For a while, I thought Black Flag was just Henry Rollins and a few other guys, and that was it. It wasn’t until I dug deeper that I found there was this whole sprawling story that stretched out both before, and long after, Damaged (arguably their most recognised piece of work and Rollins’ debut).
Kira Roessler is part of that story. She joined the band just before they released their second ‘proper’ album, My War (already recorded prior to her joining) and stayed with them until 1985; becoming one of the longest-serving members of the band, and appearing on more recordings than most of the revolving cast, despite only clocking in a couple of years.
She was a more than worthy replacement for the inimitable Chuck Dukowski and a welcome addition to a rhythm section completed by the relentless energy of Bill Stevenson. Kira’s inclusion in the band marked the beginning of a period of rejuvenation; a short-lived but prolific period that is still considered by many to have produced some of their strongest work, despite being starkly different to the early recordings (more bleakly sludgy and tortured than breakneck aggression).
After a while, it all fell apart and Kira joined the long list of Black Flag veterans to part ways with Greg Ginn. While many different reasons have been cited for her departure from the band, it’s really not important here. The simple fact is, she wasn’t in the band anymore. In the following year, 1986, they split for good (well… almost).
Kira moved on, and as well as carving out a successful career for herself in the movie industry (she actually won an Oscar last year for her sound editing work on Mad Max: Fury Road), she’s also been involved in several musical projects – perhaps most notably Dos – an all-bass duo with Minutemen bassist Mike Watt – which has been an ongoing experiment since the pair met during the Black Flag days and still continues whenever the two of them feel like it.
Kira and Watt were actually married for several years, but although they have been separated for even longer, the two maintain a strong personal and artistic bond together.
Whether or not it’s a direct result of that bond, there is a sense of freedom and connection in every aspect of Dos, and though the end results might be a bit too free flowing for some (especially if you don’t have much time for one bass, let alone two), it’s a pleasure in itself just to have two esteemed patrons of the four-string work it together.
Anyway… below is a hastily written, woefully unprepared email interview I did with Kira Roessler in 2011 after missing her call. It was never published – something I feel terrible about – but the original idea was to try and house it somewhere of my own. So, better late than never!
For anyone unfamiliar with Dos, can you give me a brief lowdown on how you and Mike first started this project together and how it’s evolved over the years?
KIRA ROESSLER: I knew Mike back in the ol’ punk rock scene, would see the Minutemen play sometimes and he might see whatever band I was in. We didn’t really talk much until I joined Black Flag. We first played together on the Minuteflag recording. Then the Minutemen played for the first week and a half of our ’85 tour. We talked a lot during that time, and he asked me to send him lyrics when he went home. Collaboration began… We started actually jamming just before D Boon (Minutemen guitarist and Watt’s best friend) died, and after that, I pushed Mike to play with me just to keep him playing. We have played ever since, sometimes more than others.
Though I understand you have collaborated regularly throughout the years, Dos y Dos is the first recorded release in quite some time – what spurred you on to make another record this far down the line?
KR: We have been doing gigs (at least a few a year) all along. We always intended another record, it just took a long time. There were a lot of factors in that: Mike’s schedule, mine, Yuka’s. Also recording a song maybe every several months once we got going.
How important is it to you to get your music out there? Do you think you would’ve been happy to just continue to collaborate live?
KR: I was anxious for this record to get out because it had been in progress for so long. I don’t like to play the same songs live year after year, and working out new songs is the hard part about Dos.
I wouldn’t say that I have some burning to desire to get all my music out there, just some. And just once in a while is okay. I don’t know how Mike feels about it.
The music the two of you make together, particularly on Dos y Dos, has the makings of an organic ‘live jam’ sound to it, but I understand the writing process is a bit more cut and paste than that – how did these particular pieces/recordings take shape and how does this differ from your previous work together?
KR: Cut and paste? Uhh not the term I would use. We have always had pretty worked out parts. Carefully intertwined. Laboriously written and re-written. Sometimes I will supply the kernel – and if so I usually take a shot at the second bass line which Mike is free to change. Mike, on the other hand, likes to give me a line and see what I come up with and then we refine and refine. Cover songs are different again. Either one of us can have the idea to do one, but I usually get the more classic bass line if I have to sing on the song, and then Mike writes a melody line to accompany.
What is it about the idea of collaboration between two basses that still attracts the both of you today? Has there ever been the temptation to add more to the mix, or would that no longer be ‘Dos’?
KR: I guess to me Dos is Dos. It is two basses and it is so because of who me and Mike are. We both seem to me to be real bass players, true believers if you will – who are not affected by some traditional idea of what a band should sound like. In that way it is more punk than a lot of punk rock is. We follow no rules set by others.
How do you manage to maintain a balance with two basses, do you adopt set roles from song to song, for example, deciding who’s going to play lead where, etc?
KR: There are hardly and “leads” – occasionally a short solo perhaps. As I mentioned earlier in the cover songs you get a little of that because of my need to sing. But as dos has developed I think we interplay more and more and define parts which can’t be defined as “lead” or “rhythm” .
Dos seems like a pretty good example of some of the possibilities with bass playing beyond simply hanging on the root notes, but does demonstrating its versatility as an instrument ever influence your playing/the music you make? I know Mike always sings the praises of his chosen axe, but is that something that’s important to you?
KR: Well yes if you are asking whether I am a champion of the bass… to the end !!! But there is a difference between showing off technical prowess and doing cool stuff which works well in the dos context. I mean what I do on a rock song is different than in a dos song. But I rarely play the “obvious” bass line. I think it is important to work at finding the right bass line. I have bass students who know how to play, but are working at getting better at writing parts.
You’re both, as I gather, extremely busy, but are you involved with any other musical projects yourself right now?
KR: Yes. I have been playing with a stand up bass player named Devin Hoff in a band called Awkward about to do our debut gig. I also have a virtual band. We make recordings over the internet. I play most every day before work at 6:30 AM. It’s the only time I really can when I work. A bit on the weekends, but I get breaks sometimes too.
With Dos y Dos marking somewhat of a break in a relatively silent period for Dos, are we likely to hear from you more frequently in the next 15 years?!
KR: That is the plan. The reality will be what it will be. There are so many factors but we have three in the can already so the process has begun
Also are there any plans for a long haul Dos tour anytime soon?
KR: Dos doesn’t really do long haul tours. Scheduling stuff is tricky, but sometimes travel comes up. We just try to make it happen if we can.