First Look Friday: HUNTR
First Look Friday: HUNTR
Photo by Jesse DeFlorio for Okayplayer. Shot at Big Bad Sound.

First Look Friday: Stalk And Pursue Greatness With HUNTR

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Millions of people cut their teeth, spend hours upon hours practicing their craft and may only reach nominal success in the music industry. As some artists will thrive in that curation and creation of their talent, others fall victim to harsh label politics and setbacks. For Gilbere Forté, he has experienced both and yet thrives in his continuous pursuit for greatness. The man we know as "Bere," is no stranger to the OKP audience, as we've written about him numerous times over the years. Hailed by fans and applauded by critics, this Philadelphia-raised singer-songwriter-producer has impressed us all with his forward-thinking approach to avant-garde hip-hop.

Unfortunately, it appeared that the rest of the music game was not ready for his next-level, multifaceted style. After dropping his third offering, PRAY, GF mysteriously disappeared from the fanbase without giving those who were actively listening and engaged a satisfying reason behind his withdrawal. For months, GF held radio and internet silence as he built up something innovative, dynamic and sure to get people talking. To do so, he fell back upon the real-life, in-studio chemistry of fellow Temple University student and artist, Rakib "Raak" Uddin. Forté's transition from producer to artist was, in part, due to Uddin's musical input. Together, they discovered their flair and talent for creative inspiration and decided that joining forces was the best move for all parties involved.

We were honored to introduce you all to this vivacious alternative project known as HUNTR, which has already impacted ear-holes with songs like "Veins" and "Kindness." Now, as Gibere Forté, Raak, Berklee graduate Nick Audy (drummer), Helly (DJ) and Karagandy-born Boris Likharev (guitarist) explore and showcase their gifts — HUNTR desires to break current music trends by demonstrating radical soundscapes filled with emotive restlessness. This week's First Look Friday subject, HUNTR, is rich, dedicated, funky and a force to be reckoned with on the airwaves. As we sit down to chop it up with them, the group talks about their emergence as a band, what life was like before HUNTR and who'd they like to work with in the developing year.


Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact on both sides of the U.S. What is it that Los Angeleans are seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?

Gilbere Forté: We kept a pretty low profile starting out, to see how people would discover and gravitate to the music without publicity and all of that. No one knew we were HUNTR until a few weeks ago and a lot still don't. Thanks to Jason Kramer at KCRW, Los Angeles has definitely heard us though.

OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they hone their skills and practice their craft. Who are the group’s most cherished influences in music and why?

GF: For me, my musical influences change from time to time because I listen to a lot of different stuff. Depending on where I am in life, determines who and what I connect to the most. Jay Z and Pharrell have consistently inspired me because they're visionaries. Seeing Jay live in Philly a few times… or that time being pulled on stage by Pharrell at a N.E.R.D. show in college — those moments never left me! Their stories and the forward-thinking showed me it's possible to transcend urban culture without compromising my identity. Seeing how many people lives they've touched—I want to do that. How they shifted culture—I want to do that. How many boundaries they broke—I want to do that.

Rakib “Raak” Uddin: Specifically, Dave Grohl and The-Dream. Crazy combination, but imagine that record! Dave Grohl's story inspired me to stop overthinking so much and trust in my gifts more. When he went from Nirvana to Foo Fighters [it] was a huge leap, but he did it. Same thing with us, evolving from our previous projects to what has become the foundation for HUNTR — we are doing it!

I was in college when The-Dream's melodies dominated radio and I've been a fan ever since. The simplicity and how direct he is with his writing inspires me to have zero filter when I write. It's all from an honest place and you can truly feel it with the words. Also, A.R. Rahman; being from Bangladesh I grew up with my parents playing his soundtracks 24-7 after we moved to America. Seeing what he did culturally with film scores is what influenced my cinematic approach to production.

Nick: It's hard to say for me. Most of my musical influences came from people before me. Being a drummer it was Animal at first, Buddy Rich who was the "Travis Barker" of his day and John Bonham. They all inspire me in different ways. Animal: to go crazy on stage and look like you're totally out of control, yet in the zone. Buddy Rich: for his technicality and speed while being a household name. John Bohman: for his grooves. Even non-drummers can recognize that dude behind the kit and that's something I aspire to.

HELLY: For me, my influences would definitely have to be a bunch of different artists. Growing up, I pretty much listened to everything. It ranged from Nirvana to Gorilla Biscuits to Dipset to Daft Punk. But I think the most cherished influence of mine would have to be N.E.R.D. Everything Chad [Hugo] and Pharrell [Williams] did made sense to me. From the fashion to the music and the sounds they used. In Search Of was my soundtrack for a long time.

Boris: Being from Kazakhstan I was first influenced by Russian bands like Assai, Ivan Dorn and Zemfira. But I was also inspired by Mike Shinoda and John Frusciante as musicians.

OKP: A song like “Veins,” which is very progressive and is paired with forward-thinking lyrical content has placed the band on the radar of music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you all while developing as an entity in California? How did you all react to your first bits of press?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

GF: Before HUNTR, I put my solo career on hold while awaiting release from my deal with Epic. In that time, I did some soul-searching and wrote on other projects. When Raak and I started building the foundation for what would eventually become HUNTR, at the time they were just song ideas based on what we had dealt with that year. We didn't have name for it though. It was much bigger than "Gilbere Forté the solo artist," or us as a duo. So, we decided to form a band.

To see the support from press outlets this early is super dope. Not only does it show that people still appreciate good shit, but also that many are forming their own opinions on the merits of the music. Not just how many followers somebody has or what trendy artist they're associated with. So, thanks for this!

When "Veins" dropped I was on a plane with DeNiro heading back to Los Angeles. Soon as we landed, I turn my airplane mode off and the first message was a video from Raak, of Ebro premiering it on Beats 1. It was huge. Shout to Ebro and Karlie [Hustle]. Same with KCRW; that's all I listen to... so to hear both "Veins" and "Kindness" was unreal.

R: After Bere and I pressed pause on his solo stuff. I did some writing and producing on other projects, and started learning how to compose for film. Once we started laying the groundwork for HUNTR, putting the band together was the next step.

Ebro premiering "Veins" on Beats 1 Radio was big for me. Going from being a fan of him and Peter Rosenberg, to hearing him being "wowed" by our music when he premiered it (especially because he has a very selective ear) was so fucking awesome. KCRW and XPN too because they're early on everything and gave us a look. God is good.

H: I've been friends with Raak and Gilbere for a pretty long time. We used to sit in Raak's apartment at Temple University in Philly, have a few drinks and Raak would make beats and me and G would freestyle. [Laughs] So, I guess the developmental part was established between us back in college. I was doing fashion stuff, designing consulting for brands and DJ-ing when they asked me to join HUNTR.

BORIS: Before HUNTR, I took part in several projects as musician and producer in my country. I’ve always been inspired by the idea of a band also being a family. People in a band should not only be good musicians, but also share similar influences and have a special chemistry between each other. These guys in HUNTR are the very people whom I dreamt to meet when I moved to Los Angeles.

N: Before HUNTR, I played in a few bands, did some tours and had been working on some solo stuff. Then Bere reached out and it's been a blessing since. Now, we make our mark. When we first started creating, I wasn't honestly thinking about press and stuff, but it's been really cool to see the love that we've been getting from all the new fans.

OKP: Can you all also talk about the importance of the music industry scene in Los Angeles and where you see it evolving in the next five years?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

GF: Los Angeles has a bunch of different scenes, so depending on what you're into and inspired by. Same with New York, Atlanta, the UK and so on. I think it has a lot to do with DJ culture and the Internet because everything is more global. In the next five years, with all these new mash-up collabs, the music scene as a whole hopefully will sound more forward and not just old ideas rehashed.

R: There's a ton of inspiration and opportunity to stretch your comfort zones creatively here. Because you meet so many different people doing so many different things. New York is like that too, except everybody is cooped up in buildings, so the vibe is different. I see a more diverse culture shift and bridge within the young generation and the OGs coming.

N: A lot trends in music as a whole start here because a lot people come here to work. I can remember growing up in Boston watching to see and hear what the next sound would be. So after Berklee, I made the move. I truly think we are in a renaissance period though. People are taking more control of their art and what they want to do. There are more and more collaborations nowadays you wouldn't expect to see. And there’s a lot of dope music is coming out of it.

B: That’s the reason why I moved to Los Angeles; it's an epicenter of talented and motivated people.

OKP: HUNTR is billed as an alternative collaborative project, so how does songs like “Veins” and “Kindness” fit into the team’s growing discography and narrative? What has been the best experience so far as a recording group?

GF: This is much deeper than a collaborative or one-off project, HUNTR is a band. This is only the beginning of what's to come from us. "Veins" and "Kindness" are simply a preview of how raw and progressive the HUNTR sound is. The rest of the album will paint the picture. We're going where a lot artist are scared to. When we're creating, it's like the movie ‘Usual Suspects.’ Everyone of us has a special skill set, but it all comes together. The best experience thus far has probably the last few weeks bouncing from room-to-room in the studio to finish up this album.

N: Yeah, it’s been dope. Even though we have different musical backgrounds, we all mesh really well. I grew up playing metal and punk rock for most of my childhood to teenage years. These guys are more so hip-hop, so even though our approaches may be different it all comes together to create something more original and bold. We're having fun with it.

OKP: What are some elements that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in the music?

R: I have so many layers within my mind. Music organizes those layers for me. Being able to share my story, our stories, with melodies and words help to balance it all. Also, the power of having a voice, be it for two or two-million people, I can really reach people and I can inspire them no matter the platform.

B: Music showed me that it’s not enough just to have an idea in your head. You can't allow inspiration to be in vain. You have to put in the work and get your thoughts out. When I realized that I can do it with music, I realized that I can do the same in all aspects of my life.

N: Stay true to yourself and your craft. I was afraid that coming into the group that my aggressive style would be too much for the band. It was actually the complete opposite response for the guys. I remember one session we had, the guys kept wanting me to go harder and crazier, and I'm thinking in my head that I needed to approach this not in a "metal" way but more of a "hip-hop" way. I couldn't have been more wrong. There are so many intricate pieces to these songs, but none of them overshadow one another. The average ear may not truly hear it all at first, but the real listeners will get it for sure.

GF: I stopped worrying so much about overthinking my choice of words. I'm a very expressive person, and sometimes all I know is how I feel. If you write how you truly feel you can never say the wrong thing. And if you're playing it safe as a creator, you're playing yourself.

OKP: When did the penmen in HUNTR lose their songwriting virginities? Can you all talk about the first song you all wrote together and what it was about?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

R: We've written a bunch of songs over the years, but "Find Myself" is one we take a lot of pride in. Bere and I are a lot like, as we’re born just months apart. We've gone through similar to damn-near the same experiences—with women, life, family and everything. "Find Myself," is one of the most completely honest songs we've done since "Nolita."

GF: Yeah, we've done a lot of music together, but "Find Myself" is special. We were roommates when we started this project, and we're both going through some crazy shit. One day, we started talking bout how far we've come in life, and how we now better understand our sense of purpose. This song came from that conversation. Raak pressed record, and I poured it all out. It turned out to be one of the first songs that shaped the sound of HUNTR.

OKP: How can HUNTR’s music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?

R: People's attentions spans are getting shorter every day, so there's an intentional unpredictability to our music. Every time you listen to our songs, you're gonna hear something new. Every time. Layers.

GF: We just wanna encourage people to peel back the layers of who they think the world wants them to be and just be who they really are. Stop worrying about what other people's opinions are.

N: That's the magical thing about HUNTR. We speak to so many more people, because you can't really label us. Rock fans will find something in our music that speaks to them, hip-hop fans appetite will be satisfied, even film composers will take something away from the music. We strive to keep things fresh and inspiring. That's why the music jumps around; be it the sonics of a song or song-to-song. Nothing stays the same, and that keeps it exciting.

H: Some artists crank out songs on a weekly, sometimes daily basis and that's fine. Do you! The HUNTR sound is methodically put together, and we're very meticulous about what we create. That's crucial in getting our message across to the people in a creative and powerful way. So, we prefer to take our time with it, and make sure each piece is as close to a perfect mess in our eyes as possible. We want people get that feeling that I felt when I first heard "Banned in DC" or when I heard College Dropout for the first time. Just that feeling of ‘Oh, shit! I really, really fuck with this.’

OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you all want to work with in the new year and why?

GF:Rick Rubin and Pharrell for sure. That would be a dream come true. As far as other collaborators I'd say Jay Z, Alabama Shakes, Polica, Kid Cudi, Lenny Kravitz and Andre 3000. Each of these artist have always stayed true to themselves, and consistently pushed the art. We value that deeply.

N: For me I would say two key people: first, Rick Rubin, the dude gets music. He's done everything from Johnny Cash to Jay Z. He clearly knows how to the get the best out of each artist he works with and he keeps them true to themselves. I truly believe Rick loves music for the music, not for the money or the fame. He understands what the people want to hear out of their favorite artists because he is of "the people," so that would be dope. Second, Jimmy Page. Yes, he's already done hip-hop collabos, I know, but to me he hasn't truly been utilized in the right way. He was a session guitarist before leading the biggest rock group ever. I think bringing him in on a writing session and taking some of his experiences and knowledge would create something special with us. I would really like to get Jimmy playing like Jimmy again. Let him be him and build around that. To me that would super humbling and also really special.

R:Bibi Bourelly and M.I.A., oh, and also I want to see the return of Nelly Furtado so bad with the HUNTR sound. That will complete my life!

H: For me personally I would like to work with Raury. Definitely would love to do songs with FKA Twigs or Banks too. Or maybe even do something withHanni-El Khatib. Just a real big fan of all those artists.Thom Yorke would be a dream collaboration, who knows where the year will take us.

B:Mike Shinoda, John Frusciante, Thom Yorke and, of course Rick Rubin.

OKP: Can you share any interesting stories that might’ve happened during the creation of HUNTR’s debut efforts with us and the Okayplayer audience?

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

GF: We spent a lot of money between iTunes and Netflix, renting and streaming movies. Watching movies get us going. Music is all about emotion, in film its visual stimulation. And when we create we aim to re-interpret those same feelings through song. So we re-scored a bunch of different films for inspiration. And we did this for a couple months straight.

R: Scene for scene, it was strange how we actually made some of these movies better [laughs].

OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind “Veins”...? Speak about the inspiration behind the creation, production and song lyrics.

GF: The night Raak started the beat I had so many ideas running through my head, but I knew we couldn't rush it. So, we sat and watched a bunch of movies for like three days before building on the beat or coming up with lyrics. We spent about a week on the production. And another few days before we started writing. "We are not the same" were the first words. After coming up with the hook, the rest of the song fell into place. It became a stance against the false version of yourself and other people's perception of you.

OKP: What is the overall message that HUNTR is trying to present in the music?

N: I think each of us would give you a different answer on this one. There is one thing we all do share though, and it is to not be afraid to go against the norm. Whether it is musically, theologically or spiritually, our music is loud and aggressive but if you truly listen to the lyrics — we are trying to enlighten you.

R: I want everybody from the kids, to our generation and up to know that it's never too late to start being great. The idea of learning new things about yourself and what you can really do if you just let go of fear and try is what this is all about.

GF: No fear. Be who you are and create what you wanna create. Everyone has a purpose and in order to find it you gotta start within.

OKP: How does HUNTR see itself changing the music industry for the better versus all the bad stuff that goes on?

GF: The sound of music is changing and the business of music is evolving everyday. We just want to do our part and make great music that speaks to real people. Hopefully, it inspires other artists to wake the fuck up and realize collectively we have the power to change the things we don't like. There's no industry without the music.

N: If anything, we are going to challenge the "standards" for what is and isn't considered popular music. In that, I believe that we'll inspire other artists to challenge themselves to push the art forward too. People are tired of the same old shit. And as creators, we gotta stop being lazy and taking shortcuts to fit in.

R: I want new artists to come in and look at how we came in fearless, mashing all of our influences, created something new, and stood by it. Despite whatever the current wave is.

OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with HUNTR — what would it be and in what octave would it sound like?

H: HUNTR is giving you full frontal, real life shit man! Not just saying that, but doing it and living it. We’re giving you that “in your face” music that you can't deny. Love it or hate it.

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for more from HUNTR (and us!) by following them on Twitter @HUNTRmusic.