With the imminent release of her first solo album at the age of 60, the ex Black Flag bassist chats to Punktuation’s Molly Tie about life as a woman in the hardcore punk scene and explains why she’s not ready to call her new album ‘not punk rock’.
Most people will know Kira Roessler as the bassist in the American punk band Black Flag in the 1980s. During two eventful years with the band, Kira and her bandmates were the very definition of hard graft and prolific output, recording four albums, two eps, and one live recording in her stint with Rollins and co.
As well as a recording schedule that would make many collapse, the band’s touring itinerary was even more gruelling, giving Black Flag a reputation as not being for the faint of heart or mind. If it was a feat for the other members of the band, then for Kira, it was a triumph of commitment and time management.
She simultaneously juggled an Economics and Computing degree at UCLA with being a badass bassist in the hardcore movement. Due to this, Kira is somewhat of an icon for women in punk.
Is being seen as an inspiration, something that sits comfortably?
“I am moved if I can have any effect on people. That is the goal in music. I’ve always felt it was flattering to feel that I had had an effect. It can be a little unnerving to think that the effect I have had is 35 years old, as obviously, my life went on after that, and I have done all this other stuff! I have no regrets, though, and I feel nothing but joy about my time associated with Black Flag, but it was two years out of my life a long time ago.”
“I am moved if I can have any effect on people. That is the goal in music.” Kira Roessler.Tweet
And since leaving the band in 1985, Kira’s career has been very successful, albeit in a field that perhaps doesn’t get as much recognition as being a musician on stage. As a successful dialogue editor in film and TV, Kira has received two Emmys and was a part of the sound team that recently won an Oscar for their work on Mad Max: Fury Road. An unconventional path for a former punk rocker? For Kira, it seemed to make good use of her talents:
“I studied computers and was working in the corporate world as a programmer, and it didn’t suit me at all. Via my brother, I helped with the sound for some student films and thought it was perfect for my music background, ear for sound, and my computer skills. I wanted to work in a field less corporate and more creative. The guys prefer to do sound effects and explosions and guns and all that, and there was a gap for people doing the dialogue side. It suits me well; it is like solving a puzzle.”
Kira hasn’t left her day job behind, but the reason we chat over Zoom from her LA home is to discuss her debut solo album- Kira. Out on October 19. It is a good reminder that she is a bassist first and foremost. Music has never been out of Kira’s life entirely, but the decision to release this album almost seems to have taken her a bit by surprise:
“I have been making music in my room for a good part of my adult life. Especially recording and expressing the things that happen in my life. There was not necessarily an intention to release for the public; it was just a matter of this is who I am; I play bass and I write songs that are generally quite personal.
“I’ve been playing bass longer than I’ve been a woman – since I’ve been a girl, really! My brother works at Kitten Robot studios, and he said they want to put out your stuff. I turned 60 this year and said ok – I’ll put out my first solo record at 60! I had a set of songs that told a story and I decided to say yes.”
As well as writing the music, Kira also designed the album’s front cover and was heavily involved in making the music video. Perhaps her experience keeping plates spinning in Black Flag has meant Kira can take on multiple roles relatively quickly?
“I was lucky that I didn’t join Black Flag until I was three years into my four-year university course. So, I told them I’m going to finish college, but I’ll take periods off to tour. It was so hard. They were kind enough to work around my schedule, sometimes to the detriment of the band.
“I didn’t join Black Flag until I was three years into my four-year university course. So, I told them I’m going to finish college, but I’ll take periods off to tour. It was so hard.” Kira Roessler.Tweet
“We toured in winter 1984 – it was miserable! With the adjustment of going from a tour and the loudness and the no sleep, to an applied mathematics course, my brain was still buzzing! I had to settle down somehow and think rationally, which was tough. We scheduled very specifically around my courses. It felt like I was the only one juggling things like this, certainly in the band but also in the scene.”
Black Flag has a reputation for intensity – of sound, energy, and commitment from the members. Recording albums in 48 hours, a gruelling touring schedule. Was it as exhausting as it sounds?
“We were either practising to make a record, or we were on tour or recording. If you ain’t playin’, you’re payin’! The approach with them was very rigorous. I thought that Black Flag was an anomaly in terms of their work ethic level.
“There were no other bands touring as extensively. There were bands touring, of course, but that network of college radios, promoters that Black Flag was establishing before I joined the band and continued after, actually shaped touring for many of the other bands afterwards.
“We didn’t meet a lot of other bands with the same schedules – practising five hours a day, two hours a show. Seven records in two years! We were attacking it with a vengeance that was unusual.”
“I thought that Black Flag was an anomaly in terms of their work ethic –practising five hours a day, two hours a show. Seven records in two years! We were attacking it with a vengeance that was unusual.” Kira Roessler.Tweet
Perhaps more unusual is that Kira was a female in the midst of what is considered a male-dominated period of punk history with aggressive shows and predominantly male bands. Did Kira feel that she was a bit of a pioneer at the time?
“I didn’t think of myself as a woman in Black Flag. I have never been able to compare to what it was like being a man in Black Flag! But the thing about punk rock in the early days is that there were a lot of women, and there were a lot of famous women that weren’t in bands. They were on the cover of fanzines because of how cool they looked.
“The women in punk rock developed the style that was punk rock. You would see women who were known because of their ability to encompass that look that created this sensibility and created something for punkers to associate with and emulate.
“Same with my time at UCLA… I think there were quite a few women studying computing. I didn’t feel like an outsider as a woman, but I was a punk, which made me stand out! The sorority girls looked at me like I was a piece of dog turd on their shoes.”
“I was a punk, which made me stand out! The sorority girls looked at me like I was a piece of dog turd on their shoes.” Kira Roessler.Tweet
The new record, KIRA, is not Black Flag 2.0, and neither was it intended to be. Everything about the record is a departure for anyone expecting an emulation of Kira’s music in the 1980s. There is a delicateness and a space in this record, a poignant sparseness that makes this a very personal project that was some 13 years in the making (the tracks are chronological, and some were started over a decade ago).
What does Kira say to those who will claim this album is not punk?
“I actually think most of what I’ve been doing is incredibly punk rock. Punk is about non-conforming and doing different things. I was in a band called Dos playing two bass music – what could be more non-conformist than that?
“I reject the idea that this record isn’t punk rock. I think it is very punk rock. It doesn’t sound like other things that have that label, but my goal is not to emulate something else. When punk rock started, it was a resistance to disco and arena rock and what was going on at the time, and that has been my approach the whole way through.
“Punk became big and now has some sort of rule about how it should sound. To me, that doesn’t fit the original idea. I am ok with the fact there will be people who won’t enjoy this style of music that I play now, but I’m not ready to call it not punk rock.”
“I am ok with the fact there will be people who won’t enjoy this style of music that I play now, but I’m not ready to call it not punk rock.” Kira Roessler.Tweet
Kira is well aware of the punk purity tests that can dog the genre and was on the receiving end of these debates over 30 years ago:
“We never called ourselves hardcore; that was not a label at the time we were associated with. Every time we changed and did something interesting, we got a lot of flak – for playing slower songs, for playing instrumentals – anything that didn’t fit with people’s ideas about the punk rock mould. But that wasn’t important enough for us to stop being creative and moving forward.”
And talking of moving forward, is this the beginning of more solo efforts from Kira? And will there be any live performances to accompany the release?
“I am not against the idea of putting out more, but I also don’t know if I’ll seek it out. I am going to keep writing songs and developing material of all sorts, and we’ll see. In terms of playing live, I will not be going on tour again!
“I have not played live for years. A part of me would like to find a way to share things and have some kind of event. There is a part of me that misses that experience of connecting with people more interactively. But it is daunting. If I can find a way to make it happen that wouldn’t be uncomfortable, then I will make it happen.”
With her debut solo album adding a new layer for the accomplished artist, Kira is content wearing many hats… but she places it all in a very particular order: “Bass player first and foremost – this is just who I am,” she smiles. “Then a sound editor, dog mom, loving wife and loner.”
Kira was produced by Kira and Paul Roessler (TSOL, Josie Cotton, Richie Ramone) and will be released on October 19 via Kitten Robot Records.
- Worse Than Rude
- Unsolicited Advice
- Let It Go
- The Ghosts
- It Can’t Be
- What’s Left
- In The Quiet
Kira Roessler Discography
More Kira Roessler Via Kitten Robot Records
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I’m Molly Tie- a freelance writer and punk blogger! I have two major musical loves in my life- punk and the music of the 1960s. I love all eras of punk- from 70s UK to US pop-punk. I’m particularly interested in issues relating to women in the music scene. I am currently writing a book that explores the lived experience of being a female into punk music. The book is a labour of love- and my aim is to get it published in 2021.