Quintessential Los Angeles band Redd Kross exist at the sweet spot where punk, metal, and bubblegum meet and since they began in the late '70s, the band's driving forces, Jeff and Steven McDonald, have stayed true to that equation.
There was more punk at the start, like on Born Innocent, the 1981 album they made before they were finished with high school, but the band's love of cheesy '70s pop culture and sugar-smacked hooks led to them aiming in a different, more accessible direction. Playing with a variety of musicians, the band made detours into pop metal on 1987's Neurotica, slick power pop on 1990's Third Eye, tuneful post-grunge on 1997's Show World, and in a stunning comeback of sorts after years spent working on other projects and the occasional reunion, they returned with two albums -- 2012's Researching the Blues and 2019's Beyond the Door -- that capture the spirit of the band's early work and combine it with a (slightly) more mature lyrical approach.
Inspired as much by breakfast cereal and kiddie TV as by rock music, the McDonalds began playing music together before they hit puberty. Fueled by a series of visits to famed area rock clubs like the Roxy and Whisky a Go Go, they formed their first band, the Tourists, in 1978; Jeff, then 15, handled guitar and vocal duties while Steve, 11, took up the bass. After rounding out the group with schoolmates Greg Hetson on guitar and Ron Reyes on drums, the Tourists played their first gig, opening for Black Flag. Following a name change to Red Cross, they issued their self-titled EP debut in 1980. After the departure of Hetson and Reyes (for the Circle Jerks and Black Flag, respectively), the McDonalds enlisted guitarist Tracy Lea and drummer John Stielow for their full-length follow-up, 1981's Born Innocent, which found the group's pop culture obsessions bubbling over on tributes like "Linda Blair" and "Charlie" (about Charles Manson, whose "Cease to Exist" they also covered).
Following the album's release, the band was threatened with a lawsuit from the real International Red Cross; as a result, the group became Redd Kross, slimmed down to a trio with new drummer Dave Peterson and returned in 1984 with the Teen Babes from Monsanto EP, a collection of covers of artists ranging from David Bowie to the Rolling Stones and the Shangri-Las. That year, they also appeared in and composed the music for the no-budget film Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, which included their transcendent cover of the Brady Bunch's "(It's A) Sunshine Day." With new guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald (no relation) on board, 1987's Neurotica, with its radio-ready pop metal sound and hooky songs, appeared primed to push Redd Kross out of the underground, but their label, Big Time, folded shortly after the album's release. The protracted legal hassles that followed prevented the band from recording any new material under its own name for three years.
Instead, as the Tater Totz, the McDonald brothers corralled Three O'Clock member Michael Quercio and former Partridge Family kid Danny Bonaduce for 1989's Alien Sleestacks from Brazil, the title a nod to the Sid and Marty Krofft children's series Land of the Lost. A collection of satiric and surreal covers, the LP included renditions of "Give Peace a Chance," "We Will Rock You," and Yoko Ono's "Don't Worry Kyoko." Prior to another Tater Totz effort, 1989's Sgt. Shonen's Exploding Plastic Eastman Band Mono! Stereo (recorded with ex-RunawayCherie Currie and future Foo FighterPat Smear), the McDonalds detoured into another side project, Anarchy 6, for the 1988 mock punk tribute Hardcore Lives!
Finally, in 1990 the brothers McDonald were free to use the Redd Kross name again and signed with Atlantic. Working with producer Michael Vail Blum, the band streamlined their approach and delivered the surprisingly straightforward and poppy Third Eye. After an appearance (alongside David Cassidy) in the kitschy 1991 film Spirit of 76, the band issued a handful of singles before 1993's heavier, grunge-adjacent Phaseshifter, which featured an all new band of guitarist Eddie Kurdziel, keyboardist Gere Fennelly, and drummer Brian Reitzell. The band toured behind the album tirelessly, playing around the world as headliners, at festivals and on TV. The same lineup returned to the studio to work on the group's fifth album, the reliably hard rocking and hooky Show World, and after its 1997 release they hit the road again before taking a break. After Kurdziel's death in 1999, the band turned their break into a hiatus.
The brothers produced the Donnas' 1999 record Get Skintight, Steven played bass with Tenacious D on their debut album, and Jeff finished and released the self-titled solo album he'd begun between the last two Redd Kross albums. Getting back to making music together, the duo recruited Steven's wife Anna Waronker and formed Ze Malibu Kids, a poppier version of Redd Kross with girl group and indie pop influences. They released an excellent album of covers and originals, Sound It Out, in 2001. Steven also released an EP of songs under the name the Steven McDonald Group in 2002 and continued producing records for others, including Be Your Own Pet and the Format.
In 2006, the classic Neurotica line-up of the band (guitarist Robert Hecker and drummer Roy McDonald) re-formed and began making live appearances once again, including individual shows, festival dates, and tours that saw Redd Kross perform across the United States and in Canada, England, and Spain. A January 2007 show in Madrid was documented on the Got Live if You Must! DVD, released the following year by Bittersweet Records. Around this time they started writing and recording new songs, but were derailed by other opportunities, like Steven's burgeoning production career and his punk supergroup Off! They finally put the finishing touches on the songs' album though, and in 2012 released Researching the Blues for Merge. The album's sound was stripped of any studio gloss and featured four seasons musicians ripping through some of the group's best and most immediate material ever. The group went on tour behind the record, with Jason Shapiro of Celebrity Skin replacing Hecker on guitar. Steven resumed playing in Off! and joined the Melvins in 2017. In return, that band's Dale Crover joined as Redd Kross' drummer, which came in handy when the two bands toured together. In 2018, as the group worked on recording new songs with that lineup, Merge reissued Teen Babes from Monsanto and Hot Issue!, a collection of outtakes and rarities. Released in mid-2019, Beyond the Door was the band's seventh studio album and featured guest appearances from Melvins' guitarist Buzz Osbourne, Anna Waronker of That Dog, and former Redd Kross keyboardist Geré Fennelly. The McDonald brothers collaborated on songwriting more than in the past and shared lead vocal chores, too. After the album hit record store shelves, the band headed out on a two-month-long tour of North America. In 2020, Merge Records reissued their 1980 debut EP, cut when they were still known as Red Cross; the new edition added five bonus tracks, though the release still clocked in at less than 12 minutes. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi