Name: Kira Roessler
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, bassist
Current release: Kira Roessler's Kira is out now via Kitten Robot Records.
Punk rock, as it peak, was an explosion, a searing beam of light cutting through layers of dust and grime to the truth. In many respects, it was a response to what music had come to, a statement against: Progressive rock was expansive, punk was concise. Classical composition was methodical, punk was instinctive. Jazz was spiritual, punk was real. Folk was dreamy, punk was about the nightmares that surround us.
There are very few people who can lay a stronger claim to the term punk than Kira Roessler. She was already part of a band when she could barely play an instrument. She channelled her emotions into her song precisely the way she felt them, rather than looking for "acceptable" topics ("I wrote bass lines and recorded them on top of me telling bedtime stories for my nephews," she recounts in this interview about her time with her group Sexsick). And with Black Flag, she passionately expanded the punk ethos beyond the revolutionary cells laid down by Sex Pistols.
Still, and this may come as a surprise, when it comes to defining her own compositional work, she uses the word "slow". In fact, she uses it twice here, once to describe her path from a bassist to a songwriter and then to emphasise the time-consuming process from the initial idea to the finished piece. And, in a way, you can hear this deliberate process in the ten songs that make up Kira, her solo full-length on Kitten Robot, the imprint of fellow singer/songwriter Josie Cotton.
Like snakes in slow motion, these tunes move in suspenseful circles, loops and serpentines, beautiful and threatening at once, towards an uncertain destination. Opener "Silently" is gorgious and jangly, "The Ghosts" haunting and beguilingly eery, while "Trance" opens up a wide space in which Kira's vocals float like sheets of cool air, occasionally layering into otherworldly harmonies, at other times pierced by percussion and cymbals beating away in mysterious meters. Underneath every single piece is her bass, warm and vibrating with its natural resonance, a spiritual and sensual instrument all at once.
Is this still punk rock? Let's put it this way: Kira Roessler has released her debut album at 60. She has penned one of the most anti-conformist song collections of 2021. She is living her life just the way she wants it, publishing music at her own pace and on her own terms. What could possibly be more punk rock than that?
Recommendations: I wish I could point to some new music, but I rarely explore music of today. I am sure there is amazing music of today - but if I was pointing people to music that would make them feel… the way I try to make people feel … I would point to any Billie Holiday. If you have not let yourself be drawn in by her voice … maybe you should try.
If you enjoyed this interview with Kira Roessler and would like to know more about his work, visit her artist page on the Kitten Robot Records homepage.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I guess my first songs were for the first band I was in, called Waxx, when I was sixteen. My brother Paul and I had just gotten into punk rock, and we didn’t really know what we were doing … We had a friend named Glenn Brown who played guitar and wrote most of our songs. But I wrote a couple and sang/screamed some silly lyrics.
As far as influences … it was always about the people I was playing with at the beginning. I wrote some songs for my all girl band Sexsick because that was really my first band. I wrote bass lines and recorded them on top of me telling bedtime stories for my nephews. That was probably the first time I actually came from some emotion other than anger. I wanted to capture the story I was reading in the music. And I wanted to lull my nephews to sleep. So I translated those feelings into my bass lines.
What drew me to music was my brother, I always followed in his footsteps, tagged along. It took years to find my own voice. Between 14 and 18 years old I was just searching. But I loved listening to music and the emotions that others captured. I think that drew me the most, and still does.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I am not a prolific song writer. It has developed very slowly for me. My favorite songs often come out of some kind of pain or hardship … a strong emotion.
I have been in a lot of bands where my job was just to play the bass lines and fit in … I don’t think it is important at all to force my style into any given band. When I started dos with Mike, it felt that my identity had to start influencing the band because there were only two of us. And now of course with my own music - I can fully express what I need to express and bend the music to reflect my style.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My identity as a punker, a non-conformist, not driven to fit a type of music definitely has influenced my creativity. Celebrating the spaces and holes in the music, and the emotion behind the song allows me to express myself at any given moment in time. As a group of songs they can then tell a story about who I am and what I have been feeling.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think that the main challenges creatively have been about finding the heart of what I want to say, and actually finding the time to ruminate over the songs.
They do not happen quickly. At any given time I have a set of songs in the works that are incomplete and need digging in to. So when I find a small amount of time I can grab onto something I have been trying to express and try to push it further.
Sometimes I won’t get anywhere that day. That has to be the process, this slow evolution from idea into song. It seems to have a life of it’s own, and can’t be hurried.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started with piano when I was quite young, but this was not a creative point in my life. When I became a bass player at fourteen I began the journey of the bass becoming a part of me, and in that way it has never felt limiting. I have always sung songs, but actually using my voice to express myself took even more time than using the bass.
Aside from going into recording studios to record with other people, my home recording began on a four-track cassette deck for many years. I think I was given a microphone to use, I didn’t buy my first microphone until many years later. Mike Watt and I had the same type of four track cassette decks so that we could send cassettes back and forth and work on our music together for our band dos.
I started to work in sound editing in 1998 and the tool being used in that industry was protools, so it made sense to me to have that software on my own computer and that is what drove the transition to digital recording. I bought the most rudimentary device I could find at first to plug my bass and microphone into, and then over the years have just upgraded to better equipment every five years or so. So this was purely driven by what I was familiar with at work. My setup today reflects that as well, I can do my sound editing work on my system at home, and then switch to recording music on the same equipment.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Not really. I am still very much someone who has to have my hands on the bass and be manipulating the strings to find my voice. I do not hear things in my head very often.
I do now use editing at time to make little fixes to the recordings where before I would have had to re-record to fix something.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I am wholeheartedly a person who works well in today’s virtual world. For many years I have been sending songs to others in order to have them add things, and receiving songs to write bass lines to as well.
I often do my best creative work early in the morning, which is not necessarily when anyone else wants to play music! So this method allows everyone to find their own time to do the work. And it is rare that I even discuss this part of the process with these highly creative people.
In the final stages of working on my songs, I do get together with my brother Paul at Kitten Robot Studio and we discuss, record and polish the songs in order to bring them into some kind of completeness. He is so helpful in getting the songs to sound the way I want them to sound. And we have gotten quite comfortable spending time working on these songs. Again, we may spend a couple of hours and accomplish a very small bit of work, and have to revisit things again and again. This is because we both have busy schedules and finding time to do the work can be tricky.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Well the first thing I have to do in the morning every day is walk and feed my three dogs. This has been a constant part of my morning routine for almost twenty years. But my days can very a great deal after that.
I work from project to project so there are periods of time when I am not working, and periods when I am. If I have a project going on, I will try to play my bass early in the morning for maybe half an hour most days, but I start work as early as I can get going. The work days are long, and I am usually working at my own pace - so I prefer to get as much as possible done early in the day. I often take a lunch break and I enjoy walking most days during that time because it helps me to focus on my work in the afternoon. By the end of my work day, I am usually exhausted, at least mentally, so I do not try to get much done in the evenings. More dog walking, dog feeding, feeding myself, maybe some TV, things like that.
This is why it is wonderful that I am not always working. When I am not in the middle of the project, I might go to Kitten Robot studio to work with Paul before his work day starts (which is usually at noon or 1pm). I might get to spend more than a half an hour working on some songs in my room. I might get to take longer walks alone or with the dogs. I might get to spend a little more time with my husband Tim.
So my work and my music do stay pretty separate. It is all about managing the time so that both get the attention they need. My dogs don’t help me get my music done at all!!!
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
What comes to mind is when I got to work on the movies Mad Max: Fury Road.
It feels special to me for many reasons: I got to travel to Australia which I had never done before, I got to work with people there who taught me a great deal, the project itself was very unique and a massive piece of work.
I received a call in late Summer 2014 from a man I had worked with quite a bit on other projects. He was in Sydney, Australia and said that the project needed some additional people and he had recommended that I be hired to come and work on it. I was available, and my home life felt a little less chaotic than it feels sometimes, so I agreed to go. In some ways, it was another job, I would have probably agreed to work on the movie whatever it was. But I was lucky enough to have it be a really cool project, with some really interesting people and an opportunity to travel which is actually pretty rare for me.
So my initial motivation was simply to work, but the result was that I learned a lot, and that I am incredibly proud to have been a part of such a fascinating movie.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Unfortunately, for me I think the ideal state is one of intense emotion - pain, anger, hurt. The clarity of those emotions and the need to express them rather than sit and feel them create a unique environment for creativity in me. These times happen organically, they cannot really be coerced, this is probably why I go through times when I feel more stagnant creatively.
I do have certain big life events or emotions that I reach back to over and over though, and I can sometimes manufacture something from a word or phrase that I find interesting.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Of course I believe that music and sounds heal … From my perspective I think that the hurt that music can cause can actually be healing as well. Music can absolutely touch me at my core pain - re-experiencing deep loss, etc. But I need this - I do not think feeling those feelings is a bad thing.
Music gives me an outlet to express my pain, but also to feel it in a somewhat safe way, without leaking it all over people around me in a negative way. I think we all need some way to express ourselves - it certainly does not have to be music. Writing stories or prose ,painting, drawing, there are many ways.
When we connect to our heart in any way I think we soften it - even if we are expressing rage - we are then able to move through it to the other side.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Maybe because I am more of an audio artist than a visual one, my first reaction is that I don’t know enough to answer. But if I imagine people taking pieces of my music and copying them to suit their message … I can just say that my music does come from a personal place and in that way it seems off for it to be converted for someone else’s story or agenda. I do find the question a difficult one.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
My first thought was about how I sometimes feel I dream in waveforms - I see the sounds … But maybe I am a bit to connected to the audio world to let go and let my other senses have some fun. It would be amazing to see, smell, and taste the sound, the music - to feel that I could touch it.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I have a tendency to keep my music as a separate safe place from the world. That my deepest feelings and secrets can live there without anyone knowing.
This album has been a new experience in sharing those inner bits and hearing whether anyone connects to them. But it isn’t how or why I write - it is okay if it is just me alone in my room.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I have certainly used music to express the loss after the death of a loved one. I think that is the key - is to let those feelings, whatever they are come across in music. We can also listen to music and through connecting to the emotion in the music have an opening up to life we might not have had.
Music has taught me to have this safe place, no matter what is happening in the world, things stay constant and grounded.