It was winter 2012, and music fans were obsessed with the first-ever single from a mysterious, brand-new duo: LION BABE.
“Treat Me Like Fire” – earmarked by its genius sample of the 1974 Eunice Collins single “At the Hotel,” saw a cult fan-base quickly swarm around the New York City duo. Frontwoman Jillian Hervey’s bold, fearless and unrestrained vocal delivery, combined with producer Lucas Goodman’s warm production, proved a winning combo. The track’s stunning visuals saw Hervey show off the dancing skills she initially planned to leverage for a career as a dancer, alongside artsy shots of her crawling through a wilderness setting with her signature big lion mane-esque hair. “If Erykah Badu and Beyoncé had a child this would be it!” one YouTube comment under the video reads – the first of many comparisons between Hervey and Badu.
But then, just as quickly as they emerged, LION BABE suddenly disappeared back into the jungle from which they crawled out of, never to be heard from again.
A quiet two years passed; it wasn’t until October 2014 that audiences finally heard from the duo again, who at long last came back out with the epic, energetic funk-flavored number “Jump Hi” – the first in a chain of dynamic singles following their shiny new major-label deal with Interscope Records.
LION BABE’s consequent 2015 singles – “Wonder Woman,” “Impossible” and “Where Do We Go” – were all extremely well-received and added more fuel to the fire which they began burning in 2012. Although primarily a breakup bop, the chorus for “Where Do We Go” also reflects the duo’s headspace between their much-loved 2012 indie single and 2014 major-label debut: “So where do we go? / Where do we go from here? / Tell me, where do we go?” Hervey calls out in the chorus, her vocals booming over vibrant horns and retro disco strings. “We just signed a record deal and were like ‘how are we going to get some music out?’” Goodman reveals in our interview of the gap.
After a deserved growth in their profile and four years after “Treat Me Like Fire,” LION BABE’s eagerly awaited debut album Begin dropped on February 5th 2016. Including production from Pharrell Williams, Begin faired well with critics, although many felt that the album’s sound was inconsistent. “There’s some compromise on that album,” Goodman exclusively tells us when remembering the record. Hervey and Goodman quickly followed up Begin with another release – Sun Joint – just over four months later, which marked another beginning for the twosome: Sun Joint was released independently, and LION BABE had parted ways with their label.
With no more labels involved, the duo steadily unveiled a stellar collection of singles between 2017 and 2019, including the fan-favorite “Rockets” (14.5M+ streams on Spotify). Free from the restraints of their major-label deal, LION BABE’s 2019 sophomore album Cosmic Wind was a return to top form for the duo, with Goodman’s polished production serving as the perfect foundation for Hervey’s assertive yet seductive soul vocals.
With the decade coming to an end, LION BABE are now more confident than ever in their unique sound, stage presence and artistic vision. In our exclusive chat, we discuss that gap between “Treat Me Like Fire” and “Jump Hi”, the decision behind going indie, as well as why 2019 is an even better time for women in music.
How’s your day going, guys?
Jillian Hervey: Just morning regrouping; we just finished all the Fashion Week activities in New York, so we’re finally back in whatever we were doing before [laughs] so just trying to regroup, see where we’re at.
What’s in your recently played list on Spotify?
Lucas: Let’s see.
Jillian: We’re checking right now, you’re gonna get the real answer.
Lucas: Sandy Barber.
Jillian: Sandy Barber?
Lucas: Yeah. I’m looking for like, older, newer records. Recently Played… Sandy Barber, Sounds of Blackness…
Jillian: We kinda go a little crazy; I think Lucas is always digging to see what’s going on, and he DJs too so it’s always a mix [laughs].
Lucas: Yeah, it’s more like a ‘dig list’ then more of what I’m actually listening to.
Jillian: Yeah. I see some Sly Stone.
Lucas: Yeah, some Sly always.
Jillian: We were doing a lot of glam this week, so the last song I just played was Grace Jones “Pull Up to the Bumper.”
Jillian: Yeah, it’s a good one [laughs] I’m a sucker for the oldies still when it comes to just hanging out unless Lucas has something good for me, then he’ll play it for me.
Is there a quote that you guys would consider to be a life motto that gets you through trials and tribulations?
Jillian: Well, unfortunately, it can’t be “I Believe I Can Fly” anymore… I think Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” It’s really just so poignant and simple and easy to always just go back to; keep going, keep growing whenever you feel, you’re always going to be blossoming even if it hurts.
Growing up, what kind of role did music play in your lives?
Lucas: You know it’s kinda clichéd, but obviously music is just like the soundtrack for all the things we do, from a little kid whether you’re hanging out in your room whatever you’re listening to at the time, walking around growing up, and of course everyone had their headphones on in high school and stuff. It sets the mood for whatever you want to feel at the time you know, or it can take you to a certain place if you want to escape for a second. I think that’s always what it’s been… a way to give some brightening up and give some color to what’s going on around you, and you know it can make you feel good or feel bad about what you feel at the time; you try to feel happy or sad or whatever, it just helps you put that emotion into the room.
From ‘Treat Me Like Fire” to “Jump Hi” there was a gap for over a year. What do you guys remember feeling and thinking during that gap?
Lucas: We just signed a record deal and were like “how are we going to get some music out?” And that’s why it’s taking so long to get this shit out [laughs].
Jillian: Yeah, it was that, at that point, we have the song obviously which brought us the opportunity to really look at life and be musicians and take it seriously, because we just knew there was something there. But within that time, we signed very early from right after that song was out. So that whole time was finding our team and having all these meetings and this and that, and then obviously once you’re under contract you can’t really just put things up and that’s why it took so long.
Lucas: Yeah that wasn’t on us [both laugh]. That was on someone else.
So, you created the first album Begin when you were signed with a major label, and now you’re indie. What would you say are the pros and cons of going indie?
Lucas: [pauses] You don’t have to wait a year to put your next song out [laughs].
Jillian: I mean obviously you’re the captain, so you get to make all these rules and do whatever you want and do whatever you don’t want, and all of that is comforting. Obviously, the luxury of having a bigger company who’s done this forever is they have an ingrained system of marketing and all these things, and obviously, I think those things work for people who have a focused team around them… It all comes down to people, and if you don’t have the right people – even if they have all the clout and connections – you just continue to battle different things and it detracts from the music, at least in our life. And I think for what we do, this makes us feel a little bit more empowered and more creative and just more in line with what even started us in the first place. I think [the] “Treat Me Like Fire”, part of it was – even to ourselves – we were brand new artists together, but it was cool to know that we were just making something. I liked that part of telling the story like, “oh I made a song, I didn’t tell anyone about it, I wrote this song with Lucas,” it’s really cool to have that. So, I think now that we have our people in our team, we feel like, yes it might be you don’t get all the easy ends, but you can really do everything you want to do. And that keeps me happy and I can sleep at night.
And would you say that was the biggest difference when it came to creating Cosmic Wind compared to Begin?
Lucas: Yeah I’d say that with Begin, there’s some compromise on that album where I would say there’s like six or maybe half of the tracks on it are like things that were very ‘us’ that we just did together, like even ideas to be honest that we made that were still around before we even put “Treat Me Like Fire” out, and then some of that was a lot of like, trying some new stuff, trying this and that, maybe you know going out of our comfort zone just to do something new. And then Cosmic Wind I think is coming much more back to just us trying to purely be ‘us’, and really go with what we think is safe, sounding best and the kind of music we want to put out.
Jillian: And also I think where it was made is a big difference too, because even though we made a lot of our first album back and forth in London and also that we were in the development stages as well and we were in a lot of sessions, you know, some things worked, some things didn’t, and the nice thing was to kind of have a routine with Cosmic Wind, cos we had our space. The majority of the record we made ourselves, the two of us, and we also had our time to really develop what we wanted to do and say in all of that. So I think just even knowing the people we wanted to reach out to help us with completing it was also clear in our head too, and so I think it was much more organized and felt a little bit easier like, ‘OK we know we’re going in to album mode, here we go, we’re gonna just do it and we’re going to focus on it’ and here we are. But the record before, we were still very much in the trial and error phase of our sound.
Do you have a favorite musical moment on the album? Like a melody or a specific beat?
Lucas: There’s this moment on “When I Told You I Loved You” at the very end where it kind of does this whole ‘chopped and screwed’ type thing. That was pretty fun and cool.
Jillian: We also were conscious. We’ve always wanted our albums to be so that you don’t have to skip anything, but I think it’s cool to just have it like it’s a journey; I think all the songs, they kind of really go into each other nicely. It just feels like a full story.
You guys have been in the industry for pretty much most of the decade now. Is there any element of it that you still find quite difficult to deal with?
Lucas: I don’t know. We’re in this industry but right now, especially since we’re indie, we’re a little off to the side. It’s just like any business; you just try to make your best stuff and keep it all going you know, the team, keep the team moving. We’re obviously very responsible for ourselves and the other people we work with, so we gotta boss up, but that can be challenging sometimes, especially since we’re kind of newer to that. Obviously, we’re artists, but as far as doing all the other stuff – we’re basically our own label, so doing all that, and there’s definitely a learning curve to that. But yeah I think in the beginning yes, just learning, that’s probably the toughest thing in the industry; even when we first came in, and we first signed, just seeing the process of things, how people are used to working, how politics go down, just the learning curve of when you get into the industry – everything that’s more ‘industry’ than actual ‘creative’ or the ‘craft’. That’s what I guess is the toughest one for me.
Jillian: It’s interesting, a lot of the people that I loved growing up, like– I mean, I think it’s just literally the climate we’re in, how things are changing, but there was a nice difference, a special difference between when someone was ‘an artist’ and when someone was ‘a person’ and I feel like now– it’s not a bad thing, people are much more open and willing and really willing to share so much of themselves. I think, in ways, sometimes I hesitate on myself; ‘maybe if I share all this other stuff about me, who knows where this would go and if I would connect with more people?’ and this and that, but I honestly always love the fact that like, this is the art I do, this is the work I do and my life is sacred to me, you know what I mean? So that’s just been interesting, because I feel like I see what happens as people are growing in the industry and by sharing those things – like, people can get to a whole different level by doing that – but I guess I’m just not willing to open all of that, and I think that’s why you make music, cause then you can tell your story and do that, but you don’t have to– you can protect yourself as well.
I feel like a lot of artists get pressured into being ‘the celebrity’ as well.
black and yellow ✨✨✨ pic.twitter.com/vQiiY0o5AS
— LION BABE (@LionBabe) October 5, 2019
Would you say that there was a mold your label tried to fit you into?
Jillian: One hundred percent. I think that’s just how they work. I just remember like, a classic label talk; it’s like they hear a hot song and then they’re: ‘oh, this sounds– it’s a song of the combination of this person and this person’ you know, it’s just like everyone’s immediately trying to label you as something, and then they just pick up on traits so that they can bring you to one person or the other. So obviously, like, I obviously love Beyoncé – who doesn’t love Beyoncé? – but I was just like, we are in a completely different set up right now. The way they were approaching things sometimes, it felt like, ‘okay but we’re not Beyoncé so we can’t really be thinking that way, we have to really work on us’ [laughs] so, you know, I think that that can happen but… yeah I don’t know, I think the celebrity thing is totally fine and people do it. But I think growing up with a celebrity mom, I don’t see the allure, I know the truth behind all that. So it’s kind of just like, uninteresting to me. So that’s why I don’t really… just can’t do it [laughs].
In 2015 you said to The Telegraph that it’s a good time for women in music. Now, do you still feel that way in 2019?
Jillian: Oh yeah. I think it’s even a better time. Obviously so much has happened politically and globally. I think women are super-empowered. Obviously people like Lil Nas X is also paving his own way – but I think women are just really taking over and it feels like it’s our turn. People want to hear our perspective. They want to hear our songs and even, I think, the men in business and in music who are super smart are either collaborating with female artists or knowing that, actually, you’ve got to get on that train in order to get more recognition or do something. I think it’s really just the time for femininity, you know, the Divine Feminine to be expressed in all ways and I’m super excited. Missy [Elliott]’s return is awesome, and I just feel like there are so many cool artists right now that you can tell, even when you hear them talk about the spaces they’re in, that all the girls are feeling really empowered. I don’t think people are feeling that they can’t say what they want to say, which is lovely.
What is coming out in 2019 and is there anything big planned for 2020 as well?
Jillian: Post-album… wrapping up Cosmic Wind. We have a few other things we’re working on artistically visually for that, but literally, once we finished that record, we already had a bunch of ideas for new stuff. We’re back in studio mode right now. So definitely some new music and we have a bunch of shows lined up which is fun. It’s not an official tour but we’ve just been digging a lot. So, I think it’s usually the same thing, a little bit of just creating new music and building our shows; our shows are really great for us and we have a lot of fun doing them, and then yeah, just this next project. We don’t really know what it’s exactly going to be, but I think right now it’s fun to be back and not just make an idea every day.