Ian Anderson 3:26 p.m., Aug. 14
Steve on... Redd Kross guitarist breaks it down
It’s not often that you can chat with a 45-year-old who can relate tales about hanging out with the likes of Black Flag and The Descendents when both of those bands were in their infancy. That’s because Steve McDonald was practically an infant when his own band, Redd Kross, got their start in 1978. The kid was only in middle school! Besides playing bass in Redd Kross, McDonald also currently holds down the low-end for the ferocious Keith Morris-helmed hardcore outfit OFF!. When Redd Kross went on the rocks in the late 90s, Steven went back to rock school in an effort to learn more about the technical aspects of recording music and also how to play like a pro. One unique feather in his cap is producing and engineering the first fun. album, Aim and Ignite. I caught up with McDonald last week via phone to chat about their upcoming show at The Casbah, the recording of their new album, life during band hiatus, and the possibility of a middle-class existence as a rock musician. We also chatted about past Redd Kross San Diego shows a bit, at which point he told me that it was at a concert in this very city circa 1997 that then drummer Brian Reitzell informed the band that he wanted to leave the group, an action that lead to a band hiatus which would last until 2006. Hopefully history chooses not to repeat itself this time around.
Redd Kross plays Casbah Friday, March 1.
Steve On Life While On Hiatus: “I’ve been doing Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and Plan D and some of it is actually like, ‘Oh, maybe Plan D is actually Plan A,’ I don’t know. The reality is on a bad day, I could be like ‘Oh, now I have to learn how to do this shit.’ Now, looking back, I think it’s very cool that I challenged myself. And now I’m in OFF! And we make our own records, and I man all the technical aspect entirely. I’m leading that, and it’s just fun. We’re in charge of our own destiny. You kind of have to be. There’s not a lot of industry people lining up to make a group of 40-year-olds or 50-year-olds the next big thing.”
Steve On His Brother Jeff’s (Married to Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go’s) Life During The Hiatus: “They had this unorthodox relationship where she was more of the out-there-slogging-it-out member of the family, and Jeff was this insanely confident mind-blowing housedad.”
Steve On The Current Music Industry: “This playing field--the landscape is changing. I don’t know what it’s changing into. Records are still not selling the way they once did. It’s still really hard to make a living as a musician, but there seems to be more and more evidence that there is a middle class for musicians.”
Steve On Their New Album Researching The Blues: “We started it in 2007/2008, but it sat on the shelf because, basically, we didn’t know how to mix it. I knew it was a really great record, but I didn’t have the facility, or the technology, to put the type of mix on it that we eventually got. I reached out to some people and they quoted us like $4,000 a track and we didn’t even have a record deal. I was like, ‘What are we gonna do? We can’t spend $20,000 to make a record, we are gonna need a real pro-rate!’ [Laughs] Eventually, I had to just learn how to mix the record, and that’s what we did. It was literally a matter of I had to wait until technology got to a certain place for my little ghetto home unit to do the stuff I wanted to do to it. It’s not that we were busy making a Sgt. Pepper’s, I just wanted it to sound the way it ended up sounding, but I didn’t have the equipment. The home recording technology didn’t exist yet, and I didn’t have the experience or confidence, yet, to take it on.”
Steve On Keith Morris, Black Flag And Going Punk Back In The Day: “I’m 45 and he (Keith Morris) just turned 57. The average age of those dudes (Black Flag) was probably 24 years old. The Descendents were high school students. My brother was a ninth- or tenth-grader. Bill Stevenson and Frank Navetta (Descendents), they might have been a couple of years older then Jeff. The Minutemen were more around Black Flag’s age, but probably a little bit younger. But the thing about Black Flag, they were all kinda like burnouts. [Singing] ‘I was a burnout, I was a hippie, I was so wasted I was outta my mind.’ That was Keith Morris talking about his actual experience of going to see Sabbath three nights in a row at The Whiskey and seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd and being into it. Keith could go on and on … Blue Oyster Cult, Captain Beyond, Alice Cooper Group. His stories are hilarious, you know, about drinking elephant tranquilizer from a bag at a Blue Oyster Cult concert at the Long Beach Arena. They (Black Flag) had already had their crazy adolescence, they were just now starting to question what arena rock had turned into. What the 60s and early-70s rock had turned into … ‘The Bloated Era.’ So those guys are having that perspective, and things were moving very fast for me. I saw Kiss at The Forum when I was 8 years old in 1975, and that was my first concert. We were gonna see Zeppelin, finally, but they kept cancelling their tour because all these tragedies had happened. We heard The Ramones in the interim while we were waiting for Zeppelin to come and suddenly everything changed. We were like Ramones, Runaways … there was this new kind of youth primitive rock and roll voice. Not only was this as magical to us as those other sorcerers and wizards, like Led Zeppelin, but this was actually approachable, and maybe even doable ourselves. We finally got to see Led Zeppelin when I was like 9 years old and it was this amazing concert. Keith Moon came out and did the drum solo for ‘Moby Dick’ along with John Bonham. But we were kinda up in the rafters with this jaded attitude like this was hippie music.”
Steve On Entering The Punk Scene: “The first time I went to a punk rock show, it was X opening for The Avengers at The Whiskey and I was like 10 years old. I was really afraid to go to a punk rock show because there was so much written about punk rock in the papers. It was so much about the London scene and these images of people with safety pins in their cheek and having convulsions on the ground. We were told that punkers were gonna hold you down on the ground on the dancefloor and cut your hair on the spot. It was really just fear, but it was the music I loved. I didn’t go in for that weak New-Wave stuff like Jackson Browne or whatever, I was all about The Sex Pistols and The Ramones and this new LA stuff we were learning about. We were just pleasantly surprised to find out that it wasn’t closed-minded. It was really open-minded. It was this really groovy environment of weirdo leftovers from the Glitter Era and art students. These were people in their 20’s meeting me and my brother thinking it was a total trip that some kids from the suburbs came out to The Whiskey. Then our experience soon after with the Black Flag scene. They told us to come down and watch them rehearse and then when they were done they handed us their guitars and were like ‘OK, let’s see it.’ So we did our set with Jeff using Greg Ginn’s guitar and me using Chuck Dukowski’s gigantic bass. We were just like ‘Cool, I dig you guys, you’re weird.’”
Steve On The Scene Changing Circa 1981: “Once all these kids realized they could go to these punk clubs and get all their aggressions out on the skank floor, it became very regimented. It became the exact opposite of anti-establishment. They had their new establishment. It was a bummer. My brother has always been very reactionary and he was like ‘I’m not cutting my hair anymore,’ and he encouraged me not to cut my hair. Suddenly 2,000 seat halls were being filled with kids that seemed like the football team to us, who suddenly weren’t into Van Halen anymore, but they were encroaching into our world. It felt like our escape from feeling like we didn’t fit into high school, like we had a place to go to, suddenly it was being infiltrated by the people who had picked on us a year or two before. On top of it, they were becoming the dominant group. They were creating the rules.”
Steve On Fitting In With The Punks: “We were always into pop culture, on our first EP we sang about Annette Funicello and longing for a time we didn’t inherit. I think by the time we were doing Born Innocent we were really coming to this place. We did demos for Born Innocent and we turned them in to Frontier Records, Lisa Francher, and she turned us down. We felt really insulted because she was putting out the Circle Jerks, which was Greg Hetson’s, our old guitar player’s, new band. And we felt like, ‘Fuck, we wrote the songs on our first EP. If you like that band you’re gonna like what we’re doing.’ It’s funny because the demos for Born Innocent were much more tight and together than the record we ended up making. The record we ended up making was the sloppiest, sassiest, ‘fuck you’ type of record. At that point we were still playing with bands like Black Flag because there was no one else left to play with, but I really didn’t feel like we fit in with anybody. We baffled people. We would get put on these big punk rock bills and we would get booed. We would never get booed off the stage because we refused to leave the stage.”
A Fine Spot For A Funny Suicidal Tendencies Story: “Suicidal Tendencies, when they were still a gang, they weren’t even a band yet, show up when we were playing at the Santa Monica Pier. Someone had booked some punk bands and all those kids showed up. We’re on stage dressed outrageously, like New York Dolls meets Keith Partridge, playing our brand of cross-pollinating arena rock with snotty nosed punk rock. We knew who Mike Muir was. We knew he was the leader of this notorious punker gang. So Jeff said, ‘This next song is off a record I bought at Mike Muir’s mom’s garage sale.’ And it was a Partridge Family cover. We never backed down in those environments. We figured that if people fucking hate us, that’s way better than just not caring.”
Steve On His Many Different Lives: “There’s been so many different eras. By the late 80s we were one of the biggest bands in Los Angeles and a lot of the other bands had broken up. The punk rock movement had kind of changed face. I’ve lived so many different lives. There’s been hope and dissapointment associated with many different eras. In many ways I feel like I’ve had the experience of a 60 year old in my mid-40s.”