photo by Sari Henry
Ms. Felice Rosser is a singer/bassist with a bluesy voice and a deep tone on her bass and one third of the band Faith. Faith is also comprised of Guitarist Naotaka Hakamada and Drummer Billy Ficca from Television. Together, these three passionate people make music as Faith. Faith's unique blend of psychdelic rock, reggae, African music and groove has been praised by some of the toughest critics, earning rave reviews. Here is the interview I did with Ms. Rosser.
DC: What made you say yes to participating in this documentary?
FR: Well it seemed like a nice thing. You seemed like a cool person who was passionate about telling this story, and I like movies and music. It's an interesting topic and I saw other women participating like Shelley of BlakBushe, who I know, and the other women on the blog who were talking about their experiences, so I decided I wanted to do the same.
DC: How long have you been performing with your band Faith?
FR: I've been performing with Faith since the early nineties.
DC: What made you decide that you were going to perform rock music, as opposed to traditional jazz or pop music?
FR: It wasn't a conscious decision, it just was who I am as an artist. I certainly don't really see too many separations between music the way that people seem to see music as these categories of this is rock, this is jazz, and this is R&B. I understand that there are differences, but this is naturally the music that I play and the styles cross over and overlap to create the sound of music that I play.
DC: What opened the door for your interest in the Rock scene?
What open the door for me was the early punk rock movement at CBGB's. It was music that was saying that everybody could do it. It opened a door for women to play instruments, because before that not many women were playing instruments in pop music that I was aware of at the time. You had a few but not that many. It was mostly singers when it came to women and maybe a few instrumentalist. That was my milieu when I started. There were a lot of people who were just learning to play and others that were accomplished musicians, but they were all learning and perfecting their craft. It became a lot of people playing simple music, and simply learning how to play, and that's how I came up.
DC: That had to be an amazing time at CBGB's during that time? Can you tell us a little about that?
FR: CBGB's was very small club. I came to NY from Detroit to go to college. I've always loved music from going to see bands in Detroit where the music was very mixed up as well. One night you would go to see Howlin' Wolf, the next night you would try and sneak into Bakers Keyboard Lounge to see Alice Coltrane, the next night you could go and see Stooges of Funkadelic, and two days later go and see Jethro Tull and the Rolling Stones. That's how we came up seeing all this different kind of music and loving it all.
So when I came to new York, the New York Dolls were just starting out and they were moving and singing in some new directions that really kind of set things in motion. Patti Smith came to my school and did a reading, and after the reading she said that she had a band and they're playing downtown. Myself and few others stumbled our way downtown to CBGB's to see her perform and that was my introduction to the club. I mean the first time I saw the band Television there may have been 8 people siting in the audience. It was a small dark place. It was a place where a lot of people who didn't feel they fit in other scenes could come and be comfortable because nobody bothered you at CBGB's. That's what I loved about CBGB's, nobody bothered you, nobody judged you, because it allowed all kinds of people to just be free. Everybody was there for the music and to just be free. You have to understand that Rock & Roll music had just been stadium music, where you would go to see a band like Led Zepplin at Cobo arena in Detroit, or at Madison Square Gardens in new York. Rock was arena music. CBGB's allowed you to see bands up close and personal. The setting was close and intimate. You would see the drummer in the crowd after a set and you could talk with him, grab a drink, and mingle with the band. People would come from all over to go to CBGB's because they loved being able to connect with their favorite artist in a different way. I mean people would come from, Detroit, DC, Boston, and Cleveland just to see and hear the bands up close. That was the magic of CBGBs. It was a great place and very inspiring because it allowed you to open your mind and get turned on to different things, different people, and different artistic mediums. CBGB's wasn't just a place for musicians. There were painters, plays, writers, and filmmakers. You would have a friend who was a filmmaker who would grab all of their friends, shoot on Super 8 and make a movie, go and edit, and the next day show the movie, and you could see yourself in it. It was a time where creatively things were raw, and organic. It was a fun time because we were all learning together and growing.
DC: Who are some of your musical influences while you were in the period of growth and learning?
FR: Well I definitely brought some of my roots with me. People like Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Funkadeilc, The Stooges and Chaka Khan. Those were some of the people from Detroit that I carried with me in my head. I was a huge a Jethro Tull fan and that whole english rock folk sound that they have. Then when I moved to New York I enjoyed bands like The New York Dolls, Television, Patti Smith they are my favorites. The Talking Heads, Devo. Then you had the english bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Public Image Ltd. I would say that Public Image Ltd. is one of my biggest influences musically, and as a bassist their music really helped me define what I wanted to do and the style of their bassist Jah Wobble. Then there was the Clash that had a lot of Reggae influences to their music which was great.
FR: Coming to New York was great because it introduced me to Reggae music. There is a huge West Indian community in New York, and I began playing in Reggae music with several different bands, because I loved the music. The Basement 5 was another group that mixed Reggae and Rock in an interesting way. i liked the Bad Brains as well.
DC: What made you gravitate to the bass?
FR: I had a friend Deerfrance who I met at CGBG's and we became best friends. She had a guitar and I played a little guitar as a kid, so we decided to start a band. My friend said that we didn't need two guitarist, but we needed a bass player, so I went out and bought a bass form a friend of mine for $40.00 bucks and it took me like a year to pay him, but that's how it all started. That's how a lot of base players started. They begin with the guitar and then they shift because there is no need for more than one in the band.
DC: How did you find the right musicians to form the band Faith?
FR: I had been in a few bands before Faith, learning what I could. I was learning from women like my friend Myra, Annette Brissett, and Jenifer Jazz. They were great songwriters and performers who I was learning from and I'm still learning. Myra and I were writing songs and recording on a little 4 track, and decided to put together a band. In those days to find a band, you placed an ad in the Village Voice. So I placed the ad and I got a drummer, and a guitarist Rene Akhan and his girlfriend Diana Baker who played the keyboard and sang background vocals. We changed drummers a couple of times and other band members along the way, to what Faith is now which consists of myself, Guitarist Nao Hakamada, and Billy Ficca on drums. It's a great fit for us and Billy Ficca was the drummer for one of the bands that I loved which was Television. I would have never thought in a million years that i would be playing in a band with the on of the members from that band.
DC: To be playing with someone that you had an appreciation with is amazing?
FR: It's great because I never saw that coming. It just happens in a beautiful way that sometimes the one you admire, may be a fan of your music and end up playing with you. It's incredible to have that experience.
DC: What are some of the struggles that you've encountered?
FR: My greatest struggle as an artist, as a musician is learning how to play my instrument and to be great at playing my instrument. This is a funny business and we as artist can get caught up in chasing the record deal, and where am I going to perform, and what am I going to wear. All of that really doesn't matter if the music isn't any good. Chasing all of that is what blurs what your goal was to begin with which is perfecting your instrument. When Faith was going on in the 90's I was nowhere near being a better musician or as dedicated to perfecting my craft as I am now. What has personally been my biggest struggle is having a clear artistic vision for my music. It's important to know what you're doing, what you're trying to say, and how you deliver it once you've figured it out.
FR: You can spend too much time trying to get a deal and where you should really focus your energy is developing your audience. Waiting for the A&R guy to come out and discover you is in some cases the death of an artists music. While you are waiting for the discovery, you've passed up the opportunity to discover your own musical voice by continuing to perfect your craft, trying it out on the audience, and helping to tune your audience's ear to what you are trying to give them. If you master your craft and your audience, the deal doesn't matter. It's about what you can do.
DC: Then what drives the music?
FR: When you have a brilliant song it will take you far. Look at that guy PM Dawn. He's an incredible song writer and he could be black, green, purple or whatever, but his songs are brilliant and the audience stays invested because they love the songs. That's a gift from God, but also something that you can work on yourself. He mastered his craft. You have to listen to music, learn about the songs, figure out how they work. To me that's the key. I don't know what the industry is anymore, so to get caught up in "Oh they don't like us because were black, or why are they playing other people's music and not mine" is pointless even if all of that is true. But they can't stop you from doing your music. They can't keep you from developing a fan base that comes out to support you on a regular basis. They can stop you from being number one, but who cares about that if you are number one to yourself, and producing and performing the music that is true to the artist that you are and the audience that supports your music. All of the could've, would've, should've are excuses not to move forward. That works in any medium that you choose artistically.
FR: Look at you. Your a filmmaker whose been told that you don't have the means, or support, or the finances to do this project, but you are doing it. It's your passion for wanting to tell this story that keeps you moving. That's the same thing that musicians need to cary with them. The passion to keep moving forward and perfecting their craft when no one else believes in it.
DC: Do you find it more satisfying than if you had a major music deal?
FR: Of course I'd like like to have a recording contract. I think that people have to understand that there is a difference between fame and success. Once you understand that difference, then choose the path that suits you and move in that direction. I've been going to music school recently and I've been studying and learning about other people that came before me. Currently, I'm studying jazz vocalist Betty Carter and her career, and how she put out her own records on her own label Bet-Car Records for years. This is back in the 60's and 70's. I listen to that music and the music was so beautiful. I mean it is just astonishingly beautiful, original and well crafted. I saw an interview with her and she said she believed in working and doing her music. She worked up until she passed.
DC: Do you think about a music deal for Faith?
FR: Yes, a music label helps to offset the cost attached to promoting an artist, but there are consequences to having a deal with a label that doesn't believe in your vision for your music. It would be wonderful to have a relationship with a label that understands what you're doing, and to be able to work with people who are on the same page. That may still happen for me and Faith, but I just want to work and let my fan base hear my music. My son will be graduating soon, and now I would like to tour and have our music heard in other arenas.
DC: You are singer, songwriter, and bassist. Tell me about your process of creating songs?
FR: My music is more of a spiritual journey for me these days. I'm trying to express myself and share what I'm feeling and thinking in an honest way with my audience and hopefully they connect with it. Maybe they've had a similar experience and can relate to what I'm writing and singing about. There are songs that affect you and make you stop in your tracks. It's not really a process as it is a journey of events that happen and unfold.
DC: Tell me about the song "Lay me Down".
FR: That song is a song about those times when we tend to repeat what's bad for us. It's a situation that's not really that good for you and you're wondering why you keep repeating the same mistake over and over. It's about a sad situation that I went through years ago, but I've come through it. It's knowing when you see it coming to identify it and step aside to make the change, and not be afraid to make the change. Especially as Black women. We shoulder a lot of crap that is thrown our way and we have to empower ourselves to know that it's ok not to deal with it all.
DC: Do you find it difficult as a black woman in the music industry?
FR: I think that people will come to see you if it's about the music and our audience has been some of everybody. I mean it's an interesting question to ask because I wouldn't know how else to do it because I am a Black woman. I don't know what a white man goes through in the industry because I'm not a white man. I can only follow my path. I feel that if we concentrate on the music, then the line is blurred and available for everyone to enjoy. I want our music to get to the more regular people. A few years back we played in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, on a Sunday afternoon and it was great. Some of the people that came for the event were your trendy club goers, but then their were the regular folk with families that responded well to our music and had a great time. It was a refreshing sight for us because it was a different energy to vibe off. It was nice and I want Faith to do more of that. That's what I'm working on.
DC: What made you go back to school for music?
FR: My friend told me I should go, and I said ok and now I'm in school. It's not Rock & Roll, but the experience has been great. It's a jazz school called the Jazz Mobile, located in Harlem and I'm in the classroom learning the fundamentals of music. The Jazz mobile is based on black music, and taking the mystery out of people like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Theolonius Monk. They're the names you've heard your whole life and now we're breaking down their music and learning how they contributed to the fabric of music in this country and globally. I've really enjoyed being around my classmates and learning in the classroom where we all have something to contribute. They have a different attitude about music and to learn what they have to teach me has really been incredible. It's changed my whole perspective on music.
DC: You're an amazing musician already. Do you feel like it's elevated you some?
FR: It's made me less afraid of going different places with my playing. Sometimes as a bass player I think if I stay right here an just keep playing this rift right here I'll be ok. Being in school has made me take chances and move to other notes and see what happens. With Rock I find that the focus is on you, what you're doing, what you wearing, etc. With the Jazz Mobile, the focus is on the music. I've been taking private lessons from my bass instructor for a year and he doesn't want to know what kind of music I play, or my vision. He just wants to know that I understand the music, teaching me to read music, training my ear, and that's it. He teaches you that music is bigger than you and the science of music. It's so interesting and the journey to learn it is just amazing. I love things that are bigger than me that's where my interest are now. It's made me think about what I really want to say with my music and how I put it out.
DC: Are you self produced or attached to a label?
FR: We put out our own records.
DC: Do you consider yourself to be a Rocker?
FR: Yes I'm a Rocker. That's who I am and how I came up. I go back to the music I listened to my whole life, and that's what has helped to shape and mold me. It's been Rock music, Blues Reggae, R & B and Funk that have helped to pave the path. I love all music.
DC: Who are some of the women coming up behind you that you listen to?
FR: I love Ms. Kamara Thomas of Earl Greyhound and Ghost Gamblers. She's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I love her. I like Ms. Honeychild Coleman who has an interesting presence and a sweet voice that I like. I like this woman Vanessa Daou, whose a singer and multi instrumentalist and I like one of the songs from Lady GaGa.
DC: What is it about Kamara Thomas?
FR: Well Kamara Thomas is an amazing songwriter. Her lyrics are powerful and transforming and the song takes you on a journey. She has two songs that I love an awful lot.
DC: What advice would you give to the young women out there cutting their chops in the Rock scene.
FR: I would tell them not to get caught up in things that don't matter. The only thing that matters is the music that you create and getting it out to the people that are your fans. Create your own following and don't let others define who you are going to be and what you are going to create. If you do it right it will come.
Felice Rosser is such an inspiration and I hope that you all give her some love here and at her personal websites:
Here is a video of Felice performing:
To a musical Journey worth sharing,