INTERVIEW: Lion Babe

We wouldn’t be surprised if you’d had a bit of Baader-Meinhof when it comes to Lion Babe. From going to relatively unknown just over a year ago, the duo managed to rack up co-headlines with names like Childish Gambino, Pharrell, and Disclosure. Their debut album Begin (reviewed here) merges all the classier elements of pop and soul for quite a refined debut, so naturally we felt the need to sit down and have a chat with them about their journey so far.

As we meet a slightly jet-lagged Jillian Hervey and Lucas Goodman in Notting Hill, two things are very much clear: one, their work ethic is ridiculously solid, given how much globe-hopping they’ve been having to do to promote the record. Secondly, their chemistry is quiet but unmistakable. There’s a comfort between them that seems familial, no jostling for attention as they sit in the confident assurance of their power as a unit. So, of course, we start with the most obvious question…

Right, then. Which of you is most like an actual lion?

Jillian: Mmm! That depends. I think Lucas is like a male lion and I’m a female lion. If he could be lazy all day he would! Ladies do the hunting, the planning, everything…

So you’re saying you do all the work and Lucas basks in the glory…

Lucas: (laughs) No no. But I’m much more lion-like when I’m angry.

J: Yeah, when he’s angry he’ll actually growl and stuff more than I would.

L: Like when you’re on the phone to some annoying…

Journalist?

L: (laughs) No, more like ‘why doesn’t this cable box work?!”

“If we’re collaborating with other people, there’s definitely been some weird sessions… When you have that and the vibe isn’t there, the sessions can get a bit scary.”

Excellent, so what we’re getting here is that we come to Jill if we want something done and to Lucas if we want to get shouted at. Gotcha. Having said that, the two of you in a studio coming up with a song… how do you deal with the clashes?

J: I feel like the reason this whole thing is working is because we agree on a lot of stuff. We’ll call each other out – not like “oh that sucks, you suck!” – but we’ll just know. I started working with him because I liked what he did and vice-versa, so we don’t clash too much. If we’re collaborating with other people, there’s definitely been some weird sessions…

L: Yeah, we’ve both been like, this guy’s crazy… Let’s not do this!

Names, please.

J: Not the people that we’ve put stuff out with!

Okay, so not Pharrell. He’s off the list. 

J: Not Pharrell! Just getting into the rhythm of things, we had so many sessions with people and I had no idea who they were. But people were like, you should try write with this writer. You have a coffee for 10 minutes before and they say “tell me about yourself.” So you have this short description of who you are and it’s really awkward. Then you’re supposed to write this hit. When you have that and the vibe isn’t there, the sessions can get a bit scary. And then we look at each other and think, what time is this done?

Do you have a code? Like when we were at uni and a female friend needed help out of a dancefloor situation, they would shout “Kacaw!”

J: I might duck out to the bathroom and text Lucas!

Or you could put a wig on Lucas and ask him to sing. There’s a point actually – do you sing, and would you ever on a Lion Babe record?

L: Ahh, I don’t think so…

J: He used to sing!

L: I used to sing in high school, a punk-rock band! But not hitting those notes like Jill is. I definitely just like my vibe and hone in on the music. And if someone can do the singing way better then they totally should.

We like how you’re looking at Jillian as if you’re a bit scared of her now…

J: (to Lucas) I don’t know, you can totally sing if you want! I guess people are a little scared of me sometimes!

Let’s rewind a little to this awkward 10-minute introduction thing. What’s the LB pitch?

J: Oh, we talk about how I grew up in New York, I was in a small town and I was one of the only black people and wasn’t planning to do any of this… You can’t really sum up your life in ten minutes. And I don’t think saying any of that is going to give you this “a-ha!” moment of what to write either. It’s just part of the game.

It’s interesting that you say you were one of the only black people. What was that like?

J: Well obviously in my house I was covered – everything was good there! It wasn’t something that was so agonising and scary, it was a welcoming community. There were moments of feeling unique and standing out when you just want to blend in, like any young girl. I never had any references for how I looked or my hair. But when I went to New York City I freaked out because it was everywhere.

We imagine – and we promise this is the only time we will mention this – that it might have been easier being the daughter of Vanessa Williams…

J: Yeah! I moved back to New York because of my mom. She still lives there to this day. She really wanted us to go to her schools and stuff, because it was such a supportive environment.

You were born in LA, you live in New York, but you also spend a lot of time in London. Where, geographically, do you think the Lion Babe vibe connects with most?

J: I think the fact that we were over here and being introduced to a lot of artists – like being on Disclosure’s record and hearing the house stuff – and starting to play live and uptempo, a lot of that was influenced by what we were hearing over here. Then the New York stuff was the gritty rock-soul stuff at the base of what we do, so I think it’s those two for this album. But there is something to be said for recording in LA. We haven’t done it too much but it’s pretty dope.

Speaking of Disclosure – your track was by far the highlight of a below-average album. But when stuff like that happens, as in you collaborate with other acts, how do you meet in the middle without compromising who you are as Lion Babe?

J: I think with that record, it was the first time I was in a session without Lucas. So I was very much thinking about us. I feel like they don’t want to write with people that don’t know what to do, they want people who have a vibe. And my voice is my voice, my tone is my tone. So it’ll still sound like us.

So Lucas, you weren’t there? Did you feel left out?

L: It was their album – they got there between them. They’re cool dudes, and everyone has their own process.

Without sounding too narky, do you ever worry about the AlunaGeorge effect? As in, the perception and presence of Aluna over everything else? 

J: I think there’s so many things that Lion Babe can do for the two of us – I’m gonna get opportunities and so is he. Lucas is a producer. Down the line he’ll be producing for other people. This is like a starting point for us. We’re not really worried about that. Even when the Disclosure session happened, I was like, what’s going on with Lucas, and they said the two of them just work together. It’s just what it is, people have a process.

You’re already working on new music and the debut album’s out now – does it feel like a relief?

L: It’s amazing. It’s a personal thing though – the thing that turns you on the most is the newest shit you’ve made.

Please don’t say that literally turns you on the most. As in sexually. 

L: (laughs) No! But compared to the other music you’ve been doing, it’s like oh I’ve just made this.

Are you working with any of the same people again? Pharrell, Childish Gambino, etc?

L: If Pharrell’s like, come on back then we definitely would! If he has a single moment in the day!

On that token, is there ever fatigue with performing the same stuff over and over?

J: I definitely think that with a bigger body of work out, we want to switch things up a bit. Just enhance things. Our live stuff, we want to fine-tune that and expand it.

Do you do any covers on stage?

L: Some Missy, some Isley Brothers…

J: Some Wayne Wonder sometimes!

The word that came back to us for this album was “classy”. Old-school soul sorta vibes. Is that reflective of what you guys grew up listening to or more where you’re at now?

J: I don’t know if it’s classy, but we do like the idea of classic. Something that feels timeless. That was the thing we wanted to put down, and it all fit together.

Do you have a favourite track on the album? Or one you like performing?

J: Ooh! It kind of changes. I like performing Jungle Lady. But we’ve just started doing On The Rocks and that’s a good one.

L: I really like Stressed OUT!

Totally feeling the caps lock on that.

J: (laughs) Yes! We like playing around with that. Like on Jump Hi, people were adding the ‘gh’ at the end, and we’re like, no!

What are you listening to at the moment?

J: Anderson Paak.

L: He’s dope. Alabama Shakes record.

J: Tame Impala I listen to all the time. And Unknown Mortal Orchestra. That’s one of my favourites.

Final question, the one we ask everyone. Favourite Beyonce song?

J: Oh my god…

L: Shall we say it at the same time? … Me Myself & I.

J: Definitely!

Lion Babe’s debut album Begin is out now and can be ordered here. The band perform a headline gig at London’s KOKO on June 1st (tickets). 
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INTERVIEW: Lion Babe
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