Before Melbourne-based R&B artist Kobe Hamilton-Reeves became Forest Claudette, they went through a number of different personas. The son of two classically trained, professional musicians, they grew up with music all around them and always knew it was their calling. But who they wanted to be in that space wasn’t as easy to identify.
“Forest Claudette started as Teddy Elk which is hilarious because what a soft, cute little name,” laughs Forest.
In this ‘soft’ identity, they began their career.
“I did Triple J Unearthed and my plan was just to win that and be shot into stardom; it was going to be great. But I submitted my song super late, in the last couple of hours of the competition. They called me the next day and were like we loved your song, it was super cool, but you entered a bit late.”
Fate was on Forest’s side. Triple J still played his track on the radio in 2017 and they went back to school the next day feeling like they’d made it. That intoxicating feeling of his art going out to people around the country was enough to confirm they had to keep going.
After connecting with managers, Forest was pushed to identify what they wanted their music to represent. Creating a list of musicians they loved and wanted to emulate, they identified a number of different artists and genres, but nothing quite stuck beyond the ‘vague parameters’ of knowing they wanted to create something that was ‘beautiful and cool.’
“I feel like [now] I’ve come back to that simplicity of what feels good, with an element of beauty and an element of whatever I deem to be cool.”
Even as Teddy Elk, Forest’s music was uniquely theirs. Smooth, intimate music is Forest’s way of expressing themselves. This persona was a great starting place for their career, but when they felt they had outgrown it, Forest began looking for inspiration for another name.
“Nothing connected, nothing felt like me; whatever that means.”
Finally, it was the name Mavis that ‘shot’ into their head. But just as the project was about to come out, COVID hit. Then another artist landed with the same name. Mavis was done and it was back to the drawing board.
It was during this time that Forest started down another path, looking at how their culture could bring meaning to their new persona.
“This was at the point when I was becoming most educated about what Blackness means to me. And I was really struggling because all I could think of was the movement, Black Lives Matter, and trying to speak to that all the time through my music. I felt really stuck because I put these constraints on myself and it just wasn’t working. It wasn’t creatively liberating.”
Forest knew that the profound impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the connection they felt to their Blackness had to be expressed somehow through their work as an artist. They wanted their legacy to represent something bigger than themself.
“I decided that putting something that was tied to Blackness, or the movement, in my name would allow me a degree of freedom and separation while also embodying it always and holding it with me whether I’m talking about it or not so that I know that for myself.”
Forest came across the story of Claudette Colvin, a 15-year-old Black woman who, in racially segregated Alabama in 1955, refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white woman. Nine months before Rosa Parks, Colvin was convicted of resisting arrest, and put in jail as an adult for her actions.
“The story spoke to me because it was a really young person innately knowing what was right and what was wrong and standing up for it in a way that was selfless.”
Representing Colvin in their name gave Forest freedom; they could ‘make anything’ because their Blackness was now a part of who Forest was. This combined with the idea of a forest, from his rural upbringing, ‘made sense.’ Forest felt supported by the history of the pioneers behind them and ready to celebrate their true self.
Armed with this new name, Forest was ready to take on the next stage of their evolution. In an era where authenticity is often overshadowed by curated online personas, Forest is inspired more by literature and has found a passion for reading and following the journeys of others. These things have shaped how they express themself through their music.
“Literature played a huge role in finding the beginnings of what is turning into my voice and finding comfort in being able to talk about these things that are really difficult — being able to talk about them in a succinct way,” they say.
“There’s a real power that comes in being able to articulate yourself. That was pivotal in my evolution as a person and figuring out how I’m going to exist in this world.”
Forest, who identifies as non-binary, isn’t afraid to challenge societal norms and expectations. They are open about the journey they have been on to find who they are and through the tapestry they have woven of their history, heritage, and identity, they have found a truly original persona.
This persona has helped Forest embrace their true self, but it also helps others, both through their art, but also simply through their presence, gender non-conformity, and fluidity. Style plays a large part in that; fashion is a playground for Forest and along that path they have taken to embrace their individuality, they have become comfortable with originality.
“It’s a really tricky thing when you step out of what you’re told to look like, to know how to look. I think everyone experiences that in different ways as they grow up. But it can be such a powerful thing. As I’ve been learning about my own gender and what non-binary means to me, it’s been really exciting and liberating to play with different styles and different fashions. So now when I find things that make me feel like me, I’m like, ‘Oh shit it’s right there’.”
Forest’s wish is that everyone can find their place in the world the way they have. They are creating a legacy, through their artistry and activism, but also through their unwavering commitment to self-discovery. Their persona allows them to be true to themself, entirely, and that’s the message they want everyone to take away.
“Being you is really cool and caring about what you care about is cool. That’s where originality and authenticity, that’s where I look for it. It’s a better place when everyone is in touch with who they are and why they are who they are. That’s my wish and want for everyone.”