“None of this is real to me…This is just a hologram…Only getting 3D…I can’t really feel a thing…”
No, that’s not lines from your notes app. That’s the pen of Forest Claudette, budding R&B star hailing from Melbourne. They’re a talent on the rise who’s already stepping into their lane with bold experimentation and a diaristic songwriting style. In this sit down with Forest, we chat about musical inspirations, the hologram-like life of a post-pandemic world, and everything Forest Claudette.
In the room across the video call, it’s a bright Melbourne morning for Forest (also known as Kobe Hamilton-Reeves), while I sit in a Midwest evening chatting with them. They gets their lemon ginger tea and we dive into their latest projects.
T: You released your two EPs, The Year of February and The End of February. They seem to be both about transitions and reflections. Why February? Why did you decide to do it that time?
I came up with that concept like a while ago, maybe four years ago or something like that. So before COVID and it was actually when I wrote “Goodbye”. From that until the next February, I felt like my life was measured out in that year, instead of January. And it just made sense. I was just like this is the year of this because I got my heart all broken. A lot of things happened but it still kind of felt tethered to that incident. And I felt like I was chasing a feeling that I couldn’t quite get to and it felt a bit cyclical in that and so yeah, in the years of February’s.
And then I think the second is just that little like closing that chapter and being like, here’s some kind of acoustic versions of a couple of tracks.
T: Even though this is an EP, it’s smaller. It’s not an album, you can look back at this EP and say okay, this was a period of life. It might have been painful, but this is what I have to remember this moment and I can put it away now.
Forest Claudette: Definitely. And I think that’s kind of how I approach it or at least that’s how I’ve been approaching music in like the last year. And just being able to have time capsules and being like, alright, I want this body of work to be about this era of my life. And then I can be like, oh, yeah, I remember that, that was so sad. I think it’s a nice way to look back at things and I also think it’s like a nice way to consume things.I’m a person that listens to bodies of work all at once. I still listen to albums and when I can feel that someone is put in a moment and when I get to just live in a moment of time, even if it spans for however long. I’m into the idea of chronological, even if it’s not necessarily.
T: Do you think that music needs genres?
That’s an interesting question. I think that genre is important because of culture. And music doesn’t exist outside of culture or separate to it, there’s a symbiosis. And I think that genres are important for identifying where things come from, even if they’re not as important as far as people that are mixing and matching things a lot more. Which is cool and I’m here for that but I think it’s really important to understand what you’re taking, and where you’re taking it from and the history of that music.
T: That’s valid.
Forest Claudette: Yeah, because it’s too easy to just be like, oh, this is just a genre. And it’s like, no, actually, this is people’s culture. This is our culture. This is born out of some of the most insane pain and torture, imaginable. And you need to be able to grasp that concept and treat it with respect. So nothing’s just, oh, I can just do whatever I want. It’s like nah, I think you should think about that a bit more.
T: Would you say that your music is genreless or do you try to stay within a genre?
Especially with the Year of February, one of the most important things to me was establishing that I’m not necessarily one thing. And having a spectrum of different sounds on the body. But I wouldn’t say I’m genreless, it’s very unlikely that I’ll come out with a country song.
I was thinking of this. I miss and really love that time when if someone was going to make something different, they started a new project. Like, oh, my god, so and so started a new project. Have you heard it? It’s totally different. It’s like this, they teamed up with this person. So I think that’s really cool. But I think, I pretty much occupy at this point, Alternative R&B, Pop and elements of Hip-hop. That’s what I tell people when they ask what kind of music I make.
But I think because of the indie rock music that I grew up on as well, you’ll see elements of that trickle in and stuff because I think that stuff’s cool, too.
I definitely try to push boundaries. And feel creative and come to conclusions from different angles. I think that’s something that I’m excited about with whatever comes next.
T: As a new artist, do you feel a pressure to come up with new things and be different? Or do you follow your influences and see where it takes you?
I was talking to one of my housemates who is a DJ. And she had to do some interviews. And she was asked What are your influences? And how did you start doing this and she’s like I don’t know they’re everywhere. And I feel like the things that I take influence from aren’t necessarily my influences, the people that I’m inspired by. I’m not necessarily trying to make that music, but it makes me want to make music in a different way. So I guess I am trying to find things from different angles, but I don’t know if I necessarily feel a great pressure to do that. If anything the pressure is because you don’t know if you do something new, if it’s gonna work. So I feel maybe the pressure is instead on Hey, we know that people like this sound, we should probably do that again, which hasn’t been a conversation I’ve had with my team, but I feel like in my head that probably it’s… maybe I should just do that because I know people like it.
T: One of my favorite musicians when I was in high school was Steve Lacy. I thought he was super cool and nobody else was doing what he was doing, at least around my age. I was like he looks like me. He has a guitar. He’s doing indie, but then also R&B. Why are you drawn to R&B and Indie?
Growing up in Australia, I was kind of isolated from Blackness a lot growing up and it manifested in a couple of ways. The first was that because I got stereotyped and typecast a lot in school and stuff that when I started making music, I felt like I didn’t really want to play into that. When I was 16 or when I was 15, I was growing out my locs. My mom has locs and I was like I’m gonna do that. But then I’m doing music and people look at me like rap, right? And I’d be like f you, I’m making indie music. I think it started there with those influences.
My older brother went to Germany when I was a kid on an exchange program, and then came back with all these completely different influences and all this different music. And then in Australia, there was this huge indie wave through like 2009-2010 with like Phoenix and stuff like that, like Two Door Cinema Club. All of that was a part of the things that I grew up on. I was learning guitar and my guitar teacher. I love that guy. But he just taught me rock. He was so interested in proper rock. I grew up with a lot of that. So that was kind of embedded and then as Odd Future and Frank Ocean and all those cats really started changing, the perception and really brought an alternative-ness but maybe a colloquial or conversational version of like R&B and hip hop…it felt more accessible and tangible like you could be a part of that. It wasn’t as polished, it wasn’t like R&B. R&B was like, neo all those cats had the cleanest, tightest vocals and everything was like…man that feels so unattainable. So I feel they made it a bit more like you could do that. Also folks like Moses Sumney making more experiments and bringing in elements of Ooh,yeah this is for us too, the people.
T: Yeah, the cool thing about ODD future and Frank Ocean and all of them, once they came around it made you feel okay with yourself and to see it’s not unattainable.
Forest Claudette: Which is ironic, because for the longest time, I was like paralyzed by the idea of never making anything nearly as good as Frank. And I was like that cat’s making the craziest music of all time. I’m like what’s the point?…
T: Yeah sometimes following your influences can make you feel limited.
Forest Claudette: Yeah I remember, I was all the way in on Frank Ocean… that was the dude. Listen to that stuff all the time. But then it started kind of ruining making music because I didn’t feel good about it. So I just stopped listening to him. And now I think what had to happen was I had to find my voice and find myself and what kind of music I make.
T: And that’s not an easy process, either. It takes time to feel comfortable with your style.
Forest Claudette: Yeah, and everyone that is genuine, that is different. But I think over the past couple years, I’ve really been able to set a little bit more into myself. And now it’s easier to listen to all that stuff and be like, Oh, yeah, it’s really cool, and I can appreciate it. But I don’t have to be as obsessive.
T: How are you gaining your footing and your musical style?
Forest Claudette: It’s definitely ever evolving. I don’t ever feel too comfortable. I don’t think I consider the sonics first. Everything I write about comes from lyrics and melodies. And that’s the birthplace of everything so when I’m thinking about work conceptually, it’s not what genre will this sit in, it’s much more about the themes and what I want to talk about, and how that made me feel, and what I want people to hear and what I want people to feel and what I want them to think about.
So I have ideas and songs I’m like, that’s more in the Black thought kind of area, or this is more about my childhood growing up, trying to figure out who I am. And this is more about love and relationships so I think it’s more in that way of storytelling. How do I want to combine these things that make a thread?
T: So about your background, you were you born in America? Or were you born in Australia?
I was born in Australia. But my mom’s side of the family, which is all my cousins and aunties and uncles, because my dad’s only got one brother. So we used to go up all the time when I was a kid, on family trips, and now I’m heading over there, doing music stuff. So there were a couple of years where I wasn’t in the US. And then, I’m a citizen so it’s really easy to travel.
T: So what was your process for learning about Black American music?
Because there’s so much and there’s so many avenues. I’m always learning about it but that’s okay with me. Both my parents are classical musicians. There was music around, but at some point, like my dad had been a principal bass player at the MSO here for like 20 years when I was still in high school, he got really fatigued from music because that was his job all the time. So we didn’t play as much music around the house once I was a bit older. But when I was younger, my oldest brother was in love with Snoop Dogg, things that I wasn’t allowed to listen to as a four year old or whatever. And so it’s interesting I remember snippets of things, and especially that Pop R&B sound.
So there’s that side of things. And then when Beyonce came out and there’s early 2000s R&B and then there’s Black Eye Peas… it was weird phases. I got drip fed little things from my brothers, cause one of my brothers gave his laptop to my dad, but because he had bought a bunch of music on iTunes at the time, random stuff like early Kanye so it was really spread out and segmented into moments of I got a taste of this and another taste of this as far as experiencing Black music. But I think when I was learning about it, most of that came in the past, four or five years, leaving high school and being in a position that knowing that’s what I wanted to spend time doing. And especially over COVID, I read a bunch. I listened to podcasts. I watched documentaries and have slowly been experiencing more and more, learning more and more because it’s infinite. We’re at the beginning of everything. It’s insane. I’m always learning about it.
I remember in 2018, everyone knows that song “Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson. I found the album like I got into a whole thing of finding singles and being like, Man, this is sick. I wonder what the album’s like. And now that’s one of my favorite albums of all time. It’s top five. Always. It’s just insane. It’s so beautiful.
And then there’s a few artists from especially, 60s, 70s, 80s that I was like, Oh wow, really fell in love with that. Obviously, we listened to Earth Wind and Fire’s greatest hits when I was a kid, Stevie Wonder when I was a kid. But then being able to explore them more with streaming and stuff, everything being available.
T: What is the Afro-Australian music scene like, how does that look?
The different states in Australia, I’m learning as I participate more in the communities and the different states themselves outside of Afro-ism have really segmented musical cultures. And so, I feel like Australia and Sydney and Brisbane to an extent and the east going down, kind of has R&B kind of speckled through it and different varieties on the Gold Coast, it’s a bit more like 90s R&B almost. And then as you work your way down, it gets a bit more progressive and alternative. And then Melbourne, it’s very much more R&B, Pop kind of vibes.
T: Are there any Australian musicians you think people should know about?
Definitely. I feel like she’s getting more and more recognition. And it’s like, she grew up in Zambia but she’s an Australian artist, Sampa the Great. She’s an incredible rapper, hip-hop artist. I feel like her last pieces of work have just been on a crazy level. And her live performances are insane. She has all these dances and it’s nuts. And then I feel like people are also more aware of Genesis Owusu now. He’s kind of cut through. Those are always my main two, those two are really doing it on a level that I think a lot of people are chasing. And I definitely look and see that and think oh, that’s inspiring.
T: Do you think there’s anything lacking currently in music?
Forest Claudette: I think it’s tricky because how do you separate music from the systems that allow us to share our music? I think music itself is in a pretty cool place at the moment. It’s not like, when was that like 2012? Where everything just started getting into a vapid nothingness era, where music wasn’t about anything. It was really fun. And especially as a kid you like hell yeah. And I look back, I’m like, that wasn’t like the best obviously.
But I think most of the things that I think about as far as music is to do with the industry and awareness, people having more responsibility, especially when it comes to cultural appropriation. I decided that maybe it was more important to like, if you’re going to do that, then participate in Black culture as a whole, like, give back to Black communities. I think it would be really cool if the industry at large had more regulation because people are getting exploited all the time. And it really is one of the only industries that has no rules. It just has no rules, you can pretty much do whatever you want. And there’s a standard, but very few people know what it is. And if you don’t have the right people around you or a team, you can get lost in some of those words, and they’ll be like you’re amazing, but also you owe me $20,000.
Yeah, and I think it’s just about knowledge and teaching people and having that be emphasized. And then also diversity, not just from Black perspective, but I think inclusiveness and I want to see people given more opportunities to women producers. The community is still so gatekept. And has a lot of nepotism and stuff like that. But I think I think all of that is slowly starting to change.
T: Something I do personally, is try to seek out those musicians who, and also female musicians who produce their own music, and then try to promote them as well.
Forest Claudette: You know who I’m obsessed with right now is Ricki Monique. She’s making, I would say bites of like Kendrick and No Name. It’s on such a high level, and the sonics are so reaching and enveloping. I really want to work with her.
T: Are there any collabs that you would like to do in the future? You said Ricki Monique, anyone else?
Well, Ricki Monique. There’s obviously a dream list. I think working with Little Simz, Andre 3000, I just think he’s one of the greatest rappers of all time. And then Solange, I could only dream. But then there’s so many people. I’ll make a TV show with Childish Gambino. That’s what I’m gonna do.Donald Glover.
T: So you just released a new single Mess Around with Earthgang. That’s pretty cool.
Forest Claudette: Yeah, that was a very big deal. I was so excited. It’s a really special thing. And I just think they’re like two really, really talented cats that have been doing it at a high level for a long time. And they just have interesting voices and a kind of a unique take on Hip-hop, and R&B space as well. Yeah.
It’s almost like what we talked about earlier, how Frank and Steve Lacy, once I saw their presence, it was kind of like, okay, now I can do this. I can experiment. It’s cool. And I feel like they do that too.
T: You also have another new track (Motor in the Sand)?
This is the only track that’s come out of AUS. I wrote it in Melbourne or Narm, the indigenous word for Melbourne. I wrote it here with this dude Pitt, who I’ve worked with a few times, producer. And I think it was before I took my trip to LA last year. And I had all this anxiety and anticipation around what it might be like. So I think part of the track is about the manifestation, my fear and anxieties of what I might feel like, what kind of destructive kind of value might come out when traveling solo. But also friends around me kind of burning out, but also kind of loving it. And being young and taking advantage of whatever time you have. And I think COVID was definitely a time for doing stuff.
I think that’s kind of the energy I wanted it to feel. I wanted it to feel like that last hurrah kind of thing. That’s the energy. And that’s the theme that I wanted to capture and it plays into a larger narrative.