With buzzy singles like "Treat Me Like Fire" and the Pharrell Williams-produced "Wonder Woman," a tour with Childish Gambino, and a feature on a recent Disclosure track, Lion Babe is on fire—and their album isn't even out yet. The two-piece band from New York City featuring vocalist Jillian Hervey and producer/musician Lucas Goodman has won fans over with their modern take on funk and soul.
The duo's highly anticipated debut album, Begin, is set to be released on Polydor/Outsiders on Friday, February 5th. BUST spoke to Hervey and Goodman about their new album, feminism, and how to make retro sound modern.
With a title like Begin, it seems like you're announcing yourselves. What can you tell us about the album?
JILLIAN: Since we've started, we've been in that process. To go in with no intention to really do this, but then to have songs that get you to a whole new level, it's a process every day [to] maintain who we've been, but also to grow. Thematically, there's a lot of stuff about us embracing who we are. You almost go on a journey, and then [realize] once it's done, that you haven't really started yet.
So you didn't expect Lion Babe to become as big as it's gotten?
JILLIAN: Our intentions when we first started were very different. We were just making something, wanting to book shows in New York and be creative, and that was really the goal. Through that, we've been able to travel and work with incredible people, and I don't think that we knew that that door was as close as it was. Which was really exciting, but that also wasn't the plan when we started.
Did you have a turning point where you realized this was going to become your main project?
LUCAS: We put the song ["Treat Me Like Fire"] out, we were definitely very proud of it, and we got all these emails, attention from blogs, which was amazing, people really embracing the first song. I guess around then we were definitely like, "Oh wow, people are reaching out to us with opportunities." We were out of school for like a year, year and a half. It's always been a dream to be able to create for a living, and it definitely felt like there was a door that was opening to be able to do that, so we jumped for it.
One of the things that is so great about your sound is how it references funk and soul, but is definitely modern. How do you strike that balance?
JILLIAN: We love the ‘70s, we love soul, and all of that is music that connected the two of us as different people. But we really just try to do what we're feeling at the time, so it captures the fact that we're in 2016 making this stuff. There's no point in trying to recreate some of those records; that's why they're timeless records. You just capture aspects of what you felt about them and try to make it relevant to what you're going through as a person now.
LUCAS: I think it's definitely more of a feeling. A lot of the music from those eras, it's not even like, "Oh, we need to make it sound like this," that's just what we like to listen to. I think it's natural that whatever you take in, it comes right back out in a different way.
Do you have any specific albums in mind that are milestone albums to you, or spoke to you in developing your sound?
LUCAS: For me, a record I love is Sly and the Family Stone, There's a Riot Goin' On. Love that album. A Tribe Called Quest, Midnight Marauders. There's a lot of other stuff, too, but those are definitely two records that stick out that as a kid, when you hear them for the first time, it kind of changes your life.
JILLIAN: If I'm thinking of as a kid, what I would listen to all the time, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was a big one. That, and Brandy, Never Say Never, those two were around the same time. I really liked the Strokes' Room on Fire, and used to listen to it all the time in high school. I liked his songwriting and lyrics, which were very simple.
LUCAS: Yeah, we're also big into stuff like Led Zeppelin II. That was a huge album for me when I was in seventh grade.
JILLIAN: Oh, and Jimi Hendrix, for me!
I love your song “Wonder Woman,” which was a collaboration with Pharrell Williams. How did that track come together?
JILLIAN: We had a great opportunity, timing-wise, to get in the studio with him. At that point we were really just starting to do any kind of co-writes or collaborations with anyone, so he was our second session ever, which was pretty intense. It was so exciting to be working with someone who is such a legend in our eyes. He's so influential, anything that's on the radio, he has touched in some capacity. Obviously, I was very much feeling like Wonder Woman that day. I was just so excited, and feeling like if I have the opportunity to work with someone like this, I want to make sure that the song is a big message, and something that everyone can relate to.
Do you consider yourselves feminists? Do you feel like feminism has a role in your lives?
LUCAS: I'm a feminist. I feel like it's a term that gets misconstrued sometimes. To me, it just means belief in respect and love for women, which I definitely have. It's just another layer of equality. We all, as human beings, are living creatures which come from women, so it's kind of just you respecting yourself and where you come from.
JILLIAN: I'm definitely a feminist. Of course I believe that women should have equality, socially, politically, economically, and in every capacity that any person should have. It's a bigger [problem] within anything, if you think about race or sexuality, it's because we're in a flawed system and have been since the beginning of time. I'm very conscious of it within our music, and being positive and being outspoken, and being original and unique. There's no reason that people should be cut out of certain opportunities because of that. It's definitely a good time, I think, to be a feminist, and to be vocal about it.
Being in a duo is such a unique relationship. Do you feel like you balance each other out? I know Jillian, you've said before that Lion Babe isn't just you, Lion Babe is the two of you together.
JILLIAN: Yeah, definitely, I think that Lion Babe is just what happens when the two of us get together. Even with collaborations and stuff, the two of us are a make-or-break situation, if Lucas isn't feeling something, or if I am not feeling something, we work to make sure that we're happy about it together. Characteristically, we are very balanced. I might be out in the clouds a little bit more, he might be on the ground a little bit more, but we have a good amount of what the other person doesn't have.
LUCAS: One of the best things about it is that you have a partner. In meetings and stuff, you're both on the same wavelength of whether something's right or wrong. Originally, we wanted it to be a bigger band, but it's nice sometimes when it's just the two of us, because [otherwise] you can get so many opinions, the politics. That's a reason why, in today's world, it feels like there's a lot more solo artists than bands. We really embrace collaboration because sometimes when our brains are the only two in the room working on something, it's nice when you bring in a third person or a fourth person. It makes everything come together, because it makes you look at things in different ways. If you had more people in the band, it might make it even harder to do something like that.
What's next for you in 2016?
LUCAS: All sorts of stuff. More live shows. We're just figuring out scheduling for festivals we're going to be playing this summer. A big reason we wanted to make this album is for us, this really feels like the beginning. Even though we've been working and doing this for so long, everything was kind of like a preview. We needed this to start on a body of work that people can get into. But what's really exciting is it's the first opportunity for us in three years to start something new.
Lion Babe's debut album Begin will be out on Friday, February 5th. Click here to pre-order it on iTunes!
Images via Lion Babe.
More from BUSTLIZ GALVAO is the Music Editor at BUST Magazine. Her writing focuses on humor, feminism, and pop culture.