Steve McDonald discusses almost half a century of Redd Kross

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Steve McDonald discusses almost half a century of Redd Kross

Redd Kross
Words by David James Young

Across over 40 years of playing music, Steve McDonald has served as one of America's most reliable rock bassists.

Of late he’s been thrashing his mane with the Melvins – who hit Australia back in March with Mr. Bungle – and his resume spans artists as diverse as OFF!, Tenacious D and Sparks. At his core, however, he’ll always be from the band Redd Kross: the Californian power-pop stalwarts who were formed in the early 80s by McDonald and his brother Jeff, when they were just 12 and 15 respectively.

“I describe Redd Kross almost like it’s a passion project,” McDonald says with a smile from his Los Angeles home. “I love being in the Melvins, and I’m passionate about that too, but it’s closer to a day-job in some way. A very cool day-job to have, of course, but I always come back to Redd Kross. It’s a lot more work with a lot less financial reward, but it’s always given me hope in perpetuity.”

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With the Melvins wrapping a world tour, McDonald is back on board with Redd Kross for… well, Redd Kross. The eponymous double LP is their first album in five years and eighth overall, which was recorded last year with former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. “We met about 20 years ago, back when I was playing bass for Beck,” says McDonald. 

“He was this wunderkind, and I was so impressed by what a gun he was. We kept in close contact, and he set up his own studio in east LA with all his vintage gear. Redd Kross needed to record a new song for our documentary Born Innocent last summer, and Josh invited us to use his space. It went so well that weekend, we came back in the fall when I was off tour and got to work. We’d planned to record 14 songs, but we were on such a roll that it became 18. Josh played drums, too, because Dale [Crover, drummer] had just had surgery – it was like one-stop shopping!”

Josh Klinghoffer

McDonald has worked as a producer for many years, including making albums with fun., The Donnas, Be Your Own Pet and Starcrawler – not to mention having a hand in the production of the last two Redd Kross albums, 2012’s Researching the Blues and 2019’s Beyond the Door. For Redd Kross, however, McDonald went through a trial-and-error process of allowing Klinghoffer to do the production work on his own. “I wish there was a better term for it, but I’m definitely a control freak in the studio,” he says. 

“It’s hard for me to turn off the producer side when I just want to be a musician, but that’s a big part of what Josh was able to do. I was encouraging him as a producer just as much as he was encouraging me as a songwriter. I trusted him with all the technical stuff – instead of trying to get in the huddle with him and Michael [Craver, engineer], I’d keep myself on a need-to-know basis. I feel like it really helped us to accentuate our skills and focus on our chemistry.”

Rather than stick with a particular model of bass, McDonald has been known to shift around his go-tos over the years – ranging from Hofner 185s to BC Rich Warlocks. Of late, McDonald has been favourite the Thunderbird, which he first saw in the hands of The Runaways’ Jackie Fox when he was a kid. “I’ve been using these Epiphone mid-60s Gibson reissues,” he says. 

“I think they’re great, because they brought back all the old stuff Gibson had slowly taken out of the design. They’re always trying to fix it, because it’s seen as this top heavy bass, but as a six-foot-three guy it’s a great instrument for my wingspan. They’re total road dogs, too – you can bring them out on the road and not spend the whole time freaking out if your vintage instrument is going to get destroyed by the TSA.”

When it came to recording Redd Kross, however, McDonald once again put his trust in Klinghoffer and his extensive realm of vintage instruments on hand. “Josh kept putting all these different basses in my hand,” McDonald laughs. “He had this great Hofner bass called a Senator, which is another 60s style bass – the big single cutaway, sort of Stuart Sutcliffe style. I love the low-end – it almost sounds like dub, which is really interesting. There was also this Guild Starfire reissue. It’s on a few songs, including one where I played with my fingers. I don’t always fluid playing without a pick, but Josh and Michael really encouraged me. I was really happy with how it sounded.”

McDonald proudly shows off a few tangible items from his time recording the album, including a full book of chords he’d written out for each song. His biggest smile of all, however, is reserved for showing off a beautiful acoustic guitar that dates all the way back to the 30s – which Klinghoffer gave to McDonald once the album recording had wrapped. “Josh and I gifted one another guitars,” McDonald explains. 

“I gave him this 1975 Gibson L6S that I’d bought on tour with the Melvins – I’d done a lot of songwriting on it, and we’d really bonded over nerdy guitar gear stuff, so I thought it was a fitting gift. This guitar was foundational to most of the album – it added so much depth and a real life to the arrangement. He returned the thank you by giving me this insane Gibson acoustic. I’ve never held an instrument so storied and beautiful.”

Keep up with Redd Kross, their new album and Steve McDonald here.