Cameron Forbes Was Looking for Himself, and He Found an EP
For singer-songwriter Cameron Forbes, helping write songs for other people was easy. Creating for himself was another story.
By 2019, Cameron Forbes had gotten the hang of writing songs for everyone but himself. Over the course of several years in Los Angeles, the accomplished singer-songwriter had helped create tracks for industry luminaries, but, lost in the haze of L.A. and the shapeshifting perspectives he used to help pen songs for others, was his own artistic identity.
At around this same time, Forbes, who came out as a queer man in his late 20s, traveled to Colombia, Peru, and Argentina. It was there, through random encounters with strangers that he was able to sift through his thoughts on identity, peace and love as he looked for his own perspective. The end result of that initial search is Back to Me, a stylish neo-soul EP laced with glittering melodies, spurts of falsetto, thoughts on body positivity and ruminations on lost love. Recorded between 2019 and 2020, the project marks an important personal and career milestone for the Chicago-bred artist.
Phoning in on a chilly February night, Cameron Forbes gives the rundown on his musical influences, being a songwriter, his Back to Me EP and more.
So, you’ve helped write songs for folks like Tyga, G-Eazy, Carrie Underwood, Sean Kingston and more. How’d you get the range to write for such an eclectic group of artists?
I’m proud of that. I’m glad you picked that up because I have an eclectic kind of palette. I think that writing for those artists comes from growing up in the household where I literally heard everything and I feel like that’s, but I don’t know. I have literally been exposed to like everything as a kid. My dad was listening to Motown, Eric Clapton and Bonnie Raitt. He was just really all about great songs. I don’t feel like I have a problem with categorizing in different genres. I understand why we do it, but I feel like great songs are great songs. They can be sung by anyone of any race, creed, or gender. It just so happens that because that’s my purview that the records that I’ve written, I don’t know, it’s like I kind of just inhabit a mood, or a feeling or vibe first, and then it kind of goes where it goes.
Besides the ones you named, who are some artists that inspired this project?
I grew up in the ’90s R&B. I could go down the, the list. I studied Brandy, 112. As a songwriter, when I was like studying the art of writing songs, I would just look at Max Martin, Claude Kelly … I listened to a lot of country music because their lyrics are insane. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what artists specifically influenced it. But I would say like the, the vibes that I get with “Endless”, for instance, it’s a ’90s, R&B record over a waltz. That to me was like my world. That was like Aaliyah.
That was Lauryn Hill. A huge influence was just her, the audacity she has. With “Dear Adam” specifically, it definitely has country sensibilities, because a lot of times they do country writing. They do like this turn of phrase thing…Like, for instance, I’m speaking from my perspective. And then in the bridge, the chorus comes from the other character’s perspective, which is in essence what happened in my life with this person. And so like, I really I’d always wanna do a record like that. It’s really clever writing. I really take the craft of writing seriously.
I was going to ask you about “Dear Adam.” It’s one of the best songs on the project, and you’re talking about a romance that didn’t quite work out. I get the general idea, but could you break it down a bit more? Like, what went wrong?
The reasons for that are kind of between he and I, but… it’s very much, very much everything in that, in that record lyrically is true. But I think ultimately that song is about letting someone go, who, you know, can’t love you because they’re too afraid to love themselves fully, so they can’t be with you. For me it’s a song of gratitude and appreciation for that person because ultimately that person made me stronger, made me believe in love. So I’m very grateful for that.
That’s dope, because I think too often people feel like things are either the greatest thing ever or they’re the worst thing ever. Everything’s always polarized, but sometimes things, as painful as it might have been in the end, they’re still a beautiful moment. You can grow from it. Even if it hurts, you can still appreciate the moment and carry that with you going forward, but you can’t carry that person.
Yeah, that was a hard one hard one to let go, but the better for it.
Shifting gears a bit to your short film — which was dope, by the way — in it, you say that you traveled to South America to help find your own artistic voice. What was it about being there that helped you rediscover yourself and what you wanted to write about? It was interesting because, for me, I just become even more confused when I’m in new environments, because like I’m trying to acclimate myself to the surroundings and I’m like, I get anxious and I get nervous. So I can’t even think. So for you, it was basically the exact opposite.
That’s interesting. You sound like you might be an air sign or something like that. What’s your sign?
I’m an Aquarius. I don’t know if that’s an air sign…
Ah, yeah, you’re an air sign. My dad was an Aquarius, by the way. But yeah, I think for me South America was the ultimate head clear. I’ve been living in L.A. for seven years doing music and odd jobs just trying to make a living and live out some dreams. I don’t know if you feel this, but here in the city, especially L.A. being involved in the industry is a lot different from what I, what I imagined it to be. It’s a lot harder. The city on the surface isreally beautiful. But once you dig down into it, it was difficult for me to find my tribe, find who I was. When I got to South America, I felt peace, honestly. Like, yeah, there was some anxiety in terms of like, I didn’t know anyone, but I kind of thrive on going into new environments and meeting people because I get to really redefine and define who I am on that given day. ’Cause these people don’t know me. So that was kind of fun.
I’d imagine that’s kind of liberating.
It really is. It was the first time I had traveled as an out, quote-unquote, queer man without shame; or at least, I was able to live past the shame, ’cause again, I didn’t have the identities that I had been conditioned to really hold true in the states, right? I grew up with those conditions. This is what kind of what I worked through in South America. South America gave me this head space to see clear, work through what I felt was kind of holding me back from being an artist like I’d always wanted. I’ve always felt and known I was one, but I really kind of felt the aching of like knowing that I have a story to be told and I had to process some of the relationship that shows up on this album kinda away from the energy in which it was in L.A.
And that gave me the perspective to write about something more meaningful. To me, these songs are some of the most meaningful work that I’ve done. Like when I’m writing for other people, you know, it’s about all right, “Get the melody,” or like, “What would they say?” But I think that’s the biggest shift is that like as an artist, you have to have the courage to be vulnerable and oh no, absolutely. That’s what South America gave me. Space to like really love myself. And when I love myself, I don’t care what anyone else says. I’m gonna write about what affects me.