attached and it’s hard to get another record label. We were lucky and we had the opportunity to go to England at that time. The Teenage Fanclub was just starting to break out of Scotland and they were fans of ours, so they invited us, in ’92, to come and tour with them, right when their Bandwagonesque album come out. That put some wind back in our sails and we got signed to a British label that was part of Polygram. We ended up being on Mercury Records in the United States on two records in the ‘90s. Then the grunge movement started to go away and Kurt Cobain was gone. Things were slowly degenerating and the age of Nickelback was starting to happen. At that point, in ’97, I was 30 and I had been doing it for 20 years and I thought maybe there was a different way that I should be approaching music, as a producer or something, so Redd Kross took a hiatus and I started doing other things. I never stopped doing music, but I went to school and learned music theory, so I could produce records. Although I’d professed on our Born Innocent album that notes and chords mean nothing to me, I was always kinda jealous of my friends that knew music theory, so I went to school to learn it. Then I played in Beck’s band for a while, and I produced a Turbonegro record and did a bunch of different things. In 2006, Redd Kross picked back up again and we’ve been doing it ever since. And then OFF! started in 2009 and I’ve been playing with them too. From 2003 on, I was back to playing music whenever I could and it has not stopped. Redd Kross is becoming more one of my jobs now too, which is great. Our newest record, Beyond The Door, which is our second album since our hiatus, the first one being Researching The Blues, was the first time we’ve been able to release a record and do a ten-week tour of the United States. The older you get, the harder it is to go tour the country, so I’m really grateful for it.
That’s really great. I heard that the Redd Kross and Melvins shows were really good. Do you want to talk about your new album and the music you’re doing now?
The title track of our new record, Beyond The Door, is a song that Jeff and I co-wrote together. The song is inspired by a horror film that we saw in ’73. It was a rip-off of The Exorcist. Go check it out. Juliet Mills, of Nanny and the Professor, is the star. The new record is great. We’ve got Dale Crover on drums and Jason Shapiro has been playing with us for eight years now on guitar. I’m really proud of this record. I recorded most of it myself and mixed it and Jeff did some of that stuff too. We did it in our own environment and it’s very homespun, but I also think that it shows the results of many years of woodshedding and becoming our own technicians, as well as artists, which is just another part of being a DIYer.
With the tours you did with the Melvins, you were playing double duty and so was Dale Crover. You were playing in Redd Kross and the Melvins, and Dale was playing in the Melvins and Redd Kross. Is that a big demand on you?
Yeah. We both played double duty and it was like a fantasy and it went really well. The physical part of it was great. I got to sweat my guts out every night and get applause for it, so I didn’t have to go work out in the gym. I still bring my skateboard with me when I travel and I cruise around. When I’m doing double duty, there’s not as much time to go shopping and I usually like to hit up the rare guitar shops and see what’s happening in each town, but doing the double duty tour was great. It’s basically just playing another two hours of music and I figure, at this point in the game, I should be able to do that.
Cool. Oh, one last thing. I saw that there’s a Kickstarter for a Redd Kross film called Born Innocent. So you guys are doing a film?
Well, there’s a filmmaker named Andrew Reich doing a documentary. We met him through some friends and he used to run that show “Friends”, which would seem to be an unlikely source for a Redd Kross fan, but he tells me this is his passion project, to tell our story. He started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds to finish the film and it’s something he’s been working on for a few years. That’s happening now.
Nice. Okay. Let me wrap it up. Is there anything else that you want to say to the people?
Come to shows. It’s a good time.
There you go. Thank you for talking. It was really cool. Say hi to everybody.
Will do. Thanks a lot. We’ll talk to you soon.
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