Lion Babe isn’t your typical R&B duo. Their sound is hard to define and their influences span across the musical terras of indie rock, soul, hip-hop and dance. As we chat in Human Head, a quaint and thrifty record store in East Williamsburg, singer Jillian Hervey and producer-DJ Lucas Goodman (a.k.a. Astro Raw) share their appreciation for Kool & The Gang, Admiral Bailey, The Strokes and The White Stripes.
It’s no coincidence that Jackie Moore’s 1979 cover of the O’Jays “This Time Baby” plays during our shopping session. Lion Babe’s latest mixtape Sun Joint provides its own captivating covers of classics like “Walk On By” by Dionne Warrick, “I’m Still In Love With You” by Alton Ellis (later made popular by Sean Paul and Sasha), new jams “Endless Summer,” “Tina Turner” and bomb remixes to “Jungle Lady” with Raury and Angel Haze.
Their musical know-how is deep, rich and never pretentious. As the artists dig through the crates, their love for vinyl goes further than wall decorations. “I actually feel like I’ve acquired a bunch from my dad,” Jillian says. “He gave me two big boxes recently, and I handpicked every record that he had and he said, ‘Oh, you might like this on for the artwork, and this one for the sound.’ So I’m pretty spoiled in that respect.”
Since the release of the breakout single “Treat Me Like Fire” in 2012, their knack for funk and soul has lead them to work with acts like Disclosure, Childish Gambino and Junglepussy, not to mention a deal with Interscope. Just this year, the group released their solid debut album, Begin. When they aren’t making music, they’re perfecting their craft on stage during their current U.S. tour with special guest, Kamau. With their East Coast portion wrapped, the group is on a mini-break until next month where the West Coast will enjoy their tantalizing echoes of love, confidence and soul.
VIBE got to chop it up with the dynamic duo about the creative process of Sun Joint, Lucas’ pics for the ultimate turn up and Jillian’s very special encounter with Erykah Badu.
VIBE: What do you enjoy the most about vinyl? Are you a big fan of them?
Jillian Hervey: I actually feel like I’ve acquired a bunch from my dad. He gave me two big boxes recently, and I handpicked every record that he had and he said, “Oh, you might like this on for the artwork, and this one for the sound,” so I’m pretty spoiled in that respect. He’s super OCD, so he takes really good care of them so some of them are wrapped.
That weren’t even opened yet?
JH: Never. Never opened, and I don’t want to open it because I feel like I’m going to ruin it [Laughs]. It’s just fun and you get so much inspiration by looking at them. I just love the artwork and artists used to put so much effort into them too.
From the inside out, they tell so much of the process. I know some of the older records you can open up and it’s like a mini-textbook.
Lucas Goodman: Sometimes when the covers are dope, you just have to buy it. You can usually get at least one to two tracks off of it.
JH: Even for the journalists, the reviews were deeper. They told stories about what the record was doing and what it means, I dunno, just more personal. Whoever the writer was, actually knew of the band they were talking about.
You have to know the artist or at least relate to the music. I listened to a rough cut of Sun Joint and it was good, I really loved all the covers that you guys did.
JH: It was nice just to put out a mixtape and we have many different influences anyway, so it’s nice to have a body of work that shows all of that. It’s also the summer. We did just release the album [Begin], but we have more music. Some of those ideas, we’ve been sitting on for a minute so we’re just happy to get them out… for our own sanity. So we can start next year fresh.
What are some other covers you guys would like to do?
JH: In general? Um, I don’t know. We don’t really have preferences on anyone in particular.
LG: “Look of Love.” [A few songs from] The Strokes…
JH: We end up making a lot of R&B music, but we step outside the lines. We love indie rock, early alternative stuff. Even like a White Stripes song.
LG: Even the idea of taking that in a new kind of light, rhythm and bounce seems cool.
How would guys describe your sound? Would you put it in that R&B label?
LG: We listen to a lot of R&B but we listen to all kinds of music. The one thing we don’t identify with is when people put us in the “neo-soul” category. I don’t know if there’s any new neo-soul out to begin with. If you made music after ’98, you aren’t allowed to have that title.
Raphel Saadiq has mentioned that he hated that term.
JH: Yea, they don’t even like it.
LG: We love that music, but I just don’t think our music sounds like any of that stuff. We also kind of don’t really think about that too much. I understand, for people who maybe don’t get as deep into music, need someone to make it like, “What is this? Is this an orange or an apple, this or that?”
JH: I like when people have to figure us out a little bit. We definitely try to make music we hope everyone can listen to. For universal music, it’s called pop music, but I hate that term also since that’s not what we’re trying to do. Traditionally, in that sense of whatever that was, we like to incorporate all of our influences and whatever it sounds like, is what it sounds like. Definitely soul, I think soul.
LG: When people say pop music, they automatically think you have to have this loud obnoxious EDM sounding cords all over your music.
Lucas, I saw you guys recently at Kitty Cash’s “Love The Free” event. I enjoyed the records you were spinning. What are some songs you like to play to get the party started?
LG: Kanye’s “Father Strech My Hands Pt. 1.” When that bass line comes in, everyone is just like, ahhh. Also the Anderson .Paak record “Am I Wrong” and Prince’s “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” I like putting those records into each other. Always Kendrick’s “Alright,” it’s the go-to. O.T. Genasis’ “Cut It.” There’s this one record by this one guy Fuego and produced by Sango, it’s called “Se Me Nota.” It’s like a mix of Drake and Bachata. Press that button and everybody will start dancing.
What are some songs you guys love to hear?
LG: Probably all of those songs right there.
JH: “Controlla” by Drake. You just hear it and you have to move. Or any of those new Drake songs. Also the new one by Drake and Khaled, “For Free.” If you take that with the Too Short baseline, it’s just an instant win.
What are some of your favorite performance moments?
JH: We had a fifteen-second segment at the Soul Train Awards and it was great. Erykah Badu was hosting and we hadn’t met her yet so I was so excited. The guy who was doing my hair was also doing hers so she comes over on her hoverboard. She’s like, “Alright time to host.” I just thought it was so cool. She told me I had “peace hands” after I shook her hand. She said she was super proud of us, [said] keep going, she would love to see what we were doing and that we were like family. It was honestly the best thing you can hear from someone like her.
I remember seeing you perform with Childish Gambino in 2014, and your vibes were so much like Ms. Badu.
JH: I love her and I think she’s a Chaka Khan fan, not too sure, but I love Chaka Khan and I feel like a lot of my endings on things are from her. So when people compare me, I’m like it’s so weird because I’m thinking about Chaka Khan since my mom played a lot of her records. Obviously, I love Erykah and she’s such a staple of our upbringing. So then I think it comes down to everyone on social media saying, “Is there an issue with Erykah Badu?” I didn’t feel like there was and when I met her, it was nothing.
You can’t really hold much weight to it.
JH: You never do. Luckily we haven’t had too much of those people. I recently announced I’m the new face of curly hair for Pantene. As soon as I posted, all of Selena Gomez’s fans commented, “Poor Selena!” We’re in different campaigns, and she’s still an ambassador so don’t worry. Then Tori Kelly’s fans came at me and said, “We thought it was for Tori!” They showed a snippet of my hair and they thought it was her. I’m just like “Sorry, I’m just the one that no one knows.” Social media is so funny. You can get into it and get caught up in the bad things or use it for good.
Check out their latest mixtape Sun Joint here.