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- Posted on Feb 9th 2010 4:58PM by Brian Griffiths
John Forte is a Grammy-nominated artist from Brooklyn. In December of 2008, he was released after spending seven years in prison. Since his return, he has recorded a brand new EP, 'StyleFREE,' his first release in seven years.
How would you describe your sound?
Organic and catalytic. I want my live show, whether it's for ten or 10,000 people, to be a unique experience. I don't want my live performance to be pigeonholed. It's unique and it's lyrically driven. I just want people to embrace the music. Critique it, do what you will with it, but know that every word was delivered ... it begins and ends with the lyrics. It says something, and not just "get drunk" or "throw your hands up in the air."
How did you get started in the music industry?
I had my official start at 19, when I left NYU to become an A&R rep at Rawkus Records, an underground hip-hop label. My job was to nurture, find and discover talent. I went from being a creator to a cultivator, which was a big change. But I began making music earlier than that. I was at Square Park with guys like Mos Def and Talib Kweli. There was a camaraderie there that still exists. Then I made another shift from performer to producer after I met Lauryn Hill. That's something that I've always had a love and passion for.
You mentioned Mos Def and a few other MCs. Did you ever consider using a stage name?
I did, I did. I entertained the thought for about five weeks. That's not me, though. I'm not MC So-And-So.
What are your musical influences?
They're so vast. The difficult part about the question is that after I get done naming them, I will think of fifty more. I listen to everything from AZ to Cat Power. I'm just now listening to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' new album and Regina Spektor. I love world music, as well. I write to Pandora, (specifically) Ralph Vaughan Williams and Erik Satie. I also love the classical, romantic, nostalgic notion of male and female collaborations.
What is your musical guilty pleasure?
I sometimes gravitate toward some four-on-the-floor -- the rock elements and the driving beat. I would like to maybe use that. Get people's heads bopping and also engage them in an important discussion, marrying those two together. I don't even dance in public, though, so...
Rolling Stones or the Beatles?
Tupac or Biggie?
Biggie. God bless them both.
What's in your festival survival kit?
Let's see: Water, laptop, and my guitar. I don't need much.
What's the craziest thing that you've seen or done on tour?
I wouldn't say worst, but the craziest thing that I've done would have to be while I was on tour in Canada, at a club with a half-pipe. There were kids skateboarding the thing before the show. I had a couple of beers and a small buzz and the kids started to encourage me to try it. From the ground, it doesn't look as big as it does from the stage. So they convinced me to try to drop in, and I did, but I ended up dislocating my knee. I had to continue my tour that way. It was a real life-lesson.
Besides skateboarding, what do you do when you're not making music?
I play chess. I'm also writing a memoir, which is very time-consuming. I won't say that it's easier to make music than write prose, but it's definitely more arduous. I spend time seeing my family. I feel very blessed to have health and my family.
You mentioned your memoir and your passion for lyrics. Do you write poetry?
I love haiku. The name of my album is 'Water, Light, Sound.' Those are three elements of Haiku.
You're obviously multi-talented, but is there anything that you're really awful at?
When I was at Sundance, I snowboarded for the first time. They say that I'm a quick study. After my album is finished in March, I want to go out to Vermont and try in the mountains there. It's supposed to be very different from Utah. They call the East Coast the Ice Coast, so we'll see.
What's the biggest difference that you've seen in the world since you've come back on the scene?
Technology. Everything from sharing music to recording an album. I still call them albums. It's all amazing. Some people have some trouble with it, but I'm really excited by it. There were so many artists in the past that were stifled. Now those artists have opportunities. It makes me feel optimistic and emboldened. It's wonderful for new artists, also. There's going to be revolutionary new art coming out of this new freedom. I'm not intimately involved in the film world, but even there, there's so much new technology involved that allows new expression.
Brian Griffiths is a contributor from Seed.com. Learn how you can contribute here.