Red Kross’ Jeff McDonald talks Tampa's Empty Keg, losing Kim Shattuck and more before Ybor concert

The band opens for Melvins at Orpheum on Wednesday.

click to enlarge Red Kross’ Jeff McDonald talks Tampa's Empty Keg, losing Kim Shattuck and more before Ybor concert
Photo by Julian Fort

Generally speaking, there are two types of people when it comes to discussing the music of Redd Kross: those who absolutely worship the long-standing, seasoned California-based pop-punk band and those who are oblivious to the group’s existence. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll gladly and proudly list myself among the former sect of believers. If fact, at the band’s request, myself and two friends of mine were personally asked by the band in the mid-’90s to run its fan club which we dubbed the Redd Kross Army.

Bashing out notes and chords since the late 1970s and releasing its first EP in 1980 (when its founders and biological brothers Jeff and Steven McDonald were 16 and 12 years old, respectively), the precocious pair found itself onstage alongside other acts like Black Flag and The Germs in launching the Southern California punk rock scene that was just developing at the time.

Melvins w/Redd Kross/ShitKid
Wed. Oct. 23, 7 p.m. $20-$40.
Orpheum, 1915 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City.

Over time, the band has experienced its fair share of lineup changes, record label shifts and musical directions. Sailing as confidently through glam-rock, power-pop and garage-rock since its punk rock beginnings, the band has reinvented itself many times while never losing its humor or its infectious appeal. Arguably the best and most creative purveyors of pop culture references in its music, this is the only band that can get away with effortlessly citing hard rocker Lita Ford, The Exorcist star Linda Blair and bubbly Japanese pop band Shonen Knife in its music and have it come across as smart, hip and uncontrived.  

While the band isn’t as prolific when it comes to releasing new records and touring as its fans would like, it’s not for a lack of working. Always involved with other projects, Jeff has a recording studio in his home and is married to Go-Go’s founder and guitarist-songwriter Charlotte Caffey. Together, they have a daughter in her mid-20s who is following in the footsteps of her musically inclined parents. Steven has been part of punk super group Off! for the last several years and, of late, has become a permanent member of the kings of sludge rock, The Melvins (with whom Redd Kross is currently touring). 

Nonetheless, now signed to longtime indie record label Merge, the group just released one of its strongest albums to date, Beyond the Door, and is out supporting it on one of its lengthiest tours (which includes four Florida stops).

While in the midst of the tour and on a travel date, lead singer Jeff McDonald spoke to me to fill me in on the state of Redd Kross in 2019, his dismay with the death of lead singer and guitarist Kim Shattuck from scene-sharing band The Muffs and the excitement he’s feeling towards the recently completed Kickstarter program to raise funds for a documentary that covers the band’s long tenure.

The first thing I want to ask about is the new album. Beyond the Door is excellent. Tell me your take on it and how it's going over with a lot of the fans.

Well it's just kind of, you know, it's a very Redd Kross record and it has all the influences as far as the songwriting and the singing. So far our hardcore fans have been very, very positive.  You know, we only make records when we really feel like it every few years, but they’re always very inspired. We had a really great time writing it and recording it.  

I think that shows in the music too I think that really comes through.

I hope so.

I know you’re currently in the middle of a tour with The Melvins. How’s been going so far?

It's been really fun. Both bands play one-hour sets so it’s almost like a two-act play. We’re act one and then The Melvins are act two and then both bands perform together in the big crescendo, the climax of the evening. I think it's really a great combination. The very first act that goes on is an artist named Toshi Kasai and he plays a vintage Moog synthesizer for like 15 minutes and then we play our form of punk-pop-psychedelia, whatever you’d call it and then The Melvins come out with their heavy duty experience and then it’s all of us together. Everyone’s been really excited about the shows and it’s been really fantastic.  

Good. I think it's gonna be a fun night. You're coming here to Tampa on October 23, and you’re doing four shows total throughout the state of Florida. If I recall, I think the last time you were here in Tampa was in the mid-90s when you were supporting Stone Temple Pilots. 

That's quite possible.

Yeah so a lot of people are really excited because, for a lot of your fans in the area, this is going to be their first chance to see you live. I've had a lot of friends of mine who know I’m a huge fan of yours come to me and say ‘I can't believe I'm finally going to get to see them.’ It seems like that's true for you guys for a lot of your tours;  you always seem to have new people who haven't seen you before who are totally won over by the end of the night. 

Yes and I think it's important for a band like us especially since we've been around so long.  You know, it’s a really fun challenge when we can go out and not just preach to the converted. With The Melvins, a lot of the audience don’t know us but we’re pretty confident that we've won them over each night and that keeps us on our toes. 

I know the first time I saw you guys here was at the Empty Keg at USF when Third Eye came out in 1990 and that show just won me over for life.

Oh wow! Thanks! 

I know your brother Steven is doubling in playing bass with Redd Kross as well as with The Melvins every night but I read that [Melvins drummer] Dale Crover is now playing with you all as well? 

Yeah Dale has been playing the bass while now and so it's a very interesting set because when The Melvins come on, Buzz comes on and replaces guitarist Jason Shapiro and myself so we’re sharing the rhythm section and it’s so weird and so great because the bands are so different but that that is an extra bonus treat to see Dale and Steven do both duties. They're monsters!

Are they able to handle the challenge of doing double duty every night? 

Oh yeah. They’re way beyond handling it. It’s one of the really entertaining aspects of the show.

Well, Steven is a powerhouse so I'm sure he can more than handle it. I would be remiss if I didn't bring this up because I’m so shocked about it and I’m sure you are too. The loss of [lead singer and guitarist for California pop-punk band The Muffs] Kim Shattuck. I’m sure that’s a big blow considering the similar scenes you guys are all from.

Kim has been one of my very favorite people for the past 35 years. We’re all kind of inter-related in that whole little Muffs/Pandoras/Redd Kross world. It’s a huge loss but it was really strange because I was one of the people who knew she was ill for the past couple of years and I would hang out with her and, actually, Kim co-wrote one of the songs on our new album, a song called “Jone Hoople,” and at the time she didn’t have use of her hands and she was communicating through a thing she did with her eyes but her spirit was so there and the classic Kim Shattuck hilarity was there but we were able to communicate through music. I knew it was coming but I’m shocked still.

An interesting thing, we were in Cleveland that night in a restaurant right next to the club where we were playing and we were eating and Jason, our guitar player, came in and he handed me a phone and I just knew it was something to do with Kim. As soon as I got the phone, the lights went out. There was a blackout on the street. We had a couple of hours by candlelight and we didn’t know if the show was going to happen. Well, the show happened and my way of paying tribute to Kim was that, I didn’t really mention it onstage, but it was just like ‘I get to do this,” and Kim was a rock and roll lifer and I’m just gonna go full out and Kim was in my head and in my heart. I loved her so much. 

I know you all have been at this for a long time and that your first EP came out early eighties.  When you look back, does it feel like it's been that long or does it feel like it’s all flown by for you? 

No! You know what’s wild, I’ve thought about that, and I think that since we started performing and the minute we learned how to play our instruments, it was just a matter of time before we were recording our own songs. We were so young that it’s always been part of our normal, everyday lives. It’s just kind of normal for us as it is for other artists that we know.

Speaking of, I know your daughter Astrid is also musically inclined. Is that something that she got more from you or from Charlotte? Or was it a combination of the two of you?  What drove her to kind of want to follow that path? 

She grew up around rock and roll and rock and roll musicians. We have a studio in our house and we would have bands recording at our house so it was just in her life. She wanted to play music with her partner Kevin Devine so they started a relationship then started a band [The Side Eyes] and they’ve been doing it now for a few years. I do have to say that, their new record which my brother produced but is not mixed yet, is fantastic. And they recorded it in two days! It’s like, they’re a different animal than me. They can do that spontaneous stuff but, for me, in order to be spontaneous, I have to be really well rehearsed. It’s very different so it’s exciting to see that. It’s also very different from her mom but we all love music and it’s a big part of our lives and our whole family and our extended family. But we didn’t expect it; we didn’t expect her to be a musician. It was solely her experience  

Tell me a little bit about the Kickstarter project that's happening for the movie. How did that all come about? 

Well, we made the goal! Andrew Reich is a friend of ours who is a television producer and a showrunner and he was instrumental with the TV show Friends and he’s been a fan for years and years and we didn’t know him until he approached us with this idea. I was excited because they’re gonna get a lot of footage and archival stuff and, it’s our story but we’re not really telling it. It’s through his eyes with him being a fan. But we just showed up and gave him the stories and some interesting content. But they’re real filmmakers so it should be really interesting. 

Well, it’s long overdue because, people who like you don’t just like you a little, they love you and they are totally into the band so I’m sure it’s gonna make a lot of people really happy, myself included. One last question: tell me, in your own words, how you would summarize Redd Kross to not only those who don’t know your music but for those who are already familiar with it and love it?  

That's really hard to say because, looking the way we do, we always get approached by strangers who say ‘Are you in a band?’ and when you say yeah, they ask what kind of band and that’s the million dollar question. To me, I just say we’re a rock and roll band. And I know that doesn’t help but I don’t know what else to say. It’s like, the music we love, all wrapped up…rock and roll, pop music, everything. It’s all kind of makes its way, somehow, to our little stew or whatever. 

I think that's a great answer. It's about by the best answer you can give. 

Yes! A rock and roll band!! We’re a rock and roll band. 

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About The Author

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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