Photo by Julian Fort
The co-headlining bill featuring power-popsters Redd Kross and sludge noise lords the Melvins doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you take a look at the band lineup and realize that Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald and Melvins drummer Dale Crover are pulling double duty and playing in both bands. Hell, even then it doesn’t make a ton of sense considering how far apart musically the two bands are and yet a bill feature two veteran indie rock bands is pretty cool.
After not playing Columbus for more than 20 years, this will be Redd Kross’s second appearance in 3 years (they headlined Ace of Cups in 2017) and with a new album to promote, promises to be yet another great show by the brothers McDonald.
Redd Kross and the Melvins play A&R Music Bar on Friday, October 4 with Toshi Kasai opening. Tickets are $22 advance, $25 day of show. And for those wondering, Redd Kross will play before the Melvins and a peek at the band’s setlist on this tour finds them running through pretty much their entire discography in what some might consider a “greatest hits” set.
Somewhere between Minneapolis and Madison, we caught up with Steve McDonald as the band sat in a sprinter van that had been brought to a dead stop on the highway due to something being in the road.
I feel like a lot of interviews start out this way, and I hate to do it, but, Beyond the Door is a great album. I can’t imagine you have too many interviewers start off by saying, “Yeah, I mean, your new album is okay but it doesn’t hold a candle to previous stuff.”
(laughs) Thank you. Appreciate that. I think most of my friends would say that would be a very German tactic. (imitates German accent) “Why are your new records not as good as your older records?”
You seem to have a great memory for things that have happened in your past. Throughout your years, you’ve played in Columbus a number of times. Anything specific come to mind about Columbus?
We always have fun in Columbus. We always played a club called Stache’s which I understand is somewhat of a historical venue in Columbus. I just remember we always sort of packed the show in the mid-to-late ’80s. Ohio, in general, always felt like a bit of a rock n’ roll … some kind of little enclave that really dug what we were doing, even though it was on the underground club level. Columbus would have been the center of that. Columbus and Cleveland.
I’ve seen hundreds, probably thousands, of concerts. And I’ve planned out and attended multiple dates in a week of a band’s tour in my past but there is only one time I’ve ever gone to a show and then decided on the spot to hop in a car and go see that band the next day. That happened when I saw Redd Kross play Stache’s on the Phaseshifter tour. I was so blown away, I spontaneously made the drive the next day to Peabody’s Down Under in Cleveland.
Awww. I hope we didn’t choke at Peabody’s the next night (laughs).
I didn’t have older siblings to turn me onto music and my parents’ album collection wasn’t very deep, just a dozen or so very popular albums from the 60s and 70s. I was raised on FM radio and MTV so the high school years were ’80s hair metal, followed by ’90s grunge. I remember seeing ads for Third Eye (1990) in some of the magazines I was reading at the time. You had the long-hair look so that’s when I first became aware of Redd Kross and bought the Third Eye cassette. While you didn’t sound like Motley Crue, I could hear similar influences as Enuff Z’Nuff had. Did you feel, at that time, that you could appeal to a variety of music listeners, from power-pop to glam to alternative?
I don’t know. I think that for us, we didn’t really see it in terms of demographics and what our potential audience was. We definitely did not have marketing minds like that at the time. I think we probably thought, sure, if others can, why can’t we appeal to a wide group of people. But in terms of exacting our efforts towards a certain demographic, that was nothing we ever did.
We grew up liking music that was popular music but from another era. So, you couldn’t necessarily use that as a guiding light for how you were going to conquer the world in 1990. I think we left that to whoever called themselves the marketing person at the record label and we just did our thing. Some people might have thought Third Eye was an attempt to appeal to a certain audience but I wish I could say we were that savvy. We were just doing our own thing. The label did the typical thing by throwing it against the wall to see if it would stick. They gave it about 3 months … we were on and off the label in about a year’s time.
I’m not well versed in your upbringing, which makes me excited to see the documentary that is currently in the fundraiser stage, but how did you get into music?
It’s just me and Jeff, we don’t have any older siblings. Our aunts and uncles were much younger than our father, it’s a large family and he was the oldest of 8. His youngest siblings were 20 years younger than him which made them closer to older siblings to me and Jeff than aunts and uncles. And one of them was a Beatles fanatic in the mid-60s and she brought Jeff to see the Beatles when he was 3 years old in San Diego. And my uncle, who was about 12 years older than me, Jeff and I borrowed Ziggy Stardust from him in like Christmas ’72, he had the 8-track tape and was like, “You can take that home.” We never gave it back to him, that changed a lot of stuff for us.
The next year he bought me Lou Reed’s Rock and Roll Animal for Christmas (laughs). He wasn’t really a glitter dude, he was more into The Doors and stuff like that. But he turned us onto a lot of cool stuff. And then Jeff was very precocious with sophisticated tastes for any person, much less a kid from the suburbs barely a tween. He was bringing home early Bowie records and stuff like that when he was 10 years old, buying them at the supermarket.
Was the visual thing the first thing that appealed to you about Bowie, Lou Reed, and the other bands you were listening to? I remember my friend’s older brother – who left behind his records when he went to college – had a bunch of KISS albums. I think we spent more time looking at the covers than we did listening to the music. But, KISS became our favorite band just because of the look.
Yeah. KISS had a huge effect on me. That was the first concert I ever saw; when I was 8 or 9, Jeff and I went to the second leg of the first KISS Alive tour. It was back when they were still a band for teenagers and we were little kids. I had that exact same experience, just staring at that record cover but I got to go to the concert. It was really mind blowing and the effects of it are probably still reverberating especially when you consider Jeff and I are still doing some of those choreographed moves that we first saw Paul and Gene do over 40 years ago.
How do you feel about KISS now?
Good for them. Survivors. They are also fun to good heartedly make fun of. I follow their Instagram page and Jeff just reposted some Paul Stanley piece of him painting a picture of Jimmy Page. It’s good fun. They have a chain of sports bars in Los Angeles, like gastropubs, and it’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek experience but my family goes there on occasion. It’s fun to eat Paul Stanley’s Brussel Sprouts and Gene Simmons’ Chicken.
I think the common held thought is that the brand will outlive the band, that once they are done on the farewell tour, there will be another KISS.
Their formula is pretty ingenious. They wouldn’t even have to get holograms, they would just put someone else in the suit. And, as they’ve already started doing, before the leader’s demise, they already have understudies/subs in the Catman and Space Man outfits, so I guess the fake Paul and the fake Gene are next. But, whatever. It’s sort of like a touring company of a Broadway musical. It’s showbiz and I think they are at liberty to do it however they want to do it. At times, I had thought that Gene Simmons was such a crass business man, when I was in my 20s, and it might have seemed embarrassing, some of their stunts. But looking back now, and having either listened to the audiobook or read all of the autobiographies that have come out in the last 5 years – each of them telling their stories – I definitely side with Paul and Gene and the way they’ve handled their business in dealing with a lot of nonsense from their fan base. The story of their comeback, that ludicrous hair meal that they were prattling, it was a great comeback story that I had a front-row seat for – I’d go to all those shows when they’d come back around. Even if it has been a tongue-in-cheek experience, I was still gleaning something from it. I was still taking notes and had huge respect. It’s the weirdest combination – I wouldn’t say hate, but it’s a love/hate thing and it’s just fun to have fun at their expense but underneath it all it’s still a deep respect.
I hadn’t planned on making this interview all about KISS but since we’re talking about them, what are your thoughts on the Vinnie Vincent years?
Jeff is particularly obsessed with Vinnie Vincent. He’s in transition or something now? He looks a lot like Illeana Douglas, the actress, because if you type in “Vinnie Vincent” into Google Images, a bunch of images of Illeana Douglas pop up which makes me concerned for her acting career.
Whatever. The times we live in now are so absurd. It’s almost not surprising. That’s probably when I stopped going to KISS shows, around the time of Lick It Up. Vinnie was almost like a noise musician, his solos … the “arena solo” that’s a tradition in that kind of show, you watch some of the YouTube footage of him and he’s so outrageous. It’s so over the top.
I forgot that you were in the movie Grace of My Heart which starred Illeana Douglas.
Yeah, we were former co-stars.
Have you done any acting lately?
Not outside videos. Not that I can remember.
Around the Phaseshifter time, I happened upon Spirit of ’76 and HAD to own a copy. Such a great cult movie.
It’s the ultimate fourth of July b-movie watch.
Getting back to Redd Kross. I saw you at Ace of Cups two years ago. Every time I’ve seen Redd Kross live, you always look like you’re having a great time. Is there ever a bad day, a day where you don’t want to be on stage or are just in a bad mood?
(laughs) I can even tell the story of Ace of Cups. That day, I remember it, we were traveling and we were having a hard time – we had a 14-seat passenger van with a trailer – and the taillights weren’t working on the trailer but the brake lights and the turn indicators were working so we weren’t going to kill anyone. We needed to get the taillights fixed and we were just rolling into Columbus, Ohio. There was a lot of problem solving that needed to go down and I remember our tour manager had to run to the Ford dealership which was open until midnight in Columbus! That was amazing, God bless America. Our tour manager was European and he said, “That is never going to happen ever again.”
My point is, there were a lot of logistics to deal with that day. My real takeaway from that show is that I remember having a great time. And it was one of those moments where we were playing a new venue, but then Redd Kross hadn’t been in Columbus in like 25 years or something. Maybe this is a temporary thing because we’ve been getting more active but the main thing is this gratitude and I really appreciate these moments. On Facebook nowadays, there’s so much nostalgia and I indulge it too. But, I’m more interested in creating new moments and that’s what I feel like I’m doing. I don’t know how to conjure up fake joy and I do always aim to hit a transcendent moment – it’s not always easy because you have a lot of mechanics to consider to being on stage, your shoe might get untied and then you miss a note or you’re singing flat or whatever – but over the years I’ve learned certain techniques on how to relax and just be present and it’s always my goal. I realize this is a privileged position to be in, even if it’s not playing the Enormodome. It’s doing something I love and getting paid for it. I’m definitely going to do my best to do whatever is has to offer me in terms of joy and all the good stuff.
Do you find from the time you started until today, that you have to be more interactive with fans after shows? I got a photo with both you and Jeff when you were at Ace of Cups.
That happened spontaneously. That was the first time we had done a month in the U.S. in a really long time and it was a headlining tour. Times have changed. It’s nice to say thank you to people and it’s also a neat experience for people and, frankly, it’s good for business at the merch table. When we’re headlining, we’re able to hang out after shows. It doesn’t make practical sense on this tour because after Redd Kross I dry off and then get ready to play with the Melvins. And by the top the Melvins are done, the club is rushing everybody out the door. If this was a headlining thing, we might be doing that again afterwards. If people hang out afterwards and want something signed, we’re always glad to do it.
Now it’s sort of common with the VIP meet-and-greet thing, social media has enabled that a little more too for bands to do that. For me, I thought of it like a country star who has been doing that sort of stuff for years. I remember going to Nashville in the mid-80s and all of these country artists had their own museums, even new artists who don’t even exist any more. It’s always been this idea of very down to earth, grassroots approach. I always felt more in line with that sort of tradition rather than your $200 VIP package that takes you on an excursion with the band.
My uncle was a fan of this old school country guy, Don Walser. He played an outdoor concert in Columbus in the mid-90s at a park and during his set, people were walking up to the stage, mid-song, and he’d sign a black-and-white 8″ x 10″ photo. I’ve never seen anything like it.
(laughs) That must have been an understanding between him and his audience. That’s amazing.
What should fans expect at the Columbus show?
It’s not like a regular support slot, we’re playing a full hour set and there might be some shenanigans during the Melvins encore. It’s a great night, the vibe has been so good every night. We’re looking forward to seeing new faces and the old guard. Hopefully they’ll come out too.
I have to admit, the first time I saw the Melvins, they were opening for Tomahawk and I couldn’t find a corner far enough from the stage to hide in. My music tastes at the time were not the same as they are today.
It’s a pretty eclectic evening and I think both bands are making new fans and reacquainting with old fans and your story kind of supports that.
Wrapping things up, I’ve heard you mention REO Speedwagon in a couple of interviews. I can’t tell if you’re a fan or making fun of them.
I first saw REO Speedwagon at a taping of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert when I was about 9 years old. It was a very early concert for me. It’s always a little tongue in cheek when I talk about them. If I was to like them, it would have been that early era when I saw them that night which was “Riding the Storm Out” era. It was a funny experience, they were playing with Ohio Players who played “Love Rollercoaster” probably four times to a packed house. When they finished, half the crowd left and I remember REO Speedwagon came out. I didn’t know who they were yet and the room had probably shrunk down to about 50 people. Kevin Cronin was literally begging us not to leave. I don’t even remember if we ducked out but whatever we did, we had to be very cruel about it. That was my first run-in with REO Speedwagon. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a fan but I definitely do feel like I’ve had my interaction with them.
As a kid, you learned a pretty valuable lesson of keeping people’s feelings in mind.
My mom is from rural Indiana so I was raised with Midwest manners. A couple of days ago, at a truck stop, I had a showdown with a 10-year-old girl where she had the door open for me at a truck stop and I had the door open for her and it was a standoff. I was like, “I’m not walking through the door that you’re holding open for me. You’re walking through the door that I’m holding open for you.” There was a part of me that was thinking those are good Midwestern manners.