The McDonald Brothers, the driving force behind punk legends Redd Kross, stand well over six feet tall and have awkward gaits. Ahead of their new album — Researching the Blues, out today — they're sitting together in a Hollywood diner. Steven, who plays with hardcore punk supergroup Off! in addition to Redd Kross, spoons cheesy eggs onto a bagel. Jeff, the older, taller of the pair sports sunglasses indoors and picks at a blueberry muffin. “PJ Soles was really the Parker Posey of her time,” he says absentmindedly, referring to the star of the Ramonesploitation flick Rock And Roll High School.
A torrent of obscure, D-grade pop cultural references follow. The McDonald Brothers' faces slowly light up as they realize a fellow trash art aficionado has been sent to interrogate them. We talk of Russ Meyer, Roger Corman and Britney Spears. The conversation quickly turns to Spirit of '76, a campy film the brothers starred in beside David Cassidy in the 1990s.
“We'd always ask him about deep cuts from Partridge Family tracks,” says Steven, the more gregarious of the two. “He'd just look at us and ask 'Are you fucking with me?'”
The same question could be asked of Redd Kross themselves. Formed when the brothers were in middle school, their first show was opening for Black Flag. Since then, the group have transformed from teenage punk thrashers to power pop craftsmen to garage pop veterans, with the McDonald brothers the only constant. Researching the Blues sounds like it was recorded circa 1980 in the Hawthorne, CA garage the band started in.
The record follows a 15-year absence. In the interim, Steven dubbed bass tracks on White Blood Cells. Jeff made a solo album, Performs The Outrageous Incantations Of Beatrice Winters, released by tiny Hollywood indie label, Records Ad Nauseum. The latter, an experimental collection of tracks influenced by Metal Machine Music, Boyd Rice's Black Album, The Beatles edgier stuff and musique concrete, was “a cleanse,” Jeff says.
Keeping current is always a challenge, and doubly so when your band has a self-consciously “retro” aesthetic. “People think keeping fresh is having a Roland keyboard no one else is using,” says Steven.
Jeff provides a more direct explanation of how the band rolls with the changes after 30 years:
“I'm like Bob Dylan; I approach music as a fan. I just ask myself 'What do I want to hear?'” Rather than looking to the past, the McDonalds think about their present; Whatever moves them at the moment is what the next Redd Kross record sounds like.
“All you have to do is like your own music,” says Jeff.
When listening to Researching the Blues, the cacophony of sharp-edged pop noise hearkens back to the band's earliest days. This makes Steven's claim — now de rigeur among aging punk rockers — that Researching is their best record far less cringeworthy. Indeed, the record sounds like what the brothers would have made instead of Born Innocent if they had the interim 30 years of experience.
Redd Kross plays Amoeba Music and signs their new album on Tuesday, August 28th at 6pm