Having ‘Faith’: Felice Rosser is a hidden East Village musical gem

Felice Rosser of FaithNYC holding guitar
Felice Rosser, leader of the band FaithNYC at home in lower Manhattan
Photo by Bob Krasner

There are gems buried in plain sight in the East Village and Felice Rosser is one of them.

Though she’s been around for decades, Rosser and her band FaithNYC are still not well known outside of her East Village stomping grounds — but she’s hoping that will change with a new album that has yet to be released.

Born and raised in Detroit, Rosser absorbed all sorts of music before arriving at Barnard College and making her home in the city. She started her musical career when she was about six years old with piano and clarinet ( “I refused to practice,” she mentions), then moved onto acoustic guitar (“My folk years, trying to play and sing like Joan Baez doing ‘Greensleeves'”) and eventually made the bass her instrument.

For a while, she put aside making music and went to a plethora of shows instead.

“When I got to college I became a fan — that was the place for girls at that time,” she explains. “There weren’t a lot of girls in rock and roll.”

The list of rock legends that she managed to see live is impressive: “The Rolling Stones, Funkadelic, Led Zeppelin, Iggy and the Stooges, Jethro Tull, the MC5, the Temptations, King Crimson, New York Dolls, Kiss. … I mean, who didn’t I see? …Well, Sly Stone, because he didn’t show up!”

Add all of those influences to her love of reggae (especially dub) and her surprising adoration of Gregorian chants and madrigals, and you’ve got a musical stew that manifests itself in her soulful, booming voice that celebrates and mourns, sometimes simultaneously.

Felice Rosser in a contemplative mood at homePhoto by Bob Krasner
Felice Rosser at the keys in her home studio, where she recorded the demos for the new LP with Fin HuntPhoto by Bob Krasner
Felice Rosser and husband Fin Hunt rocking the El Sol Brillante Garden in 2023Photo by Bob Krasner

Patti Smith made an appearance and an impression at her uptown campus, inspiring Rosser to check out the downtown scene. After college, where she majored in American Studies, Rosser wound up in an all-women reggae band called Sistren and then collaborated with Deerfrance (who had suggested that Rosser play bass) in the bands the Blue Picts and V.

Rosser started her own band in 1986, calling it Faith, until she discovered there was another band with that name, so she added the ’NYC’ to the moniker and hoped that it would cause a little less confusion.

She briefly considered joining her roommate’s band, and participated in one rehearsal. But though Jean-Michel Basquiat was a formidable artist, Rosser was less enamored of his musical venture, the band Gray.

“He was four years younger, which was a big gap back then,” she recalls. “And I just felt that they weren’t serious about the music. We stayed friends, though, in a scene where there were so few Black people. I liked him very much.”

Rosser supported herself with a variety of jobs, working for Scholastic, Xerox and Columbia Records, among others, and played during the weekends.

“I worked for Columbia in Paris for a year,” she recalls. “No one wanted to hang out with the punks, so I became the label rep for the Clash. I saw them at the Roundhouse in London and was in the studio when they recorded ‘Give ‘Em Enough Rope.'”

Rosser and her band played around Downtown, starting with a first gig at the Bullet Space (when it was a squat with iffy electricity) and set up in all the usual places, such as CBGB’s and Wetlands.

Becoming part of the ‘Black Rock Coalition’ led to opening slots for the wildly popular Living Colour, including the warmup gig for them at the Beacon Theater. Though major labels scouted them back then, they never snagged a record deal.

They are hoping that will change as they have a new album ready to go — all they need is an adventurous record company.

Felice Rosser at the conclusion of a rocking set at Heaven Can WaitPhoto by Bob Krasner
FaithNYC recently at Bowery Electric : L-R, Al Maddy, Felice Rosser, Fin Hunt, Kenny MargolisPhoto by Bob Krasner
Felice Rosser soars through a set at Bowery ElectricPhoto by Bob Krasner

The disc is being shopped around now and they are getting some radio time in England. Although there have been many personnel changes in the band over the years, FaithNYC has stayed true to its sound, with its somewhat indescribable mix of soul, funk, rock, dub reggae, African rhythms and psychedelia pretty much unchanged until now.

They have been opened up musically by producer Justin Adams, who has strengthened their sound by adding colors to the record that Rosser had never considered, but made perfect sense to her.

“I love soul, Stax, dance, hip-hop and reggae and Justin shared that with me,” Rosser said. “He knew how to put a global influence into our music as well as my personal influences.”

Adams, the producer, muses on how he came to work with Rosser: “My old friend Malu Halasa had often mentioned her friend Felice and their time in New York, which for me is a legendary era, CBGBs etc. Then I heard some demos and there was so much I could relate to. I came of age in late 70s – early 80s London of Carnival, the Clash and Rough Trade and my music heart has led me to Motown and Howlin Wolf as well as to the trance music of North and West Africa. I could hear all of these as well as a truly individual spirit in Felice’s bass lines and songs. I felt I could contribute.”

Rosser and Hunt recorded the LP in London with Adams, who is very happy with the results.

“For me the album has contemporary relevance as well as deep maturity,” Adams states. “These days I’m happy to see young Black feminist post-punk voices emerging and I think that people will see that Felice is a trailblazer who has walked the walk when they hear these beautiful songs.”

Live, they have the added punch of Al Maddy’s adventurous guitar and the unlikely texture of Kenny Margolis’ accordion, which surprised Rosser when he first pulled it out. “Uh-oh,” Rosser recalls thinking, “here comes Lawrence Welk!”

But it works beautifully, adding a poignant element to songs like “Wish Away,” Rosser’s ode to her late friend Dee Pop of the Bush Tetras.

Rosser is hopeful that the new record finds its way to the right record company; in the meantime, she is just going to keep on playing.

“I like playing the bass, it calms me down,” she muses. “It helps me remember who I am. Whatever happens, I always have that. Everybody has to have something.”

FaithNYC can be found on their website, faithnyc.net, and on Instagram at @felice_rosser as well as on Spotify and Bandcamp.