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Tolerance of Brothers

Redd Kross' Steve McDonald Says It's His Give-and-Take With Sibling Jeff That Has Kept the Multifaceted Pop-Rockers Together Since 1979 Debut

July 15, 1997|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sparring siblings in rock 'n' roll make for bold headlines. The media love to report on the latest barbs hurled by the Kinks' Ray and Dave Davies, who have been bickering for a quarter of a century. And how about the cancellation by British pop band Oasis of two L.A. concerts, reportedly because of friction between Liam and Noel Gallagher?

Yet it barely causes a stir when brothers share a mutual respect.

Redd Kross, which has been creating wonderful pop-rock confections for 18 years, has enjoyed such longevity partly thanks to the bond between singer Jeff McDonald and his younger brother, bassist Steve. According to Steve, their close relationship has steadied the band through some tough times.

"They say 'blood's thicker than water,' and that really is true in our case. There's this connection between Jeff and I that tends to keeps us moving forward, even when we're on the verge of unraveling a bit," Steve McDonald said from a tour stop in San Jose.

The Los Angeles-based quartet returns to Southern California for a performance at Club 369 in Fullerton on Wednesday night. '

That's not to say they never have their differences. But instead of trashing each other in public, the Brothers McDonald handle their problems privately.

"Sometimes tension builds and a working partnership becomes like a marriage," the bass player added. "There are ups and downs, some give-and-take . . . just like in any interpersonal relationship you care about. And it can be a real lesson in tolerance. Fortunately, most of the time we're very flexible and not real rigid or strict when it comes to defining roles or allowing for changes within the band."

Since its 1979 debut, Redd Kross has paid tribute to everyone from KISS and the Carpenters to the "Brady Bunch" and "Partridge Family." Songs such as "Linda Blair," "Bubblegum Factory," "Elephant Flares" and "1976" express a youthful sense of wonder and garage-rock noisiness.

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In concert over the years, the band has performed goofy versions of songs by Paul McCartney, Elton John and Fleetwood Mac, among others. Yet they're fondly played without a hint of smugness or condescension.

"We grew up watching TV, and we flew that flag shamelessly," admitted Steve McDonald, 30, who co-writes some songs with primary lyricist Jeff, 34. "When we first started writing songs, that's what we wrote about."

Over time, the group--which also features lead guitarist Eddie Kurdzeil and drummer Brian Reitzell--has blossomed into a multifaceted rock 'n' roll band. Beatlesesque harmonies and catchy melodies still shine on its latest releases, but neo-psychedelic, aggressive, alterna-punk rock rumbles alongside the bright textures, particularly on this year's release, "Show World" (Mercury Records).

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Does that mean Redd Kross has lost its charming innocence?

"I think we're known for our courage to laugh at ourselves and not take what we do so seriously," Steve said. "At the same time, I think we've always incorporated some heavier elements into our sound. Yeah, we've had our share of humorous, sugar-coated 'candy,' but we're not just a one-dimensional pop group."

Steve supports his assertion with selected old and new songs that serve meatier fare. He pointed to "I Don't Know How to be Your Friend," an "emotionally draining relationship song" from 1991's "Third Eye" album, plus two songs from the new album--"Ugly Town," which he described as a metaphor for a messed-up state of mind," and "Girl God," which desperately captures "a yearning for authentic rock 'n' roll heroes."

In any event, whether lighthearted or serious-minded, the good, timeless pop tune is tough to define--and even tougher to create--according to the younger McDonald.

"I'm not sure exactly what it takes, but I do know that it's really, really hard to do. A lot of times people will say, 'Oh, that's disposable pop, how cute.' But something such as the Beatles' 'She Loves You' is like rocket science. There's this misnomer out there that pop music lacks content or is somehow frivolous. Man, a 2 1/2-minute pop song can be one of the most effective forms of art you'll find."

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Still, only small numbers of consumers are buying the pop art of Redd Kross. The combined sales of 1993's "Phaseshifter" and the new "Show World" total less than 35,000, according to SoundScan. McDonald refuses to let commercial disappointments frustrate him.

"The funny thing is . . . pop bands like us and Squeeze and Crowded House . . . we all basically have cult followings, but we're all influenced by the Beatles--only the biggest band ever," he said. "Everyone wants some security, and we'd like to be heard by as many people as possible, which mainstream success does offer.

"But stardom is not necessarily the end-all goal. Since we started out, our following has been dedicated, and it's grown bit by bit. That brings about a certain degree of comfort and inspiration too."

* Redd Kross, Sloan, Mr. Mirainga and Codependents perform Wednesday night at Club 369, 1641 N. Placentia Ave., Fullerton. 9 p.m. $8 (714) 572-1816.

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