I interviewed Kira in her home in Studio City, CA, while on tour in 2009. Kira invited my crew and me over on the third day of our stay with friend, Philip Alcala, and we quickly readied ourselves for the trek and the interview. Originally, this event was videotaped by a film student from San Francisco, who conveniently never delivered the original to me, so is lost to the ages (sadly). After picking up coffee and donuts at a nearby coffee shop, the four of us contacted Kira and slipped off to meet her. Introductions were made, lighting was set up, levels were checked, and the tape started to roll.
What surprised me the most about this particular interview was that Kira, while not an original member of the band, was part of Black Flag during some of their most brutal touring. Having established themselves in the first four or five years (and three singers), the Kira years saw most of the massive touring that has become the stuff of myth, or legend if you like, and so her insight was pivotal for me. Aside Chuck Dukowski, whom Kira replaced around 1984, I found Kira's testimony as some of the most emotional. It is clear in the interview that her time in Black Flag was life-changing, it was also weighed heavy on her in some ways. Imagine trying to balance a full time college schedule with being in a full-time band like Black Flag, and commuting every day after school for an hour on a city bus, practicing for 4 hours with the band, returning to home on the same bus, and trying to manage the rest of your life, and you have four of her years wrapped up in a nutshell.
After about four or five hours of interview, photo shooting, and chit-chat, the four of us left her home amazed. Having been a fan of Black Flag for years, being asked to join her favorite band as the first (and only) female member made for some great hindsight information. While the interview itself (never mind the stolen video) was amazing, my photos of Kira were far from being of book quality. So, a year later, and with an equally large group, we revisited her to take more photographs. Having taken some fantastic images the second time around, by the time I arrived back to my Philadelphia home Kira's iconic blue bass had been stolen from her apartment. She ended up getting the bass back a few days later, but for a moment I was afraid that I was the last person to capture her and her beloved instrument on film. That said, I hope that you enjoy the words and the photographs from the two sessions.
I want to thank Phillip Alcala, Stefan Bauschmid, and Phillip Torriero for all of the help. Most of all I want to thank Kira for both her kind hospitality on both occasions, and for telling us all of these amazing stories about being part of Black Flag at the time when Black Flag had become synonymous with "epic touring" and "selling out." Her story proves that no matter what the musical direction of the band, at that time in their history they were still doing things the hard way. And, nobody complained...!
Kira Roessler Interview
@ Kira’s home in Studio City, CA
What did you do before you found Punk Rock, and how did you eventually find it?
I was sixteen when I found Punk Rock, so I was fifteen before I found it. When I was fourteen, I was sort of a hippie chick for about six-months. I had really long hair and wore bell-bottoms and stuff like that.
Then my mom moved away when me and my older brother were living with her. When she moved away we were able to create this sort of environment where, since we were living without parents, we created this “crash pad” situation. We were teenagers, and since most people get into that a little later, we were able to make this a place where people could come and just crash. There wasn’t a whole lot of authority or anything like that. We got into a lot of trouble. Yeah, so it was more of a chaotic environment.
Right, coincidentally as that was happening, my brother began hanging out with a guy named Paul Bean, who changed his name to Darby Crash later. He knew these guys in high school, and they started a Punk Rock band. So very early on he came home with the Germs, Forming single and asked me what I thought. I was like, “Woah, that is BAD.”
You see, we both played piano since we were very little, and I switched to bass because my brother had this Prog Rock band, and I really wanted to become the bass player, but by the time that I was good enough he didn’t have the Prog Rock band anymore.
So I started playing the bass for hours a day. I really wasn’t into Prog Rock as much as I was into whatever my older brother was into at the time. I was probably more into Bowie and Rolling Stones, and that kind of stuff. Those are the posters that I had on the wall, and was into going to school because I was into this thing about proving that even if I was without parents I could still be a good girl. You’ll be left you alone if you just go to school and get good grades. I don’t know if any of you know that, but if you do the normal stuff they don’t have a problem with the other things that you are doing.
What about the Punk Rock lifestyle? How did that come about, and at what point in time did you find yourself committed?
Once my mom moved away my older brother became my role model, and so if they went into Hollywood to the Masque to see the Germs, well, I would tag along, you know? So we are there seeing the Germs and Darby cuts his foot open, and he needs to be taken to the hospital, and so I am going to the hospital with them, and that is...
It is interesting because I don’t think that I was committed. I sort of had one foot in and one foot out. There was this feeling, because it was dangerous for a girl at that time, and it wasn’t hip or cool. People at my high school would smack me around for how I dressed, and so it was hard to do. I was never sure that I wanted to do it for that reason. Plus, my boyfriend was a hippie, and he was pissed off because of it. Eventually we broke up, but he was pissed up because I was into the Punk Rock thing. So my level of commitment was very slow.
But I played bass and I wanted to meet other musicians. Punk Rock was not Arena Rock. You could go to a show and talk to the people and you could get into a band with somebody that wasn’t my brother. So it wasn’t so much that I was committed to Punk Rock as much as I thought that there might be some opportunities there that I’d never seen before, or weren’t available to me before.
And so I chopped all of my hair off, and I guess that was to show my level of commitment, like to say, “Hey, I ain’t that long haired girl anymore,” you know?
What were some of the first bands that you played in early on?
So we had this band called WAXX, that I was in with my brother. My brother played the drums and the singer was a friend of ours that was more of a graphical artist than a singer, but he wanted to participate and scream a lot. The act of screaming is just about as fun as anything, and it is not that often that you just get to scream. The guitar player happened to be a guitar player that Paul was friends with, and it is he who I am going to visit on this road trip after 25 years away. We are connected again by music, but he was really a Rock And Roll guitar player that, as soon as the Punk Rock thing came along, he just thought that it was the greatest thing, and he just jumped right in. So, we had this band called WAXX first.
Then my brother joined the Screamers, which, as you know, was a very significant band. So the guitar player and I started doing other arrangements, and we got other singers. We had a band called The Visitors with a guy called Spazz Attack, who was in a DEVO video. That was his claim to fame. He was our lead singer.
Then we had The Monsters, which had Nathan Beat on drums, and his claim to fame was that he was in The Weirdoes, which was another really big band. Basically you are jockeying for position and trying to find a way to make as many people as you can come and see you. You are trying to create a commercial movement in Punk Rock so that you can get a show at the Whiskey or somewhere like that, which was the big problem with the Monsters; we wouldn’t do a gig unless we could headline at the Whiskey. And so, because we couldn’t get that many people to come out and could not headline at the Whiskey, we never played a gig.
Historically, there was a large separation between the Hollywood scene and what was happening in the South Bay, where Black Flag was starting to gain momentum. How did that look to you from the outside as the South Bay bands started moving up into Hollywood?
Hollywood was sort of this clique. It was a super small clique that started out with one place to play, and then one or two more would show up where you could have gigs. Most places wouldn’t let us in, we scummy Punker types, you know? There were some clubs that were like, “Punk Rock is fun,” then, “Punk Rock is bad,” back and forth like that. So Hollywood was a microcosm like that.
It isn’t true that the people from the South Bay didn’t come up, because they did come up. They came up and went to gigs. Very early you would see people just attending gigs. Some of the bands, even pretty early on began playing those gigs. So I think that you had your more diehard kids from the South Bay, like the ones that would steal a car just to come up here, or maybe you’d have, and maybe it was just from my perspective, you just had the band-people coming up to gigs. People that were in those bands eventually got into Hollywood bands, and these were the bands that they would come up and want to see. But what really changed were the fans.
But the fans never really inundated Hollywood. I would always say that there was this kind of separation.
But if I were to go down to Orange County, and there was this club called the Fleetwood, I was afraid to go because I was just this little girl, and for a small girl it was really hard to watch the gig because you were just gonna get battered around. So, to a certain extent there was still a cliquiness, and the interplay was with the bands coming up to Hollywood to play, and some people were cross-pollinating that were attending the gigs.
One of the effects that the South Bay bands coming to Hollywood had was that the friendly stuff that used to happen around here in Hollywood became a little less friendly. And I definitely felt a little strange around the South Bay folks because when I was down there it was really not friendly.
In the early days it had been friendly. In the early days there was pogoing, and pogoing turned into slamming, and so you tell me at which one are you going to get more hurt.
I can see how that can be problematic, but can it be viewed as just the evolution from the more artsie vibe up here to a more aggressive vibe that was what Hardcore would become eventually?
Well, there was nothing artsie about it just because we were pogoing. Yeah, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that we were sleazebags. We were not living at home with mom and shit, like the kids from South Bay were. Our lives were utter chaos. We lived in holes. So there was nothing sort of artsie about us because we were the scum in a lot of ways. You see, they still lived at home and got allowances, and they put on their stripes at night to go out and slam. We looked the same every day. I looked the same at night as I did when I was going to Hollywood High. I was the one getting my butt kicked, I was the one hunting in trash cans for food, and I was going to Hollywood High. I don’t think that they were doing that down south.
So, yeah, I don’t think that the aggression was a natural progression because it was more Punk. My impression is that it was a misinterpretation of what they thought that we were doing. In fact, they were copying us, but they thought that this is what we were doing. So, they’d go and watch, and they’d interpret it as “this,” and so we are gonna go do “this” because it was an imitation, at least at least to start with. But I am not gonna say that eventually there wasn’t a lot of people out there doing it for real, but at the beginning they were imitating.
At least that was my take on things, and I was a Hollywooder, so...
When was it when Black Flag came on to your radar?
So they were the ones that would come to gigs. I think that I met Ron, and a couple of them at gigs before in Hollywood, and then I saw them play. And I also had a band with my brother called Twisted Roots, and we played down south a couple of times, and I saw a couple of them down there. It is funny because I can actually remember seeing them at gigs, and remember seeing them play really early.
Then a very close friend of mine started dating Chuck Biscuits during that phase of the band. She started going with them, and going to see them, and so I starting hanging out with them and seeing them play more shows, and that was really the first... Well, it was actually quite late when you think about it, but I might have seen one or two seen one or two Black Flag shows before that.
And what time frame are we talking about?
1982. Yeah, and I might have only seen them play a couple of times before that because they weren’t from Hollywood. Remember, I didn’t have a car either. I didn’t have mom’s car to get me there, but I would go to as many gigs as I could, but I was flat broke also, and so I had this way of getting into gigs by hanging out with the bands, and helping people load in. If I helped them load in then maybe one of the would help me get in to the gig for free.
So I was going to school every day, and I was practicing with my band, and I would be practicing every afternoon, and so I couldn’t always make it to a gig, you know?
Can we talk a bit about how you started spending more time with Black Flag, and how you eventually were picked to be in the band?
I dated Henry briefly, shortly after my friend started dating Chuck. I want to be careful here to be accurate, but I really liked dating Henry. I look back at those as happy times for me, but to be cautious about it, things just didn’t really work out.
I cannot recall if I was in a band at the time or not, but I had gotten a call from Dez Cadena who was starting this band, a 3-piece thing called the DC3, and he asked me if I wanted to play. He had just left Black Flag, and doing the 5-piece thing, which is when I was dating Henry. At the time Black Flag was Biscuits, Henry, and Dez on guitar, and he wanted to leave to do DC3, and he asked me if I wanted to do that?
I joined Dez’s band, and I had been doing that for about three weeks when I got a call from Henry, you know? He asked if I’d like to come down and play with Bill and Greg? I wasn’t sure that if I quit that there would be anything strange since Black Flag and DC3 shared a practice space. I decided to play with DC3, and then when Black Flag came in to practice, if they were okay with it I would stay and play with them as well. And so that is what I did. First I practiced with DC3 and when Black Flag set up, and it was hard for them to believe, I set up and played with them as well. They seemed surprised that I was staying to play.
Memory is a funny thing, and also, perspective is different, so I don’t know if Henry told them, or if he didn’t, but he waited until that day, but I remember them showing up and me being like, “Hey, are you ready to play, “ and them being like, “Yeah, okay.” It seemed like sort of a surprise to them, and then after they heard me play they asked me to join.
At the time I was going to UCLA, and I wanted to finish, so we spoke briefly about how we were going to work around my school schedule, and that was the extent of the discussion; I was in! There wasn’t a lot of negotiation. It might have been good if there was some more discussion in some ways but there wasn’t.
Now, later on, I can remember them coming out to some gigs where I was playing with Twisted Roots, and I always remember that as being a good band for me to shine bass-wise. There was some good bass playing in that band; it was all right. I am not going to say that it was intricate but there was this power there and I couldn’t understand why they might not like it because the music required a certain amount of power and I had power experience.
So when you are taking on a bass player to play in Black Flag do you hire a girl? I don’t know?
So Henry asked you to come play with Black Flag. At the time did you think that he was doing this on his own accord, or did you think that Greg Ginn was calling the shots, and he just asked Henry to make the call?
Well, until I got that strange response at my first practice I assumed that Henry was calling the shots because they had talked about it, but I never really ferreted it out as to how that all went down. I think that it was a difficult time for them. Chuck was still a friend, and having to let him go was miserable for them. Anytime that you have to fire someone, or tell them that you don’t want to play with them anymore, you know, I think that was difficult. And Henry, very much the visual face of the band, was not necessarily a decision maker and could not really assess whether it would be right to choose me as a bass player for them, especially being a bass player as they were in a transitional period from the Dukowski-phase and into...
Yeah, Greg obviously had a reason to move away from Chuck, but it was a bit of a mystery. “What are we trying to do by getting rid of Chuck, and what are we trying to achieve by taking on this person or that person?” So Henry didn’t really have the musical sense to know this, so I was thinking that they had this idea to which I could lend assistance. And when I finally played with them it was like, “Oh, yeah, she does have this thing that we can use that might get us from here from here.”
How did it feel to you replacing Chuck Dukowski, having been a founding member of Black Flag? Was it intimidating at all, or since you weren’t really from the South Bay did it really matter to you?
First of all it certainly wasn’t like, “Who is this Chuck guy,” and it wasn’t really intimidating. It was really just sad. You knew that these were friends, and I’ve been kicked out of bands before, so I knew that this was an emotional issue. But they also told me that Chuck was going to manage Black Flag, so then I felt that the heat was on me. The most intimidating thing for me was whether I was going to be able to live up to this “mean” thing, and the good news was that I didn’t have to be Dukowski. Greg wasn’t looking for an imitation. But the bad thing for me was that now they have to think that you are this new thing that you may or may not be.
Beyond that I wanted for Chuck to think that what happened was cool because he was still involved. So, was he going to be ashamed of managing this new thing? Plus, having a girl in the band, that adds this new dimension too. Are they good because of this, or are they soft because of that, you know?
So, were you still playing with DC3 when you committed to Black Flag?
No. When I committed to Black Flag I had the talk with Dez where I told him that I wasn’t going to be able to do both bands. Black Flag is my favorite band, and this is an opportunity that I cannot turn down. But I do have this great idea for you. You can have my brother do this keyboard bass thing, and let him be the third member.
So Paul joined the DC3, but eventually they got a bass player because Paul isn’t a bass player; he is a keyboard player. So my idea didn’t work because there is a mindset of being a bass player that Paul didn’t’ have, but they played together for quite sometime with that lineup.
So when you joined Black Flag and replaced Chuck Dukowski; did your role in the band change at all from just being their bass player, or did you take on additional roles within the band?
Did my role change? Yes, of course. It stared out as simply learning the songs and becoming Black Flag’s bass player, and that took me quite a while. Pretty early on, you know, there is a lot of office stuff, like answering mail and all of that. So Bill Stevenson and I, who became pretty close, if nothing else we would grab some band mail and try to do some of the mundane stuff, since what would happen is that I would get off of school, come down to the office, hang out or study before we would practice for 5 hours, so, you know this became an every day ritual.
I did this every day, and I didn’t have a car. So this was like bus from UCLA to South Bay with my books, then practice for 5 hours. 5 hours, it is pretty much true that we had to practice for 5 hours if we wanted to do a live 2 hours set. We all understood, and Greg was ultimately right about this fact, that if we didn’t practice for that long then we physically wouldn’t have it to play a lot harder live.
So my first role was to fill in wherever possible. I was just “pitching in,” and then what started to happen was, and this is later on when Bill left the band, it was a strange transition because I was expected to teach the new drummer all of the songs just three weeks before a 4-month tour. So that was really scary from my perspective to find a new drummer and get them up to speed, which I didn’t think would be that hard.
Eventually, Anthony Martinez was selected, and I spent a lot of hours trying to get him... So my role became getting Anthony into shape. Not that Greg wasn’t there to help a lot of the time, but he had other duties. Most of it was rudimentary stuff just to build Anthony up.
Now, we toured with a PA in a big Ryder truck. At every sow that was a two hour load in and load out, and on our last tour I suggested that they let me do the promotional stuff because I wasn’t going to be able to do a lot of the loading in and out, and stuff. Bill always tried to handle most of that stuff, but I would jump in where I could. So, I ended up doing a lot of driving, and doing a lot of the promoter interface because I couldn’t handle carrying all of the heavy speaker cabinets and stuff like that.
Well, that, and I also wrote a couple of the songs. What the songs were called, and what they were called in Black Flag I don’t remember. What was really cool about Loose Nut and In My Head records was that they evolved a little differently. In My Head, all of that was supposed to be an instrumental record but Henry wrote a bunch of lyrics so it became more of a collaborative record, and so in that way it stands out. It wasn’t Greg’s music and Greg’s lyrics. So the bass lines that I wrote in some of my other bands, Henry wrote lyrics to, and they became Black Flag songs.
Did you have any involvement in the day-to-day operations of SST. I thought that that was a prerequisite for being in the band?
Well, between making records and tours, my time in Black Flag was a busy couple of years. And, as I said, I even managed to get in a couple of quarters at UCLA. You know, a lot of people in a lot of LA bands were trying to hold down day jobs and stuff like that, but Black Flag wasn’t like that. There was just this idea that if you had to hold down a job it would just get in the way of what we were doing. We had to give all of our effort to what we were trying to do.
But SST was an entirely different aspect. At first it was basically just about Black Flag, but then they started adding on a couple of extra people to help out because there was a whole set of office stuff to run, and work to be done, which was very intertwined but not the same thing.
Well, that is where I was safe because a lot of the office was taken care of by other people. I’d leave practice and go home, and after school I’d come straight to the office to see where I could help out. I would see if there was office stuff that I could help out with, or I would study, but I was always the outsider because I was busy with school. But still, I would take that time to get done what I had to get done, and they would do business stuff, and then we’d practice for like five hours. So, it was in a sense very separated. I was not nearly as involved as Bill, or Chuck, or Greg, and Mugger, or the other people that were there to run that business.
From the time when Black Flag was your favorite band until you joined the band, did your perspective change at all? Was it like, “Wow, these guys are serious,” or was it like, “I am in this band and this is what I do?”
Well, what you are asking is exactly the reason that I got the tattoo because as soon as I got to know anything about the band Black Flag, it was then that I realized just how hardcore they really were. When I say hardcore I don’t mean it like some people might mean it. I mean that they were just committed, and how much harder they worked than other bands, and how much more serious they were than a lot of other bands. And so when I got my tattoo it meant for me that “ANYTHING THAT I DO I WILL DO IT ALL THE WAY.”
It was an idea for me to get the tattoo before I was in the band, but once I was in the band I knew that I had to go and get it. When I dated Henry I got a very good sense of his emotional intertwined-ness with Black Flag. I was almost like he didn’t exist. He had given his self over and was not extricable from it, and that was in a way an inside perspective.
Did you ever feel like you were inextricable from the band, or did you feel like there was always a point where you could jump off and just be Kira Roessler?
I felt a little bit of both. I was going to UCLA at the time, and so in a way, since I had started before I joined Black Flag I had this very committed thing about finishing school. And my thing about finishing school was a reservation from being totally consumed by Black Flag.
It is funny that after the 1985 tour I was about to do my last quarter at UCLA, and I decided that I wanted have this conversation with them about after finishing school how I could give myself over to them totally, and what else could I do, and right about then is when I started hearing about them scheduling a tour while I was finishing my last quarter. So that is how I knew that I was soon gonna be out of the band, and then I realized that there was no need to have this conversation with them.
So, it is not that there was an unwillingness, but there was just this other thing that I was committed to more. It is part of my commitment that when I start something I do it all the way, you know? So I had to finish that, and that was a huge emotional commitment. I was studying applied math, computers and economics. It was called Economic Systems, and while I just wanted to study computers there was a lot of upper level math, so it was rigorously painful on the studying side. You can only imagine being dropped out of the van after finishing a tour and going straight to class, and that is how close we would cut it. I would still be all dirty from the tour and the sorority girls would be like, “what the hell did these scumbags drop off at the door of UCLA?”
What was weird was that every time I’d enter class I’d feel like I’d forgotten everything. My ears would be ringing. So it was brutally hard, and in that way it was holding back the band.
So in many way, and this is a revelation to me, you might have been even more dedicated to the band than anybody in that you were going to school full-time, and you were still wanting to do more with Black Flag. Was there a point where you actually slept? It sounds like your day was just piled up.
You have to understand this from a girl perspective. I could show no signs of weakness. I couldn’t show that it was getting to me. I did, because it was, and you can ask anybody that was there whether I was a bitch or not. People like to throw that word around a lot, but, okay, it frayed on me in ways and I was a bitch maybe.
There were times when I was under 110 pounds. I couldn’t sustain weight, but I could keep up with them. One thing that they did say about me is that I didn’t show any weakness, which I guess was good. There was this picture taken backstage of me sitting and hunched over with Greg and Henry standing over me. It looks like some dramatic moment, but there is no doubt in my mind that I was just in terrible pain with my hand and we have to go back on stage for an encore. And after the end of a set I just want to shove my hand into a bucket of ice but I can’t because then I won’t be able to go back and play the encore, so I have to suck it up and play a few more songs before I can put it in an ice bucket.
I don’t want to over dramatize, but I was thrilled to have the opportunity, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way, but I wasn’t getting a lot of sleep, and therefore I wasn’t very pleasant to be around, and I feel like people were aware of that. I just feel as though I wasn’t able to put in the energy into relationships, which were things that I needed to have, like with Bill, and that probably cost me my membership in the band.
Of all the bands that you played in, were there any role models for you? From my perspective you seemed like you were the apex role model by being a woman in Black Flag, who were the toughest of the tough when it came to work ethic.
This is what I loved so much about Black Flag, and why they were my favorite band. It wasn’t just about the music. This band was carving out the tour routes that other people were using. How can you not respect what they were doing? That is what made me want to commit. There was nobody doing anything close to what they were doing. Seriously, 4-month tours in a van and sleeping on people’s floors.(?) Still, with all of the bands that are out there today there are very few that are doing all of that.
We were carrying in our own PA with two hour load-ins and two hour load-outs, and this happened every day. Do you know what this means time wise? It means that you get out of clubs every night at four in the morning. There was no sleep. You had to just get in the van and drive.
So, yeah, I still don’t believe that there is/was anybody that did it quite like that, and that made it inspiring and special. If it isn’t hard then it isn’t special in many ways.
There were no role models. There just wasn’t anybody out there doing like Black Flag was doing it. It wasn’t totally about the music, but for at least two years all four of us wanted the same thing. I don’t know how it happened but for that time we all just wanted the same thing, and we didn’t care if you liked it or not. We just didn’t care if you liked it.
What was it that you all wanted?
What we wanted was for all of the people in the audience to be slammed up against the wall as hard as they could be. We wanted them to be slammed up against the wall in pain and agony, and still digging it totally.
My point is that the thing about carrying the PA, after the first tour when we were promoting My War we would show up to a show playing to 700 people and there would be this piddly shit PA. You wouldn’t be able to hear Henry, and our amps were supposed to be propping us up by themselves. It was so depressing, you know, that there were these times when the kids wanted to hear us play and it sounded awful, really bad. So, we decided that if we were going to play all of these small clubs all over the country that we needed to bring our own PA.
The thing that I am saying here is that we were trying to raise the quality of the sound, so it was a fidelity issue with the PA system, and to be able to play in a way that slammed you against the wall sonically we needed our own PA system. We needed to have it all there. The low end had to be there. The high end had to be there so that you could hear Greg’s guitar when he was playing a solo, and that you could hear Henry’s voice cutting through, you know? It was all about that stuff first.
Then there was this way of playing that Greg taught me. You know how sometimes if you want to hit something with a hammer, and if you want to hit something faster and faster you actually have to lighten up. But DON’T. So the point was to play as fast as you can, but play as hard as you can when you started the song. You start out playing it slow, and by the time that we would get on tour we would play it faster and faster, but you cannot lose that digging into every note.
And this is where the breaking of the hand comes in because it is really hard to feel it while you are doing it. So it is this specific physical exercise that creates this sound that not a lot of Punk Rock bands had. They were playing fast but they lacked that heaviness. But can you have the heaviness if you are playing fast? The answer is NOT ALL OF THE TIME, and so you have to slow it down. Greg’s philosophy was that it was better to play it slow and heavy.
And my battles with Anthony were that we were always trying to pull him back. He would start speeding up, and I would try to catch up, and I’d be like, “Slow down you mother fucker,” because he’d take off because that was easier. People think that playing fast was hard, but that is not the case. It is hard to play heavy, and playing heavy AND fast is what is so hard.
So we all had that sort of mentality. That is what we had in common. We had this desire to create that heaviness but also, sonically, had that big fat sound.
Did your idea of what Black Flag represented change from the time when you started playing with them until you left the band? And at what point did you start to feel like you were not into it anymore?
I really liked what was going on. To me, Bill being kicked out was devastating because I was close with him. And in a lot of ways, when I was talking about my relationships not being what they should have been, my relationship with Bill was pretty solid. In fact, my relationship with Bill was my most powerful relationship in the band. And when I found out that he wasn’t going to be a part of it anymore I felt a little bit uneasy because the longest tour was coming up and I didn’t have my closest friend going with me.
Henry and I were always cordial, but when you think of friendships of being warm and fuzzy, that just wasn’t there with Henry. So there wasn’t going to be that moral support coming from Henry, nor Greg, and Anthony I didn’t know, so it was going to be a little more isolated. I felt a little more lonely going into that tour so there was a “shift” there.
There was this odd thing, and I don’t know how it fits into this dynamic, but we were doing an early photo shoot with Anthony right before we left, and I got dressed up. Henry made this off-of-the-cuff remark that it would be cool if I would get all dudded up for the entire tour. So I said, “Just give me some money and I’ll do it.” So they gave me some money and I bought all of this lace and stuff, and I did the entire tour looking not like I usually do. I’d been doing the whole tomboy thing for so long, or at least for a lot of the time, and so I created this sort of thing that I was gonna do for this tour. I tried to go as far as I could for something totally different than I’d ever done before.
Like I said, I don’t know how this fits into this entire dynamic, but it was distracting. In terms of going on this tour I was doing something different and I didn’t have my moral support, and so I was dealing a lot with the promoter and finally feeling like I was finding my ground, and I missed the part about how I wasn’t so sure that that is how other people in the band were perceiving it. It was then that distance thing was starting to happen and they were not liking it, you know...
And as I was starting to feel like I was settling in so that I could do it this way, you know, that wasn’t what was going on necessarily in other people’s heads.
You were the only female member of the band. Were you treated pretty much like you were just part the band and that was that? Did you feel like they would protect you if push came to shove, or did they expect you to take care of yourself?
There were a few instances, and the most notorious was what you see on American Hardcore, which was when the Slip It In record came out, and I was thinking that if this is what you think of women then why do you have a woman in the band. I wasn’t like offended or upset, but it was kind of like “If you hate women doesn’t it kind of not make sense to have a woman in the band?” It seemed like a disconnect to me. So there was some discomfort with that, and it wasn’t like I was gonna ask, or gonna volunteer how I felt because I was in Black Flag and I didn’t want to make waves.
I didn’t mention that early while playing I did something to my hand and had to go to the emergency room. The doctor told me not to play for 4 to 6 weeks, and those guys knew that. But four days later I was back at practice, and so I had to learn how to just physically deal with it. You know, we had these commitments, they had these commitments that they could not break, and I couldn’t be the weak link. But I was the weak link, and I just couldn’t let on to them just how much it hurt. I was very much sidetracked by that.
So then this things comes up with the Slip It In record, and I am getting ready for tour, and I am just trying to get strong enough, and I was dealing with amps for the tour, and vehicles. So being a woman comes up in all kinds of ways, and I just believe that I have this smaller structure, and no matter how much I practice I still have this smaller structure. And so there were physical limitation that I just couldn’t get past that made me angry and irritable, and I was distracted a lot from the woman stuff.
But once you’re out in public, and you are dealing with, uh, there was some anger leading up to Europe. Europe was angry. They were on a different timeline. Henry was a skinhead to them, and now Henry had long hair, AND they have a girl in the band. And Husker Du was supposed to come with us but they cancelled, and so we had Nig Heist. So if you know Nig Heist then you know the difference between us touring with Husker Du and us touring with Nig Heist. So it is for the fans who bought tickets, and there is a girl, and Henry’s hair is down to here, and some of them were pissed off. So there was some pissed-off-ness there, and I was standing behind the amp for Nigheist, and some of the fans were dropping beers on my head. I don’t know if they would have done that if I were a boy.
Sometimes I just didn’t know. How do you compare, because you can’t, just like you can’t compare how it would have been for you if you were a girl. But I have some theories about it. The main thing is that if you show weakness it is because you are a girl. A guy wouldn’t have shown weakness. It isn’t true but it is perceived as true. If I say that I cannot do the encore, well, a guy would have been able to. If I said that I had to pull over and couldn’t drive anymore, well, that was because I was a girl, too. I was the late night driver.
And I think that the other thing, and I believe that this is the perception, is that if I was alone in the van with a man, there was sex involved. I would hear stories from home about my sex-capades. I mean that I would hear stories, especially on the last tour, that I was a BUSY girl. I was all over the place. I am not saying that I didn’t do anything but perceptions and reality were pretty much skewed. I wasn’t given the benefit of the doubt that way. Not only that but guys are cool if they do that kind of stuff. It isn’t like, “Ew, he’s a slut,” and then call home about it. It’s just like regular stuff if a guy does it but I was supposed to have to have this sense of moral purity after traveling in a van with these guys. I just felt this weird difference in terms of how I was looked at in terms of my sexuality that didn’t jibe with how everybody was treated, or how everybody else was perceived, or what was really even going on.
You mentioned that you pulled off the tomboy thing pretty well, but do you think that if you were had a more feminine look and persona at the time that Black Flag would have taken you on so quickly?
Well, in 1985 I looked like a girlie-girl. I went through the girlie-girl thing. I like to think that they had seen me play a couple of times and that in LA, if you’d have seen a couple of the girl bass players in a couple of the bands of that time, that I would stand out against them regardless of how I dressed. So I’d like to think first that that is true.
I’ve been playing bass since I was 14, and you’d figure that by the time that I was 28 that I was a way accomplished bass player, and so I’d like to think that that was a factor; not a silly notion, but a factor. Then, and I think that you are right, if I’d been perceived as weak, and not perceived as feminine... Like if I had this way of holding my guitar because I didn’t want to cut my nails, it would have been more something like that that would have gotten in the way then necessarily how my hair was. But there is this sense that when I was playing I was trying to play well and not trying to look good, while a lot of other female bass players were concerned with they way that they looked, not how well they were playing. There were a lot of them to look around at and go, “Oh, that’s not going to fit.”
So I agree that what would have fit for Black Flag, I certainly could not have been concerned with how I looked because those guys, Greg and Bill and Henry, certainly weren’t worried about how they looked so to think about it would have been kind of silly.
Let’s talk about when you knew that your involvement with Black Flag was over.
We were still on the 1985 tour. We had just done that Live 85 video and the record, the Whose Got the 10 and a Half record. That record was recorded... That day I called Mike Watt, who worked at SST, and he told me that they were scheduling a tour for when I was still going to be in school. So, until that day I still didn’t know. But that day, while I was still on the tour, then I found out.
I think that it was around the time that I had this awkward conversation with Chuck and Greg. Chuck was on tour with SWA opening for us, and I had talked to them and was like, “Hey, let me get more involved in stuff,” and the response was a little strange, let’s just say. I can’t remember exactly the conversation, but I just remember it getting a little strange. Then I talked to Mike and he told me that they were booking a tour for November, and I was doing my last quarter at UCLA in October, November and December.
So, that is when I found out. It was just that simple. He told me and at that moment I was like... We had a few more tour dates so I... I really don’t know what to tell you here but I can tell you for sure that at the last gig I cried. I knew that it was the last gig that I would play with Black Flag. Then there was this awkward meeting with Chuck at a restaurant down the street from the office where we talked about some business stuff, you know, like the amp, and just a couple of things about how we were going to break things off, and then that was it.
Was their any conversation with Greg?
Thinking back, that was my official notification from Greg. Chuck met with me at a restaurant down the street from the office and said, “Greg and Henry aren’t gonna be able to make the meeting,” and we made some business arrangements. It is okay, though, because that was a long time ago.
Like I said, I had already known so that wasn’t a particularly distressing conversation because by that time I had time to process it. Chuck is such a beautiful person, and I can’t think of a better way to... You know, it would have been much more unpleasant if Greg had told me because Greg isn’t really a touchy-feely guy. So there wasn’t any of that, “Haha, you didn’t make it either,” because Chuck had been there, you know? He had been where I was so he knew, and he was kind, and there was no ugliness.
There was this one thing about Black Flag, and it goes back to when we were discuss all of us wanting the same thing, and we all wanted a certain level of professionalism. There was not a lot of drama. In some ways it would be better, you know, like in a relationship where you don’t talk? Maybe the breakup wouldn’t have happened if you would have done the talking, right?
On the other hand, the time together is productive and functional because we didn’t have the drama all of the time. That is the way it was. Chuck was just out one day. I was just out one day. There wasn’t any drama or fights, or disagreements. I could have been like, “Greg, if this was bothering you why didn’t you say something earlier,” but it wasn’t his way. It just wasn’t his way to talk about it and try to fix it, or work it out. There wasn’t any drama about it. And then I was out.
What do you remember most about being in Black Flag?
You know, it is funny but I’ve had a couple of other interviews about me and Black Flag where they are trying to get that “strong woman” thing out of me, but I just don’t have it. It is not to say that I am not a strong woman, because I am, but I think that it is complicated to try breaking it down into some equation or something. And some of it, like I said, was just issues that you may or may not be able to overcome.
My time in Black Flag was a very difficult time, and now it was just a long time ago. So, I bumped into somebody that I was working with and I was telling him what was going on with me and he was telling me about his band, and I told him about my band, and in a very general way I was talking about Dos, because that is the band that I am in right now. And we were just talking, and we weren’t naming names or anything, and we had worked together for several months, when he noticed my Black Flag tattoo, and he was like, “Oh, you have a Black Flag tattoo?” He knew about it because he was part of the scene, and then he mentioned Henry, and I told him that we had dated for a little while a long time ago. We just left it at that.
Months went by and we ran into each other again, and he grabbed me and was like, “Why didn’t you tell me that you were in Black Flag.” So I get these interesting, odd, work scenarios, whether they are in the corporate world where I was before, or now that I am in the movie business working in post production sound, but often times I am approached about it and that really was a long time ago. If it comes up I am not shy, and I will talk about it, but often times that seems to build a small amount of respect if they’ve heard. But if they haven’t heard there is no awkwardness of me trying to create something out of nothing.
I think that we all know that not a lot of records were sold. There was not a lot of money involved. People will come up and talk about the limos and stuff like that, but that just didn’t happen. I never joined it for the money.
There wasn’t a lot of money. So the notoriety is fascinating and my theory on it has a lot to do with the Chili Peppers and Nirvana, the bands that DID make it big, who would talk about their backgrounds and inspirations, and their history, and for that we should be grateful. And it is these bands that basically started people getting into the history of bands like Black Flag. In a sense that is all that we’ve got, which is great because Black Flag was never really appreciated in their time, and I am fine with the fact that it never really sold millions and millions of records. At least I think that they didn’t, but I don’t really know. But I don’t think that they did.
So if you ask these people, “Hey, what was your favorite record,” they don’t really have one because they don’t know any. Or if you ask about their favorite song? “Damaged.” Okay, so what about the next eight records? Its just notoriety. It is cool though that on some jobs where I don’t really have to make something out of nothing, and other times it creates a little extra something for me.
Back then, what it was was that I got my ass kicked more than a few times, I got shit stolen, I worked my ass off, and my hand has never been the same since that day. But like I told you, the doctor told me not to play for 6 weeks, and “If you do then it isn’t going to heal right,” which is where I am right now.
Did you ever think that the Black Flag legacy would last past the band breaking up?
Okay, there are a couple of things. First, I sensed that, and always knew it to be true, that Henry had a strong business sense; quite a bit stronger than Greg’s actually, and I sensed that maybe he could pull off a movie career or something. And he has. The guy has created a bunch of stuff, and now he is an entrepreneur in his own right, and I have a lot of respect for that. He has actually built himself a little empire in a way and that is really cool. He’s a great collector and has a wonderful collection. He is writing his books, and has some TV shows, and does his spoken word and music tours. The guy is prolific and as hard working as ever, and I think that is very cool.
I suspected that because Henry was the “face” that if there was to be a legacy it would be because of him, So I did have this sense that if there was going to be something lasting created it was going to be on behalf of Henry.
On the other hand, I could have never predicted that bands like the Chili Peppers and Nirvana, and bands like that getting huge, would result in people being clever enough to figure out just where did this music come from, to actually being curious about its roots and history. So for some it is a badge of honor to like Black Flag. I could have never predicted that.
What was your favorite lineup, and it won’t be awkward if you include yourself?
Biscuits, Dez, Chuck, Henry, and Greg, because I never got to play with Biscuits or Dez.
What was your favorite album?
It’s really a tie between the Process of Weeding Out and In My Head
What is your favorite Black Flag song Kira?
I don’t listen to Black Flag, but it might be the song Process of Weeding out. Have you ever heard the bass guy do it? There is this guy who plays the whole record on a stand up bass. He does the whole Process of weeding out record live.
No, no I haven’t but I guess that I should. So, last question for you Kira. When did you get your tattoo?
I got my tattoo in 1983 right after they asked me to be in the band. I got it by the same guy that gave Henry his, a guy named Rick Spellman.