Kira Roessler is one of the artists who helped to shape the music scene in L.A, being a member of such bands as Waxx, the Visitors, Geza X and the Mommymen, the Monsters, Sexsick, Twisted Roots, Black Flag, and dos.
Kira’s solo debut was out on 10/19/2021 via KITTEN ROBOT RECORDS. In 1983 Kira replaced Chuck Dukowski in Black Flag. Black Flag chose her after seeing her play in DC3, a Los Angeles punk band. She played on five Black Flag albums and remained in the band until the end of the In My Head tour in 1985. After the disbandment of Black Flag, she formed Dos with Mike Watt (with whom she was also married between 1987 and 1994) and contributed to Minutemen’s latest album, 3-Way Tie (For Last), and with fIREHOSE. Kira Roessler also works in the film industry and has been credited in many films, including Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Under the Tuscan Sun (2003), The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), Mad Max: Fury Road (2016) and Game of Thrones.
When and why did you decide to become a musician? What were your main musical influences?
When I was six years old I started on piano and took classical piano lessons. My older brother Paul and I started at the same time. The way I remember it I was the one who wanted to play, but my mom had to make me practice the required half-hour a day. I quit piano when I was eleven because I couldn’t keep up with my brother. It wasn’t until I was fourteen that I picked up the bass and that was because I wanted to join Paul’s progressive rock band and their bass player had quit. So I played in order to be in a band with Paul, but I came to love the bass practicing in my room. My early listening influences were David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Billie Holiday. But I didn’t make choices on the bass because of what I was listening to until I got into punk rock and writing my own songs.
What was the cultural atmosphere when you started playing in LA?
When I first started playing it was only in my room. But when I started playing gigs, it was 1977, and there was a small but active punk rock scene. We didn’t really know what to do to “fit in”… but we expressed our anger in our songs … and we cut and/or dyed our hair… There were bands from San Francisco and New York that came and played. Some clubs only allowed punk rock on occasion and had straight rock bands on most nights. I was around as punk rock was really just starting but there were a lot of local bands and shows almost every night at the one punk rock basement The Masque.
How did you meet the Black Flag members? Where did you start playing?
I had seen Black Flag play many times around town, and they had seen me play as well. As I said there weren’t that many people, so most of os knew each other. My first show with Black Flag was at a party… but we had records to record and a tour to go on pretty quickly.
How did dos start? What was the reaction of the public to the unique sound of the band?
Dos started after D. Boon died. I had already started to do two bass music in these bedtime stories I recorded for my nephews. Mike was sad, and we just started playing in his place… I just wanted him to keep playing. But once we talked about actually having a band, we knew there could be no other instruments. We both love the bass, and don’t feel it is a limited instrument at all. We knew we could make interesting music that way. The reactions to dos varied quite a bit. In our best gigs, people would get very quiet… maybe even sit on the floor and really listen. Other times people were just loud and it felt like many were just talking over us. I had to focus very hard on the people right in front, who were usually the ones who were listening even in a loud room.
There was a significant change in the music industry. How have you experienced that as an artist?
Well, I have never really expected to make any money playing music. And since the music I have played has been pretty “underground” I wasn’t dealing with the “industry” but very small labels who were interested in putting out music that wasn’t like what the big labels were doing. So I haven’t really dealt with the changes in the industry that much. Sending music to others to play… making “virtual” music has been something I have been doing for a while. So I like that there are more ways to do your own music and put your own music out there for people to hear. But I have always felt it would be very difficult to make any money doing music.
Your sound became more diverse over the years. How did your sound evolve over time?
I think my sound evolved from exclusively playing bass … sometimes just in my room writing things… and of course with dos. I began to embrace the holes between the notes… the spaces. I have always enjoyed emotionally charged music – punk rock expressed anger, but other music like Billie Holiday expresses love and pain. And I was drawn to always express my deepest feelings more and more. I felt that the music I made with a lot of space in it made the emotions come across… so I leaned into that sound. As I have evolved a bit as a person I have also found it easier to get in touch with the emotions I then try to express… so everything has shifted a great deal.
What does your songwriting or creative process look like?
I often write early in the morning. If I do not have anything new to say, I generally have about 20 songs in the works. So I pick one of them up and work on it. I don’t get a lot of time on any given day… so it is bit by bit, week by week, month by month… it can take a long time for any given song to actually feel complete. When I am ready, I send songs to others to contribute or go to Kitten Robot studio and work with Paul to try to firm up the song into some sort of completed stage. I never really plan to release these songs. It is the joy of making music.
Can you tell us something about the decision-making process behind the production of your new album?
When Paul discussed the possibility of releasing a solo album with me… there were this set of songs which I have considered somewhat of a group and also somewhat complete. We then worked just to finalize them and I listened to them as a set some more to make sure I was happy. But much of the heavy lifting was already done when the decision was made to release the material.
What was the experience like for you creating an album during a pandemic?
These songs have been evolving over the last thirteen years. The pandemic didn’t really change anything about the process as I usually work alone… send songs to others and then work with Paul. As a project during the pandemic, I took on the “producer mantle” and finalized and mastered a set of songs written by the amazing guitar player Glenn Brown. I played bass on all of the songs… so they were familiar. But the goal was to release a record on Bandcamp and we did. It is called Thud by Boss Vagrant. It is very much a rock and roll record.
Is there an emotional throughline that ties this record together for you?
Yes. This record is basically a story of love and loss. It is chronological, with the first song being written about thirteen years ago. I also felt these songs sounded right together as a set – and others that were also complete didn’t really belong to this set.
What songs were more challenging to write on this record? What was the creation process like?
Well, Avoiding was a writing collaboration with Petra Haden. I rarely write with someone – so that was both challenging and rewarding because I had someone to bounce ideas off of. But it was a newer experience for me. Of course, that collaboration happened many years ago… It Can’t Be is the song with the most anguish in it – and it was extremely hard to get to that place and find a way to express it.
What’s the story behind ‘the Ghosts’? What inspired it, and how did it come together?
The Ghosts is a turning point – when I could feel the loss coming – but it hadn’t happened yet… and all the losses I had ever experienced before came crashing into the same moment… like ghosts haunting me with the sadness of the loss… one that I knew I was about to go through as profoundly as ever in my life.
Can you share with us any meaningful story from backstage?
Backstage? I am not sure I understand this question. Before most gigs I have ever played you would find me backstage warming up on my bass to make sure my hands were ready.
What’s your next project?
That’s a good question. As I mentioned I always have quite a few songs in the works. There has been a lot going on recently that has kept me from pushing them along… so the first thing is just to get back into a rhythm of taking time with them. But as for another release …. I just don’t know. This one wasn’t planned.
Featured image: Jack Grisham
A special thanks to: Dan Volohov and KITTEN ROBOT RECORDS
Matteo Damiani is an Italian photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. During his stay in China, he paid attention to social issues apparently of secondary importance, but which influenced heavily the Chinese domestic policies over the years.