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Balancing family and rock ‘n’ roll attitudes in Redd Kross

Balancing family and rock ‘n’ roll attitudes in Redd Kross
Steven, left, and Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross in Hollywood in 2012.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Los Angeles Times)

The holidays are for spending time with family. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be your own.

After all, brothers Steven and Jeff McDonald of L.A. rock institutions Redd Kross, who will headline a New Year’s Eve concert tonight at downtown’s Alexandria Hotel, have enough domestic charm to go around.

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Need evidence? Asked earlier this year to discuss recording the first Redd Kross album in about a decade and a half, Steven at first avoided any rock formalities. He skipped straight to the mushy stuff.

New songs such as “Dracula’s Daughter,” Steven said, “really mean a lot to me. It means a lot when I hear the two of us singing together. It’s really beautiful and I’m really proud.”

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It sounds sweet, but often the message in the music is far from it. “Researching the Blues,” the band’s 2012 comeback album for Merge Records, doesn’t shy from the band’s knack for power-pop hooks, but it’s ultimately grounded in Redd Kross’ punk rock roots. The harmonies help songs such as “Choose to Play” go down easy, yet lyrics are laced with sarcasm and mistrust. Each of the 10 new songs is a similar balancing act.

“One of the Good Ones” skips along with hand claps and a ‘60s pop shuffle, all while the band expresses amazement that someone in Hollywood is honest. “Uglier” gets more to the point; it starts with a fed-up view of the world but ends with a look in the mirror. And there may be monsters in such songs as “Meet Frankenstein” and “Dracula’s Daughter,” but the music is all sugar, especially in the swooning, multi-part harmonies of the latter. 

Jeff, like many a songwriter, doesn’t want to get deep into discussions about the meanings of his lyrics. “When I write lyrics that are too literal I have a dirty feeling,” he said. “I like to see images and pictures. As an audience member, I want someone’s lyrics to create movies for me. When it’s spelled out, it’s boring.”

He’s more forthcoming when discussing his melodic instrumentation. It was when he and his wife, Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Go’s, were taking their teenage daughter to pop shows that Jeff said he became reinvigorated about the songwriting process. 

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“We would take my daughter to Jonas Brothers shows, Miley Cryus shows, and the first few we went to were just awful,” he said. “Eventually, though, the pop experience became too incredible. We got into it more than her. I really immersed myself into pop music. I want to write the best pop song. I’m chasing that.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean a new Redd Kross album will be coming anytime soon.

Recording for “Researching the Blues” began in 2007 after Redd Kross took nearly a 10-year hiatus. Talk to the brothers and numerous reasons will be offered as to why the new songs sat in the vaults for a number of years. Gigs with other bands, production work and children are cited as at one point or another taking precedence.

“It’s complicated,” Jeff said. “Artists, especially when they’re younger, put all their eggs in one basket. Well, we all have kids. We all have other things going on. But that doesn’t mean we’re not a real band.”

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Redd Kross and the Melvins will play tonight at the ballroom at the Alexandria Hotel, 501 S. Spring St. Tickets are $60 and are still available.

 ALSO:

Times music staff best of 2012

Redd Kross isn’t mellowing with age

Buzz of the Melvins talks Redd Kross and NYE at the Alexandria

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