Q&A: dos' Kira On The Physicality Of Bass Playing, Her Definition Of "Punk," And Why Duos Should Stay Duos
When the subject of women in punk and rock is broached, the usual suspects often come up: Kim Gordon, Kathleen Hanna, Patti Smith, Kim Deal and Debbie Harry. The injustice here is how punk-rock bassist Kira (born Kira Roessler) is rarely mentioned in the same breathnot that she cares much, or at all, for the accolades. After all, as Kira waxes ever so humbly, her job simply entailed being Black Flag's bass player and now (and for the last 25 years) serving as half of dos, the two-bass band she's in with her ex-husband, Minutemen/fIREHOSE/Stooges titan, Mike Watt.
Kira not only provided killer low-end groovage for one of the greatest punk bands (she joined Black Flag after bass god Chuck Dukowski's departure in 1984), she had to brave the testosterone-drenched environs of Cali's violence-thirsty punk scene and contend with the volatile, clashing personalities of guitarist Greg Ginn and mercurial loudmouth Henry Rollinswho, in his tour diary Get In the Van, once wrote of an intense hatred for Kira. (She wasn't fazed.)
Kira's melodic, booming licks held it down for BF scorch classics Slip It In, Loose Nut, Family Man and In My Head, along with Live '84, Who's Got The 10 1/2 ? and the hefty, all-instrumental experimentallic punk deconstruction The Process of Weeding Out.
After Kira got the boot from Black Flag, dos took shape. In '86, the twosome released their eponymous debut EP via Watt's New Alliance label; full-lengths in '89 (Numero Dos) and '96 (Justamente Tres) followed. Fifteen long years later, Kira and Watt have returned with the majestic bottom-end punk-jazz coil of dos y dos. We spoke to Kira by phone from California. There was a lot of catching up to do.
First off, why have you gone under only your first name the last thirty years or so?
In the early days, my father and brother were the "known" ones. My dad is a famous underwater photographer and Paul was in The Screamers, so I wanted not to be "Carl's daughter" or "Paul's sister." It seemed like it would help to ditch the last name.
How did you and Watt meet way back?
He was on SST well before I was playing on the SST label. I would go to shows and Minutemen would play. It wasn't a real big scene so you can easily run into each other. So, I knew him that wayas the bass player in the Minutemen; just like he knew and had seen me play in the bands I was in. But we didn't have in-depth conversations until quite a bit later when I was playing in Black Flag and we were label-mates.
Were you really into the Minutemen?
I was not like, "Oh my God... this is my favorite band." But I loved them, loved D Boon and loved what they stood for. Back then, [the scene] was small, so anybody who was risky and doing things uniquely and differently was attractive. I came from the Hollywood scene and they were more of the South Bay scene so there was a little bit of cliquiness, perhaps. There was a little bit of not taking them at face value. I had my favorite bands in Hollywood and I had seen a lot of shows. And the Minutemen weren't in that category. They were unique and special. But I probably like them a lot more now than I did then.
What music were you exposed to before you joined Black Flag?
I was going to gigs in Hollywood all the time. My first gig was the Germsthey were friends of ours in high school, when I was in junior high. We would go see them, The Bags, The Avengers and The Dils would come out from San Francisco, The Weirdos were a Hollywood band, The Screamersthese were the "big bands." Basically, the measuring stick was there's a club here called The Whiskeyif you can sell out The Whiskey, about 350 people, you were like a big band. The Dickies got signed first, which we all thought was the beginning of the great things for punk rock. It didn't work out that way. [laughs]
Were you into X?
I loved John Doe, but was not a huge X fan. But they were around and at all the gigs. I was going out regardless of whether I necessarily loved the bands. They were great but I was not a huge Exene fan and that might have been unfair cliquiness on my part. But they were a solid part of the scene. It's not like I avoided it (X) or gave them shit [laughs] or anything. They were truly not on the list of the bands I hated. [laughs]
Who was on that list?
I didn't like bands that weren't really bands. There were bands that were just for show. There were bands with girls in them who had long fingernails. They didn't play their instruments because their nails would get in the way. That stuff drove me crazy because I really played! I'd been playing before punk rock. So the stuff that would bother me seemed kind of poser. Again, it was also my little 17-year-old judgments. So, what the hell did I know?!
Was it your brother Paul who ultimately turned you on to punk rock?
Yes. And way before that. My brother and I started on piano when I was six and he was nine. I quit when I was eleven because I couldn't keep up with him (big surprise!). I realized at a certain point if I started on a different instrument, I could play with him. He was in this prog-rock band and they needed a bass player so I started playing bass thinking I could join this prog-rock band. By the time I was at all good, that band was over but punk rock had started. Paul knew the Germs guys and he got into it. And yeah sure, I tagged along. That's who I was; that was my identity.
Did you pay attention to music going on outside of Cali, like the New York punk scene?
We had Flipside fanzine so we knew who the bands were and if they were coming. I was always at The Dead Boys shows; I was a big fan. I was not a huge Ramones fan. I just felt that they were kinda straight rock; not necessarily doing something unique. The Dead Boys were probably my favorite. I loved the Misfits, but they never came out so I didn't get to see them live. I always saw The Cramps when they were in town. You'd go to the gigs and there'd be some bands that had records. The music that they'd play before the band would go live would be the bands with records. They'd play the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Televisionthey play anything that was kinda sorta punk that had a record because there weren't many bands with records. So I'd hear this stuff but I was totally broke and I didn't necessarily go seek out bands that had records I would never get to see live.
When you hooked up with Black Flag, were you eventually into the other bands on the label like Meat Puppets and Husker Du
When I joined they were on another label (Unicorn) and couldn't put out any records. Remember, Black Flag didn't even have SST going at first. SST was just starting out putting out records and Husker Du, Minutemen and Flag were the early stuff. Meat Puppets was a little later and they immediately became my favorite band. We toured with them so I got to see them every night.