Like any artist releasing new music right now, Nir Felder has had to make some adjustments.
Felder is a guitarist whose acuity and versatility have made him indispensable on the scene in New York; you may have heard him backing trumpeters Keyon Harrold or David Weiss, among many others. Or maybe you’re familiar with his auspicious debut, Golden Age, which OKeh released in 2014.
His ambitious second album, II, features bassist Matt Penman and drummer Jimmy MacBride. A planned promotional rollout was just about to kick in when the coronavirus emerged as a global pandemic.
“I was on tour in France when this all started,” Felder says, emailing from his apartment in Brooklyn, “and came home rather abruptly as the proposed ban on travel from Europe began to take effect. All tour plans, including the CD release show, album cycle touring and all the touring I do with other artists, is canceled for the foreseeable future.”
During the last several weeks of social isolation, Felder has responded with public statements of empathy for others in the gig economy, and even offered free lessons to out-of-work musicians for a limited time.
Meanwhile, his new album is still due out on Ropeadope on June 12. The album’s first single, “Fire in August,” was released today — along with a video that feels deeply in tune with the unsettled atmosphere of our present moment.
Made up of archival footage of New York City, it features imagery of grocery shopping, kitchen prep, public transportation and other scenes that resonate in a different way today. Early on, an educational film depicts the crater of a volcano, with text that could be read as a metaphor for the viral epicenter: “The dark place in the center of the crater represents New York City.”
Brooklyn-based documentary filmmaker Mariah Rehmet, who directed the video, says that Felder provided the spark of an idea. “When I asked him what the song was about he said ‘It’s just an energy. Like a big thing happening in a small-town kind of energy,’” Rehmet explains. “It seemed to me that small town was New York right now. Sourcing all footage from the Prelinger Archives, I sought imagery from the American cultural landscape to match the pure kinetic energy of ‘Fire in August’ and capture the seismic shifts in consciousness we are all enduring.”
Felder, whose Fender Stratocaster winds through the track, acknowledges that the new video is on some level a love letter to New York City. “Both New York and our country as a whole loom very large in my feelings,” he says. “Looking at past footage it's in a way easier to see through a complicated present and remember the grandeur and scope of history and of the places we inhabit.”
He has a sequel to II, titled 2.1, that he plans to release later this year. “Hopefully we'll be able to tour that, if I'm not being too naïve in saying that,” he says.
Nir Felder’s II will be released on Ropeadope on June 12; pre-save here.