Interview: Kira Roessler
When I thought about putting it out, there was a set of songs that I had grouped together, tonally and emotionally, and I thought they fit together well, and it told the story.
Kira Roessler is a name that is synonymous with Los Angeles music, especially from a hardcore punk viewpoint due to her time as bass player with Black Flag. That is just the tip of her musical iceberg though as she has played in a host of other bands, most notably Dos with Mike Watt. Kira also brought out her debut solo album a couple of years ago and Gavin Brown had the chance to catch up with her recently to talk about the album (which is titled Kira) as it is being brought out again for a European vinyl release as well as her time in Black Flag, the LA punk scene, Dos and Kira gives us an insight into her other storied career working in TV and films.
E&D: You brought out Kira, your first ever solo album in 2021 and it is shortly going to get a vinyl release in Europe. Are you excited about that and giving the album a new lease of life?
Kira: Yeah, of course. In a perfect world, I would have been able to press vinyl here in the States but after COVID, things got super crazy with pressing vinyl and it was going to take a year or two just to press vinyl. I didn’t want, for whatever reason, to wait. So I made some CDs which I put out online, and then someone offered to do a European vinyl release, which of course I was thrilled about. I’m excited about that. It’s been difficult because I think people aren’t that excited about paying for music these days. It’s a labour of love. It’s not about making money, obviously.
E&D: What has the reaction to the album been like so far?
Kira: It’s been really nice. Obviously, it’s very different from anything I’ve done before. Unless people have heard dos, with my ex-husband, Mike Watt, if you’ve heard that, then you might have a connection to how this music evolved, but if you just hear the name, Kira, you might not expect something painfully delicate and emotional, it might not be your cup of tea. It’s been interesting though, people seem to really like the personalised delegate aspect of it.
E&D: Did you always intend for the album to be as personal as it is?
Kira: Well, the bottom line is, I’ve been making songs in my room for many, many years, right? So there’s this whole catalogue of songs. Then when I was speaking with my brother, who also helped produce the record, and is involved in the label Kitten Robot Records, and he said, You should put some of this out, so when I thought about putting it out, there was a set of songs that I had grouped together, tonally and emotionally, and I thought they fit together well, and it told the story. This particular set of songs was across 13 years basically, and it told a story. I just felt like it went together, there are a lot of other songs with different flavours that are on the record, and I had to pick and choose something that made sense. So for me, it was actually never intended to put out any of it.
E&D: Was a solo album something you’ve wanted to do for a while?
Kira: No, I mean, like I said, I would always make music in my room. I still make music in my room, I collaborate with other people. I have a guitar player in Cleveland who sends me stuff. I have a drummer here locally, and my brother. We’ve always done this sort of collaborating and building songs. It was not something I planned to do. My brother encouraged me and he said, you should put a bow around it and put it out, he has put out several things over the years of this nature but I’ve never felt a real strong urge to necessarily share it with people. I don’t think that’s not a part of the process necessarily, building the music is rewarding. Putting it out means all of these things that I’m not good at, like marketing myself. That’s not who I am, so for me, I was sort of encouraged and they offered to put out a record, they came to me and that’s it. That’s the way my whole life is, things present themselves. If it falls into place, I do it. And if it feels like I’m fighting the universe, I don’t do it. So it fell into place.
E&D: You mentioned working with your brother Paul on the album, how was the experience with working with him and producing the album?
Kira: Well, you know, I’ve known him since the day I was born. So that’s interesting. We’ve been pretty close most of our lives and our parents are not musicians. So just the fact that we both migrated that way gave us a language in common. That being said, he kicked me out of bands like three times, and we kind of went our separate ways for many years, just doing our own thing, and then at one point, it sort of became this virtual band with a guitar player from Cleveland and we would send stuff around and Paul would tend to be the end point, he would add his two cents, and then produce the song and finish it and mix it and have it finalised. We just had all of these songs that we kept making between this group of us. When this idea came about to do the record, we actually, he and I, spent some in depth time and I think it changed things for him in terms of my music, He had never necessarily dug in too deep to my weird sort of sparse music. He’s a musician, with layers upon layers. I’m about feeling the pain of the emptiness between the notes, so we have this very different style, but I think he got it when we actually dug into it. He started to become much more able to put in delicate little parts and helped me realise it. I think it brought us closer in a way, at least in terms of understanding what we were trying to do. We were close before but not in this exact way of him getting me. I don’t think he really got me before. I’m pretty sure he didn’t get most people, you know! It’s pretty punk rock. It’s not like anything anybody’s ever done, which was always the initial idea of punk, about resisting, conformity, which is what I really still strive for.
E&D: Paul was in bands like the Screamers and 45 Grave. Was it him who got you into punk rock in the first place or did you get into it on your own?
Kira: No, I’ve been the little sister tagalong to my brother his whole life. When he was in high school, he started going to clubs because he knew a guy named Paul Beahm who became Darby Crash of the Germs. We knew them in high school pre punk rock. So that was his connection. My first gig was at the Whisky a Go Go seeing the Germs. I think, in hindsight, the attraction to punk rock, a lot of it was just because the alternative was arena rock but a band in a club, you connect with them so much more, in arena rock, I didn’t feel connected at all. In a club, you can really feel the energy, so punk rock had this energy in this intimacy that that was really attractive but I definitely was a tagalong to my brother, always!
E&D: Does punk still inspire you to this day?
Kira: Absolutely. Just the idea of the true idea of punk, the I don’t care what anybody thinks, I’m good and I’ll do it my way. Not the one that became all these rules about what punk rock is, not that one. Just the one about resisting conformity. Absolutely.
E&D: How exciting was Los Angeles in the days when the Germs were playing the clubs and everything?
Kira: Well, I was miserable teenager, so it’s funny. A lot of people look at that time as they’re happy, but I was miserable, cutting myself and going to high school and drinking and getting drunk. I look back at it as just my miserable teenagehood. But I also have the perspective that we were very lucky being in LA, having the options we had, that being said, punk rock was really tiny, we would get kicked out of clubs all the time but it was very exciting, and there were opportunities. There was also the police and the fire marshals and, and the tumultuous issue about being a teenage girl in the middle of these adult men, you know, there’s just all that chaos happening that has a negative twist right along with the fun and excitement and playing in bands. I’ve got an interesting balance of feelings associated
E&D: Do you look back now and think how crazy that time was and did you not think of it at the time because you were in it?
Kira: Oh, man, I was absolutely aware of how crazy and dangerous it was. I think that drinking helped. But then, by the time I was touring in bands, there were totally dangerous situations and I was not drinking and I was feeling terrified regularly, but just part and parcel to living in a big city and being a tiny, smallish person.
E&D: Do you have good memories of your time with with Black Flag?
Kira: Yeah, of course I do. I absolutely have no regrets of any parts of my life. It was amazing. I mean, I got to join my favourite band. First of all, they were my favourite band and when Henry came back in 1982 with them from tour, I saw them at the Whisky Dez was still playing guitar as a five piece with Chuck Biscuits playing drums, and they just blew my mind. I felt like Henry was actually a vocalist who was able to capture the energy of the music. I’d seen Black Flag many times in other incarnations, but I felt like his voice and his rage matched very well and that just hit me. A year later, I got to join them, which was insane. I was going to UCLA at the time, and so it all seemed totally infeasible, because I knew how hard they worked and how they toured and everything. But at the same time, it was joining my favourite band, so wonderful memories of just, having the opportunity to join and the opportunity to tour Europe. I was a broke teenager or twentysomething, you know, I would have not gotten to go to Europe, so there were all these moments when you were like, wow, this would never happen to me. That being said there were times where I’m lying in the bed. I’m totally exhausted. It stinks, and there’s some guy looking at me while I’m trying to sleep, so there were both sides of it, but amazing, amazing moments and, and scary ones.
E&D: What were some of the most memorable shows that you played with Black Flag?
Kira: Well, I remember London. We were supposed to come with Hüsker Dü who bowed out right before, which was a big problem to start with. Instead, we had Nig Heist which was the Black Flag roadie Mugger and Bill playing guitar with them wearing wigs! What would happen is that I would play bass but hide because you couldn’t have a girl with the guys. So we had this promoter guy from London standing in front with the bass just posing while I played from behind the amp, but I had people dropping full beer cans on my head from above because of course they felt betrayed or angry because I was doing it now. I thought it was fun, but I had a fever that night but I played in Nig Heist and then I also played in Black Flag. ended up playing like three hours with a high fever. I remember it for some reason really, really clearly and the crowd was actually very positive. In London, for Black Flag, they were disappointed but once we got into our set, it was good. It wasn’t like Manchester or some of those places that were were not accepting of the fact that we weren’t skinheads anymore. London was a little more modern. It was a little more with it with My War. London was a really cool gig and it was my first gig in Europe, I remember Glasgow because they spat on us incessantly to the point where I was just standing with my face against the amp. Greg went behind his amp, and Henry just stood up front and took it took the spitting constantly, the whole set two hours we played. When we’re finally done and packing up, just like we’re never coming back, this so bad. Try fans said wow, you guys were so great. We’re like, Well, then why were you spitting on us? That’s what we do when we really like you! Crazy, right?! Great, exciting, fun memories. By the time I got into the tour a little bit. I started asking everybody everywhere I went in Europe to bring me the best chocolate because I could compare and contrast and figure out what countries chocolate I liked the best because I’m a chocoholic! Belgian chocolate, I think might have won but I had a soft spot for Dutch chocolate because we actually lived on a Dutch island for a while when I was a kid so it connected back in a way. Holland was beautiful. Dos actually went back to Holland and Belgium for a weekend. We played four or five shows, like a four day weekend kind of thing. Crazy trip, but I love Europe. I love the old buildings. I love the chocolate. The people there seem just think a lot more open minded about music in general. I don’t know what it is about American entitlement, but they think that it should fit some exact thing. I think I always felt a little bit that music was just more of a part of the culture. I’ve only been to Europe playing so it’s all my experience of Europe but but it’s a beautiful one and I hold it close to my heart
E&D: What were some of your fondest memories with dos and would you consider doing any new material at some point?
Kira: Oh, it’s funny that you bring that up with dos. We didn’t break up exactly. Mike is a hugely busy person. He does all these projects, he’s always doing something and I work for a living and it just became complicated timewise. I mean, in 30 years, we put out four and a half records, you know. It takes so much about the songwriting in the intricacies of the two basslines and that that’s a real challenge to find the time and energy to put that together. So, we haven’t broken up and there’s absolutely no doors closed. We’re in touch and whenever something happens in our lives that we want to share with each other. I tried to get him to come to some of my local gigs I played with the solo band. I played some of the songs. I remember there was a gig in Virginia, I think Firehose was on tour, and I used to fly out for weekends and do some dos gigs opening for Firehose, and there was one where everybody sat down on the floor, and just got quiet and listened to this weird bass music! Of course, our trip to Europe, again, people were so much more open minded, we had a whole little tour, arranged to headline our little Dos thing it was, amazing to me, we carried our basses and our clothes bags, one on each shoulder, and we didn’t have a van, we just got on trains and went from place to place in Holland, and then Belgium and walked a lot carrying the stuff, but the promoters made it happen. I think there’s even a governmental support system in Holland and in some parts of Europe, where they keep the clubs alive, and there’s a little bit of money in it, so they could help us pay for our expenses to do this.
E&D: Who have been some of the biggest influences on your bass playing over the years?
Kira: Well, I always say the people who influenced me aren’t necessarily the ones I listened to, but the ones I played with. I mean, Mike Watt, of course, has had this huge influence on me and our our little bass wars have affected me in terms of this intertwining bass thing I have kept doing on my own thing. I actually started though, to be fair, before dos, I used to record bedtime stories for my nephews with little nursery type bedtime stories and then with two intertwining basses because I thought it was soothing. Mike has been a huge influence on me. I also always feel the thing about bass players is that it’s about doing the right thing for the band. I mean, Paul McCartney was perfect for his band, right. I love a bass player who doesn’t try to call attention to themselves but rather just makes the music better. The fanciness has nothing to do with it, so I’m really enamoured with bass players who aren’t virtuosos but who just do the right thing for their music, I mean, Geezer Butler. You have to admire someone who isn’t about standing out, but is about making it better. Me, certainly in Black Flag, my basslines were all basically written by Greg but my job was not to stand out, it was to help make this feeling happen. It was not to make it to try to slam people up against the wall with the rhythm. It was just here’s your job, do it kind of bass playing. I admire it when I hear it that way. Always.
E&D: Going back to your solo work, have you had any thoughts about a new record at all?
Kira: The thing that’s attractive because the record was so soft and delicate and barely touched the surface of what some of my music does, which is sort of hostility realised, I could imagine the counterpart to that first record, and it would still be delicate musically and jazzy, but it would have the emotions behind it, a lot of which I was doing live, I’ve covered a Black Flag song called ‘Drinking and Driving’. I made a jazzy version of that and it’s that sort of thing. I’ve been doling these songs like ‘Kill Him’, and ‘Die Die Die’, these songs, and that would be an interesting counterpart, so there’s an appeal there. But on the other hand, people caring about my weird little music is a struggle in itself, so we’ll see. I don’t have any plans, but no doors are closed.
E&D: As well as your music career, you have a very successful career as a dialogue editor on television and movies, and won an Oscar and an Emmy for your work and worked on the likes of Game of Thrones and Mad Max: Fury Road. Can you tell us about that and how you got into it alongside your music?
Kira: I was a computer programmer when I first got out of school, and I had this music thing as a side thing, so I had those two things going. One day, my brother, again, he was composing music for a student film that this guy was making, and he asked me to come in and record a bassline. I came in, I recorded a bassline, I met this guy who was doing these student films, and was writing this very small sound company, and he was doing it on on computers. I was sort of hating my computer career, and was pretty miserable in the corporate world, you can see me trying to look corporate in my nylons and dresses, trying to fit in and just having such a hard time fitting in. Well, here was a guy was doing this other thing. I thought, what if I could mix my auditory sensibility and my computer background, so I basically twisted the guy’s arm. I said, Look, I’ll take 8 bucks an hour, answer your phones and work for your little company, I’ll just help with the administration of your company. I learned the sound thing eventually and quit my corporate job for $75,000 a year and I was paid for this very little job, but what happened was that the guys always tend to lean towards the sound effects the explosions, the cars, the guns, right? Nobody likes to work on dialogue. The guys didn’t want to work on the the dialogue area, and the dialogue area is one that needs attention, right. So there was this vacuum again, the universe just opened up. I said, Look, I’ll learn the dialogue thing, I’ll become that person for you. So I learned how to do it at this little company, and he introduced me to a couple of people who were doing it for bigger movies, just the luck of the draw and opportunities opened up. I started working on a little bigger movies, and it’s who you know, it’s connections. I always tell people who want to get into this industry not to because the budgets have gotten smaller, we’re expected to do more with our computers than ever. You can somehow magically fix all sound problems, dialogue is like, here’s 10,000 problems, how many can you fix before the mix? Basically, that’s my job. That and recording dialogue and replacement dialogue. The universe led me into it. The Game of Thrones opportunity, someone I had worked with, he hired me a couple times and with Game of Thrones, the first season they did over in the UK, but the television makers decided to bring it back to the US, and they were really looking to bring the sound up a level, so they hired a bunch of film people, not TV people. Again, luck of the draw. They hired a bunch of people with more of film background than television. HBO tends to lean that way. They want it to sound like a movie, but they want to pay you like television! But anyways, I got that opportunity. I worked on the John Adams HBO mini series, which was very highly thought of. I got an Emmy for that one. I did not actually win an Oscar, it’s technically not the right term, because I don’t have the hardware but I was part of the team that won for Mad Max: Fury Road and I was also nominated for The Joker a few years ago. Our team was nominated. The experiences of working on these more acknowledged movies is great, but the funny thing about my job is I can do great work on a movie nobody’s ever heard. In a way when I’m actually working, I’m just trying to do make it sound good. My job is just to fix problems, make it sound good, make the director happy, and if I’m lucky, the sound effects are noticed by the Academy, which I’m now part of. I do vote and I do watch a lot of movies so that I can vote appropriately. It’s been a lot of opportunities that have just opened up for me in my my life and I’ve been blessed with all these little weird opportunities, and it’s gone really well. I feel very lucky.