The Lucid Dream of Gilbere Forte
I heard Gilbere Forte for the first time at Milk Digital in Los Angeles, blasting out of the speakers. A sample of Fiona Apple’s ”Every Single Night” laid over the top of the perpetual claps of Forte’s latest single, "Pray", creating a musical amalgam that took over my brain. I spent the rest of the night driving around, listening to the song on repeat and reading Gilbere’s Wikipedia page at every stoplight (kids…don’t try this at home.) Turns out, Gilbere had been around for a lot longer that I expected. He had already worked with major players like Diplo, and even sang on a track with Kanye West. When I got home I immediately got on the phone to work on getting an interview with him.
When I finally met with Gilbere for an interview at Milk Los Angeles, it seemed rather fitting that we set ourselves up underneath a giant photograph of a young Notorious B.I.G., taken by the legendary hip-hop photographer Jonathan Mannion. I came ready with a list of questions to ask the young artist, but I immediately tossed them aside as we began a two hour conversation about music, growing up in the suburbs, Royksopp and veganism.
Kalvin Lazarte: How long have you been a vegan?
Gilbere Forte: Oh dude…fucking four years now. I would always eat chicken nuggets from fucking McDonalds, but I got to a point where I was like, ‘I don’t want to eat chicken anymore,’ because if you think about it…okay, you may have grilled chicken for lunch and then you’ll go hang out with some friends and be like, ‘Oh sure, let’s eat some buffalo wings.’ And you don’t think about how much chicken you consume. Then, you watch all these documentaries and how they have hormones and all this crazy shit and I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to get any kind of defects with myself from this meat that’s out here being mass-produced.’ So I stopped and I feel so much better. Now, I don’t have that same gross feeling I used to have when I try and fall asleep.
Ditching meat might seem like a big deal for some people, but it seems that that change has been the only constant in Forte’s life.
KL: Where’s home?
GF: So I left Flint, Michigan when I was four or five, moved to Chicago for three years, then went back to Michigan. So I’m like fucking super Midwest kid. My new home is Los Angeles because that’s where I’m stationed, but Philadelphia is always going to be my first and second home because that’s where I grew up–so much in high school to manhood.
KL: So you bounced around a lot. Living in all these different parts of America, you got to see the differences in the Hip-Hop scene in different parts of the world.
GF: Totally. I mean…being in the Midwest, you are more prone to listen to stuff. So when I was coming up, I was listening to Do or Die, Crucial Conflict, Eight Ball and Jay G, Twista, The Dayton Family, which was a rap group in Flint. When I made the transition from that to the East Coast I was like, ‘Yeah, I get this music, but I’m still on my South shit.’ You know, on MTV I’d see Notorious B.I.G. and I’d see Naz in front of the project building and Jay-Z, but I was still listening to my South shit. If it wasn’t for my brother, I don’t think I would have been open to what was going on in the East Coast ‘cause I was so about the Midwest. I was still so Tupac because I was getting hit with more of the West Coast in Chicago. So yeah, it was my brother. He played me all of it. He played me Wu-Tang and I was like, ‘Okay this shit is fresh. I don’t know about Biggie yet, but Wu-Tang. I like Wu-Tang.’ Then, I got eased into it all.
KL: So now you have a very distinct voice and style in your own music. It’s not this coast or that coast or anything. Do you feel like you are picking up pieces of your style from everywhere you’ve lived?
GF: If you look at Hip-Hop in the ‘90s, it was important to say, ‘This is where I’m from. This is my city.’ Or in the 2000s, it became, ‘This is my block,’ or, ‘This is my hood.’ But I think it’s coming from the Midwest. It made me so open and anxious to see something new all the time. I didn’t want to lose my Midwest pride ever. So I’d go to New York, where there is so much pride, and Philly, where people stayed their whole lives in the same part of town and never left, and I was able to adapt without being assimilated, you know? Then I went to college, to Temple University. I started seeing people coming from all over the East Coast and there was all this migration, you know? I was hearing stories about where people were from and what they were about and I was like, ‘Oh shit, I want this. Oh shit, I love that.’ Everything just became so dispersed and the identity of my world just broke into little particles.
When Gilbere’s on a roll there is no stopping him. He could have spoke forever about the cities where he’d lived, the people whom he had met and the things he learned from each of them. My mind started to wander away and the words Gilbere was saying became muffled in my mind. As I looked back at Gilbere, all I could focus on was his energy. He was so full of excitement as he talked and philosophized about everything. While he spoke, I could see in his eyes the moments when his brain was making new connections about parts of his life and how they had gotten him to this exact moment, and this exact conversation. Many people I interview seem to be performing a ballet with their words, where every thought is well rehearsed and every word is hand-picked. Gilbere, on the other hand, let the words pour out of his mouth and trusted that his mind would take him exactly where he wanted to go. I clicked back into reality, with Gilbere smiling back at me, "Whadaya got for me next?"
KL: I read you went to college for entrepreneurship. What got you into music production and wanting to make music?
GF: Films. I got into music because I wanted to make music for films. I got so insane about the way the music in a film can make it so much more impactful. It was hard at first, though, because in high school I’d be making beats and planning long chords with dripping, dramatic strings and shit, and dudes would be like, ‘Yo this is tight, but I can’t rap on it?’ You’re a fucking artist, what do you mean you can’t rap on it? So I got to the point where I said, ‘Fuck it. Fuck the whole thing.’ Then, my brother took me to this thing called Behind the Beat, where an artist will come and talk to people about their upcoming projects and where they came from. When we were there, it was this artist…the guy walked into the room, it was like early 2000s, in a tan blazer and some Jordans from Chicago. I listened and my mind started racing as this guy talked about becoming a producer and wanting to transition into becoming an artist and everything. That guy was Kanye West. So I took this information back with me to high school and said, ‘Fuck. Nobody wants to rap on my beats? One day, I’m gonna be the artist and I’m gonna rap on my shit.’ So now I take the idea of making music for movies, and instead, I try and make my music feel like movies. I want people to feel all those same emotions and find stories in my songs and albums.
KL: What’s the story you’re trying to tell on your first album, 87 Dreams?
GF: One of my favorite films is Vanilla Sky. I guess you could say I am big on energy and the universe and understanding how things work together. The idea of a lucid dream being your entire reality and being able to control your dream and further/more control your reality, to the point where you could turn the sky purple if you wanted to. That idea is so conceptually amazing to me. So I started thinking about my own life and how I got to where I am and how much control I had over things. I realized that it took me 87 dreams to get to the point of realizing that album. Even more, it took me 87 dreams to become who I am. After that, I decided that the story I wanted to tell is: ‘Everything that you can imagine is possible.’ I try and tell that story inside my music and outside of my music.
I saw this for myself a few days after the interview was over when I met up with Gilbere for dinner and introduced him to screenwriter Sam Genovese and friends. He went around the table, asking each of them how they planned to take over the world. Though all of their answers were different, Gilbere was equally enamored by all of them. He took time to learn and brainstorm about each idea with them, no matter how obscure. Everyone at dinner that night left the restaurant feeling that same inspiration that Gilbere felt after he listened to Kanye West speak over 10 years ago. We all wanted to go home and begin working on turning our dreams into reality.
Gilbere’s new album, Pray, is available to download for free on his website. The entire album–from start to finish–feels like one long string of thoughts, like the way Gilbere talks, his ideas jumping around like a frog on lily pads. The http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyzU0tXkMps“>music video for “Pray” proves that Gilbere is still very much in love with the idea of blending music with his love for film. For his next video, Gilbere recruited the mind of director Martin de Thurah, who has made music videos for James Blake, David Byrne and Feist. De Thurah also made one of my all-time-favorite videos for Royksopp’s ”What Else Is There?”, which featured vocals from Karin Dreijer of The Knife.
GF: I emailed him myself and was like, ‘Martin, your eye for visualizing emotions is amazing and I would really appreciate the opportunity to even have a conversation with you.’ I sent him the track "Nolita"** and he sent me back a response that was a thousand exclamation points [laughs].
KL: With all the buzz around your album, the new music video and everything else that’s happening with you right now, do you feel like life’s about to get really different for you?
GF: I tell myself to have no expectations. Keep focus, streamline and grow the control over my lucid dream. When I meet people, though, and they are inspired and I’m inspired by them, I know I must be doing something right. I must be growing and learning new things about myself. So I don’t think my life is going to change, I think it’s going to stay the same…because it’s already always been changing.
Be sure to catch Gilbere Forte perform with Alexander Spit at The Roxy in West Hollywood this Thursday, July 18th . Doors open at 8 p.m. For more information check out: gilbereforte.com.
Photographer: Anthony Cabaero
Groomer: Crystal Tran
Stylist: Stacie Nguyen
Producer: Michael Bitar
Photo Assistants: Shelby Goldstein, Joey Thao
Special Thanks to UNION Los Angeles