The New Orleans-based alternative/art rock band started as an effort to work through some big questions.
“I know what I know / I’m well-read,” Sarah Fontenelle sings in “Cycles,” the first track from Kirasu’s Constellations. Reading is in the DNA of the New Orleans-based alternative rock band, not just because it uses words but because shared reading lists on meaty topics helped Fontenelle, her husband Alex Smith, and the late Dave Rosser determine the nature of the band including the language with which they thought about it. In conversation, Smith talks about Kirasu more as a process than a band, one set in motion after conversations between Smith and Rosser as they tried to decide, Smith says, “What will be our internal narrative? What do we want this to look like? What’s our universe?”
Kirasu will perform Saturday, July 21 at One Eyed Jacks with A Living Soundtrack opening. The goal is for Kirasu to be more than just a band and its shows, more than just performances. According to the band’s website, the big musical picture is an effort to “explore the constellation of mysterious entanglements,” and in performance, “to create innovative and mindful musical experiences.” Kirasu test-drove the concept during Luna Fête 2017 with collaborators Jenna Deboisblanc, Kristin Illarmo, and Rebecca Rebouche and contributors Marco Altamirano, Jason Kruppa, and Thad Starkey.
The project started with years of Smith and Rosser playing together in bands. They had separate musical paths—Smith in World Leader Pretend and currently a member of Rotary Downs; Rosser as part of The Twilight Singers and The Afghan Whigs—but they came together in projects, among them the band for The Voice’s 2013 runner-up, Scottish rock singer Terry McDermott. Down time spent talking about what they were doing and writing together inevitably led to conversations about what they weren’t doing but would like to do. They realized that they had enough outlets for all the music they were used to making; they wanted to create music that did something different from top to bottom, music that tried to answer the unanswerable. “What happens next, beyond this lifetime?” Smith says. “And getting into philosophical stuff such as quantum physics, and all these things in a very positive light, out of curiosity.” They wanted to try and think through these questions in their music, performance, and presentation.
Fontenelle is a psychologist by trade, and she and Rosser connected over these philosophical questions. When Rosser, Smith, and Fontenelle vacationed three years ago in Scotland, the idea for Kirasu began to take shape.
Thoughts about what the music might be and say extended to how it would be consumed. They all shared an affection for immersive experiences and the way even the room changes the way people hear music, whether jammed up in the Circle Bar or in an intimate, warm, idiosyncratic space like Preservation Hall. They wanted to bring some of that to their shows, but something that would change with each venue so that none of the presentations would feel the same as they moved from space to space. “We want to make it more interactive,” Smith says. “The audience is such a critical piece of any performance. I love things that find ways that let the audience interact more. We learned so much from Luna Fête and seeing people get to interact with your work in ways that you would never see in a concert hall.”
Much of the material that Kirasu performs was written and recorded in whole or part before Rosser’s death from colon cancer in June 2017. Since thoughts about the afterlife animated conversations between Rosser and Fontenelle and provided subject matter for lyrics, it never seemed like shutting down the band was the right response to his passing, particularly since friend and bandmate Rick Nelson embraced the Kirasu and plays in the band as well. The question Smith and Fontenelle had to consider was how to move forward in a way that didn’t seem exploitative.
“We don’t want to dwell on [his death] out of respect for his family and friends,” Smith says. “It’s not about the loss, as tragic as it was. It’s about this amazing music.”