Interview: #TBT, Lion Babe Discuss Rise To Fame From The Concrete Jungle

Lee Morgan

It was such a pleasure to speak with the impeccable neo soul duo, Lion Babe. Singer, Jillian Hervey, and producer, Lucas Goodman, make quite the musical team. Not only is their music infectious, but their live performances exceed all expectations. With such an organic beginning to their rise to fame, it’s no wonder that Lion Babe has captured the hearts of many fans throughout their home of the concrete jungle and around the globe. Much like a relationship built on friendship, it’s rather important to have an underground entrance to the music world because it allows fans to grow with the artists and further understand the embedded message. Being that I’ve been a supporter of Lion Babe since “Treat Me Like Fire,” this interview couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Read below as we get to know the dynamic duo even better:

Saint Heron: How did the two of you first meet and begin collaborating musically?

Jillian: We met almost seven years ago when Lucas was first going to college and I was looking at schools because I’m a year below him. We met briefly at a party through a mutual friend. Our only connection that day was just the fact that his music was playing at the party and I was interested in it. It was so bizarre. But, I introduced myself and said, “Hey! I’m Jill. I like your music.” Fast forward to I guess almost three or four years after that, we kind connected through the same friend when we were both in New York, and the friend is just a family friend of mine and a really good friend of Lucas. We just had a casual friendship. I would see him out and about. But I was going to The New School for dance and I was looking for someone to help me score one of my dance pieces. It had to be original music, and I didn’t really know where to start with that. He was one of the only people I knew that was actually making music or producing. So, I reached out to him about that and him scoring that piece for me was our first project in general. After that, we just kind of started to talk about more music, and I was also thinking about singing at the time. It was just an open door to start creating and trying some stuff. So from there we started to just work on having fun. We were thinking about a band, but we were just doing it as a side hobby. Our first song that we did together was “Treat Me Like Fire,” which obviously, for a first song, felt really good. I think from that moment when we got what it was we were just like, “Okay well this is something that feels good and we would love to continue this.” That’s really how it happened. It was very random.

That’s amazing. Your musical chemistry comes together seamlessly. Can you walk us through your writing and recording process?

Lucas: Well from the beginning, even with “Treat Me Like Fire,” it was this thing where I was always making beats and had new ideas in my iTunes. Now we might have had an idea like “oh, it’ll be cool to do something like this,” or a certain vibe we were going for and make something from there. But usually, I just make up a track and Jill will go in and freestyle for like ten minutes just to get out a melody or even a couple of words that lead to a song. A lot of the time we do it like that and we build from there. We’ve done a lot of collaborating with other people also, and sometimes that finds everyone just trying a little something at the same time. Eventually, something just clicks and that’s the idea we go forward with.

There’s always this uplifting theme that circulates throughout your music. It just makes you feel good! It has hints of funk, soul and even electro, so we want to know what inspires you to take a more unorthodox approach to your sound?

Jill: I think it’s a narrative that needs to be out there a little bit more. Obviously now, I think people are looking for positivity in all ways just because there’s so much confusion with everything that’s going on. But at the time that we met it was us finishing college, and for a lot of people that’s that kind of revolutionary moment when you’re coming into your own or some people are confused. At that time, I felt very much [into] embracing who I was as a woman. A lot of times, even if it wasn’t really conscious, the main things I started to write about were things that I wanted to tell myself. I always think of my little sister, who isn’t so little anymore. But the values of what it means to be confident and secure in yourself and [having] that self-love has really transformed my life. So, it seemed like an obvious way to go and we always thought it was interesting and a good challenge to make these songs and vibes and feelings that still echo what’s going on in the world. They’re still cool, they’re still different, they’re still cutting edge, but the messages reflect more of the artist. If you think back in the trajectory of people that we really love, you know their music became classic because the messages were so timeless. We think of someone like Marvin Gaye and it’s the simple sayings and simple meanings that can translate in a song. Its things you find yourself saying or mantras you want to tell yourself. I think those are the conscious things we wanted to bring forth, and there’s no reason that cool music can’t be positive, basically. There was a time where that was happening in music, and it kind of went away. We just wanted to try to bring that back.

In this time within the industry you don’t often see this kind of male and female collaboration happening. We barely even see girl or boy groups anymore. Has there ever been a time when either of you questioned if the Lion Babe duo collaboration would work?

Jill: When we first started we knew we were a duo, but we weren’t really labeling ourselves as that because we actually thought, “Oh, this will be a bigger band in some ways. We’ll find another producer, another instrument, something like that and build from there.” It just was open to anyone to fill those spots. So that’s where we were head-space wise, and the two of us were more leveled and wanted to just go for it. In this time right now, it’s not the worst thing to be a duo because logistically, traveling can be so crazy. So having less people is actually a little bit more helpful.

Lucas: Also, to be honest, at the time this started happening we just had this idea of building things we wanted to do. But we were like, “we want to at least get one song out.” That song was just to be like, “here’s a starting point and we can build from here.” I don’t think we thought it was going to move as quickly as it did, and then the next thing we knew it was kind of like, “we’re already in it.”

Jill: And there wasn’t really anything missing. I knew that a song would be made because we had Lucas and the missing pieces that we needed to make a song. That’s why it continued like this.

“Treat Me Like Fire” was the bright beginning for the two of you, but also the start of a short hiatus. Was this a time for you two to creatively brainstorm on what was next?

Jill: It’s funny because we don’t think of it as a hiatus at all. You just imagine you do something and then you put it on the internet because you want to. Then all of sudden, it’s this other thing. So I think because of the caliber of the work, people thought we had a lot more, or we had been working at this, or getting ready for this big launch. We weren’t really there at all. We really had one song. So we were trying to just go with the flow. But at the same time we were like, “Wait a minute, there’s nothing really to talk about because we have to go back and make music.” So I think it was just a good opportunity to think about what we wanted to do. “Do we want do this? And if we want do this how are we going to go about doing it?” Even the process of making “Treat Me Like Fire” took a lot more time than a record that we would create now. So, it was that spark that kind of triggered everything. I think that we knew that coming back from wherever we were going, we were going to make more music. We didn’t want to be in this position where people have to wait a long time. That’s why we felt like we had to go away, write a bunch of music, develop, and figure out what we wanted our sound to be. We wanted to be able to put out a song and have another song to follow soon afterwards. You know, we definitely didn’t have that when we first started.

You’ve already collaborated with Childish Gambino, Mark Ronson, and Pharrell, on your debut album Begin. What key ideas or moments have you taken away from these experiences?

Lucas: They’re all really amazing learning experiences and just personal experiences. You get to meet these people who you’re fans of and then all of a sudden you’re collaborating, working together, talking, figuring things out; it’s pretty amazing. But then also, something that’s cool about it is that you meet these guys who are so talented but they’re also just really cool people. These are people who have been doing it in this industry for so long, so it’s definitely a model of something that inspires you.

Jill: It’s a good way to see how you naturally respond to things like that. It is one thing, like Lucas said, to go “I get to meet Pharrell today,” but the fact that we were actually making music with him and he was interested in our creativity and wanted to bring stuff out of us was amazing. At the time when “Wonder Woman” was made, I wasn’t even singing out yet. I was singing, but I hadn’t even really touched [that] part of my voice before. It was just really exciting to see when you have these people that are focused on you and also just affirming that what you’re doing is great. It makes you push yourself a lot harder, and that was another thing that we really took from everything. These people are humble, amazing, and cool people to just be around, but they also push themselves and they challenge themselves. I think the fact that someone like Pharrell can do something on such a major scale and then also make sure that he’s still in the room with up and coming artists guiding them, but also learning stuff from us as well, I think that’s what keeps you fresh and that’s what keeps you original. That was the best lesson for me.

So your new mixtape Sun Joint features Raury, Junglepussy and Angel Haze. Are there any other artists that you’re listening to at the moment that you see yourself working with in the near future?

Jill: There are people that we know are in our hood that we want to hit up and talk to. I was just Snapchatting with D.R.A.M. yesterday. We’ve been trying to get in the studio with him for a minute. Dev Hynes was right around our area also. It was awesome to kind of make a mixtape vibe and just reach out to people via text. We’ve been friends with Raury, and we always knew we wanted to do something. So it’s cool when you have those things and when it feels like a friendship and not a forced meeting. I think those are the type of collaborations we’re looking to do right now just because the product of what you get out of it feels the best. Usually the experience is also exciting.

I’m pretty sure you’ve been asked this before, but I have to ask. What does the name Lion Babe reference or what does it stand for?

Jill: It means a lot of things to both of us. I’m a Gemini, and Lucas is a Leo, so it just made sense to have a lion being represented, and the opposite of a lion for us was a babe. This strength and vulnerability complex is something that is very important to us. The lion is also just a very strong symbol for me as a person. It’s my spirit animal. We wanted a name that was kind of ambiguous and weird and something where you would think that it was just one person, but then you dig deeper and it’s something else. So we wanted it to be a little unorthodox and weird.

Photography: Lee Morgan

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