Interview: Lion Babe

Lion Babe’s music is as much a sign of the times as it is an expression of the duo’s soul.

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“Music is an expression of the soul, but it’s also a sign of the times.” Armed with the wisdom of their respective creative histories and the determination that comes with being seasoned New Yorkers, Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman of neo-soul duo Lion Babe are forging a new musical direction, celebrating the inquisitive nature of the post-internet generation and seeking inspiration from the music of their youth.

Hervey and Goodman met at a friend’s party in Boston almost seven years ago, at a time when both artists were in transition and when 21st-century American music was experiencing a key turning point. As the world digested the news of Michael Jackson’s shocking passing, there was an unprecedented surge in sales of his albums, making Jackson the best-selling artist of the year and formalizing his position as one of the most influential artists of all time. The idiosyncratic sound Jackson pioneered—infusing the classical elements of soul, rock and R&B—successfully redefined popular music, and in turn opened doors to a new generation of innovators.

Lion Babe was born out of this generation’s trailblazers, united by a love of music and the desire to create. After reconnecting in New York some years after their initial introduction, Hervey and Goodman decided to join forces, and began working on a sound that would eventually see collaborations with top names in the industry, including chart-topping, genre-bending artists Pharrell, Dave Sitek and Childish Gambino. It was these experiences that encouraged the duo to continue their musical experimentation, and it was working with Pharrell that Goodman notes as an integral moment in his career: “It was amazing to work with someone whose music I grew up on. I often reference his techniques when I make new beats now,” says Goodman, who also produces under the moniker Astro Raw.

Back in 2012, Lion Babe’s debut single, Treat Me Like Fire, garnered international recognition and the pair later signed to renowned label Interscope, with whom they released their self-titled EP in 2014. But the vision for Lion Babe was born way before fame beckoned. Reflecting on the birth of the project, Goodman says his foray into music began on the technical side, learning key skills in his previous life as an engineer at record label Truth & Soul. “I used to play in bands with friends growing up, and got my first sampler in high school. I’d work on as much music as I could in my free time, making beats,” he says. “My parents put me on to the music I grew up with—Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix… That’s my roots.” As for Hervey, her origins lie in the dance world: “Before Lion Babe, I was living in Manhattan working as a freelance dancer. I danced in a few companies, and worked as a hostess in a pizza spot in the Lower East Side,” she explains. “Dance was my primary passion and career choice for most of my life. The first time I ever did anything music related was through my mom [Vanessa Williams], singing on one of her Broadway albums with a children’s choir.”

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With her now iconic golden mane and charming ’70s-inspired style, you’d certainly be hard-pressed to miss Lion Babe’s front woman. Teamed with her smooth, jazzed-out vocals, as heard on Wonder Woman, the Los Angeles native certainly has the package of a future icon. And while she duly acknowledges the inevitable influence of some of the greats—“Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, Aaliyah, Billie Holiday to name some of my favourites”—she’s also both aware and accepting of the platform she occupies as a female artist, at a time when the voices of female musicians addressing the gender divide within music are beginning to be heard and recognized. “People at large need to be encouraged and reminded of the power within them, so as a woman, I strive to use my platform to get those messages into the heads and hearts of any female who will accept,” she states. “I especially connect with Björk [in her recent Pitchfork interview] on the idea that sometimes lyrically you write things that you are telling yourself. Treat Me Like Fire was the first song I ever wrote, and at the time it was exactly what I wanted to say to myself.”

While every big city has its own unique characteristics, it could be argued that NYC is home to the most dedicated urbanites, who will defend the prestige of the “Big Apple” to its proverbial core. Living in the famed city has had a crucial impact on both the personal and professional lives of Hervey and Goodman, who see it as a melting pot of vibes and culture. “There’s such a rich history and it’s always been such a creative place,” says Hervey, who moved to New York by way of Westchester Country to attend college. “It can be a struggle at times, but I love people’s grind and hustle mentality because it forces you to go above and beyond. I also appreciate being able to have whatever type of experience I want—24/7. There aren’t too many places like that around the world.”

But at a time when music can be accessed at the click of a button—and often for free—what exactly do Lion Babe see for the future of the music industry? “Streaming is the next phase of how music is sold. I don’t think it’s good or bad, just an adjustment. Just by browsing on YouTube or Tumblr, you can come across amazing artists from the past and present that you might not have seen or heard otherwise,” says Hervey. “Mainly, though, artists should be getting more of a cut for what they do. No one talks about the amount of money it takes to actually make a record, and— even with success—lots of artists are left in the red.” And while noting the struggle faced by artists today, both feel grateful to live in a time where the discovery of new music is vital to the progression of not only the idea of genre, but to the industry as a whole: “We all can listen to whatever we want to whenever we want to; availability of music is endless. I can listen to any artist or genre from any time period,” Goodman says excitedly. “It just feeds into everyday discovery of music and breaks barriers. Now you can have it all.”

Their new album, set to be released this year, has been a journey of self-discovery for Lion Babe, who speak optimistically of their process as a simple reflection of what they’ve been through—touching on themes of both self-acceptance and self-empowerment. Both agree that the final work was a long time coming and well worth the stress that comes with progression. “We have dedicated ourselves to Lion Babe for the past few years, so it’s only natural that this album is personal and emotional. This experience has taught me a lot about myself and what my driving emotions are,” Hervey says. “It’s going to be a huge accomplishment to share it with the world. 2016 is going to be our best year yet.”

By Katrice Dustin

Photography: Hayley Louisa Brown

www.lionbabe.com

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