Since grabbing listeners by the ear in 2012 with their smash “Treat Me Like Fire”, Lucas Goodman and daughter of Vanessa Williams, Jillian Hervey, collectively known as Lion Babe, have emerged as an act not to be slept on. Merging the sounds of R&B, Soul and even Funk, Lion Babe is en route to blazing a path that is not only refreshing, but awesome in a way that they don’t sound like many other artists out today. For the sake of all things random and totally unexpected, I was able to catch up with the duo via phone, to discuss their start, their relationship with the likes of Childish Gambino and Pharrell, as well as the upcoming Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, where they are on the bill. Keep reading!
I often encounter people who think Lion Babe is one person; Jillian. And I guess it’s because she’s the one you hear singing. She’s the one you see dancing. Do you guys ever get that?
Lucas: I think on a grander scheme, except for the heads, the general public doesn’t really care about that. Me growing up, I was always like “who made this beat? Who made this record?”. But I can’t say everyone else I knew was like that. Sometimes people just care about the other vibes, you know?
Jillian: I think it’s a nice surprise, that someone would see me as a solo act, because there are a lot of amazing women doing things on their own. But we are a duo. We are a band, and eventually we’ll probably be a bigger band. But we always knew when we started, that we wanted to do something where people could think I was the front woman, but then find out we were a duo.
Lucas: You know Blondie? Some people think it’s just Debbie Harry. Same with Jamiroquai, or Sade. But yeah. That’s gonna happen. But it’s good to be up there with Sade *laughs*
Ok, this one is for Jillian. You’re the daughter of Vanessa Williams, so naturally you were likely exposed to all kinds of music growing up. Who are the artists that really inspired you and what you do today?
Jillian: I think I take a lot from what I was listening to on those morning drives to school. My mom would have A Tribe Called Quest on in the car. I knew all the riffs to the Chaka Khan songs because she would be singing them also. There were lots of elements of soul and different styles of music played in both my mom and dad’s house. Also, my grandma was listening to Jazz, and I grew up knowing who Gershwin was, and all this stuff. My family is very, obviously, musical, but I was also influenced by old musicals like Singing In The Rain, and I love Frank Sinatra. Just the old vibes. My mom is actually in the room, so she’s participating in this interview *laughs*. She wanted me to mention that I played trumpet, so we were definitely listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong, as well.
As for you, Lucas. I read where you’re inspired by producers like Timbaland, Dilla and Flying Lotus. And I can hear it in the music. What was it about their production that moved you the most?
Lucas: In terms of like Kanye West, Dilla, and people like Just Blaze, it was the way they flipped samples that I always found interesting. As a kid, I grew up playing guitar, but when I heard those records, the beats and the production was just so trippy. I used to listen like “how’d he even make this song?”, because I didn’t realize how hard it was to flip the samples, or manipulate them or speed them up. It was just a totally new thing for me. Also artists like Pharrell and Timbaland, who really changed the sound of pop music.
Prior to meeting in college and joining forces, how serious did you two take music?
Lucas: Well, for me, I’ve always loved music, and I always wanted to do something in relation to that, for life. Or even just anything creative in general, where you wake up and the main goal of the day is to make something new, that’s really dope. That’s kind of like, the dream.
Jillian: I definitely had music around me, but it wasn’t something I was focused on. I grew up dancing and that was my path and where I wanted to go. Even when I met Lucas, I knew I wanted to go to school for dancing. I wanted to major in it and either make my own work, or be a part of a company that I really loved. I grew liking a bunch of these contemporary modern companies, so that was really my track. I’ve always been a music fan, being that I danced and the art forms are linked, but it wasn’t until I heard Lucas’ beats, that I realized I had to have a sound if I ever wanted to sing or do something like that. I just responded to his vibe. It was really random *laughs*
Thanks to a (now ex) girlfriend, I’ve been hip to Lion Babe since 2012 when you guys dropped “Treat Me Like Fire”. However, I feel like people didn’t really wake up and take notice until you collaborated with Childish Gambino for “Jump Hi”, then released “Wonder Woman”, which Pharrell produced. First, how’d you snag Gambino for a feature?
Lucas: We played SXSW two years ago, and he was also into “Treat Me Like Fire”. We were playing down there, and he asked if we wanted to open up for him. He had The Cool Kids also opening, and we met up for the first time backstage. He and his crew were all pretty cool, chill people and we felt like we hit it off. Then one day they were in New York, they came through and we were just playing some music. I played an unfinished version of that. They were really vibing and Donald was feeling it. He said he really liked the record and wanted to get on it. Next thing you know, we sent it to him, he sent back his verse a week later, and that was really it.
And Pharrell? That’s pretty major.
Jillian: Well with that… We spoke to our label head about dream collaborations and we were just shooting for the stars like “Oh yeah! It would be amazing to make a song with Pharrell!”, and she just happened to have his phone number. We were at dinner, she texted him, and within five minutes he called and spoke to me, and was like “Yo, you guys are great! Let’s make something happen!” And this was prior to him taking over the world with Daft Punk, and “Happy”. All that stuff hadn’t come out yet. While I’m sure there are a lot of A-List artists who want to work with him, he really goes for stuff that he’s honestly into and I think that was the most flattering thing. Definitely one for the history books.
You’re slated to perform at this year’s Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. What does it mean to you, to be a part of something that has become so essential to hip-hop culture in New York?
Lucas: It’s awesome! I remember seeing ads in the Village Voice and all that. It’s so dope to be playing here. Mobb Deep and Common are headlining. It’s so sick to be playing a show with them, where we get to link with them backstage. It’s amazing. This whole year has just been amazing.
Jillian: Also, we’re New Yorkers. So whenever we have an opportunity to do a show at home, there’s nothing, in my eyes, that can really trump that. We’ve played great shows in London and stuff, but when you’re home, you can look out in the crowd and see your family and your friends supporting you and that gets me so hype, already.
How does Lion Babe typically prepare for a performance?
Jillian: It varies. I go into a bit of my dance prep, making sure I’m stretched and calm, and know what I’m wearing and all that stuff. I don’t think either of us really get nervous. We just kind of get excited, focus and try to do our best. There might be a glass of whiskey or something before the show. That usually makes things a little bit better. We’ll also check with each other about timing and transitions. The greatest thing about Lion Babe is that we’re pretty in-sync and we know how we want the show to be dynamic-wise. We just try to make sure we have a good time.
The lineup for the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival looks promising. You’ll be sharing the stage with the likes of Pusha T and Dizzy Wright, as well as legends like Redman, EPMD, and the aforementioned Common and Mobb Deep. Is there anyone on the bill that you’re looking forward to seeing?
Lucas: Definitely Mobb Deep. Common of course. There’s a lot of good people playing.
Jillian: I’ve never seen Common live. And the thing about festivals is you always get those people that bring out people, so I’m like “Who’s gonna come out? Who’s gonna be there checking it out?”, and stuff like that. I’m excited to see who shows up.
Lucas: I hope Common plays “The Light” and Mobb Deep performs a bunch of songs off their first record.
As always, it’s to be expected that there will be a crazy turnout at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. What can a person who has never been to a Lion Babe show expect to see from you two?
Jillian: We try to create each show as a special experience. It’s not a traditional show. I’m not just standing out there and singing the whole time. Obviously, because I’m a dancer, there’s a lot of dancing, and I’m into making things theatrical. It’s unique. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to happen. I’m like “Oh shoot! I didn’t realize I was gonna crawl out on stage”. It just happens. I think we might weird people out a little bit, but definitely in a good way.
You guys do a pretty good job of keeping the details about your music under lock and key, but can we have even the slightest hint about the upcoming LP?
Lucas: Uhh, I don’t know. I think soon.
Jillian: This year! *laughs*
Lucas: We don’t even really know ourselves, you know? We’re still working on it.
Jillian: I mean obviously there’s reasons that we wanna keep things on lock, but at the same time we don’t wanna make anyone bank on something that’s not happening. You don’t wanna speak too soon. But I definitely feel for the people like you who have been around since “Treat Me Like Fire”; when it first came out. I feel for you guys and we love you so much. We will definitely get you guys some new material very soon *laughs*
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