Indie Music Interviews: Kira Roessler of Dos

Indie Music Interviews: Kira Roessler of Dos

It has been 15 years, since Kira Roessler and Mike Watt’s two-bass tag team Dos have released a full-length album. The last installment in the Dos discography was in 1996, with their third full-length release on Kill Rock Stars, entitled Justamente Tres. Both bass players lead very busy lives outside of Dos, amidst Watt’s other projects stemming from his own solo work to playing with Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Kira is an Emmy-winning sound editor whose work spans from independent to larger Hollywood productions.

Despite their history with titan acts such as Black Flag, with whom Kira recorded seven albums, or Watt’s beginnings with the legendary Minutemen, both groups considered far and wide to be rudimentary to the American Punk digestive system, in reality, Dos stands as the longest running project for both Watt and Roessler. I was lucky to catch Kira on her day off so we could discuss the long awaited release of dos y dos and also to delve into the dynamic of the two-bass creative process. Our discussion tapped into the pragmatics of honing and problem solving one’s sound followed by old dreams and memories of the Galapagos.

Gravy and Biscuits–I read that since Mike Watt has had so many music projects over the years, the composition and lines in some of the songs on dos y dos  stemmed or originated with some of his projects. Some of the lines from the album closer,  “Om Om Om”,  originated with his group, Lil’ Pit, in which an upright was used.

Kira–Actually, it’s gone both ways. A bunch of the early Dos songs became Firehose songs. He gets to draw inspiration from Dos as well as drawing inspiration from something else for Dos. Writing for Dos is an interesting challenge that you have to be pretty opened-minded about.

G&B–Right, and I guess they flesh out in their own different ways depending on where they’re drawn from.

Kira–Yes, it’s quite different depending on where the seed begins. In other words, generally when I write a song I write some sort of part for Mike that he can change, but that it is an idea or a foundation for him to start with.  Also, because I am impatient (laughs) and it saves some time.

G&B–I’m sure there is a lot of process because a lot of the songs are really intricate.

Kira–Yes, and there are cover songs which we’re interpreting as well.

G&B–I thought that was very interesting because a lot of those covers are pretty big pop songs–some from Madonna and Selena.

Kira–We don’t cover Madonna.

G&B–Oh, really?

Kira- There’s a title called “Intense Song for Madonna”, but there are no lyrics in that. We cover Billy Holiday, Betsy Smith, Pasty Cline, Selena, and Sonic Youth.

G&B–I can understand with creating songs there is a lot of back-and-forth with the writing, and with this album it’s been several years since the last one: Justamente Tres.

Kira–Fifteen years baby! Yeah, well it’s a combination of things. Some of these songs we’ve been playing live for years and years. So, there are a lot of factors that go into what’s made this record take a long time and Mike keeps promising that we’re not going to wait as long for the next one, but he’s a very busy guy, as I’m sure you know, and I work full-time. And as we said, you have the complexity of actually creating the songs.

On the positive side, we can both send files back and forth. We did the first record this way, back in the old cassette 4-track days. We do understand that concept and I actually prefer, frankly, to work on my own first and try some things and have some ideas. Mike is an intense guy; if I go and have to sort of, on-the-spot, be creative, for me that is really challenging, whereas in my room I’m pretty good at–especially early in the morning for some reason, I’m sharp, and I’m creative and I can write parts to songs. At least what I like, and then I have to pass the test on whether he likes them.

G&B–That’s interesting because when we hear it with everything together in one package, the image we have in our heads is you and Mike playing together, but in fact, a lot of this stuff starts off with you by yourself in solitude, I guess?

Kira–You know, I guess I’m probably just more insecure about it. Mike is very much willing to sort of, over and over and over again, kinda hash it out and we do do that, but I, for the shear organic expedienc; how many times are we going to get together? So when we get together for a few hours, I want to be as productive as possible. And like you said, they’re intricate, but he hasn’t seen the thing that’s intricate.  I have to familiarize myself with that to react to it. So, even if all I do is come down with something that he totally hates, I’ve now familiarized myself with his parts and I can react to his parts. Sometimes we break up his parts and I start playing some of his. I mean, anything can happen during this process.

G&B–So there is a lot of shape-shifting that goes on.

Kira–Yeah. And it is true that, in the last few years, me playing in my room has become incredibly productive. I have a virtual band that I’ve been building songs with back and forth with a guitar player in Ohio and it’s become something that I excel at. I get a song and I write a good bass line, or I write a bass line he likes anyway. I just enjoy the process of reacting to things and I get to feel like a person who plays their bass regularly as opposed to waiting for Dos to get together or waiting for band practice, if you will. It’s just a control-freak thing probably (laughs).

G&B–I was reading some online journals [Mike] kept about some shows you played over in Europe in 2004.

Kira- In Canada.

G&B–Oh right, Canada, I’m sorry. Jazz festivals. Does Dos get asked to play a lot of Jazz festivals?

Kira–Occasionally, when we get asked we try to do it but it totally depends on our ridiculous schedule, but you know, it doesn’t happen a lot. I think before that we did the Montreal Jazz festival. We had this crazy weekend. We did Oakland, New York, Montreal, three nights in a row. And then the one you’re talking about was more concentrated in Canada it was four nights, and it was two sets a night.

G&B–What is the jazz atmosphere like? I can see Dos, with the genres that it crosses and being that it’s more experimental and it can be taken, for people that don’t know, as free-verse.

Kira–These jazz festivals, as I see them, seem to be very diverse. So, it’s not like people go in with certain expectations. What they tend to do with these places, is they’ll have multiple venues going. So we would play at some little art gallery on one street and maybe do an outdoor gig two blocks down. So, we’re not necessarily all playing on the same stage. The jazz festivals are more like, “Hey everybody, come to town, there’s music playing all over the place.” It’s not completely centralized.

G&B–Going back in time, when this project first started, I guess towards the end of Minutemen, you and Mike started playing together and a lot of these songs came from lullabies that you were writing for your nephews.

Kira–Well, not lullabies, I would read bedtime stories like the classics, you know: Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and I would over-dub two basses because I thought it would be soothing and warm. My oldest nephew, when I was babysitting, would lie there awake. I would go check on him hours after I put him to bed and he’d be lying there awake and it gave me this idea that at least he could be listening to a story instead of being bored. So I started doing these things and very quickly I think there became more of a reason—and then there was this whole body of material that I created, and again, this brings up that same thing of me in my room writing material not necessarily with in my mind that it would be published or appreciated but just enjoying it. So, some of those actually did come from bedtime stories, but also, Mike and I would just jam and we pulled some early songs out of that. The early numbered songs, “Number One”, “Two”, “Three”, and “Four” came from jams.  We had already started collaborating; I was writing lyrics before that with the last Minutemen record and for some Firehose records.

G&B–So with dos y dos, some of these songs are jumping back and forth through time. Some of them are a lot older, in fact.

Kira -Yes that’s true. Like I said because of a lot of reasons there were ones that we started playing live, or again, things I wrote in my room for Dos that we just hadn’t learned and worked yet. I usually have a body of work ready and waiting. Got to be ready to spring into action, you know.

G&B–I was curious, is there a particular set-up that you like to play with this kind of music, or record with, in terms of tonality? Do you have a personalized rig that kind of reaches for the sound you are looking for?

Kira–More than ever. Mike has been a big influence on that. I think that coming from a pretty straight rock background, it was a little bit of a mystery how to achieve what was right for Dos. And [Mike] having his various projects, he cut a clear picture of this two bass thing. I am, I think, a little less sensitive to the wall of noise effect that Dos can create cause it’s sort of like, “oh c’mon,” compared to a rock band it’s not much of a wall of noise. But [Mike] and I, to a certain extent, we’re trying to avoid just stepping all over each other, and booming bass is just going to muddy the water and won’t feel the delicacy. It’s pretty important to get a tight sound that might not be what you would choose for a different project. It’s just a matter of good equipment. The bass that he had made for me just sounds amazing. It sounds amazing in a rock concept too. It’s just a good-sounding bass. By definition it has a low-end, but what you do with it is you give it the right sound for that context, and just the other night I got a new amp because we still were feeling it wasn’t quite tight enough and [Mike] had played this amp and said, “you need one of these!” So I bought myself a new amp. We discussed it and [Mike] was happy with the sound, relatively speaking and I thought it sounded nice. It’s tricky, you know, because you want it to sound like bass, you want it to sound warm, you want it to sound full, but you don’t want it to sound like mud!

G&B–Right, so there’s some science involved.

Kira–Yeah, I probably would go for a more low-endier sound except [Mike] is helping me drive to a tight enough sound so we aren’t stepping all over each other and there’s definition.

G&B- There’s a lot of language in dos y dos‘ opener, “Number Nine”.

Kira–That’s an old song, that’s a really old song.

G&B–This one in particular is very old?

Kira–Yeah, “Eight” and “Nine” are pretty old songs. That’s when we were still doing number songs. We realized what a mistake it was, now that it’s been 20 years and you’re trying to figure out what number is which song. (Laughs) It’s not nearly as clear as it should be.

G&B–The first thing that hit me, being that the music itself was very new to me, and that my first impression with the opening song was kind of like a dialogue between the two basses; they’re very distinct. I couldn’t really tell who was playing what, but I could tell there are these two distinct bodies playing.

Kira–My personal opinion is that it happens more on my songs where I did write the original both bass lines, like on that one, where I will lay down the first one and I’ll react to it with the second and then Mike interprets and changes it, but it still has a bit of a Kira-esque notion to it.  The whole thing about the composition is the interplay and being a good bass player is finding the spaces, both harmonically and rhythmically, so that there can be this interplay where you’re like “whoa whoa!” and you’re being pulled from one side to the other and your attention can’t really encompass it all and it just becomes this complete chain that’s created by two basses.

G&B–Another one I wanted to pick out, which is an incredibly beautiful song, is “No Me Queda Mas”. All in dialect, not that I’m particularly fluent in Spanish, but it’s a very beautiful song.

Kira–Yeah.

G&B–And this one definitely, to me, seems more lullabye-esque.

Kira–I actually picked that when [Selena] was killed. Most of the time when we cover someone it’s in a sense, a tribute. And I had been somewhat of a fan; listening to Latin music is a hobby, Spanish is a hobby and I sort of taught myself, and I’m very interested in it as culture, etc.

G&B–I was going to ask what the relationship with Spanish culture was?  Did you come from a Spanish background?

Kira–No, actually there was a specific point in time when I went to the Galapagos, which is an Ecuadorian territory, with my father to go scuba-diving. That’s his racket, or was, before he retired. I left my heart in Galapagos basically, and when we went back to the city, the woman who runs the boats there said you can become a guide, and like I said, I left my heart there and I was like “Hell Yeah!” I wanna go live in the Galapagos and be a dive guide. So I came home and started studying Spanish, and as time progressed it got really complicated because you can’t work in the Galapagos unless you have a degree in biology or zoology, and I didn’t have that. Then I was like, am I going to go study that, and if I do that am I going to do it there? I had all these weird stops and starts about how to accomplish it. How am I going to make a living while going to a university and studying? I had this total life crisis going on. I had a big computer project I was working on canceling and I was sort of at this crossroads career wise….

G&B–So, it was a conflict of passion and reason, I guess.

Kira–And my heart was in the Galapagos. So studying Spanish became part of this whole thing and all that was left of the fantasy really was that. I got really into it. I got really interested and part of how I learned was I watched the Spanish news on TV and listened to the radio, and read Spanish newspapers, which is a great way to learn. You got all these proper nouns and all these recognizable things and you can concentrate on learning the sentences. That’s how it came about and, as a result, you keep it up, right? Why not? Knowing languages and cultures are a good thing.

G&B–You can see where, even though you’re not in the Galapagos now, that culture has definitely blended in with yourself.

Kira–Yeah, well, perspective is everything, right? Like Mike has started to really incorporate Japanese culture into his mindset, and it makes you a more interesting person with a wider perspective.

Dos’s fourth full-length album dos y dos was released on July 12th. A vinyl release is in the making with a possible EP to follow. Check out the Dos video, directed by Chris Steins, for their track “Number Eight”. Keep up with Dos on MySpace for any possible dates http://www.myspace.com/dosasintwo

Interview written and conducted by Casey Morris

Gravy and Biscuits Tags

  • Kira Roessler
  • mike watt and kira roessler

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